Many potential thru-hikers plan for months before setting out, buy hundreds or thousands of dollars’ worth of gear, read all the blogs and forums, sometimes quit their jobs and sell their house, just to end up quitting the trail weeks or even just days after they begin. It is not unheard of for people to quit even before they reach camp on day one. The biggest reason for people leaving the trail at any point in their hike is injury, and your risk of injuring yourself is drastically increased if you do not train and prepare your body for such a demanding activity.
It is generally agreed upon that one of the best ways to train for hiking is just to hike. Increase your frequency, increase your distance, increase your pace, increase your pack weight- all of these will help prepare your body for doing pretty much nothing but hiking for months on end. Any time I hike with a full pack, I consider it a training hike, and I track every training hike I do with the MapMyWalk app, which records distance, time, pace, calories, etc and maps out my trek. I am already carrying my final pack weight, so I will need to continue to increase frequency, pace and distance over the next few months up to approximately full-time hiking so that my body isn’t totally shocked and in horrible pain when I roll into camp on my first night.
In January, I completed 4 training hikes, totaling 18.6 miles. I need to be much more disciplined in the coming months! Hopefully the weather will be a bit more cooperative…
There is also plenty that I can do while not on trail, which is especially helpful when I have to work a bunch of overtime and can’t get out there, or when the temperature is in the negatives like it was last week. Lunges, squats, heel raises and wall sits are my go-to exercises. Over the course of my 10-hour workday, I mix in as many exercises as I can between projects, often finding somewhat heavy items to hold to add some weight.
I also do yoga on the trail to stretch out my tight muscles and protect them from injury. Yoga is a practice and requires regular sessions to see real benefits. It helps improve posture, strength, flexibility and balance while also having many mental benefits like improved focus and clarity, self-confidence, and inner peace. ALL of these things will benefit me on the trail, so working on my yoga practice now will only help my hiking in the future. It will also help me get into a good habit/routine and gives me time to learn the best poses and flow for the muscle groups that I will be aggravating the most on trail.
Lastly, taking care of your sore muscles is important. You may remember the lacrosse ball that I included in my list of items in my pack. This isn’t for playing with, it is for self-care. The hard ball is great for deep tissue massage and myofascial release, doing more for my muscles than yoga alone. It will help me ward off flare-ups of my plantar fasciitis and keep my IT band flexing with ease. I am still unsure that I want to carry this weight with me all the way to Canada, but if it helps keep my body doing what it should, I’m ok with it.
Too bad I can’t also take along a hot tub and a personal masseuse…