One thing for sure is there is no way to completely train for a thru-hike as to do so would require hiking for eight to twelve hours a day with a full pack. The majority of us simply cannot dedicate that much time to training, so the old adage that you will hike yourself into shape is indeed somewhat true. I believe that once on the trail it will take around 20-30 days, depending on age and starting physical condition, for most to get their hiking legs.
To start the trail without any preparation is simply inviting failure. You might attempt to keep up with others and if so will likely push your unprepared body too hard. Even if you don’t, the miles you do complete with a full pack without any preparation will zap your energy reserves and you will be exhausted. On top of being exhausted your muscles and joints will ache, your shoulders and maybe hips will be sore from the pack and very possibly you will be enduring blisters or at a very minimum some hot spots on the feet. Put all of those things together and all it will take in that physical condition is one bad day of cold rain, or some other everyday trail inconvenience and mentally you will be ready to call it quits. If you are in a bad spot physically and mentally, quitting is a real possibility.
With that being said, there are ways you can prepare yourself to better endure what is coming and you should do so. So what can you do to prepare for a thru-hike? In my opinion there is nothing better than simply walking. After all that is going to be what you are doing every day for five or so months. The key isn’t even distance walked while in training. Instead it is time put in. When you are hiking for eight to twelve hours a day that is eight to twelve hours of stress on your body. In order to train for that, you need to put in as much time as you can.
And as stated previously, very few of us have eight to twelve hours a day we can devote to training. So what should you do when time for training is limited? In those instances high intensity is most beneficial training regimen. I am of the opinion that nothing prepares you for hiking other than hiking, however, being in good overall physical shape is second best. So do whatever you desire that is high intensity and it will better prepare you for the trail. I base this in part on my experience. Back in my high school days I ran cross country and track. Coming off of track season I was normally in the best shape of my life. My junior year I went to Philmont Scout Ranch and did a trek they call Rayado. It was a lot of hiking, somewhat similar to what I imagine my second and third week will be like on the AT. My senior year I went to Philmont as a Ranger. Both were right after track season and in both cases I was not in near the shape I thought I was. Hiking is a unique animal and requires hiking to get in shape for hiking. Everything else helps, but nothing is better than hiking. Of course Philmont Base Camp, one of the lowest points on the ranch, is more than 6,500 feet above sea level, so there was the elevation to acclimate to as well. That should not be much of an issue on the AT as the highest point of the AT is 6,643 feet above sea level.
The situation I find myself in is that being a CPA in a tax practice, for the two and a half months pretty much starting February 1st I am going to be very short on time. Therefore I started my training in August. Prior to this I was playing racquetball three times a week, so that was somewhat of a base, but not a lot. I started simply by walking on the treadmill with a 20 pound weight vest. My first walk was August 15th and I did 3 miles in one hour on the treadmill. As of today, September 27th the longest I did was three days ago where I did 10 miles in just over three hours outside on a trail with the vest. My training plan is to continue to up the mileage and time as much as I possibly can through the end of January. That is going to be my base. In order to maintain that base through tax season I am going to play racquetball three times and week and try to walk for at least a half an hour to an hour on the three other days, leaving Sunday for hopefully a three to four hour walk. I am also going to build a small step, eight to twelve inches and on some days instead of, or in addition to walking, I will do step ups to help build the muscle strength. This is something I can do while watching TV, turning otherwise rather unproductive time into training time.
God willing this training plan will have my body in as peak of condition as possible come my date with Springer.