Tamarack Near Huntington Lake CA
March 28th 2014
Oh, just training.
I’m thinking about the mountains I’m going to climb...” Covert Baily The Ultimate Fit or Fat
Covert Baily wrote The Ultimate Fit or Fat (1999) and at the time he wrote it, he was 67 years old. Mountain mileage is quite different than elsewhere. It is more demanding because of the steep ups and downs, the higher altitudes with less oxygen and the questionable footing on single-track trails with worse footing off trails. Mountain travel also requires equipment and supplies to sustain one on multi- day trips.
This means that there is an increased demand on the cardiovascular system and the muscles that power one up and down the trails. My primary purpose for my training is less and less competition but to enable me to continue to plan and enjoy the mountains and to search the wilderness for lost travelers as a volunteer for the Fresno County SAR Team. I believe there are those folks who enjoy working out for it’s own sake and the health benefits that accompany being toned and fit. Some work out for the sake of how they look in the many mirrors that line the walls of a fitness center.
My own sense it that working out should be goal directed. When it is goal directed, I think it can rightfully be called training. Training is related to real world activities. If working out is not related to real world activity it is for posing. Many folks aim their training at sport specific goals, which is fine. My training uses sports as a means to accomplish other goals.
As someone who began running later in life as a replacement behavior for smoking, I began to develop nagging injuries when my mileage went beyond 60 miles a week. I learned that aerobic training can be done in a variety of venues and was one of the first to write about biking and cross country skiing as a means to train for 100 mile trail runs. I later added swimming to the mix and have remained injury free since 2001.
When I could no longer run the mountain trails, I took up lightweight backpacking. This required additional upper body strength for the backpack and the use of trekking poles. Trekking poles help power the climbs uphill and are great knee savers on the steep downhill sections. I took up weight training but use high repetitions with light weights. Far too many of my friends have had shoulder surgery for a torn rotator cuff caused by lifting heavy weights. Additionally, I don’t want bulk. Backpacking like running is a gravity sport and maintaining optimum body weight is crucial to endurance in the mountains. I am always striving for proportionate strength.
My weights routine is usually 30 reps with 3 different types of exercise for each muscle group. I do core, back, chest, triceps, and biceps three times a week. I don't do much free weight work and it is less risky at my age to use the machines. I don't use weights for my legs since they get enough strength work in the regular exercises.
In the summer, I bike, swim and run three times a week. In the winter I ski and bike less. I mix up the days with no more than two activities on any day. I use a Suunto Ambit heart monitor and train scientifically. I have a high intensity run once a week where I do a tempo run to get my heart rate near predicted maximum with a high average over the duration of the exercise. This keeps my heart muscle strong and legs ‘fast’. My 10k time is still under my age in minutes.
I do a long run every other week for my base cardio. This is the most important cardio I do and determines my trail endurance. This also means a long run once a month of 20 miles. I have kept accurate records for nearly 20 years of my daily exercise. Muscles are exercise specific and so is cardio. Running stadium steps for an hour three times a week will NOT allow you to hike 20 miles a day in the mountains.
So, this is what it takes for an ordinary senior person like me to backpack comfortably in the mountains. It is worth the price with the added benefit that I am not on any medications.