Planning the Number of Miles to Hike. It’s Complicated.

Scheming the number of miles to run on a particular day has always been easy for me. The number of factors (apart from injury) that impact the mileage I can accumulate on an average day are small. I’m faster in the cold than the heat. I’m faster on asphalt than on sand or a trail. I’m faster on bare ground than ground covered in snow or ice. Pretty simple. In addition, past performances are the best predictor of future ones. With my nearly two decades of running experience, I can always accurately hit my mileage/time targets.

When I set out to do my first day hike on the AT, I had zero idea of the time it would take me to cover my planned six miles. I had never hiked a real trail before. And running miles do not in any way translate to hiking miles when one begins to consider the high number of variables inherent in a hike. There’s level of fitness, of course. Experience hiking on varied terrain. Elevation gain. Pack weight. Rain, which doesn’t impact my pace on asphalt at all, would definitely limit my pace while navigating rocks and roots like those on the AT northbound out of Monson. One bad slip and fall on a wet root, and…

So as I sit and plan my next day trip out of Monson (this time southbound), I have but one experience to draw from. While that’s helpful, it’s too small of a sample size to establish an accurate baseline. I’ve run nearly 30,000 miles. I’ve hiked six. But those six miles did give me something to work with, at least. I wore my Garmin on that first hike to make sure I hit the Leeman Brook Lean-to after 3 miles. Yeah, I was that confident in my ability to follow the trail, which turned out to be pretty easy. The other key data the Garmin gave me was elevation gain and elapsed time. I wasn’t as concerned with the elevation stats, but the elapsed time interested me greatly. What can I say? I’m a creature of pace-habit.

Overall I did the six mile out-and-back in 3:45, which is about 1.5 MPH. Considering the photo, drink/snack and chit-chat breaks I took, and my complete lack of experience on the rocks-and-roots terrain out there in the Hundred Mile Wilderness, I was pleased with that. And it gives me a small sample to work with.

But I have to force myself to remember why I’m hiking which, as my blog name suggests, is to slow down and enjoy myself. It will be hard for me to not fret about keeping that 1.5 MPH pace next time. That’s the runner in me. But I need to make sure that I don’t worry about pace. Because the best parts of my first hike out there were stopping to talk with seven southbound thru-hikers and one northbound section hiker, and breaking when I saw something photo-worthy. As a runner, you (typically) don’t stop to chat with people when you’re cruising along at 7+ MPH. You don’t stop to take photos either, unless you’re one of the few who runs with their phone. I don’t. I run unplugged. Not even music. But as a hiker, meeting my first thru’s after reading so many AT memoirs and journals added such value to my experience that I was excited to stop, and grateful to them for stopping to talk with me.

I dilly-dallied quite a bit on my first hike over moderately rugged terrain, and still averaged 37 minutes per mile. So I think what I’ll do is use 1.5 MPH as a minimum baseline. That way, when I get to sections of the AT in my later hikes that aren’t the ankle-twisting newbie nightmare I experienced on my first foray out of Monson, I’ll feel like I’m flying…

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