Physical conditioning to hike 1000+ miles /yr

I recently read a blog post which has since been lost about hiking blogs – like Goatbells – where the author stated that hikers can find all kinds of information on gear, food and trails – almost too much information to be useful; they went on identifying a gap: physical conditioning required to hike long miles regularly every year. I think that problem is even harder for people 50+ years old. I strongly believe there is a connection between physical condition and trail happiness on long hard hikes.

Conditioning background

Over the last three years, I hiked 3,500+ miles, not including the often daily offseason walks around town. I am over 60 years old. My conditioning is probably more than needed for average hikers, and I was a long distance runner for over 40 years. Physical conditioning has been a core part of my daily routine since I was 12 years old.

Long distance running created a discipline for conditioning and a high tolerance for bodily discomforts. Running also left me with 2 weak knees (meniscus), bunions on both big toes, and a hammer toe on one foot. Physical realities that cannot be ignored and must be managed – perfect socks and shoes help, but full system conditioning is the key. The days of a young one just getting up and running every day without a 360 degree (full system) conditioning routine are as distant in the past as my 20th birthday.

What does my physical conditioning routine look like today at 65 with long distance hiking as my primary athletic pursuit, and centered mindfulness my mental goal?

Full system conditioning routine at 60+ years old

Hiking and walking is necessary but not sufficient. My non-hiking day routine looks something like: 60-90 minutes stationary bike and 60-90 minutes yoga / pilates (reformer work) some with light hand weights (<5lbs). After 2 or 3 days of that routine, I either walk, bike or hike outdoors weather permitting. Adding that all up, I exercise typically 7 days / week; mixing up the workouts to avoid physical or mental boredom, as well as recovery days – low impact exercise. Aerobic work on bike and when hiking at least 5 days / week. Flexibility and strength work in yoga and pilates every day. A full 360 degree conditioning plan that includes from toe tips to top of head – at 65 years old, I need every muscle toned and working their best to keep the system from breaking down – injuries.

Before this year, I wore an Apple Watch and tracked it all … I on average over 2 years regardless of the season

  • Exercising >2 hours day
  • Walking >9 miles / day
  • Burning >1000 calories / day just on workouts

I no longer track fitness activities as I observed I paid more attention to the tracking than the activity itself. Trackers are like training wheels and eventually need to be left behind. I found they disrupted my conditioning mindfulness – which is equally important as physical conditioning.

Summary

To hike long miles consistently year in, year out requires full system conditioning – not just hiking. The older one is, the more important full system conditioning. Comparing my current conditioning plan with the conditioning I executed for 40 years as a runner is best done from the ‘rest required injuries’. Those nagging injuries that just build up until rest is required for the body to recover. As a runner, maybe 1-2 year; as a hiker with this conditioning plan, none so far.

Full system conditioning is required, endurance, strength and flexibility. The time commitment to staying physically healthy is high, but when compared with injuries and fun / joy on the trail – a great investment!

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