24 week big mountain training plan (In Progress)

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  • #4256
    Matt Tse

    So I’m now officially booked and the planning is getting real for a typical Denali West Butt trip this May. I signed up for Steve’s 24wk training plan and I’m now 8 weeks away from T-minus 1 week where the last week is dedicated to taper/maintenance/logistic late minute planning. I wanted to start a discussion with other people who may be thinking about or have done any of big mountain training plans (8, 12, 16, 24, etc) and discuss what has been working for you and what hasn’t been so far. For background, I work a typical 40hr M-F work week and I commit myself to training and dieting the rest of the time (a necessary commitment for this program to have the most efficacy). I also have a fitness background as a ski coach, FIS ski racer, and competitive cross-country runner (not through the collegiate level). Size-wise, I’m about 5’5″ and 135lbs. I’ve done about a dozen CO 14ers, Kilimanjaro, and some skimo (13ers/14ers).

    I plan to have a longer write up after I come back from my trip, but in the meantime I wanted to also provide feedback from the training so far.

    Data Percentages from 11/21-04/04/2017:
    Planned breakdowns by Duration:

      • 33.4% Running


      • 36.4% Walking/Hiking


      • 24.7% Strength


      5.44% Other

    Actual/Completed Breakdowns by Duration:

      • 27.6% Running


      • 31.8% Walking/Hiking


      • 7.30(+/-)0.55% Strength


      • 23.7% Other


      9.06% XC-Ski

    *Before going into a short synoptic analysis, I broke the percentages down by duration rather than distance as the distance metric is highly variable, depending on any indidivudals’ previous base period training.

    Overview and Observations:
    With all workouts being intentional, the first 16 weeks, being base building, all felt like an ordinary fitness regimen. I had not experienced any problems whatsoever. Two weeks ago, the conversion to specificity/muscular endurance began (hill sprints and weekly long run w/ vertical). For the first time in the activity notes, Steve noted that HR can be disregard and explosive pushes need to be as hard as can be. I’m working with a 30m over about 300 horizontal meters (~10% grade), which isn’t even quite the intensity that he recommends and I have found myself really suffering here. Categorically, I’ve been on the verge of yacking in the middle and at the end of each set of hill sprints. All the data so far shows the obvious weakness that I am lacking Strength workouts. The Other category is quite large, but that is mostly from working stairs, downhill skiing, and stairmaster time.

    Having an averagely fit background before starting, the base-period has not only been essential in building and maintaining fitness, but also does exactly what it’s purpose is: to provide sufficient base for the harder workouts. I had said to my expedition leader, “All the workouts are doable and never feel hard”, this was before the recent transition to the hard workouts. I have noticed minor improvements in my body’s recovery time and efficiency at getting to and staying at MaF HR/AeT, which have been great, and I hope these small changes will benefit me and the team when the time comes. Looking forward, I’m hoping the hard workouts will be just the right amount of incrementally harder to improve, but not too hard that I can’t keep up. Additionally, I can imagine the long-term benefits of not just 24wks of specific training, but 30+ months of MaF HR/AeT training, can other trainers/athletes comment on the variance in the ratios of base:endurance workouts? Hope ya’ll enjoy some of my data and thoughts.

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    Anonymous on #4258

    Hi Matt:

    Thanks for starting this conversation and I hope others will join in. Sounds like you have put a lot of thought into your training and the assessment thereof. I have one immediate comment regarding the hill sprints. These are meant to develop specific leg power for climbing up steep terrain. They are not meant as an endurance workout. From the sounds of it you are running uphill as hard as you can for 300 meters?? Wow that will be a gut busting workout. If this is what you are doing, that is not the intended Hill Sprint workout. The duration of these Hill Sprints should be no more than 10 seconds. This way the intensity of each repetition can be maximal when separated by a complete recovery of 3 minutes wherein you slowly walk back to the starting point and rest there. If I interpret your description correctly you are sprinting uphill 300 meters which must take at least a minute. This will be great for building anaerobic endurance which could be super useful for someone like a 400 or 800m runner but will have minimal transfer to your ‘event’ of climbing Denali.

    Most everyone who does the Hill Sprints feels local muscular fatigue, stiffness and maybe some initial soreness but you should not feel like puking during these. The duration is just too short to elicit much HR response which is why we recommend disregarding HR as it will not be a useful metic of effort.

    I hope this helps. If I misinterpreted your Hill Sprint comment, sorry.

    Matt Tse on #4262


    Thanks for the feedback! You’re absolutely on the ball with your deduction, the hill takes about 1min sprinting up, and then I walk down 2-3min with another minute of resting. I don’t have any hills or embankments that are steep enough to go for 8-10 seconds, are stadium stairs sufficient?

    Anonymous on #4263


    Stadium stairs can work great as can fire stairs in buildings. Steeper is always better for these workouts. Road cut embankments work well. So do the embankments of elevated highway on and off ramps.


    jimmyharris on #4272

    Hi Matt,

    Thanks for posting about your experience of the 24 week plan. I’m also doing the plan but I’m only a few weeks in so still well within the transition period. I won’t be heading off on my expedition until mid-November so I’ll fill out the plan with some extra base week training.

    I’m not sure if you have it, but it’s absolutely worth buying “Training for the new alpinism” if you don’t. Steve and Scott have really done an amazing job with the book and it’s been very useful as a reference for me even in my early stages. (I own both an actual book as well as an ebook which is rather easier to carry in my backpack…)

    I may be a bit unusual for this site but I’m primarily a hiker and snow-shoer rather than a climber and I’m using the plan to train for a 14 to 18 day remote hike in Tasmania, Australia later this year. No altitude as such to worry about down there but plenty of scrub, scrambling, long days, and heavy packs to go around and the plan looks like it will be perfect for getting me in good shape for the trip.


    Matt Tse on #4273

    Hi Jimmy,

    Awesome to hear I’m not alone in the planned suffering that is training life. I’ve owned the ebook copy of TftNA for 2 yrs now and I’m on my second read through now (never had the training logbook). I think ramping up to the specificity part of the training has been the most interesting for me since I’ve pretty much had an OK base as a long time runner (mostly half marathons) as well as non-gym climbing in multiple disciplines (but not competitively) off/on for the last decade, so the first 8-16 weeks seemed pretty typical fitness-wise. Having this particular structured plan that targets the specificity portion of training is new to my past sport and fitness experiences. For me, the novel parts being strength in power as applicable to hauling heavy backpack loads plus heavy sled loads on multiple carry days. Taking a step back, I can see that no week is the same as the previous or proceeding, which my guess is in effort to mitigate plateauing and injuries as well as providing the body time to ‘get stronger’ slowly and cumulatively. Additionally, coming from an academically science-oriented background, I’m interested to see what the correlation is between the actual fitness and expedition results from these ‘time-limited’ training plans (as opposed to being a professional Athlete*cough*dirtbag who can train all the time) I’m also curious to learn more about other individuals who have been doing similarly time-limited plans over extended periods of time (with relation to how closely they followed the plan to the actual) to see true relationship in terms of reaching their expedition goals (ie the effect of training over time vs. goal achievement), follow up posts to come when I’ve got my data sorted out.


    jimmyharris on #4277

    I’m with you in that the strength and power and structured specificity is new to my outdoor training though it was very much a part of my (long ago) competitive rowing career.

    Since I left rowing many years ago, I’ve kept up pretty good fitness in my legs and aerobic system but my upper body and core have been left to weaken without any real targeted training other than a few hours on the rowing machine here and there. No surprise then that I then suffer on the long upward days with a heavy pack.

    Thanks for posting your experiences and good luck on Denali. It would be great to hear how you go and how you think your training contributed. While I have the thanks out, a big thanks to Steve and Scott, both for their book and this site. TftNA was a turning point for my training and the training plan is really the icing on the cake.

    I’d also like to hear from anyone else who’s doing one of the longer training plans, so if you’re out there then speak up!


    Anonymous on #4279

    Hi Matt,

    Good job on the detailed notes. Those will probably be pretty useful to you in the future so that you can look back on them once you see what they produce for you. Then you can make changes as required going forward.

    Even more important than the amount of time per training mode (running, skiing, etc) would be the amount of time per training intensity (zones, etc). Especially if you’re going to be adding intensity to the mix, you’ll want to make sure that 80-90% of your training volume is at or below your aerobic threshold (or your MAF HR if that’s what you’re using).

    That 80-90% proportion is pretty consistent across all endurance sports and all levels of successful endurance athletes. A proportionately big base is what will allow you to reap the most benefit from higher intensity work.

    I hope that helps.


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