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  1. #1
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    Default Conservative miles when starting a thru hike

    I am 54 and looking forward to starting an AT northbound thru hike in 2014. I frequently see advice to not over-do the miles when starting out - 8 or 10 miles per day. I am interested in hearing from folks who planned to do this and actually followed thru with their plan. Did you frequently feel you could have done more miles? If so, was it easy or difficult to stop? Or did you frequently feel that 8 - 10 miles was an appropriate max when starting out. If you successfully completed your thru hike, do you attribute some aspect of your success to sticking with that plan?

    Likewise, I'm interested in hearing from folks who intended to limit their miles at the beginning but did not follow through with that plan. Any regrets?

    Thanks.

  2. #2
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    Hello, I was 52 when I began my hike back in 2011. I should preface by saying I walked a buttload of training miles before I arrived in Ga. I spent my first night at Justus Creek,second at Lance Creek and made Neels Gap by lunch time on day three ( 2 1/2 days Springer to Neels ) and I hike on the slow side of average mph.
    Im a " tenter " not a " shelter hopper ". I realised from the onset mileage was made by being willing to walk long days,not by fast pace. I saw many around me end their day simply because they reached such and such shelter, even though there might be another 3-4 hours of daylight left. I chose to keep moving. It took me 14 hiking days to reach the Smokeys.
    I would say, train/hike before you get there...Dont begin your hike before April..Listen to your body....Dont hang around shelters bs'ing 4-5 hours a day...Get up early, get moving and take advantage of the daylight....WALK !
    Absinthe.......It's not just for breakfast anymore.

  3. #3

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    Many do it by default. They arent in great shape or their packs are heavy. Perhaps that is actually a good thing.

    What you really worry about is repetitive motion injuries and stress fractures. Bones and joints need time to gradually adjust to the workload. Bones can actually thicken and become stronger in response to the load , but it takes time. The repetitive pounding all day long, especially on downhills, is like repeatedly hitting your lower leg bones and joints with a hammer.

    Its not really a question of "could you have done more", but "should you do more", and what is the downside risk.

    Runners know this. They know to build mileage slowly , 10% per week, to minimize injuries. Too much , too soon, and they can be set back months in their training. Same thing applies to hiking with a pack.

    It takes 5-6 weeks in a walking-boot to heal a tibial stress fracture. Then slow increase of use for a few weeks too.
    Pretty much will end a thru attempt .

    Oh yeah, I had one once. Never thought it could happen to me.
    But especially going downhill, where you drop wt on your leg, thousands and thousands of times repetitively, takes its toll.
    Last edited by MuddyWaters; 04-07-2013 at 21:20.

  4. #4
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    I was 51 when I thru hiked in 2010. I did about 10 miles at first not because of any plan or schedule. 10 was about all I could really do even though I had trained to do 15-18 mpd locally. I was in good, not great shape. As is often said here, it's hard for most to train for the elevation changes one faces on the AT. (And I'm only 2-3 hours away). about every 10-14 days I increased it by 2 miles...not by any plan but found I was taking fewer shorter breaks.

    In my experience, the ones that tend to push themselves too hard are the ones who hike in groups. Usually this is the younger hikers...they get caught up in miles per day and keeping up with one another. Don't worry about a mileage goal at the start...just hike every day until you feel like stopping.

  5. #5
    Registered User Old Boots's Avatar
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    Iran into a professional backpacker ( leads hikes in the Rockies ) who was hiking @ 25 mod on the AT and got shin splints so bad he had to get off the trail. Just making as many miles a day as daylight will allow is not wise IMHO. Listen to your body and stop when it tells you to.

  6. #6
    Super Moderator Marta's Avatar
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    I'm a big proponent of making a conservative plan and sticking to it.

    #Hikers of a certain age heal more slowly than we did when we were young. An injury that might inconvenience a younger hiker for a few days might finish our hikes, or at least plague us for the rest of our lives.

    #You know that point at which you feel absolutely great, invincible even? Have you ever acted on that feeling..and gotten hurt? I don't trust that feeling. It leads us into folly.

    #It takes much longer for hard tissues--tendons and bones--to reap the benefits of exercise than it takes muscles. When we start to feel a bit fitter it's easy to injure the next weakest link. (See the above point.)

    #Rest is a crucial part of the strength-building cycle.

    Believing all of the above, I was very conservative at the start of my long hike. I dawdled through Maine and NH. Basically I almost never hiked more than an 8-hour day. Towards the end of my hike I could cover more than 20 miles in 8 hours, but at the beginning I was only going half to 2/3 that far in a day.

    Slow and steady wins the race. If you average twelve miles a day you'll finish in six months. Twelve miles a day is only six hours of hiking, or only four, when you get faster. No need to rush.
    If not NOW, then WHEN?

    ME>GA 2006
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  7. #7

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    When I started section hiking the AT, I hadn't done any serious hiking in 35 years. I did lots of practice hikes/running before I started. However, living in WI, there was nothing to prepare me for the hills in GA. The approach trail was a real eye opener. I had no clue how to properly pace myself or consume the correct amount of water/food during the day. By the time I got to Springer, my legs were shaking on every step. Needless to say, it took a few weeks (and some knee problems) to find my conform zone. Now, each year I start SLOW. I no longer have any goals about getting from one point to another, I just hike and enjoy the views. I force myself to start slow, 8-10 on day one (or less if there are 2000' climbs). It takes at least a week for me to get my trail legs where I might even consider doing 20+ mile days. Don't forget that down hill is just as as hard on you body as going up. Don't be fooled thinking that a full day of downhill will be easy.

  8. #8

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    I'm 58 and did a section hike from the approach trail to Unicoi Gap with my 24 year old thru hiking son. His plan was to start slow and build the miles. It worked out well for both of us. The first two days were 9 and 8 miles. The third day we kicked it up to 13 and then a couple of 11 mile days. I finished off with a 10 mile day. My knees were starting to ache on the downhills the last two days. My son has now worked it up to 20 mile days and has no injuries. If I were to be hiking MY hike instead of his, an extra 8 to 10 mile day or two to start would have eased my knees in better. Just a note, neither of us were doing vitamin I to take the strain off as some people do.

  9. #9
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    I have to say Im somewhat surprised by the replies here. I was 52 when I left Springer and not an " uber " hiker by any stretch. Eight to ten miles a day? Really?....You can easily have eight miles done by lunch. What do you do with the rest of the day? You are there to hike ....Right ? Slow and steady?...My point exactly...Train before you begin your hike. Listen your body. Rest if/when you need to. A pace of only two miles an hour is pretty slow, even in the mountains carrying a backpack. Break camp and be walking by 0730.....You'll be surprised at how many miles you can knock out per day. Walking slow and steady.
    Absinthe.......It's not just for breakfast anymore.

  10. #10
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    I dug out my guide book from my hike ...14 hiking days to the Smokeys was from memory...Looking at my notes, some were short days leading into a town/the NOC. Eleven complete hiking days to reach the Smokeys....Dont underestimate yourself.
    Absinthe.......It's not just for breakfast anymore.

  11. #11
    Stir Fry
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    sb1004 Maby I'll see you I too am 54. I retire Febuary 2014 and plane to start my thru on March 30. I have hiked from Springer to Domascus and I do beleave its best to start slow. I will definatly follow that advice next year. By the time you get to Fontana you will start to get your trail legs and will be keeping up with all but the fastes hikers. I don't know if I'm tipical or not but the first week always herts. Walking at hoome helps but the only way to get used to hiking 8-10 hours a day is to hike 8-10 hours. I have seen alot that get the 8 miles inn by 1 or 2 in the afternoon and push on only to quit after 100 miles. Most, I beleave would have been better off to have started slower and built up the time hiked. The distance will come but the time, takes time.
    If it do'nt eat you or kill you it makes you stronger
    'The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.' G. K. Chesterton

  12. #12
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    My normal goal in the first week is to adjust my pace as I go so that I dont have to stop because I am working too hard. Thats means slowing down heading up hill and worse case taking extremely short slow steps on the steeps, then ans the grade flattens out speeding up. I do this for about 55 minutes and take a 5 minute break every hour with a half hour for lunch. I do this for 8 hours 9 hours max if there is a logical goal point. Sure I get to a campsite early but the next day, I can do the same distance or a bit more. After week of this, then I would start adding hours. It took me awhile to get over the crank out the miles hard the first few days approach as inevitably later in the week I would regret it and have to slow down due to some sort of overuse injury.

    I use the pace adjustment approach in the whites (where the trails can have very steep long uphill stretches. Most folks blow by me early on but usually I catch up with them as they get into the "stop and go" mode which is real drain on energy

  13. #13
    Registered User Monkeywrench's Avatar
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    For whatever it's worth, you can find all the detailed statistics of my 2009 thru-hike here: http://allenf.com/blog/?p=261

    I started out hiking 60 - 80 miles per week. A few weeks later I was doing 100+ miles per week through the Smokies. I think my biggest week was 133.3 miles in Pennsylvania, at the end of June.


    I did my first 20+ mile day on day 4 out of Neels Gap, but I followed that up with an extra short day as it beat up my feet a bit. I was in fairly good hiking shape when I started, but especially at the beginning I found my legs could walk more than my feet could tolerate. You need to let your feet toughen up or you will pound them into hamburger.

    As a point of reference, I was 50 the year of my thru-hike.
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    Allen "Monkeywrench" Freeman
    NOBO 3-18-09 - 9-27-09
    blog.allenf.com
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  14. #14
    Registered User Old Hiker's Avatar
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    I had a goal of 15 miles per day to finish before I had to go back to work. Never got there - best was 16.6 miles.

    Why?
    1. Not enough training in a HILLY environment. I'd been doing 15-20 miles every weekend here in flat Florida - not good enough. 5 miles in FL = 1 mile in the mountains. When going up hills the first time, I could only go 50-75 steps before having to stop. By the time I was in VA, I was going 250-400 steps, depending on the slope. Don't ask me about Jacob's Ladder!!!
    2. Too much weight - started with a 52 pound+ pack. Never went below 40-43 pounds. Packed my fears big time. Hiked down to Erwin with 43 pounds actual weight at Uncle Johnny's. This AFTER 5 (?) days of hiking.
    3. Up too late - I ALWAYS started my morning late. Never could get out of bed. I always stopped about 30-45 minutes before sundown to set up camp, though, to give me time to set up the tent, hang the bag, eat and get ready for bed. This cut my hiking time down by at least an hour, maybe two.

    Next time: I start training at least a year out - 2015. Stairs, ramps, etc. in addition to just walking. I've already started cutting weight down. I'm going to make a conscious effort to get out of camp earlier so I can hike longer, so I can put more miles in.

    Good luck - hike your own hike.
    Old Hiker
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    AT Thru Hiker - 29 FEB - 03 OCT 2016 2189.1 miles
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  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by Old Hiker View Post

    Next time: I start training at least a year out - 2015. Stairs, ramps, etc. in addition to just walking. I've already started cutting weight down. I'm going to make a conscious effort to get out of camp earlier so I can hike longer, so I can put more miles in.
    My primary training device is an exercise bike. It has made my knees stronger and gives a little better cardio. If all I do is ride a bike my feet aren't tough enough so I have to make sure I put in the miles on foot and as well as miles on the bike. When I started section hiking in my early 40s a 15 mile day killed me. Now I can 20 miles on day 1 no problem and I never put a pack on until I hit the trail. Riding that bike has made a huge difference for me.

    My general advice would be to start hiking 60% of the miles you think you can do at 75% of the pace you think you can hike at. After a week evaluate and adjust accordingly.
    Pain is a by-product of a good time.

  16. #16
    Registered User rusty bumper's Avatar
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    I was 62 when I started my AT thru-hike in 2011. I spent 8 months prior to beginning my hike getting in shape by hiking/walking about 50 miles a week with and without my pack. Unfortunately all of those miles were in northeast Ohio so I didn't get in too much climbing or descending! I started at Springer with a pack weight of 24 pounds, and for the first week I walked the following miles per day: 10.1, 12.8, 10.6, 11.4, 11.4, 13.7, and 6.3. On each of those days I felt pretty strong and never really struggled. After the first week my miles increased and I quickly found myself in the 15-17 mile per day range for the next five months, with some days a bit longer and other days a bit shorter. I stayed in my tent nearly every night. My daily routine was to get going well before 8 am in the morning, hike steadily until 6 pm or so when I started looking for a flat spot to set up my tent...sometimes I found that spot pretty quickly, other times it may have taken as much as an extra hour of hiking. Most nights I was sound asleep by 9 pm. By hiking this way, my daily miles were determined by the roughness of the terrain and the weather, rather than the distance between shelters.

  17. #17
    Registered User Grampie's Avatar
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    Your attitude is correct. Do low milage 8-10 days when you start. Being a older hiker you will need more time for your body to adjust to the daily riggors of a thru-hike. You will know when you are ready to hike more miles. Once you damage your body by over doing, it takes a long time to recover. Remember the old addage about the turtle and the Hare. slow and steady will get you to your destination.
    I was 66 years old when I thru-hiked. I took my time. My daily average was only 10.5 miles. I did not have any serious medical, physical or mental problems. It turned out to be quite a adventure. Take it easy, don't give up your chance to have one.
    Grampie-N->2001

  18. #18

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    You can get the mileage I did on my AT thru-hike (listed at the top of each daily journal entry -- I started April 10th which was an excellent time to have started an AT thru-hike that year). Use that mileage for a guide to starting "relatively" slowly. I sure wouldn't be doing any pace faster than what I did on my AT thru-hike if you're wanting to start slowly. The hike to Justus Creek on the first day from Springer was a little more than what would be "hiking slowly" but the rest of the days were about how you should look at your hike considering the terrain between where my start and stop points were for the days in Georgia and North Carolina.

    I was in pretty good shape when I started the AT -- In 2013, you should get out and carry your fully loaded backpack this summer and fall for at least two weekends per month and then plan to take two 1-week long backpacking trips in the mountains (not camping, not dayhiking to a car) before winter so you can see what you'll be facing -- this will help you size up the circumstances (it'll likely be tougher than your weekend backpacking trips and your two 1-week long trips and remember, you'll be hiking in the rain most days for the first month or so).

    Here's a link to my on-line AT thru-hike journal:

    http://www.trailjournals.com/entry.cfm?trailname=5030


    Datto

  19. #19

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    I'll ad to what several people have mentioned. Going uphill will make you work and tire you out. Going downhill is where you take real damage. Resist the temptation to make miles going down.
    "It's fun to have fun, but you have to know how." ---Dr. Seuss

  20. #20
    Clueless Weekender
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    Quote Originally Posted by Datto View Post
    Here's a link to my on-line AT thru-hike journal:
    http://www.trailjournals.com/entry.cfm?trailname=5030
    Thanks! I hadn't seen that one before, and it's hilarious!
    I always know where I am. I'm right here.

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