Big Trip Coming Up? Train This Way To Get Tough As Nails

I would consider myself a fairly fit and strong athlete. I spend most of my days working or playing in the mountains, and I train in the gym several days a week to stay strong on top of that. But every once in a while an opportunity comes along to scale a very large peak, or an epic traverse, or some crazy adventure with countless vertical feet, and then the real hardcore training begins. Here are some valuable tips to help you prepare your body and mind for your next adventure of epic proportions while still managing your “regular” life in the mix.

Commit physically and mentally to your training. This is the foundation for your success. It’s human nature to procrastinate or put things off that require hard work; however, you’re preparing for a major objective and that objective isn’t going bend to your weaknesses. In fact, your objective could potentially kill you. You must come to the objective with all your strength and mental fortitude.

Get the right programming from the right coach. How you train for your expedition is everything. Do your research. Rob Shaul of Mountain Athlete has been my coach since 2009 and has been preparing me for my various vertical adventures ever since, including my expedition into the Wrangell-St. Elias Range of Alaska this spring. Coach Shaul had me and my team on a relentless endurance and strength cycle to get ready for the adventure. Coach Shaul likes to say, “the mountain doesn’t care [whether you have this or that excuse]—go physically prepared for survival and success.” Preparation is everything, and Coach Shaul programmed our training to fit our specific objective. Every step, every vertical foot, pack weight, distance, etc., are all taken into account. It’s not easy, and my mind wants to play tricks on me, but you know what? The mountain doesn’t care.

Create a basic home gym that will allow you to do some or all of your workouts in the convenience of your home. Let’s face it, getting to the gym across town in the height of traffic or during your brief lunch break doesn’t always work into your schedule. If you have a setup in your home you’re less likely to skip a workout. My home “gym” is comprised of two 25-pound dumbbells, one 60-pound sandbag, a backback filled to 40 pounds, a step-up bench that’s 16 inches tall, a pull-up bar/finger board, and an altimeter watch. This bare-bones “gym” can be re-created easily in other places, so that when I’m traveling for work I can still do my workouts. That being said, if you can get to your gym with your coach at least once a week, that will help you keep on schedule and maintain the fire and drive to keep on grinding through the training. 

Stay mentally connected to your objective daily. Study maps, look at photos, research other possible previous ascents and descents, talk to those who’ve been there or may have route information for you. Visualize yourself attaining your goal. While grinding out your gazillionth weighted step-up, imagine how much more suffering you’ll endure on your actual objective, and then pick up the pace. Paste a photo of your objective on the wall in your makeshift home gym, and on your fridge, and as wallpaper on your computer. Transport yourself there, imagine your success in that environment. The more you prepare yourself mentally for the rigor of your endeavor and your success through all the suffering, the more you increase your chances for success.

Get familiar with all your gear during your training. Work out all the kinks, dial in the details, get the fit right, etc. Make sure your gear is ready to go, broken in, and utilized during your many hours of training. Your gear should be the least of your worries during your expedition.

Train up to the week before you start your objective. Anything more than a week of taper could start to reduce the strength and endurance you have gained. Take the time to rest, but not for too long before you start your expedition.

Send it. You worked hard for it. You mentally prepared for it. You’re at the top of your physical shape. Now go get it!

Here’s an example of a three-day progression within my current training cycle formulated by Rob Shaul, specifically for me to get ready for my Wrangell-St. Elias ski expedition:

Objective: Endurance
(1) 70 minutes bootpacking or step-ups at easy pace with 40-pound Pack
Easy pace = 32 Feet/min bootpack
25x step ups/minute
*Bootpack - wear crampons. Also, time does not include downhill skiing.
1,000 feet will take 32 minutes
1,500 feet will take 47 minutes
*Step ups - use 16” step/box and a metronome on your iPod if necessary.
Don’t go faster. Keep to the prescribed paces above.

Objective: Strength/Core
Warm Up:
2 Rounds
5x In-Place Lunges
5x Bench Dips
3x Renegade Rows @ 25 pounds
5x Seated Russian Twist @ 25 pounds
Instep Stretch
Lat + Pec Stretch
(1) 5 Rounds
30% Max In-Place Lunge Reps @ 25 pounds
30% Bench Dip Reps
30% Seated Russian Twist @ 25 pounds
30% Renegade Row @ 25 pounds
30 Second Dead Hang on Ice Tools
(2) 50x Sandbag Getups @ 60 pounds

Objective: Mini Event - 4 Hours
Boot Pack @ Easy Pace with 40-pound pack
or For 4 hours .... (grind, not for time)
50x Step Ups at 40 pounds, 16” Box
3x Scotty Bobs @ 25 pounds
Run 400 meters
Break into a 2-a-day if necessary, but get the time in.
Use the time to test equipment
(footwear, crampons, pack loading, layering system) and nutrition (hydration, cramping, electrolytes), fuel (gels plus solid food). Be sure to follow a strict nutrition schedule, with gel or food and drink every 45 minutes. Set a timer.

A special thank you to Rob Shaul of Mountain Athlete who has shared all his knowledge and spent countless hours formulating my training program. Thanks Coach.