The first time I led a trekking holiday with my own clients was in 2005 – and we were off to hike the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal. This was going to be a solid and arduous 14 day trek along Himalayan trails and included an ascent of the Thorang La Pass at 5416m. My team line-up ranged from Kerry and Helen, avid dragon-boat racers and all round fitness gurus, to Mick and Lynne who were used to entering various mountain challenges and who were preparing for this trek by getting out every weekend on long walks, to Dave who was walking as much he could to finally Chris, a hardcore old school journalist, who proudly announced he’d cut down from 30 to 28 cigarettes a day! Amazingly, we all managed. To be fair to Chris, he had some walking pedigree behind him and as it turned out he was a good judge of his own capabilities.
Being fit and healthy is a great way to embark upon any adventure into the wilds. Good fitness will often mean that you are also in good health and the impact of this on mind and body cannot be overstated. That self satisfied smug feeling that you are ready to take on the world will help maximise the chances of a successful trip. Furthermore it means that your trekking holiday becomes the icing on a cake of an overall bigger journey, one that starts six months before you even fly out.
So what’s going to be needed to get trek fit? Trekking means continuous exercise for many days: it is not enough that you can do a single day in the hills. On a trek you will be required to do that day, and then that day again the next day and then the next day after that and so on. Your training will need to focus on endurance: you’re going to need strong legs, a strong back, a strong set of lungs and a strong heart to pump the oxygenated blood to those muscles in your back and legs. Hence the basis for your fitness will need to focus on a solid cardio-vascular (CV) exercise regime. Simultaneously, you don’t want this process to be counter-productive. You need to steer clear of overdoing it and not cause injury en-route: so whichever path you take, make sure that you warm up, stretch, rest and hydrate. Depending on where you are already at, and what it is you are hoping to achieve, six months is a good ball park for your training period.
Whatever form of exercise you choose to do however, a key factor to your success will be your will-power to keep at it. After all if your trek six months away that is a long time to get distracted by the pressures of work and the joys of family in the short term. Consider then how you will motivate yourself to keep at it.
First, try to do something where progress can be marked. Constant and measured progress ignites a sense of inner joy and this leads to continued engagement with the activity. Two items of kit that can help with this are an altimeter for measuring height gain and a heart rate monitor. (It’s always good to have an excuse to buy more kit!)
Second, get others to join you. It might be others who are on the trek with you, or just friends who want to get fitter as well. This can work in a number of different ways. For example, a few years ago, a gang of mates and me went to the pub with a selection of rock climbing guide books. We’d decided that we each needed a list of 10 must do climbs for that year. We used our collective knowledge of each other and of the crags and rock faces around the UK to make for each other an eclectic bucket-list that would both challenge and inspire us individually. If you’re an avid walker telling people about routes you’re off to do, then this can inspire others to do the same. Sharing post-walk pictures can likewise make others motivate themselves off the couch and onto the hill.
Thirdly make a commitment to stick to your training regime. Hence for me to actually sign up for a half marathon and to get others to join me, forced me commit to the idea. Similarly, making a commitment to yourself to go walking at the weekend might easily be broken. Making a commitment to join some mates on a walk that together you have planned and looked forward to, will in turn be harder to break.
A client of mine told me about a diet club that he’s a part of. Twenty of them are in the club and each week they pay in £1. Each week they are awarded raffle tickets for each half pound in weight that they have lost that week and the raffle tickets are put into a hat. Whoever has their ticket drawn at the end of the week wins the £20. This is the perfect example of how measuring progress, combined with being in a bigger team, and being committed can be so motivating. So join a team, make plans, and work out the reward system that will work for you.
In a past life, if I ever needed to be particularly fit for an event the quickest route to that level of fitness was to go running. Normally this would be tied in to signing up for the Sheffield half-marathon which would in turn mean that I could run up to 10 miles comfortably by the end of the whole process. From this base point I’d consider myself invincible and capable of ruling the world! My running programme would have me go out four days a week with two speed sessions midweek, a long run on Saturdays and then a short warm down run on Sundays. The midweek sessions would always be about half the duration of the Saturday run, and all the runs, bar the Sunday session, would slowly creep up in distance and duration as time went by until I was happily running the required 13 miles.
The benefit of this training was that it was a relatively quick way to gain strength and endurance fitness. The down side is that if I wasn’t careful, being a big chap, injury would be lurking around the corner. So if running is going to be your main effort to gaining trek fitness be sure to follow these simple steps:
Start each session slowly – warm up. Stretching isn’t warming up in its own right, only stretch once you are already warm. So my runs would start at the jog and end with stretches to warm down. As well as a preventive measure to injury, stretching is also great for increasing flexibility. Build in rest days to any programme.
Steer clear of running on the roads. By taking the trails, or simply the grassy option in the local park, you will hammer your knees and joints far less. Additionally, running on uneven trails means your feet fall differently with each step and so your body compensates for this at the core making your runs better for core strength too. Also running cross country is more scenic and lends far more interest to the sport.
Use shoes that are fitted to your feet by an expert and renew them regularly. Look up a local running shop and they’ll sort you out with the right shoes for you.
The Edale Skyline – great preparation for any trek
If time permits, walking is perhaps the best form of exercise to train you for your trekking holiday. If you’re going on a trek then clearly this is something that you already enjoy so that is a great advantage in its own right. And, unlike running it causes far less wear and tear on your joints. The big disadvantage for most people is if this is to be your main effort then you need to have the time to make it effective.
And for walking to be really beneficial it requires you to do it on uneven ground, up and down hills so that you can work that range of muscles that help to strengthen your legs, back and core body muscles.
Here are six weekends of great walking to tick off in six months …
Two days of the Hadrian’s Wall trail – from Chollerford to Lanercost Priory – 28 miles of wonderful Roman history along this iconic landmark.
Two days of trekking in the Lake District. Starting from Braithwaite near Keswick head south to Buttermere via Catbells, Dalehead and Robinson. Spend the night at the campsite, youth hostel or hotel and find your way back via Knott rig and Ard Crags on the Sunday. Not hugely taxing – but a wonderful two day minitrek.
Brecon Beacons – Start at Llwynbedw (SO 006 244) and head up hill and then west to tick off a string of Welsh classics Corn Du and Pen y Fan – end your walk in Talybont On Usk at the Star Inn with an award winning pint of ale. Spend the night here – and walk back along the valley on the Sunday!
The Edale Skyline is traditionally a 19 mile fell race taking in the skyline that includes the southern flank of Kinder Scout, Rushup Edge, Mam Tor through to Lose Hill. Starting and finishing in Hope this is a cracking walk and there’s loads to choose from to make the most of your weekend on the Sunday.
The Yorkshire Three Peaks – do this classic route on the Saturday – and combine this with a good walk exploring Malham Tarn on the Sunday too!
The Welsh 3000s in three days. Any six month period must have a bank holiday weekend!? Spend it wisely and have a crack at this Welsh classic trekking 30 miles and around 14,000 feet in one weekend bagging all fourteen Welsh mountains in one glorious walk.
Welsh 3000s, dawn sun from Carnedd Ugain
Do all of these and not only will you be fit to trek but you’ll have a great crop of routes under your belt to boot!
Finally, make walking a part of your lifestyle. Commit to never driving to the local newsagent ever again. Don’t take the lift or the escalator when you can climb the stairs. Walk to work. Maybe start by doing this twice a week and build this up over the duration of your training schedule. So you live and work in a city? Look at a map and create a route to work that takes in a canal path, or that leads you through a park. Walking to work doesn’t need to be the quickest and shortest route – be creative and make it interesting! Introducing other sports into your programme will also keep your fitness routine interesting, and maybe cycling to work or swimming in your lunch hour are also great ways to get fit.