As mentioned in my introduction, this is advice for people such as myself who are somewhat active but definitely don’t have the conditioning to walk 10-20km a day for several days and not suffer.
The podiatrist may have suggested this also, but it’s worth seeing a physio just to get a good understanding of any weaknesses you have. In my particular case, my deep glutes needed work, and my hip flexors were doing most of the heavy lifting. A physio will be able to give you a few exercises to help you build strength in the areas that matter, and you want to start doing them as regularly as you can, probably every other day.
Cost: a physio session is pretty affordable; around $70 in Melbourne, and then you can do the exercises alone at home. You might want to invest in a foam roller or a strength band, but they aren’t essentials by any means.
Physio exercises combined with some strength training and stretching (I find ashtanga yoga is great for both) will really help you along the way, but the real training of course comes through getting plenty of walks and hikes in. Don’t worry about speed, at least when you begin. What matters is distance and endurance, and it’s preferable to prioritise shorter walks back-to-back on consecutive days, than to worry about regularly hiking 20km. However, if you’re trekking at altitude (over 3,000m), get in as much cardio as you can, whether it’s walking at a brisk pace to keep your heartrate up, cycling, running or swimming, because the stronger your cardiovascular system, the less you will struggle once you’re up there. Read up on how to acclimatise to the high altitude here, and visit your doctor for some Diamox (and any vaccines you may need) just in case.
Depending on how far you can currently walk without even noticing (as in you don’t feel sore the next day), you will want to ease into it. Before you build up a training plan, pull out the itinerary for your trek, and look at the distances you will be covering. A perfect example is my friend’s upcoming Peruvian trek:
– Day 1 – 11km
– Day 2 – 12km
– Day 3 – 16 km
– Day 4 – 4km
The longest day is 16km, so she’ll want to make sure she can walk 16km comfortably, but currently she doesn’t walk at all, and certainly not in hiking boots. So we want to start with gentle 4-5km walks on flat ground and gradually build up, peaking at 18km around 4 weeks before her trek, and gradually increasing back-to-back walks and hikes, so that by the time she flies out, she’ll think nothing of doing 10km several days in a row or 40km in a week. It will be a lot more challenging up in the Andes of course because of the altitude, but she’ll have a solid base.
For those of us who work full-time pretty much the only way to get more walks in on a daily basis is to walk to work. If you can plan a 4-5km path to work, this is a huge bonus. If you live closer than that to work, you may want to take public transport further away from home, or integrate a loop via a local park. Of course if you live further away, get off the train/tram/bus when you’re 5km from work. It’s perfect because you can walk in and commute home (5km a day) or both walk in and walk home (10km a day, with a nice break in between). You can walk home and then walk back in the next day – back to back walks. And if you’re too tired one day, you can make up for it the next. 5km shouldn’t take much more than an hour and so it’s generally not a huge impact on your commute. Of course, you’ll want a workplace with some facilities (showers = awesome, although hopefully you won’t work up too much of a sweat just walking) and you’ll probably want to stash work clothes at the office to change into.
On the weekends you’ll get to do the real deal: mountain hikes, huzzah. If you live somewhere with easy access to lots of mountains, lucky you! If you don’t drive (as is my case) then it can be a bit of a challenge to hunt down a mountain range with trails and public transport, but in Melbourne we have Mount Dandenong. Make sure you scope one out and then make good friends with it, because you want to get in one big hike at least once a week. Again, start low with 5-7km and then increase slowly. You’ll probably feel you can do a lot more but the aim is to gradually build your strength, without injuring your body. Breaking boots in at the same time is a great way to slow you down. Get plenty of incline in wherever you can, if you’re going to be trekking in the mountains.
Whenever possible, carry a backpack on your hikes. When you first start, it will probably just hold your change of shoes and some water, but get used to carrying a decent amount of stuff (include fuel – I love packing a couple of sandwiches, fruit pouches and a cereal bar, as they all taste amazing on top of a mountain). Even if you’re doing a trek where guides are carrying your gear, you will need a day pack, and it grows exponentially heavier as the day progresses. So don’t overload your backpack but make a point of always having to lug one around on your walks. It’s lovely to walk without one, but you are unlikely to escape it on a trek, so get used to it and you won’t feel the pain so much. As for water, I personally love camelback-type water pouches as it means I don’t have to stop every time I want to grab water.
Once you start hitting the 10-15km length hikes, you’re facing a bare minimum of 3 hours out on trails. Some days it goes fast, some days it goes slow, so you may need some excitement to incentivise you. If so, I hope you have a smartphone, because that’s my secret:
1 – get an app like Runkeeper to track all your walks, whether your daily commute to and from work, to your beautiful hikes out in the mountains on the weekends. I love seeing all the kilometres add up, and checking out the maps. Seeing a bar graph and squiggly lines announcing that I hiked 16km in 4:12:55 hours and burnt 1077 kcal makes me happy, and it might well cheer you up to know that despite working 5 days a week you squeezed in 23km of walks between Monday and Friday.
2 – get some podcasts. Glorious nature is all well and fine, but when you’re trudging along the same city road for the 19th time that month… you need a little distraction. I find listening to music can affect my moods in strange ways, but listening to spoken word podcasts about travel, science, history or even just comedy makes a walking commute more entertaining. Also audiobooks work well; David Sedaris – get all of his oeuvre!
Don’t forget to taper as you approach your departure date. Once you’ve peaked in distance, slowly scale back and decrease distances a little, and concentrate on getting plenty of back-to-back walks in so you’re used to walking on tired legs. I find getting ready to go travelling means I’m too busy and stressed to get many hikes in and if you’re flying long haul you will probably be wiped out anyway. Relax and try to enjoy the excitement of what’s coming!