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[pct-l] Re: conditioning

Here's a little of what I've learned as a now 54-year old ex-ex-ex-marathoner 
who 3 years ago had to end a week-long trip prematurely due to a knee problem:

1. Experiment, experiment, experiment. Training for marathons, I learned that 
the only thing that counts is what works for *my* body; the only way to find 
that out is get some ideas, try them out, do more of what works, and less of 
what doesn't. I kept training diaries so I could compare various regimens, and 
note where I was in my fitness level each year--I do this for hiking, too, so I 
can now tell fairly accurately how ready I am for a tough hike. It took me 
several years to learn how to effectively train for a marathon and it is taking 
me several to learn how to train effectively for long hikes. Listen to your 
body--it speaks volumes if you know how to interpret what it's saying.

2. I'm finding that, for me, running isn't necessary for dealing with altitude 
as long as my training hikes include enough steep, long hills (for cardio work) 
and I plan the hike sensibly (see below). I have also found that lots of running 
was working to keep me in good enough shape for short mileage days with a light 
day pack, but was not sufficient for long mileage days (>15) with a heavy-ish 
pack (25-35 lbs). For me, there is just no substitute for getting out there and 
doing training hikes with a realistic pack weight (which I work up to).

3. As I've aged, my training takes longer to achieve the same effect because my 
body just recovers slower. Eight weeks isn't enough for me; for the past two 
years, I've trained for 5 months, the early months being ones in which I 
increase my mileage and pack weight gradually. I try to get the last 8 weeks at 
slightly more than full mileage and at ultimate pack weight. I taper the 
training for the last two weeks to let my body heal any small injuries and to 
regain full energy (my workouts are fairly brutal). I don't mind training for 5 
(or more) months because I prefer to stay in good shape all year round, even 
though I'm not doing real hiking trips during the winter; but I don't train 
really hard until a few months before the trip.

4. My ultimate workouts are on a trail that has some hills of 1600' gain, over a 
couple of miles, some sections of which are so steep I can hardly walk up them. 
The total workout is about 20 miles, with 3-4000' of gain, same loss. When fit, 
it takes about 8 hours carrying a 30-lb pack, but I intentionally hike fast and 
hard (by my standards)--when I hike "for real" I take more rests and walk more 
slowly. My goal is to make my training hikes harder than any single day of my 
trip--I want the trip to seem "easy". I do this hike once/week. I do shorter 
walks (no pack) during the week, most of which are hilly and last a couple of 
hours--I walk briskly. These seem to help, especially with keeping the muscles 
loose. It takes a couple of months of easier hiking to get fit enough to do the 
tough hikes--in other words, I have to train to get fit enough to train! I 
didn't run at all during my prep for the JMT--I wanted to, I just couldn't find 
the time. My conclusion is that storming up the hills during training gave me 
enough cardio work that the running wasn't necessary (though I'm sure it would 
have helped).

5. Living at sea level I have been concerned with adjusting to altitude. I was 
especially concerned this year, since I was planning to do the JMT and do it in 
16 days--high altitudes and not a lot of time to acclimate. From my training and 
hiking last year, I found I needed a couple or three days to really adjust to 
9,000', so in planning my hike this year, I took a deep breath and scheduled 14 
miles for day 1, with 5,000' gain, ending at about 8500'. Then I planned the 
next two days to be almost ridiculously easy: 10 and 12 miles with only about 
500-1000' of gain/loss each day. Then I scheduled the rest of the days at 14-19 
miles with some heavy duty gain and loss. It worked. The first day was tough, 
but no worse than one of my tough training hikes. The next two days seemed too 
easy. After that, the rest of the days worked out just fine. The point here is 
not "do what I did". It is "find out, by actual experimentation, what you need 
to do, and do that". As you see, I still took a "risk"--I didn't know whether my 
training was adequate for that first day, but I figured, based on my training, 
that with some short days to recover I could pull it off. I also figured I could 
cut the first day short if I needed to, and still do all right overall. In other 
words, plan in some flexibility so the trip doesn't have to end if you make an 
initial miscalculation.

6. After my knee injury several years ago, I became an ultralighter "instantly" 
in about 3 months. It took a lot of reading, testing, shopping, and gear-making, 
but it really helped. Base load is 10-12 lbs for the JMT or any long hike. I 
also do leg extension exercises to strengthen the quads--really helps stabilize 
the knee (many knee injuries are due to weak quads, BTW). I just filled a stuff 
sack with gravel, sit on a table or bench, balance the sack between my ankles 
and do 30-50 reps (I work up to it over the year) several times per week.

It will probably take several seasons to learn how to train effectively. This is 
normal--it takes distance runners years to figure this stuff out. It's made 
harder because each year (hopefully) your body is fitter and therefore can take 
tougher training, but is also older and injures more easily. It's always an 
educated crap shoot :-)

I'd be happy to answer any questions you (or others) might have....


McElligott John wrote:
> "Conditioning for a thru hike" was a topic of personal interest as my 
> story is not one of success but  learning the hard way. My attempt last 
> summer at a ten day PCT thru-hike ended in disgust and defeat after 
> three days and two nights on the trail between Ebbetts Pass and Carson 
> Pass. What went wrong and how to prepare for my next attempt? Altitude? 
> Poor conditioning? difficultterrain? Now at age 57 and for the past 
> three years I have been section hiking north bound on the PCT having 
> begun at Lone Pine. Each summer it ends earlier than  planned. I refuse 
> to attribute this to age alone  and in fact have ben reducing my pack 
> weight each year! I share this as there may be others who have had 
> similar experiences.
>     Since I live in Tokyo, I do not get out on the trail and my 
> "conditioning" is left to long walks and when the summer comes I naively 
> think that  my body will go where my head points. What I have learned to 
> do from now on is the following:
> 1. Two months minimum prior to boarding a plane to the trail head in 
> the  U.S., follow some examples given on this site for conditioning such 
> as some jogging for cardio-vasular  and leg muscle. If I have not been 
> doing so, restrict all outdoor activity to base camping and day hikes 
> until I feel relatively confident.
> 2. Continue to reduce my base pack weight. Last time I was at 19 lbs 
> plus food and water. Judging from the velocity at which I threw down my 
> pack at Carson  Pass, I would say I should not carry more than 18 lbs 
> total max which means about a base  pack weight of about ten pounds  for 
> a three night hike.
> 3. Spend a long time just day hiking at altitude initially. Do a couple 
> of one nighters first. For me a good place would be along the 395 
> Eastern Sierras.  Last summer I had not at all adjusted to the altitude 
> and had some remaining jet lag. Plus it was my first backpack of the 
> summer. Overly ambitious .. a sure recipe for injury or incompletion. If 
> one sets out  with friends, it also ends in disappointment for all.
> Any feedback would be appreciated.
> Tokio John
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