Training to Thru Hike the Pacific Crest Trail: Part 2
The first part of the training phase took longer than I expected. It surprised me how weak I’ve become since climbing Everest. My muscles and connective tissue were not conditioned and I needed to give them time to adapt. I had to heed the warning signs of joint pain, which meant I had to back off, and so it was not until mid-January that I was able to fully load up my pack and train for a few days in a row without pain or fear of injury, and thus, to start the Building phase proper.
Building (3 Months)
Where the goal of Pre-Training was injury prevention, the goal of Building is to acquire the fitness and strength needed to hike the trail. However, injury prevention is always the main goal of this training, and anytime I feel pain, I’ll back off and have it looked at. It might just need a day’s rest, or it might need more attention, but training through pain is just plain dumb. The time spent in each phase is just a guideline. I took as much time as needed.
Types of Training
There are basically 2 types of training: Sport Specific and Non-Sport Specific.
Sport Specific Training for hiking just means going out hiking with your loaded pack, preferably with the shoes and backpack you intend to use, and where possible, hiking similar terrain and conditions to what you will find on the PCT. I aim to spend most of my time (about 80%) on Sport Specific Training. Most people are looking for shortcuts. There aren’t any. The bulk of my training for the PCT is just to go out with my pack and walk. And walk. And walk…
Non-Sport Specific Training is basically everything else. This includes lifting weights, running, yoga, Crossfit, swimming, yoga, etc. I aim to reduce my time spent on Non-Specific Training to 20%. Non-Sport Specific Training can be valuable, but we only have limited time and energy to spend, and so have to decide where best to spend it. I spend some time on this type of training to prepare for the unknown and the unknowable situations: like being able to swim across a swollen river, having to run to meet a deadline, or having the strength to push a trail angel’s car out of the mud.
Cumulative Fatigue (Micro Cycle)
One of the key principles is to train for cumulative fatigue. I find I can train for 3 consecutive days before I need a day off. The idea is that the body does not get complete recovery after each day. This week, I rock-climbed for 3 1/2 hours on Monday, hiked 12.6 mils (20.3km) with a 22lb (10kg) pack on Tuesday, and hiked 10.5 miles (16.75km) with a 22lb (10kg) pack on Wednesday. I was pretty beat, and took a rest day on Thursday. That would be a Micro Cycle for me. At the end of every fourth Micro Cycle, I will take an extra day or two off, for more complete recovery.
Stacking is a term I used while training for Everest. For me, it loosely means the arrangement of one type of training over another, either in the same day, or during consecutive days. I train the activity with the highest neuromuscular requirements first, and the the one with the lowest, last. That means that I maximise my performance as I fatigue. For example, I might have a soccer game on Friday evening, which requires high neuromuscular involvement, and hike some hills with a loaded backpack on Saturday, and then just go on a long hike on Sunday. On a work day, you could go for a run in the morning before work, lift some weights during lunch, and hike back home after work with your backpack.
In general, I’ll set a goal if there is a target to reach, but in the case of thru-hiking, it is so long that the training really continues into the hike. I’m going to try to end my Build phase with 3 hikes of 15 miles (25km) carrying 22 lbs (10kgs) over 3 consecutive days. That should be a comfortable distance for the first few days of hiking, and will enable me to reach Hauser Creek at the end of day one without overextending myself.
In general, I’m pretty happy with the way my training has gone. I’ve come a long way from when I started in September walking just one mile and carrying nothing. My foot pain has gone, my knee pain has not reappeared, but I know it’s lurking, and I have to be careful. Some ankle pain showed up recently, and I’m not sure if it’s the shoe or the insole. I changed both and for the last hike, had no issues.
Some Exercise Suggestions
Building on the Squats and Deadlifts that I suggested in the Pre-Training Phase, I added some locomotion specific exercises: Single Leg Squats and Pistols, Single Leg Deadlifts, and Walking Lunges. When you are ready, one great way to end a workout with some high intensity is JC Leg Cranks (Watch her form! Thighs parallel to ground on squats and squat jumps, back leg touching or near the ground on lunges).