In this post, I’ll talk about my approach to mountaineering training. This is a post I’ve been wanting to write for awhile, but have been working a lot, and got sidetracked writing a guest post on the Pathloom blog about rock climbing. But I’ve finally gotten some time to write about the main thing I do besides work: train.

Training Plans: Simple in Theory, Hard in Practice

For the past few training cycles, I’ve been relying on the training principles outlined in Training for the New Alpinism* to develop my own training plans. The aerobic base phase focuses on:

(1) exercising just below your aerobic threshold for weeks on end and

(2) gradually increasing time working out.

Simple, right? But I was making two big mistakes in implementation:

(1) Instead of spacing out my training hours over the week, I would do almost all of them on the weekend. I would be so sore from my big weekend day that it would take me most of the week to recover. I wasn’t actually building that much fitness.

(2) I was doing too much biking, because it was a convenient way to both commute and exercise. It was fun, but not load bearing.

I realized I needed an actual training plan to convert the principles in the book into what I should actually do each day.

So, last fall, I bought an Uphill Athlete training plan. Because it was fall and I had a lot of time before a June Rainier attempt, I bought the 24 week plan. This was much more than I needed for Rainier. It also started with almost 6 hours of training per week, which was too much. Come January, when it was time to officially start the plan, I could barely walk uphill. The plan called for running for an hour at a time (HAHAHA). I lifted weights and biked. So, not an improvement from previous years.

Navigating the forest of training information.

Female Uphill Athlete

Later in January, Uphill Athlete announced that they were starting a Female Uphill Athlete Group Coaching online program. I joined because training by myself is lonely, and thought it would be fun to have some virtual camaraderie.

In this plan, I spent many weekday mornings walking up and down hills, in zones 1 and 2, near my house. I was nervous about how my Achilles would handle this at first, but I started without any weight and did OK. For some reason, it hadn’t really occurred to me to do hill walking near my house as a weekday workout. Probably because it didn’t seem hard enough. I gradually added weight as the training plan progressed. I still biked occasionally when my Achilles was really bothering me.

The first group lasted for three months. At $300 for three months, I didn’t feel like it was really worth the money to renew. The coaching was not very individualized. There were two main ways to ask questions of the coaches- through the Facebook group, and on group calls. I didn’t like using the Facebook group because I would then be sucked into Facebook. I was never very satisfied with the answers, either. And while I learned a lot on the group calls, they never seemed to be addressing the same thing I was trying to figure out at the time.

Making Adjustments

The most important thing I learned in the group was the importance of tailoring your training plan for yourself. I started to realize that adjusting a training plan for myself was not “giving up” or “being lazy,” but tweaking something that wasn’t working for me. Towards the end of my time with the group, I started adjusting my plans so I did 2 weeks of building and then 1 week of recovery, which was a lot easier for me to handle than 3 weeks of building and 1 week of recovery.

I also found that once workouts got to be longer than one hour long on a weekday, it became really hard for me to actually stick with the plan as written. I’m already getting barely enough sleep when I have an hour-long weekday workout, and really couldn’t afford to do more.  The Muscular Endurance workouts that we were doing were taking me up to 2.5 hours, and were just not feasible as work got busier in March.

Man contemplates whether he can still have the celebratory apres ski beer if he doesn’t make it to Camp Muir.

The “Time Crunched” Plan

When I completed my three months with the Female Uphill Athlete Group, I switched to Uphill Athlete’s “time crunched” 12 week plan. It only requires 5 1/2 to 7 1/2 hours of time per week, which was a godsend in April as work got insanely busy.

Alone, I don’t think this plan is really sufficient for Rainer. But I’ve been hiking since November, so I have a good aerobic base. I am also doing longer weekend hiking days than prescribed when I can. There are a couple core workouts a week, but other than that, it’s some form of walking up a hill with a pack every day. You can vary the hill, the weight, or the pace, but it’s leg day, every day.

Now, hiking Mailbox is extra credit, not required.

Achilles Update

My Achilles is doing OK. It still flares up from time to time, especially if I wear mountaineering boots. But it usually resolves after a few days. Its ability to get better on its own without professional intervention is a game changer. Stay tuned for my next post, on my recovery routine.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.