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  1. #1

    Default Will an AT thru-hike help get me in marathon shape?

    Ok, this is my first post, but I've been reading on the board a lot in the last few weeks. I decided recently that I would complete the AT thru-hike in 2013. I've already put in for a leave of absense at my job, my wife is on board, I have all the money I need saved up, I own probably 60% of the gear I need, I'm in very decent shape...and most importantly, I'm stubborn as hell and need to get away for a while.

    My brother asked me last week if I'd run the Chicago Marathon with him in 2013. It'd be his first and I'd really like to do it. The problem is that if I leave on 3/11 for my thru hike, the soonest I'll be done is likely mid-July and maybe even into late Aug/early Sept. The marathon is the first Sunday in October.

    Most of marathon training is putting miles on your feet and getting your muscles and tendons ready for the beating that 26.2 miles will put on them. I'm wondering if completing a thru-hike will effectively do the same thing?

    I doubt that I will be able to complete any real running training while hiking; that's extra energy expenditure I don't need.

    Thoughts??

    ....and I'll be posting a bit later with a whole host of questions for you guys; but first I want to make sure I've searched for any answers that have alreayd been posted (I did search for this question, but couldn't find anything).

    Thanks and I can't wait to be part of your community.

  2. #2
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    i finished a thru-hike mid-august one year then 2 months later ran a 54 mile trail race in 8hrs 47mins so i would say yes a thru-hike will get you in marathon shape

  3. #3
    Registered User moocow's Avatar
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    It definitely gives you the endurance training needed, but can someone else broaden on the topic of putting yourself at risk to other foot and ankle problems on the trail as opposed to road running? I planned on doing my first 10K in about 10 years once I got off the trail, but plantar fasciitis has killed that idea. It's been more than two months since the trail and I still can't run.

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    No question you will be in great shape cardiowise. But, thethinker raises a good point. By the end of a thruhike many folks have numbness in their feet, lost toenails and generally have a shuffle to their walk. Most get over those ailments but it takes some time.

    Also, if you have different running shoes, be prepared to buy a larger size. Feet will grow a size or so after hiking six months.
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    I think it will depend on how your hike goes. When I finished the PCT I wasn't able to run at all for a couple of months after I finished. But once my feet healed up I was able to run 40 miles on the GA section of the AT without any problem. In my case I hiked some very long days much of it through snow and it completely destroyed my feet.

    There was a women (dirt diva) on the PCT a few years ago that ran an ultra mid way through her hike. So if you come off without injury or major trauma then it should be about the same as the recovery after a marathon, just a bit longer.

  6. #6

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    Well, I don't know but I'll tell you what I experienced. Running was my main form of exercise. Prior to my thru I had completed 1 marathon and ran a half every year with friends. I also ran normally 5 miles 3 or 4 times a week. A couple weeks after my thru - in the best shape of my life - I met some friends to run the 5 mile loop at Stone Mountain. This was my "normal" route so I was knew what to expect. After the pre run comments about how I was going to blow everyone away I was shocked - shocked! - to be totally winded and needed to walk about 3 miles in. All I can say is that walking is different than running and it affected me. Apparently it hasn't affected others. Will it affect you? Who knows.

  7. #7

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    Generally yes, I do believe a thru-hike will prepare someone to run a marathon. However, there are some factors we don't know about and they are important in your case because we don't know how much running and hiking time you have -- this is important because you plan to do a marathon ~1 month after your thru-hike.

    As someone said, you take a beating, especially your feet, during a thru-hike, but if you already have tons of hiking, than that might not be much of a factor. Also if you have a lot of running time that may work in your favor. But to expect to run a marathon after only a month following a thru-hike if you're not already an avid hiker or runner, than that may be asking too much from your body.

    I was never much of a runner before my hike in 2006, but I knew I wanted to change that, that was part of the reason for my thru. I use to hate running, but after my thru I now consider myself a lifelong runner. Furthermore, it was the easiest transition from one activity to another that I've ever made. So in that sense, a thru-hike is great in preparing for a marathon, but probably to do one only a month after would be asking too much if you've never done a marathon or a lot of hiking, but then again you're only 32....


    P.S. When I say, "Generally yes, I do believe a thru-hike will prepare someone to run a marathon", I'm specifically talking about the AT. On flatter trails, such as the Florida Trail, I don't believe that would be nearly as good to prepare one for running a marathon.

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    Another variable would be how fast do you want to run? 3 hrs or just finish the race?

    Also, no one welcomed the OP on his first post! Isn't that worth a dancing banana?

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    Early October last year I completed a three day section hike of Maryland in Harpers Ferry to find that 4 SOBO thruhikers with no experience had just completed the marathon that day. I think that one finished 8th overall. I met one of the marathoners, Denim Chicken, that evening at the Tea Horse Hostel. I think he took a zero the next day and then continued his hike. So, yes if you're young thru hiking will get you into marathon shape.

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    One thing not addressed yet is the mental part. A thru hike changes your perception. It might be enough to make a difference on a long run. As Yogi Berra says, 50% of the game is all mental.

    A guy I met on the PCT is a solo adventure racer. Before his hike, he could never even finish a race. After his PCT thru, he placed very high in the state standings. He said he really thought the difference was only in his head.
    "Throw a loaf of bread and a pound of tea in an old sack and jump over the back fence." John Muir on expedition planning

  11. #11

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    I am running the Chicago marathon in 2012 (well, I hope to finish at around 5:00 hours, my training was interrupted with achillies tendonitis). And by the time I leave for the trail, should be running around 30-40miles per week. I don't yet know how much hiking I'll be able to incorporate before I leave, but surely some.

    I also do a lot of other sports/activities (volleyball, softball, racquetball, swimming, weightlifting, kayaking, snowshoeing)...so general fitness shouldn't be much of a problem, I hope. I'm probably going to scale back somewhat before the hike just to avoid injury risk before I leave....then ramp up slowly on the trail too.

    I am very concerned about the mental aspect of this too. I've ran 2 marathons, eight 1/2 marathons and probably a fifty 5k/10k/mud runs/bike rides. But I've never done something like leave my family/friends for 4-6 months and spend most all day, every day, hiking. It's a very interesting challenge, and I of course think I'm up to it (doesn't everyone?), but it deserves a lot of consideration. I'm hoping the commitment to training I've shown over the last 6 years will help me get through the AT hike. It couldn't hurt anyway.

    I'll have to do a lot of research on taking care of myself on the trail to avoid a lot of the foot problems you all have mentioned.


    So many responses, so quickly. Thank you all so much (especially for the welcome!)!

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    Preparing for a marathon is about training your body and muscles to store and use glycogen efficiently. You do that by a series of longer and longer runs then a pre-race taper. Your best bet is to get on a marathon training schedule like one found at http://www.halhigdon.com/training/51...Training-Guide

    Hiking may or may not get your glycogen conversion rate established enough to prevent hitting the wall after the 20 mile mark. Don't underestimate the importance of diet while training for a marathon either. Unfortunatly, a thru hikers diet is not always conducive.
    Last edited by Spokes; 09-04-2012 at 18:43.

  13. #13

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    Quote Originally Posted by Spokes View Post
    Preparing for a marathon is about training your body and muscles to store and use glycogen efficiently. You do that by a series of longer and longer runs then a pre-race taper. Your best bet is to get on a marathon training schedule like one found at http://www.halhigdon.com/training/51...Training-Guide

    Hiking may or may not get your glycogen conversion rate established enough to prevent hitting the wall after the 20 mile mark.
    I get all that; I'm not worried much about hitting the wall....I hit the wall on both of my previous marathons at about mile 21-22. My stubborness and unwillingness to quit seem to get me past the pain.

    What I am worried about though, is my muscles and tendons not being up to the challenge since my running will be very limited until the 4-8 weeks leading up to the race. Sounds like that won't be a problem after a 2200 mile hike. Recovery is another story.

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    I'd say your feet could be relatively sore for a few weeks at least, if not more, following a thru-hike..and rest for your feet would be in order.

    This will work against you at a time when you must be putting in the miles in prep for the marathon. Without those miles your cardio endurance will wane off and be below optimal.

    Who knows whether you'll even complete your thru-hike in the first place (I don't know you or whether you're up to it, but more likely you won't than you will based off of general stats of previous people's attempts vs. actual completions). If not, it could be a blessing in disguise, as this will give you added time to prepare/recover for your fall marathon.

  15. #15
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    This is an excellent question and I think the answer lies in what you consider "marathon shape" to be. I would think that most people who consider themselves long-distance hikers including thru-hikers that are your age could probably at least complete a marathon. If your goal is a specific time, thru-hiking (or any long distance hike - say, a month or more of hiking) will build an endurance baseline. What it won't necessarily build is speed. After thru-hiking, I wasn't really a runner but now, I hike several hundred miles each summer (usually in a 3-4 week block) and usually run a couple of half-marathons and usually one marathon in the fall. I feel like the hiking enables me to run basically 9 minute miles forever but doesn't do much for speed. I would suggest that after your thru, you should concentrate on pick-ups and other speed training techniques.

    A couple of years ago, I started a half-marathon in my home town - The Athens Half Marathon (www.athhalf.com). We got Jeff Galloway to come and do a clinic and serve as a guest speaker and honorary starter. I learned a lot about training from Jeff as he is the premier marathon trainer in the country. I would highly suggest that you visit his website which is simply: www.jeffgalloway.com

    By the way, I've run both the Chicago Marathon and Chicago Half Marathon (neither very fast) - you've got a fun city

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    Quote Originally Posted by Papa D View Post
    This is an excellent question and I think the answer lies in what you consider "marathon shape" to be. .....
    Papa D is a very wise person.

  17. #17
    Registered User Donde's Avatar
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    I ran my first marathon about 10 weeks after finishing my AT hike. The hike was very good for my overall endurance and my mindset. That being said I was pretty beat up when I finished and 10 is more than 4 (2.5 times). So I guess my answer would be, if you can stay healthy on trail then yes you will be fine. However if you get too banged up on trail or plan on running a BQ, not gonna happen.

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    Two part answer.
    1. The hike will get you at a weight and aerobic fitness to do the marathon barring injury.
    2. You will need to prepare between the two to "tone" your running muscles. While hiking and running are both primarily leg exercise they are different. You need to immediately after the hike start a healthy eating regimen as your body energy reserves will be low, and start a gentle but increasing running program (not severe!) to transfer your "fitness" to the correct foot and leg muscles etc.

  19. #19

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    Quote Originally Posted by robertblake60 View Post
    I am running the Chicago marathon in 2012 (well, I hope to finish at around 5:00 hours, my training was interrupted with achillies tendonitis). And by the time I leave for the trail, should be running around 30-40miles per week. I don't yet know how much hiking I'll be able to incorporate before I leave, but surely some.

    I also do a lot of other sports/activities (volleyball, softball, racquetball, swimming, weightlifting, kayaking, snowshoeing)...so general fitness shouldn't be much of a problem, I hope. I'm probably going to scale back somewhat before the hike just to avoid injury risk before I leave....then ramp up slowly on the trail too.

    I am very concerned about the mental aspect of this too. I've ran 2 marathons, eight 1/2 marathons and probably a fifty 5k/10k/mud runs/bike rides. But I've never done something like leave my family/friends for 4-6 months and spend most all day, every day, hiking. It's a very interesting challenge, and I of course think I'm up to it (doesn't everyone?), but it deserves a lot of consideration. I'm hoping the commitment to training I've shown over the last 6 years will help me get through the AT hike. It couldn't hurt anyway.

    I'll have to do a lot of research on taking care of myself on the trail to avoid a lot of the foot problems you all have mentioned.


    So many responses, so quickly. Thank you all so much (especially for the welcome!)!
    Sounds like you'll be fine, especially since you'll have at least a month to get your running legs back. However, being so soon after a thru-hike I wouldn't expect, or even aspire, to setting any personal best time. Just do it and count it as training for a later event to set a PR.

    BTW, garlic08 made a very good point. That is definitely the toughest part of a thru-hike -- the mental toughness to get up every morning only to do the exact same thing as countless other mornings.

  20. #20
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    You won't know until after your hike.

    The theoretical answer is "yes, it will help but it won't replace real marathon training."

    The practical answer is "Maybe, depending on how the hike affects your mind and body."

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