There are many different approaches to go about training for the PCT. Most of which I imagine are successful considering some hikers simply hike their way into fitness the first several weeks having done little or no conditioning ahead of time. I remember in the early years, many PCT’ers were so fired up at the beginning that they pushed themselves so hard they often sprained their knees or ankles and then needed to rest several days to recover, losing all that time they were trying to save. I guess that’s not surprising considering how much more the packs weighed back then.
In preparation for hiking the PCT, I have developed a strategy for training with the goal of just being in reasonable shape when we start. I don’t think it’s necessary that I start in peak condition, as if I’m going to run a marathon on day one. I think that peak conditioning probably won’t occur until we are in the Sierras, after we have put in many successive 20 mile days, and we have acclimated to the high altitude.
As a middle aged hiker at 60 years old, I have learned to know what is reasonable to expect and what’s not. I can increase my endurance and my aerobic capacity by putting in the necessary time. The rate of increase is much slower than when I was in my twenties, but nonetheless, it will increase with persistence. Increasing speed is more difficult to achieve, and that probably won’t change much with more work outs. And increasing strength with weights is something I won’t even attempt it. For me lifting weights of any significant amount usually results in a nagging injury instead of muscle building that happens with the 20 and 30 year olds. So, I’ll leave that to the youth. All of this leads me to the primary emphasis of my training…. avoid injury! My desire may push me to do more, but there is a price to pay for overdoing it.
It makes sense to train for a thru-hike by doing a lot of hiking, so I hike up the local mountains in Mission Trails Regional Park, Cowles Mtn, South Fortuna, and North Fortuna. Typically, I get about 5 miles in, climbing about 1,000 ft each outing. I try to achieve this 3-4 times a week. When I get a chance I go for a long one in the local mountains to the east, in the Lagunas or Cuyamacas. I have now added cycling (either mountain or road bike) for about 1 ½ hours after a hike. The advantage of crossing training with cycling is that it strengthens the knees without further impact that often occurs from too much downhill on rocky trails. Excessive impact leads to injury. Crossing training also strengthens different muscle groups that will help support hiking muscles. The biggest benefit for me is the strengthening of the quadriceps that supports the knees and prevents patellar tendinitis.
Another source of knee pain for me comes from the common condition of flat arches and over-pronating. I get poor tracking of my knee cap contributing to it aching. I often use orthotics during a normal work day. On the trail I look for maximum support and tend to replace my trail runners before the sole wears out. I like the shock absorbing benefit from a new set of shoes and find it immediately provides relief from a slowly growing knee ache that gradually sets in from the wearing down of a sole. Over the years of trying many hiking boots and trail runners I found maximum comfort with Solomon XA PRO 3D GTX. I like its advanced chassis between the soles which provides the great stability and responsiveness as well as the cushioning in its footbed. I know there are many good trail runners and a lot of times it depends on the fit for each individual, but I liked the Solomon’s so much that I sought them out as a sponsor and couldn’t be happier to have them back us.
I try to use common guidelines while training. Occasionally, I check my heart rate if I am in a strenuous workout. I use one of the equations found on the internet like the American Heart Associations which is 220 minus my age which is 160. I’ll go a little beyond it but not by much. No need to stroke out now, there is plenty of time to do that on the trail. I also follow the conversation rule which recommends that your workout not exceed your ability to carry on a conversation.
Dehydration is a significant issue on long stretches of the trail. Although water by itself will be the primary means of hydration, flavored drinks can help to increase the volume you take in. Some are better than others for performance. Gatorade, and various sports drinks don’t have the correct mix of carbohydrates, potassium, and sodium. They are mostly just sweet drinks made to sell. Carbohydrate levels in a drink are important for maximum water absorption and electrolyte balance is needed to prevent cramping and maximize muscle performance. (And I will need all the help I can get) It is easy to dehydrate on the trail if you’re not watching your fluid intake. Vitalyte was created for these conditions which I why I sought them out as a sponsor. I anticipate drinking about 2 quarts a day of Vitalyte.
I plan to slowly increase my mileage until February and March when I will accelerate the mileage per week and add longer single hikes to include 15-20 mile outings. I am lucky that the PCT is practically in my backyard, not much more than 30 minutes away, and I have a cabin less that’s less than a mile off the trail. This will make It easy for us to actually do warm up hikes on the trail itself.
So, that is my strategy, and only time will tell whether or not it works.