arrows pointing right and left

Conditioning for a Presidential Traverse

email Scott Turner

Presidential traverse page

Long after, I put together some conditioning recommendations for someone aiming to accomplish a traverse of the Presidential Range of the White Mountains.

Here are my thoughts about conditioning for a presidential traverse. If you're familiar with conditioning for running a marathon, my recommendation is analogous to that. The ideal amateur preparation for a marathon race is to spend three months gradually building up the running mileage to 60 miles of running per week. Then spend three months at 60 miles per week. Then spend 3 weeks tapering off. Each week includes a long run of about 1/3 of the week's mileage.

I'm not saying that you have to be able to run a marathon in order to complete a presidential traverse. What I mean is that the primary conditioning is to spend weeks and weeks building up the legs, and that mileage is one of the best ways to measure this. Activities like running, jogging, hiking in the hills and mountains are the best. I prefer trails over roads and exercise machines, because trails give your legs a variety of motions rather than just the same ones repeated over and over.

How much mileage do you need? That really depends on you. Some people are gifted with wonderful legs or they have spent years training for competitions, and these people can probably get back into shape more quickly. Some people would become discouraged if their legs felt very fatigued half-way through the traverse, and these people cannot skimp on the conditioning.

But most important to dealing with fatigue is to include some real experience in your preparation (analogous to the marathoner's weekly 20 mile runs). Do some 10-12 mile hikes and see how far you can get with a 20 mile hike. I'd recommend the hike I attempted, which turned out to be a key in my prepraration for the presidential traverse, even though I did not complete the hike. My goal was to make a circuit of the Franconia Ridge and Cannon Mt. in one day. Up Flume Slide Trail, along the ridge to Mt. Lafayette, across the notch to Cannon, and back to the starting point past Lonesome Lake. I got a nice, early start, and reached Franconia Notch with enough time, but with very weary legs. So I completed the day by walking four or so miles of the flat bicycle path.

You need to do this kind of thing because it will teach you the unique lessons you need. The lessons I learned from that day were (1) never believe that you've had enough conditioning for your legs, (2) I can hike a long time at a fast pace without a break, but if I attempt that for an entire day I'll hit the wall, and (3) if you quit half way, you'll never know for sure that you couldn't have done it. But good advice cannot replace your own experience.

If you do high mileage, it is likely that you will get an injury from the strain, e.g. knee or foot pain, at some point in your preparation. If that happens I don't have any advice beyond to use common sense and get professional help if needed.

Finally, stretch daily. If you're training your legs, then the absolutely required stretches are (1) hamstrings and (2) calf/achilles. I used to include (3) quadriceps in the list but all of the standard quad stretches bother my knees. Also (4) groin stretches are good, and I attribute some of the pain that I had in the final miles of my presidential traverse to neglect of (4).

Support open standards!  
Valid XHTML 1.0!