How much is too much?

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  • #22811
    Whitney Rhodes

    Hey folks! I live in Asheville and spend most of my free time hiking. I purchased the 24-week plan to prepare for a joint Mt. Meru-Kili trip at the end of the year. This is my first time following a training plan… usually, I just hike as much I want, and often to challenge myself.

    In just starting this 24-week plan, I’m noticing it cuts back on my usual hiking schedule. I’ll sometimes spend 3 hours hiking after work on weekdays. I also tend to spend 4-6 hours on the trails on Saturday. Sometimes I’m out the entire weekend backpacking. Should I stop that altogether as I follow this plan? Or adjust? Or go for it? 🙂

    Also, I’m interested in learning how to incorporate other, smaller trips into the plan. I’ll be in Colorado climbing 14ers for a week in August and I plan on taking on Art Loeb and Black Mountain Crest Trail backpacking trips in the fall. How do I change the training plan for those days/weeks?

    Optional context:

    I am a little concerned about overtraining. I read TftNA earlier this year and tried to create a plan for myself. 2.5 months after following that self-made plan, I saw gains in my aerobic abilities (now able to run instead of walk under AeT) and I lost a decent amount of weight while building muscle. I was going 8-10 hours / 35-40 miles of aerobic exercise a week, with all my efforts on the trail or a treadmill at home and two strength/core sessions. And that was all great and all but…

    …I also started feeling the impact on my knees. To be honest, I kind of started out that intense instead of building up to it. I purchased this plan to reign in my tendency to overdo it while making sure I’m dedicated my time on the most important stuff. But damn if I don’t love hiking a lot.


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    Anonymous on #22830

    I think you answered your own question: Don’t quit what you’re doing altogether, and don’t go for it.

    I don’t know the specifics of the plan, but if you’re used to a higher workload, then adjust it with the end in mind. Don’t do as much as possible; that’s self-defeating because it’s unsustainable. But have a look at the later weeks of the plan. If they don’t seem like a big, tiring workload, then increase the prescriptions accordingly.

    I suspect that the plan is built to be conservative in the beginning and then more and more challenging without overdoing it. Pay attention to the proportions of different durations and intensities. Adjust them as much as you can safely tolerate.

    It sounds like you know what it’s like by doing too much too soon. So give yourself a margin of error with any changes.

    This all probably sounds pretty vague, but it’s hard to be specific without knowing more of your training history.

    Whitney Rhodes on #22835

    Thanks, Scott! I think I’ll go by feel, especially in these early weeks when the training load is much less than what I’m used to. In looking down the line at mid- to late-base period, I think that will probably be the point where I’ll need to back off my “bonus” hikes. So I guess the best way to proceed is to prioritize the training workouts and add on some additional hiking if I still feel good.

    I started out the year with the mindset to do as much as hard and as fast as possible. This is my first attempt at athletic training since high school (I’m 33 now), and I tend to want to progress much faster than is probably wise. Learning patience is something I’m still working on, and I appreciate your guidance!

    sam.ley on #22836

    In my experience I have had to reduce some of my “fun” activities in favor of the structured training, but I do keep some. I’d suggest starting out the plan as faithfully as you can, without adding anything on top, or modifying the workouts much. As you get used to it, you’ll probably find that some of the hikes or runs called for aren’t that different from a recreational hike you’d do anyway, so you can do some swapping of a workout for something you’d do anyway, just think of it a bit as a workout, and try to hit the target exertions.

    I will say that I’m in the 16 week plan now, and there are BIG weeks coming, especially later on after your base is built up. You do not want want to overdo it during those periods – the fitness ramp rate is already very high. When you see a big week coming, be rested for it.

    Anonymous on #22838

    @journorhodes: Be careful that you don’t increase the load early on, but not later on, and end up “flattening” the volume progression. If that happens, your training will stagnate, whether or not you can tolerate the loads. Continuity, gradualness, and modulation are key. Don’t forget the last two!

    “…as much as hard and as fast as possible” is a recipe for disaster. It also explains why you fade after two hours and take three days to recover. It sounds like you’re going too hard.

    I know that approach is tempting, but it won’t work. Save that attitude for race day (whatever that may be) when it’s needed. Training is much more effective (and you’ll perform much better in the long run) if it’s mostly-easy-rarely-hard, measured, and gradual. There’s no escaping that. Also, training isn’t as hard (day-to-day) as most people think. The real fatigue is chronic; it builds after weeks, not from a few workouts.

    It’s like saving money. The slow, patient savers are the ones that get rich. Those that rush it and use debt end up blowing up.

    I suggest that you test your aerobic threshold, and make sure that you are training below it. You can test it indoors or outside.

    I suspect you’ll find it’s way easier than you think, and you can go longer than two hours pretty easily.

    Whitney Rhodes on #22841

    Ah, I didn’t think about the impact recreational hikes might have on my progression, especially if I start backing off when the training plan load gets serious. That’s great insight. Thanks, Sam and Scott!

    Scott, I think you got me confused with another forum poster with the two-hour fade (maybe this one The tendency to go as hard and fast as possible is spot on for me, though, and I appreciate your mindset recommendations.

    I think I might invest my free time less on “bonus” hikes and more in activities that won’t impact my training for now. It’s probably best to get fully through the plan once before I start making any significant changes.

    Steve House on #22857

    @journorhodes Your experience is not uncommon. You’re going from random exercise, albeit quite a lot of it, to a structured training plan. Structured training works. That’s part of what Scott Johnston and I set out to change with Training for the New Alpinism in 2014. Climbers never trained, they just climbed, sometimes a lot.

    My advice:
    1) You can look through the plan and start at a point where the plan’s weekly volume matches your current weekly volume. This is a bit risky, and the younger you are (and therefore better you are at recovering quickly) the better chance you have of pulling this off successfully.
    2) Get a refund on your 24-week plan and sign up for an 8-week custom plan (or coaching).
    3) Stick to the principles: a) Continuity (frequency and spacing of workouts is very important!) b) Modulation (some weeks are easier, some workouts are easier, this is done like this for good reasons) and c) Gradualness: the training load has to progress gradually over time. Loading on training too fast always results in injury and/or illness.

    Whitney Rhodes on #22866

    Thanks, Steve. I was thinking of adding volume to one of the workouts every week to try to close the gap between the plan’s load and my current load. I wonder if that might be better than starting later on in the training program.

    For example, week 1 calls for a 2-hour hike/run on hilly terrain (vert min of 1,000ft). I’m thinking of increasing that by 2 hours, making it a 4-hour hike/run. This is still below my current load (I usually spend my weekends on long hikes or backpacking trips).

    To keep the gradual progression, I’m thinking of adding 2 hours to every week’s longer hike/run. That makes the long hikes at the very end of the program 6 hours instead of 4, a duration that I’ve done before but is challenging enough that I should still train for.

    If that passes muster, I’m also considering moving both of the weekly hikes on hilly terrain to consecutive days to try to simulate the back-to-back hiking I’ll need to do on Mt. Meru/Kili. This will also give me an opportunity to go on backpacking trips this year without needing to drastically change the training plan.

    So, in summary, I’m adding two hours to each weekly long hike and moving hikes to two consecutive days during the later weeks. Does that still keep to the principles of the plan as intended?

    Anonymous on #22901

    Correct! I mixed up the threads. Sorry for the confusion.

    lionfish90 on #23528

    Do you know the intensities you are hitting on those long hikes? Are you staying at or below AeT, particularly when it gets steep (and do you have long sections of vertical (I’m jealous of that, living in flatlands but training for peakbagging)?

    All I’m responding to is the comment of adding multiple hours to sessions without mentioning the intensity prescription for them, although it sounds like you’re up to speed, so to speak, on that info, given that you read TftNA and trained based on it. Presumably, the goal of those long sessions is to stay <AeT, and maybe even Zone 1 if your AeT is within 10% of your AnT.

    All the best,

    Anonymous on #23537

    Steve’s post reminded me of something: Structured training creates a different kind of fatigue than frequent-but-sporadic exercise. It’s a chronic type of fatigue that takes weeks to develop. Day-to-day you won’t notice much.

    Keeping the “right” level of fatigue is incredibly hard if you’re self-coached. Our hopes, biases, and ego get in the way. It took me years to figure it out, and I wasted a lot of training time because I did too much too soon too often.

    The more I think about this, I think you may want to stick to the plan as prescribed and see it through to the end. You won’t lose anything with that approach. (As Steve mentioned, another option is a custom plan.)

    If it’s too easy, you can easily correct for it the second time through. In contrast, adjusting the plan too aggressively will be much harder to recover from.

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