I was having a conversation with someone about backpacking recently, and they proudly told me that a coworker was loading up his pack with 80 pounds and schlepping the 3 or 4 miles to and from work to build tolerance for the 35 pound pack he’d be carrying on a week-long journey in a few months. His logic was that if he could carry 80 pounds, then 35 would seem light to him.
I asked if he was a gym guy using the workout as weight training, or if he was just a backpacker. “Just a backpacker,” was the reply.
“Is he an athlete of some sort?” I asked. “Nope, just a desk dweller in an office getting ready for his first trip,” was the response.
Having seen this sort of thing before in the running realm, I gave her a “Wow. That’s crazy.”
And to me, it is.
Back when I trained for and ran marathons, I’d occasionally run into (pun intended) someone training for a marathon who was going out and doing 25-30 mile long runs. Their logic was the same as this guy’s: On race day, the 26.2 mile marathon will feel easier if I’ve done 30-mile long runs to prepare for it.
To me, that brand of logic has one fatal flaw: You’re increasing your risk of injury during training in an attempt to decrease the perception of difficulty during your planned hike/race. That’s a pretty precarious position on the physical tightrope. But there are over-trainers in every sport willing to laud their success at doing so, and encourage others to give it a try. And many will do just that, to their peril.
I don’t plan on carrying more than 30 pounds on my back at any one time. So I’m starting with 20-pound practice hikes. When those feel good for 8-12 miles, I’ll move up to 25 pounds. Then 30. And when I can carry 30 pounds for a dozen miles, I’ll be ready for a three-day weekend hike. If it gets tough towards the end, I’ll have the ability to push through, thanks to my running experience.
When I was a marathoner, I never covered more than 20 miles on a long run. I knew that, if I was in good shape for 20, I could manage the physical discomfort of the last 10K with the knowledge that I was on the home stretch. It worked seven times. It failed none.
But having said all of that, one of the things that I enjoy most about hiking is one of the things that has kept me running all these years. It’s an individual sport/activity. And in any individual exercise, there will be a variety of approaches, with each participant doing what they feel works for them.
In the running world, the race day mantra is “Run Your Own Race.” In the backpacking arena, it’s “Hike Your Own Hike”.
They’re the same.
So, to the guy carrying 80 pounds so that he can carry 35, I not only say, “Wow. That’s crazy,” but I would add, “To each his/her own. Hike your own hike.”
And maybe, under my breath, I might toss in, “Good luck”…