If someone were to ask you “Are you training hard in preparation for the hike?” your answer may well be a resounding yes!

What if the question was “Are you training smart?”

With less than three months to go, we’re probably moving into a different phase in terms of stepping up our training. Which makes that second question all the more important.

Training for a multi-day hike involves five variables. These are:

  1. The regularity of training.
  2. The intensity, or effort put in during the session.
  3. The distance of the hike.
  4. The terrain (eg hills).
  5. The weight in the pack.

In regard to regularity, our target has been twice a week. Given that we are not professional athletes, it is probably unrealistic to expect much beyond this. The other four can, and should, be increased over an extended period of time. This is where the “train smart” aspect needs to be applied.

It has been my observation that there has been a very significant emphasis on the “weight” component during this current hike campaign. We must remember that the purpose of training is to peak at the right time. There is no doubt that we need to train with heavy packs, up to 25kg as per the guidelines. But it is all about timing.

If you are superman, you might be able to train year round with 20+ kg in your pack. Otherwise, you will need to consider the timing of your training. Carrying a heavy weight on your back is an unnatural action for a human. You must build up to it slowly and be careful about how long you remain in this rarefied air. It has been our position all along that preparing for this hike is an eight month process. Loading up with extreme weight throughout this time carries three risks.

The first is injury. Carrying extreme weight places stress on the body, particularly if insufficient build-up time has been allowed. The more you load up and the earlier you do it, the greater the risk.

The second risk is burn-out. This happens when extreme weight is applied too early and is carried for too long. The result is, in peaking too early, the participant is therefore on a downward trend by the time the hike finally comes around.

In terms of the above list, there is a third risk; that being that too much weight too early leaves the participant battling to maintain their training and therefore unable to effectively increase things like intensity or taking on more challenging terrain. This means that the capacity to train harder as the hike approaches is actually diminished due to the challenge of simply maintaining the heavy weight.

Paul, flat out training

For these reasons, I submit that the “weight” variable may actually be the least important of the five (assuming that a minimum level is being adhered to and increased appropriately over time).

If you’ve been battling with carrying extreme weight, now might be a good time to ask yourself some questions like:

  • “How does my body really feel at this point in the process?”
  • “Am I feeling fresh and ready to increase the intensity, or am I battling to hold my ground?”
  • “Are there any niggling injuries evident?”
  • “Is the training resulting in noticeable improvement?”
  • “Am I training differently to what I was three months ago?” (Too much weight often results in an inability to increase the intensity).

If you feel you’ve overdone the “weight” component, there’s no shame in backing off for a time to work on the others. If you’re on track, you should be well positioned now to step up other components. More hills, more intensity!

While we’re talking about pack weight and training smart, let’s talk about the method of loading your pack. This requires some thought. If you merely open your pack and throw in bags of rice until it reaches the desired weight, you do your body no favours. Carrying the bulk of the weight at the bottom of the pack places more stress on the lower body, increasing wear and tear. You need to position it higher. Place lightweight material at the bottom and put the weight further up to ease the strain on your body. Likewise, try to get the packs centre of gravity as close to you as possible. Use the tension straps to pull the load in against your back, allowing you to walk in a more natural, upright position.

Our first compulsory training hike is only a couple of weeks away. Here’s a heads up; the emphasis on that day will be on getting up Mt lofty as quickly as possible. It is not a competition to see who can carry the most weight. The minimum pack weight required for the day is 17kg. Go above that at your discretion, but be warned – the only thing of interest to Jonathan and I that day is how quickly we can all get up (and down) the hill.

Train hard, train smart!