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Runtrails' 2005 AT Journal
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                    CROSS-TRAINING                  March 2
"We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.Ē      Aristotle

Follow that blaze!  Rocky section of the AT between McAfee Knob and Tinker Cliffs near Roanoke, VA.    March, 2005

One of my biggest questions preparing for this adventure run is, ďHow do I train to run more miles in four months than I usually do in a whole year?Ē  

Despite having a strong ďbaseĒ of over 40,000 running miles (plus a lot more walking miles) during the last 25 years, my average annual mileage is 1,601.

My highest mileage year was eons ago, 2,403 miles in 1985. Last year was my fourth LOWEST mileage year with only 1,069.5 miles.

The Appalachian Trail is 2,175 miles long, and I expect to run it in four MONTHS???

Um, yes. Here's my rationale.

Because of the extreme cumulative elevation gain and notorious rocks much of the way, there will be a lot of walking, too Ė I estimate Iíll be walking 60-70% of the time.

I can cover a lot of ground in 6-12 hours a day, even with a lot of walking.

But Iíve got to avoid any serious injuries. Last yearís mileage was low because it included only five months of decent training. In May, I got an obscure tendon rupture in my Mortonís toe (2nd toe longer than the big toe, causing extra stress on it when I run). I didnít get it properly diagnosed until September. Surgery to correct it wasnít until October.

After two months of recovery, I was able to resume walking in late November, and running in mid-December. While it wasnít quite as bad as starting from scratch, I really had to be careful not to ramp up my mileage too quickly and risk re-injury to my foot.

This is what my mileage has been since surgery (almost all on trails):

November:      29.5 miles, all walking
December:       92.5 miles, still a lot of walking
January:         154.5 miles, mostly running
February:       162.0 miles, mostly running; longest run 4 hours
March:           225.0 miles, projected; longest run 6-8 hours
April:              250.0 miles, projected; longest run 9-10 hours

Iím in trouble again:

Total AT mileage (2,175) divided by 122 days (May through August) is averaging just under 18 miles a day or 125 miles a week (17 weeks). The only times Iíve done 100 miles in a week were when I finished 100-mile races.

Worse, Iíve never done more than three long consecutive runs. I ran 70 miles in three days during the Western States training runs in 2001 and about the same distance at the three-day Leadville training weekend in 1999. I  survived those.


If I were a horse, I donít think there would be a lot of people putting their bets on me!

But donít count me out yet. With a light pack, I can walk a lot of miles in a day, supplemented by as much running as the terrain allows. If hikers can manage some 20-25 mile days once theyíre conditioned to the Trail, I should be able to do that or more when I get my ďAT legs.Ē

This is not the ideal training schedule before such a long run. Obviously, I wish I had a stronger base last year. I wish I could run more miles this year before I start my trek Ė but Iím not willing to risk injury to do that so soon after surgery.

I strongly believe that I can accomplish my goal if I am healthy when I begin the run, start with sensible mileage, walk 60-70% of the time, and proceed with more caution than wild abandon.

That doesnít mean I have to forfeit any of the fun. This will be a lot more fun if I donít tear another tendon or get another stress fracture!! 

So Rule #1 for Runtrailsí AT Adventure Run is ďDonít get injured.Ē

Rule #2 is ďHave fun!Ē

Like most of the back-packers that thru-hike the AT, I will be doing a lot of my training as I go up the Trail. Iíll start off gradually from Day One and increase my mileage in proportion to the increases in my stamina and endurance along the way, just like a smart thru-hiker does.

Train as I go.

David Horton and others estimate it takes about a month to start feeling really fit on the Trail, and possibly longer. Then the miles start feeling easier, and daily distances can increase.

This works well on the AT because in a month I should be in Virginia, where the Trail is generally less strenuous than in North Carolina and Tennessee. And I'm familiar with some of the Trail in Virginia, where I train now. So it'll be fun to do some higher-mileage days there.


Before I start, I want to get my longest training run up to at least 30 miles or eight hours on my feet. Iím not doing any ultras until Vermont 100 in July, during the trek. I think a race would just result in lost training time because Iíd want to taper before the race and recover afterwards.

I started training with my pack in February. I describe the gear Iím using in Prep10.

I intend to employ the same hard-easy concept to this run as I do in my trainingalternating hard and easy days, hard and easy weeks. The terrain and weather will dictate much of this, as well as my conditioning. Some segments msy be up to forty miles long, some may be as short as eight. In training, I do well with two back-to-back runs, like 20-20s, usually feeling better on the second run. So I will probably do some B2B runs like that along the way.

I will be flexible, rest when needed, and take longer than four months if necessary.

And if everything is going just great, wouldnít it be a kick if I finished it even FASTER than I anticipate??


During my 25 years of running Iíve also been cross-training a lot. This is what my current weekly schedule looks like, in addition to the running:

Walking: up long or steep hills during training runs, sometimes just walking on an easy day to get in more time on my feet. Sometimes I do fast uphill walking on a treadmill as it forces me to walk faster than I would outside.

Weight machines: three times a week for 20-30 minutes each time; approximately 2/3 of the time on upper body muscles, 1/3 back, abs, and legs.

Pool running: about one hour/week; no impact, some upper body resistance; boring but effective.

Cycling: upright or recumbent bike, only occasionally. I havenít ridden my road bike since last summer.

Yoga, Pilates, stretching, balancing exercises: about three hours/week.

I also get massage and a chiropractic adjustment every four-five weeks. I plan to continue those appointments during the AT run. We need to return home briefly several times during the trip, so Iíll schedule appointments with my own massage therapist and chiropractor instead of choosing folks blindly while weíre on the Trail.

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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© 2005  Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil