Getting away from it all and into the great outdoors is one of the greatest ways to refresh the spirit from the hectic demands of modern life. Fresh air and amazing scenery, great exercise and the chance to disconnect are just some of the many reasons that increasing numbers of people are heading in the direction of adventure and finding their way onto hiking trails across the globe. Long distance hiking – or thru’hiking – in particular has been experiencing a massive surge in popularity in recent years as thousands of wilderness wannabes look to emulate the likes of Cheryl Strayed whose solo 1,100 mile Pacific Crest Trail hike was turned into the novel and Hollywood movie – ‘Wild’.
The intentions are great but how do you prepare the body for the demands of a hiking journey, in particular a long distance hike of many hundreds of miles? If you’ve spent weeks, months and maybe even years planning your precious trip then the last situation you want to find yourself in is having to abandon your adventure due to injury.
So what can you do whilst you’re out there on the trail to minimise the impact of the day’s activity and get you ready for the demands that lie ahead? Here at La Clinique du Sport in Chamonix we are used to helping people survive and importantly enjoy their Tour du Mont Blanc hike which normally takes 7-10 days with around 185 Km covered and 10,000m of ascent / descent.
These are our 7 top tips to get you HikeFit, keep you on the trail and keep a smile on your face!
1. Get The Right Footwear
This is a little like locking the stable door after the horse has bolted, however it is too important not to mention. With correct preparation and conditions underfoot (ie no snow), I feel we should all be able to hike in a relatively sturdy shoe rather than a big heavy boot. Our bodies weren’t designed to have really heavy feet which is what a big boot turns them into. Lighter shoes also allow for a more natural movement of the ankle and therefore all the muscles that look after the knee and hips are also allowed to work more fluidly.
The only real reason for an experienced hiker to wear boots is that the sole offers protection from stones bruising the underside of the foot and the ankle coverage protects against glancing blows and scrapes from rocks. However, guess what? Without this protection you move more carefully and learn to place your feet better so go for a sturdy hiking shoe/boot rather than a big heavy boot if possible.
2. Give Your Feet A Treat
At the end of the day give your feet a treat – take your shoes or boots off and massage the toes, feet and calfs. Press your fingers deep into the arch of the foot. It is likely to be tender, however it will help the foot remain soft by encouraging the muscles to work rather than becoming stiff. When muscle stiffness happens, the feet are become less responsive to absorbing your movement on the trail.
3. Cold Water Therapy
Thankfully most huts, refuges or logical spots to camp are conveniently located near a natural water source so if you can find cold water at all, use it! Dipping the feet and calfs into cold water for 2-5mins depending on much you can take can really help with regeneration. Circulation is improved and the shock of the cold water actually releases hormones that repair the body. If you are in a hotel or have access to a shower then spraying each leg in turn for 3x30sec with the cold on will have a similar effect.
4. Fuel Up
Try to get some good quality food into the system within the first 15 minutes of finishing the day. That means something with good protein and sugar – if you can get a ham or cheese sandwich then that’s great. If you prefer, some fruit juice (or a beer…) and some olives also fit the bill. The important thing is to make the most of that initial 15 minute window to refuel – you will feel the benefit with a better night’s sleep and a fresher start the next morning.
5. Stretch It Out
Try not to collapse as soon as you arrive. Everyone has done it, arrive at the destination, sit down for a few beers (or recovery drinks) and then try to get up an hour later and the legs have seized up. Stretching and active recovery before resting are really essential. If you have any niggling injuries that you are managing, then do the stretches you have been prescribed otherwise try walking very leisurely around the camp a little (without your pack on). Gentle walking promotes circulation and active recovery in the legs.
6. Keep It Gentle
Start and finish each day as gently as possible. Try to finish the day by gradually slowing down over the last ten to fifteen minutes rather than charging to the hut. No matter how tempting that beer is, the body likes ramps i.e. no sudden changes. End the day gently and start the day gently, walk a little around camp again without your pack and then start at a modest pace before building it up.
7. Be Kind To Your Skin
Carry a very small tube of skin ointment eg a nappy rash product such as sudocreme or bepanthan. Treat areas that have been subject to chaffing as there’s nothing like some skin that has been rubbed raw to take the edge off enjoying a great holiday. The same applies to blisters – try to deal with them when they are hot spots rather than full blown blisters. Make sure socks aren’t folded over, there is nothing in the shoe, and that your laces are at the correct tension to help prevent them in the first place.
So an ideal quick and easy routine to keep you HikeFit would be to finish the day gently rather than at a charge and have a quick snack with good protein and some sugar/carbohydrate within 15 minutes of arriving. Then find a stream to dunk your feet in and give them a quick rub to loosen them out. Try a little walk later that evening just to keep the legs moving and address any skin issues that might have developed during the day. The next morning start gently and enjoy another great day on the trail.
See you out there…
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