Training for the Annapurna Circuit

As I’ve been banging on about in every recent post, I’m trekking the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal next month. The trek is going to be over 200km of up-down-up-down-up-up-up to 5400m ish, where my body is likely going to mutiny and I’m going to be left wondering why I decided to walk so damn far. While doing the trek I’m raising money for Crohn’s and Colitis Australia, a great charity that does a lot for IBD sufferers where our healthcare system misses. If you’d like to donate, please click here.

While I’d love to be able to hop out of bed and trek 200km I’m not that naturally gifted, and so I’ve had to do a lot of training to get ready for the trip. Training for anything with a chronic illness is a shit fight at the best of times but there are special considerations when your phone claims you walk 2000 steps a day on average and then you have to walk 3 million in 3 weeks. This post is going to go through what I’ve been doing to get ready and some ramblings about exercise, recovery and long-distance hiking with chronic illness.

Because I run like an elephant hitting the ground with enough force to shatter my shin bones I prefer not to do any of that, and so I chose to cycle to get a basic level of cardio fitness. While it seems silly to get fit cycling when I’ll be hiking, cycling is super low impact for me and I know I can put a lot of work in and still recover. With colitis and especially on Prednisolone when your joints aren’t functioning properly it’s necessary to put as little stress on them as possible, so the diminished carry-over is worthwhile when weighing it against taking a week to recover after a 2km jog. I jumped on the bike 2 months ago roughly 3 months out from the trip, and started doing roughly 80-100km a week, which I found was enough to notice a benefit but not so much that I get burnt out and lose interest. Cycling also has the advantage of generally being beginner friendly which makes it a great choice for those that aren’t 100% ready for more serious forms of training.

A month ago I added more to the mix, playing squash and training for the upcoming cricket season. I’m going to write about squash another day because it’s the greatest sport on Earth for everyone, but it’s especially great for chronic illness sufferers. In short, I’ve been having a couple of squash sessions a week for an hour or two to condition my legs a bit more and get the heart rate up. The premise of squash being so good is that you whip through a 2 hour session very quickly while not noticing how buggered you are, and that is what makes you incredibly fit. Training for cricket has been thrown into the total workload but on it’s own isn’t much to talk about as I bowl spin like a coward, and am not good enough to bat long enough to see any sort of fitness gain from running between wickets. I’d say maybe next season but I’ve said that for 10 seasons and it’s time to be realistic.

And then the fun stuff, pack training! Obviously rolling into Nepal with 15kg on my back without ever trying it on would be idiotic so I’ve been training with my pack on the past few weeks. It will be 2 months of pack training leading up to the trip which should be more than enough but I’ve given myself the extra time as I didn’t know how I’d recover. With exercise and fitness carry-over is usually the most important metric, you have to have variation to get enough work in to improve but the focus should be on things that impact the activity you’re training for the most. Luckily with trekking it’s simple, want to get fit for hiking with a heavy pack? Then hike with a heavy pack. I started off doing 5km hikes around hills near my house, wearing my boots in and learning the intricacies of setting up the bag perfectly – a good tester to see what hurts after a hike and what needs attention. 5km didn’t give me any trouble so being the sensible person I am I scaled up gradually by doing 25km in a day on the Bibbulmun track, then 8km the following day after a nice camp in Monadnocks Conservation area. While I had an amazing time and handled the overnighter pretty well I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone, attempt to build up more gradually and also hike somewhere that you can get assistance if need be. I was 8km from the closest access point so if shit had hit the fan I would’ve been in trouble. I upload all my hikes to my Strava account if you want to follow along with my training and see the routes I’m taking via GPS.

Somewhere between Brookton Highway and Monadnocks Camp, notice the awful pack set-up cutting into my shoulders. This is why you figure this out before leaving for a trek in another country!

On the whole fitness doesn’t seem to be as important as I thought when going into this, but conditioning is a lot more important. Making sure the backpack fits properly, is packed well and doesn’t cause pain is going to be infinitely more important than your level of fitness. Having boots that fit wrong will wreck the trip a lot quicker than being a few kilos heavier than you’d hoped or not being able to give up beers for a couple of months before takeoff. I’m going to continue pack training but I’m really not worried about my fitness any longer which is a huge weight off my shoulders (not quite 15kg off them but everything helps). Since doing this training I’ve been more and more keen to get stuck in and do the trek, I’ve gone back and watched all the videos that got me hyped on the idea in the first place. This is the first time in my life I’ve really genuinely been excited to have the opportunity to achieve something great and be proud of myself for it, which in a twisted way I owe to my colitis. Before UC I didn’t really appreciate things like I should’ve and found it hard to get excited for life, but now that I have such huge ups and downs I really do get giddy about these good things happening. I wrote about this phenomena at longer length but haven’t finished it to a level I’m happy with, when it’s done you can click here to read it.

Look out for the squash article once I write that too (list is growing sorry), trust me it’s the greatest. When I get back from the trip I’ll be doing a full report where I’ll discuss how my training prepared me, which I will link here. Thanks to everyone who has sent me messages of encouragement or support, and a huuuuuge thank you to those that have donated to the fundraiser. It will be open until I cross that high pass between the mountains so please consider donating, everything counts.