It is NOT too early to start training for your John Muir Trail hike. An earlier start means more available months, and more months mean a more gradual increase in the duration and intensity of your workouts. Your number one goal during your training should be to avoid injury, and nothing keeps you safe better than starting well within your comfort zone and then lengthening your time and increasing your effort in tiny increments.
How about some more good news? Almost anything you do will help, and even doing nothing at all will not necessarily doom your attempt. Don’t get me wrong: I am not recommending that you skip your workouts, but if you do (assuming you have at least an average foundation of health and fitness) probably the worse that will happen is an unpleasant first few days at the beginning, and the need to add a few days to your itinerary because you will be capable of walking fewer miles per day.
Like with most endeavors, proper preparation is a good thing; if you can carve out some time to devote to training for your JMT hike it can only help later. I suggest you concentrate on three areas:
1. If you need to, lose some weight. It’s funny how many of us (mea culpa) will spend an extra $100 for a piece of gear that is a pound lighter, but can’t seem to summon the will to take five pounds off our body weight – even when it means five times the results. Those of you who have been following the blog know that I took a few pounds off last year (you can read a little more about the difference that made in my hiking, here). There is no cheaper way to hike lighter than to be lighter.
2. Start walking, with your backpack and hiking footwear, on uneven terrain. Even if it is cold where you live, try to get out there and walk. It almost doesn’t matter how little you exert yourself initially. Ten minutes at a slow pace is fine. Walk five or six days a week, and increase the distance between 5% and 10% each week until you can walk several miles, on rolling terrain, for several days in a row, without feeling thrashed. Wear the footwear you intend to wear on the hike and strap your backpack on, too. The backpack doesn’t need to weigh what it will on the trail at first, but put some weight in it. Walking on uneven terrain is important in order to strengthen your stabilizer muscles in your hips, knees, and ankles. Once you get to the point that you are feeling pretty strong, start doing some perfect training hikes.
3. Include some weight training. You might be surprised at how much lifting and climbing you are going to do on the trail. Even if you get your base weight down to twenty pounds, you likely will be lifting thirty pounds or more (including food and water) several times a day when you put your backpack on and take it off. And even though you won’t be “climbing” in the sense that you will be using ropes and pitons, you will definitely be stepping up (and down), onto (and off of) granite steps carved into the trail. Many of these steps are five or six times higher than the individual steps in your home. A routine that strengthens your upper body, as well as a regimen of squats and lunges for your legs, will really help.
As with most things, there are simple approaches (suggested here) and more complicated ones. For some hikers, the complexity of a training program is actually a good thing – it serves as a kind of motivator. For those of you wanting more, Google “hikers workout” or “training plans for hikers” for more ideas.
Good hiking, Ray