Steve asked me to write in this week’s blog about the Yakima Canyon Marathon. Both he and I and a few other CHS friends participated in it this last weekend. It was my first marathon and I thoroughly enjoyed both training for and participating in it. The scenery was incredible, the weather was fantastic, and because of the smaller number of participants (around 400), I didn’t feel that I was pushing my pace too hard or that I was penned in by a big crowd. Another friend who had started earlier so she could walk the route, ran the last mile with me into the finish line. It was a wonderful feeling to finish and feel tired but still good. If you’ve ever thought about doing a marathon, I would highly recommend this one as your first because they welcome first-timers and celebrate their successes in a very public way.
While you may never plan to run a marathon, I have found by my experience that getting your body in shape to run a marathon and to do longer-distance day hiking are remarkably similar endeavors. This is because both require a good deal of activity-specific training in order to do the distance comfortably and without undue damage to the body. By activity specific training, I mean that you actually have to train extensively by doing the activity itself repeatedly. It’s not enough to go the gym and lift weights or ride the elliptical machine.
Because of the cumulative nature of the hikes offered in CHS for both groups, it’s very important that all participants (and hike leaders), regardless of initial conditioning, find activities during the week and on the off-hiking weekends to build and/or keep their fitness level up. Although some naturally hardy folks can keep up with these hikes without doing any outside conditioning, I’m not one of those, and most other hikers are probably not either. Most people who do long-distance day hikes find that they must additionally condition themselves during their non-hiking periods in order to keep up their hiking stamina. What’s a hiker to do to keep in shape?
Of course the best exercise for hiking is… hiking. So even on weekends when you’re not hiking with your CHS comrades, you should try to get out with friends and family and put a few miles behind you. If hiking is not possible, then you need to find other ways to keep up cardiovascular endurance and strength. Many hikers—including me—enjoy doing pack walks on local streets and trails. This involves stuffing a bunch of weight into your pack (usually in the form of water bottles or sand bags) and walking several miles wearing this weight. You can start out with about 15 pounds and work your way up from there. I walk at a sustainable pace for most of the time, but I will also speed up the pace a bit every now and then to simulate an exercise interval—moving my activity from aerobic to anaerobic to build strength and cardiovascular endurance.
Another good cardio activity that works well for building hiking strength is climbing stairs. You can do this with or without weight. The key is to perform the activity for a period of time (anywhere from 15-30 minutes) without stopping to rest. In order to do this, you must maintain a sustainable pace as you climb. It’s also a good way to practice the rest step (click here to view an article on setting a pace and using the rest step as a way to maintain movement while resting leg muscles).
You can also do other types of exercises and weight training to build your endurance and muscle strength, but these are the two most-hiking specific activities I can recommend when you can’t get out to do an actual hike. Cross-training (doing other activities that use muscle groups different from those involved in hiking) is always a good idea and can lessen muscle strain and injury caused by repetitive activity. Swimming, bicycling, running, and other types of activities you may enjoy.
Andy Martin had an informative presentation on conditioning for hiking during the Orientation. If you didn't get a chance to view that, click here to go the Agenda for the Orientation and click on the Conditioning link. If you want to view an expert’s advice on conditioning for hiking, including information on interval and cross training, take a look at local trainer and Mountaineers member, Courtenay Schurman’s web site (http://www.bodyresults.com/hiking-training.asp). She provides detailed information and links to articles, exercises, and sample programs that might help you out. She also provides more hands-on assistance if you feel that would be beneficial to you. I used her advice earlier in my hiking career to increase my hiking pace and stamina and highly recommend her.
So work on keeping up your fitness and you’ll enjoy yourself a lot more on the trail. Physical fitness is a key to feeling better before, during, and after your hiking trips, and to avoid muscle injury.
I hope to see you all on the trail soon!