Training – Months in the Making

Training for this and previous hiking projects.

For my hiking projects I like to have a 6-month training period through which I gradually increase my training load.  This allows for a deep well of aerobic capacity to develop and leaves plenty of time for unplanned breaks in the regime.  Perhaps even more importantly, the 6 months allows for the much slower adaptations to take place in the connective tissues.  Ie. “tissue toughening”.  Most overuse injuries occur in the tendons and fascia.  In particular, the plantar fascia is a prime target for repetitive motion injuries on the steep ADK trails.  The limited blood supply and sparse cellularity of tendons (and other connective tissues) results in very slow strength gains as compared to the more rapid changes that occur in the muscles.  For the same reasons tendons also recover more slowly from challenging training sessions.  I think of it as hardware versus wetware. 

Over the years I have observed a number of people who have experienced heart-breaking fails of their hiking projects.  They usually have focused too much on aerobic fitness (wetware) and not enough on building tissue toughness (hardware).  I always insist they get out of the gym, forget about V02 max and pound the Adirondack trail system.

Winter Through hike Training

I began in late June, 2023 with a 6-week transition period of random but fairly intense hiking in the Canadian Rockies.  This was followed by 10 weeks of more structured hiking and scrambling wherein I kept close track of elevation gain and increased it weekly by 5% for 3 weeks followed by a fourth week where I cut back by 50%.  I would then start over again with a new 4-week mesocycle and increased elevation gain. 

In early November I came to the Adirondacks and quickly found I was unable to do as much elevation as I had been doing in the Rockies.  The trails here are much more difficult than anywhere I’ve hiked in the world.  I decided to quit following the spreadsheet program and have since been going by feel.  When you try and stick to a pre-determined regimen you risk setting yourself up for injury (or guilt if you “fail” to follow the program).  One should not lose sight of the fact that It’s important to enjoy the entire process from start to finish.  Note that training while fatigued is OK up to a point as this will still deepen the aerobic capacity.  However, inserting an unplanned day off here and there allows you to go out and train harder and reap a benefit.

I have prepared for three projects prior to this one and each time I have gone about it differently according to the dictates of each particular project.  In the past I have mixed gym workouts (that went through 3 distinct phases) with weighted hill-climbing repeats (four to six thousand feet of elevation gain per week in a 50% grade rubbly gully) all while blending in Zone 2 and Zone 3 aerobics. (ie. hikes in the Adirondack High Peaks). 

This time around I’m simplifying the regime to nearly exclusively Z1 training while out hiking and I have included more heavily-weighted hill repeats on the Leach trail towards the shoulder of Noonmark Mountain.  Throughout this project I will barely be going beyond Z1.  I will be carrying a 40 lb pack from camp to camp and I’m slowly getting my body used to dealing with the load.  I think of it as being in stump pulling gear.

Winter camping training.

A very different type of training involves winter camping without fire combined with 10-hour plus hikes of 3,000-4,000 feet of elevation gain or more.  After a day of hiking in the cold you have to deal with camp chores such as changing into dry clothes, boiling enough water for the next day, preparing dinner, getting as ready as possible for an easy start the next morning etc. I have done a lot of winter camping in very cold temperatures in Canada but we have always built big fires.  Not having a heat source involves many logistical tweaks and, while being busy at the campsite, nearly continuous moment to moment strategizing.  Every time I go out for a night or two, I learn a lot about moisture management and stream-lining my procedures.

The first crux of every day will be transitioning from the warm and cozy sleeping bag to hiking.  The second crux will be transitioning from hiking to camping at day’s end.  My plan for each crux is to quickly encase myself in down clothing and go for a brisk walk along the trail.

And of course, while training for this endeavor, I can hear the clock constantly ticking away.

My favorite training resources are by Scott Johnston and Steve House.  All you will ever need:

Training for the New Alpinism
Training for the Uphill Athlete


Uphill Athlete

Link to Cardio Zone Training Article

It is all about proper training in advance. Click below to see the 6 months of elevation gain training and delta over six months of training.