Training for hiking trips

Posted: Monday, July 18, 2011

I'm thinking about the topic of training for hiking trips right now because in less than 2 weeks I will be heading for Austria and our hiking trip in the Austrian Alps. And I am not feeling in quite the same physical condition as I was last year. I came to this realization yesterday when I hiked Sugarloaf Mountain, the only hill with any decent elevation change in a 90 minute drive of where I live. My aerobic capacity was fine- I didn't get winded going uphill at a decent pace. And my endurance was OK - I hiked for 3.5 hours with only two short stops to drink water. But I just didn't have that feeling of being able to hike forever that I have when I'm in really good hiking shape. Why is that? I've been working out at the gym 30 - 45 minutes on the elliptical 5 to 6 days a week pretty consistently and going on (fairly flat) walks as often as my dogs will take me.

And then I realized that in contrast to last year, I have been doing very little actual hiking. Although hiking in Maryland is limited (at least any real hiking i.e. not flat), I had guided our trips in Utah, Alaska, and Bulgaria in the four months before the Austria trip. This year life got in the way and I haven't hiked since Death Valley. And that has made a huge difference. While the fitness gained during those trips might not be completely maintained, the muscle memory and the specific stress placed on the muscles during those activities, does carry over. So here is the lesson and the corollary.

Lesson: The best training for hiking is hiking. This is also true for paddling, kayaking, rock climbing etc. But if you just can't do it before, get in as good shape as you can and then expect to just be a little stiffer the first few days.

The corollary: Don't wait until you're in good enough shape to start doing an activity. If your goal is to hike 8 miles comfortably, don't just go the gym- start with 1 or 2 miles and gradually increase. Gyms are great for giving yourself a base level of preparation but they can't completely get you ready for a big endeavour.

Now if only I had started climbing Sugarloaf in June....

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