Sports-Specific Training: Backpacking


I’m officially “in-training” today. I’m taking a guided backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail May 13-15 in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This is what I’ve been waiting for since I first decided to take the backpacking class at LSU in the fall. Yes, I’ve enjoyed the hiking around here, but my dream is to wake up in the mountains in the middle of nowhere with nothing but the trail and the forest as my campground.

It’s only three days. I wish it was three months, and I was heading off to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. Right now, I’d be packing boxes and mailing supplies to post offices along the way, saving money and maybe even figuring out how to quit my job so I could take off for a long life-changing adventure. But …. sigh … it’s only three days. My life won’t change in three days, but I’ll at least get a taste of what I’m dreaming about just to see if the reality bears any resemblance to the fantasy.

“That’s ridiculous that they don’t let dogs hike in the Smokies. I think you should stay home.”

The one thing that can really ruin it for me is not being in shape enough to do mountain hiking with a 35-40 pound backpack for 3 days. I might be okay the first day – maybe – but the second and third day could be brutal or, worse, injurous, if I don’t prepare. I initially planned to go on this trip in July until the reality of how hot it is going to be in July smacked me in the face. I couldn’t pull the trigger. I was able to get in on the May trip on shorter notice, but that means I now have about 6 weeks to whip this body in shape.

Luckily, I already work out some, and I started my run/walk workouts again about 3 weeks ago. Yoga is one of the things they recommend to strenthen your legs, but I don’t think my practice is intense enough to meet the threshold I need. Last week I started strength-training in earnest, and I went on a hike on Saturday. I know that’s not enough. I googled “flatlander, backpacking training” and landed on an REI program that I think I’ll use. Katherine (my backpacking teacher) says she thinks I’m already fit enough to do it, so I’m not horribly worried about it. But, this short-term motivation will help get my buns and legs in shape for the trip and even the summer. So, why not go for it?

Below is the schedule recommended:

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 8.30.00 PM

Every other week I should do a hike in increasing intensity, elevation and pack weight. I only have six weeks, so I won’t have a lot of weekends I can do this. Luckily, I’m headed to North Carolina on vacation mid-April, so I thought I’d take my backpack and hike with it every other day. I don’t want to do too much too fast and injure myself, so I’ll have to be smart about it. I just joined the YMCA a few weeks ago, so I can use the stairstepper for intervals or to vary steady state walks on the treadmill. For safety reasons, I don’t think they’ll let me wear my pack, so I’ll have to find some inclines around here for that type of workout. The levees, overpasses, football stadiums or Clark Creek will be good for elevation gains.

So, tonight I came home and packed my pack with as much gear as I could and added some weights to make it 32 pounds. I walked my regular 3-mile walk and tried to keep up the pace as close to normal as possible. Ugh …. geez… it was like I gained 30 pounds overnight. If you think extra weight doesn’t tax your muscles, you’re delusional. I was hurting after mile 1, but I managed to do the entire walk. My calves were screaming. I took the pack off and almost fell down when I started to walk again. I felt light as a feather, and it took me a few minutes to get my bearings back. It was pretty funny. It was as close to being drunk as I’ve been in a long time. Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 8.43.23 PM

There are a few resistance exercises they recommend like step-ups, lunges, side planks and a bicep curl/squat combo.  I know they have a step at the Y, so I’ll use that one. I suppose I could also hold two 15 lb. weights and that would approximate the pack weight if I wanted to do that. But that’s a few weeks down the road.

It’s been awhile since I did sports-specific training. My marathon days have been long over. I’m excited about it. I’ll try to document my progress here so I can keep a record of it. Then, when I get on my trip, I’ll know what worked and what didn’t. Hopefully a little advance training will make my trip much more enjoyable. And if I develop nice tight glutes to boot, that’s just gravy!!

I hope I’m not sore tomorrow! I have intervals early…. 🙂



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