You can avoid that feeling by doing a little training beforehand.
What’s considered a long hike for any individual is purely relative. Whether that distance is 5 miles, 10 miles, or an extreme day hike of 15 or more miles, being properly conditioned will make your hike a lot more enjoyable.
The best way to train for any sporting event is to train specifically for that event. In other words, if you want to hike a long distance trail, it’s best to get out on a trail to simulate the conditions of the big day. However, for many people, finding a trail to train on may not be convenient. Walking in your local neighborhood or in a park is an excellent alternative. I’ve trained for a handful of hikes up 14K foot peaks in Colorado by walking in my neighborhood here in Louisville, Ky. With mountaintops slightly higher than your average ant hill, I obviously wasn’t able to simulate the type of climbing I experienced in Colorado, but I was still able to sufficiently train my walking muscles.
Roughly six weeks prior to each of these hikes I created a schedule and began training in which my walking miles slowly increased.
Let’s say you have a goal at the end of the summer to make the 11 mile roundtrip hike to the summit of Mt. LeConte. You should probably start training roughly four weeks before the actual hike. This assumes you already have a minimal amount of conditioning. Obviously if you have no conditioning, or a lot, then this schedule would need to be altered accordingly.
During the first two weeks of training you could probably get away with walking just three days a week. During the first week, two of those walks should be at least 2-3 miles long, with the third walk being in the 4 to 5 mile range.
During the second week you should ratchet up your long day to around 6 or 7 miles. The other two days should consist of walks of at least 3 miles per day. If you’re going to be climbing any significant elevation on your hike, you should try to include as many hills into your routine as possible. The Alum Cave Trail to Mt. LeConte climbs 2763 feet. This would be considered a strenuous hike for almost anyone.
During week 3, you’ll probably want to add a fourth day of walking into your schedule. Your long walk day, which preferably should be 7 days from your big hike, should now be in the 8 to 9 mile range.
During the final week before your hike, you should still be walking on at least 2 or 3 days. Each of these walks should be in the 4 to 6 mile range. If you’re already on vacation, use the days leading up to your big hike to train on some shorter trails. Make sure you’re well rested though. At a minimum, the day before your big hike should be a rest day, meaning - no training on that day. You might even consider taking two days off prior to your hike. This way your leg muscles will be well rested and you’ll be ready to conquer your goal.
If this training schedule seems a little aggressive, add another week or two up front and make the increase in miles a little more gradual.
If you don’t like the idea of walking as often as I’m recommending, throw a little cross training in. Of course running is an excellent alternative. Cycling, treadmills and stair climbers also provide great cross-training/cardio workouts as well. However, you don’t want to rely solely on these exercises. You’ll still need to do a long walk at least once a week.
On the day of your hike make sure you take enough food and water with you to keep your fuel and hydration levels up. See my article about staying properly hydrated and beating the heat while hiking in the summer.
If you need some help with planning your hike, check out my hiking checklist and safety tips links.
A little preparation beforehand will go a long way on the day of your big hike. Your training will give you the confidence to persevere and you’ll feel much better when you arrive back at the trailhead. You may even have a little energy left in the reserve tank to celebrate your accomplishment after you return.
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