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Training Tips & Prep

Training for a mountaineering/climbing/ski trip can seem intimidating at first.  Also, knowing the proper nutrition for these activities can be a challenge.  Thankfully, we have a resource from a local company Cascade Endurance to help. Check out the articles below about fitness and nutrition in preparation of your trip.  Both are provided by Cascade Endurance and written by Sam Naney.

Traning for Your Mountain Adventure

Info provided by Cascade Endurance
Congratulations! You’ve decided to embark on a mountain adventure completely under your own power. It’s a feeling like none other to get into the high country using only the engine known as You, and appreciating the remote scenery that only a few ever experience. Now the priority is on making that Engine of You ready for the journey by getting your aerobic and muscular systems at a level which will allow you to confidently tackle whatever the mountain throws at you. Training for the backcountry, whether by skis, on foot or climbing is about building up the fundamental parts of your physical fitness to form what’s known as an endurance base, and then doing some specific tune-up training to make that base ready for the adventure you’ve chosen. 

Fundamentally, the goal is to make you ready for MORE than what you’ll likely encounter in the mountains; this way you’ll have a reserve of strength and fitness to bolster your confidence, and to draw upon if circumstances require it. Placing technical skills aside (such as climbing-specific techniques or equipment usage; these skills should be developed in person with a trained and experience instructor), your physical preparations for any mountain adventure require two fundamental components: aerobic fitness and strength. Within these core elements you can build in specificity of movement (such as hill climbing or ski practice) to hone in one your goal. Below I’ll outline the basics of these two systems and give you ideas on how to train them. Like all fitness programs, these preparations are best done under the guidance of a coach who can monitor your progress and tailor the training to yourindividual goals and abilities.

Aerobic Development

The lynchpin to any successful pursuit lasting longer than three minutes is aerobic fitness. Essentially, this is your body’s ability to use oxygen to power the muscles to move farther and faster with the least amount of energy expended. Whether you’re a 1500m Olympic track runner or a professional climber on a Himalayan peak, the core principle and function is the same. But how do you build this system? There are three components to good aerobic training: Frequency, Duration, and Intensity. Frequency and duration go together, and are self-explanatory: you get better at something the more you do it. Aerobic training in particular benefits from frequent outings, done gradually over a longer and longer duration.

In other words, if you begin your training with a 30 minute run every other day, to progress your fitness you should consider adding more first more days of running, then increase the duration of each run to build your overall total volume each week. The third factor to consider in training aerobic fitness is intensity: how hard you go in your workouts. If you spend all your time training at a pace that leaves you mostly breathless and sputtering, unable to hold a conversation and speak in lengthy sentences, you’re going too hard and probably aren’t helping your aerobic system that much. This is because you’re demanding energy at too high a rate from your body, and it is therefore seeking it from more readily-available sources like glycogen (sugars).

In contrast, a well aerobically-trained person will burn a higher proportion of fats, which have a much denser energy quantity, thus allowing you to go longer with less demand on the body. To manage your intensity and to ensure that you’re staying in an aerobic zone during your training efforts, try the “Nosebreathing” strategy: anytime you exercise, close your mouth and breathe only through your nose, in for a 2-count and out for a 2-count. Only go as fast as this breathing style will allow; you may likely find yourself walking more! The killer secret to this method is that if you stay honest with it and don’t cheat, over time you’ll find that you are going faster over the same terrain while still nosebreathing, which results in a greater economy: more work for less effort.
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Dialing Nutrition for the Mountains

How many times have you found yourself at the tail end of a long, arduous effort in the mountains or on the trail, hallucinating with dancing visions of hamburgers, milkshakes and Snickers bars in front our your wobbling eyes? If you’re picking up what I’m putting down, you’ve fallen victim to The Bonk. But fear not, for this energy-sucking monster can be held at bay with a few smart preparations and attentiveness during your next adventure.

First let’s understand briefly what bonking is all about. Essentially, when you make a significant energy demand on your body (such as an endurance effort climbing a mountain), it will use a combination of fats and glycogen (stored sugars) to fuel you. As the effort goes up, this ratio shifts in favor of glycogen, which is more readily available and burns more quickly to respond to the increasing demand. This is fine, so long as you can maintain intake to match the demand, AND process the by- products that come from glycogen metabolism. But unfortunately no one can do that indefinitely, and eventually your body cannot keep up the high effort because your glycogen stores get depleted.

The brain then sends a signal to the muscles to slow down, and also starts powering down some of your peripheral systems in order to preserve the core components of your physiology such as brain function and circulation. What you feel in this moment then is a sweating, hazy fog of disorientation: the Bonk. How do you prevent this from happening? There are two things you need to keep your body moving efficiently and for longer on a mountain: fitness and proper nutrition. Fitness comes from advanced preparation; read more about it in our other article on Training for the Mountains. Nutrition however, is a simple matter of planning and diligence during your trip.
Sam Naney is an endurance coach and owner of Cascade Endurance, a coaching and events business based in the Pacific Northwest. After competing for a decade as a professional cross-country ski racer, Sam retired in 2014 and shifted his focus to coaching. He competes in trail running and marathon ski races, and regularly adventures in the mountains with his wife Alison, daughter Fiona and Siberian Husky Nikki.
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