Training Blog

December 2011
As a detail oriented person (as I like to say), I had to have a comprehensive training plan.  Although there are guides on line, I have found that I know my body and its ability far better than a personal trainer who has never felt thin air in their lungs.  My plan seemed very tidy and doable as I formatted and color coded a spreadsheet one December afternoon.  My plan consisted of strength training, cardio, yoga, hiking or walking on en elevated treadmill with a weighted backpack and a day to rest and stretch.  I carefully prescribed increasing weight for each month of the six month plan.

My strategy was to print the schedule – organized by activities per week – on poster sized paper and employ the first grade method of using stickers to document each day’s accomplishment.  I don’t know why sticking a sparkly butterfly in the appropriate spot motivates me, but it does.  I will literally rush into my home office, stand in front of the poster, and proudly put the day’s sticker in its rightful place immediately after my workout.  Then I will stand back, and assess the beauty of all of those brightly colored, sparkly stickers marking my accomplishments.  Like I said, I like the details.

March 2012

I soon realized that my neatly organized plan was time consuming enough to qualify as a part-time job.  But, it was the plan, and I had to stick with it or risk failing and wounding my poor little ego.  So, I spent 7 – 10 hours per week running, hiking, lugging around a heavy back pack, practicing yoga and strength training.

One of the unique challenges of climbing Denali involves pulling a sled from base camp to camp 2.  The conventional method of preparing for this torturous activity is pulling a tire up hill.  I chose a cute little motorcycle tire because I figured that I would need to build up to pulling a full grown tire up a hill while carrying a 50 pound pack.  I have named my tire Harley for obvious reasons.  During our first encounter I squeezed a 2x4 into its center and attached a rope between it and my pack.  The going was easy at first, I felt like a rock star passing my panting husband on the steepest part of a hill near our house.  I should mention that he was dragging an SUV tire, but I didn’t really care.  Apparently he did because he stuffed 15 pounds of rocks inside my tire for the return trip home.  Suddenly Harley and I were not friends anymore.  Aside from the physical rewards, another ancillary benefit of looking like an idiot dragging a tire around the neighborhood is that you get to meet all of your neighbors.  It’s just not humanly possible to pass two people on the street with tires attached to them and not make a clever comment like “where’s the rest of the car?”.  

Three months into my training plan I am about to run out of stickers, and am loathing my backpack.  I would drop it and its contents off the nearest cliff if it wouldn’t be so expensive to replace.

My training plan calls for increasing weight in increments of 5 pounds per month until I reach the ultimate goal of 60 pounds.  I have tested many different materials to weight my pack:  water (too sloshy), hand weights (to compact, however you can confidently leave them along a trail if they become too heavy during a training hike), bird food, cat litter.  I opt for cat litter because it can be purchased in 20 pound bags, and because people look at me funny when I fill my shopping card with three bags of it.  Also, my cat Murray likes to know that he’s well stocked. 

I travel a lot for work, and while I love my job, it is making it difficult to meet the demands of my part time job.  The other unfortunate fact is that hotel “gyms” suck.  And, running up and down the hotel stairs tends to draw unwanted attention, plus the stairwells usually smell like smoke.  I have begun choosing hotels in the cities that I travel to based on their gyms.  There is one benefit of traveling from the sea-level oxygen of Seattle to more lofty places like Denver or Salt Lake City.  While I appreciate the benefit a cardiovascular workout that cannot be easily obtained at sea level, it really hurts my ego.  

April 2012
At two months to go before our departure for Anchorage and the “High One”, I feel the need for a long overdue for a vacation from my second  - and non-paying – job.  Workouts and the details of planning to climb are never far from my thoughts, I feel like I am constantly sweaty.  Mostly I am anxious about not training enough, or not training the right way.  I believe that my greatest challenge will be slogging my body weight up the mountain.  

May 2012

May 1st, 2012
While climbing Mt. Elbrus in Russia, I met the CEO of Hypoxico, a company that manufactures altitude training systems.  Altitude, or hypoxic training involves training in an oxygen-reduced environment in order to acclimatize before actually being at elevation.  It's used by Olympic athletes and mountaineers and general health enthusiasts and me.  I had employed hypoxic training for previous climbs, and was confident that it would be key to my success on Denali.  My rental tent, oxygen mask, and generator arrived today, and I'm eager to begin using them.

May 6th, 2012
Today Darrin and I hiked the 5,000 feet from Paradise to Camp Muir on Mt. Rainier.  This is a common training hike for mountaineers because it is steep, snowy and equalizing, plus most mountaineers know how long it typically takes them to get to the top and back with weighted packs.  Darrin and I were headed out with our friend Jeff who would be climbing Denali with us, and I was interested to see how my training plan measured up to his as he was using a personal trainer.  
Training hike to Camp Muir on Mt. Rainier
Photo:  Darrin White

May 7th, 2012
Today I called Jeff's personal trainer.  Jeff smoked me on Rainier, and I feel panicked horribly unprepared.  

May 8th, 2012
Tonight after work I took laps up "suicide hill" in a park near my house with a 40 pound pack.  It was near dusk and I tromped through the rocks and mud on the hill envisioning the saddle sores that my backpack was creating on my hip bones while swatting mosquitoes.  This has to be good mental training for Denali, right?  I've had three dates with a treadmill and my Hypoxico oxygen mask, and am sleeping at 10,000 feet.

May 9th, 2012
Today was my first meeting with, Courtenay, the owner of Body Results.  I have read Courtenay's book and found her suggested workouts for mountain climbs useful, plus after my poor showing on Rainier last week, I needed to change things up.  The goal of this first meeting was for her to understand my general fitness level so that she could specialize a plan for my last month of training.  

I went home and carried 100 pounds up the hill near my house.  The weight was distributed between my back pack and tire, and I honestly didn't think that I could do it, but I did.  I didn't set any speed records, but I did it.

May 12, 2012
I needed to redeem myself and recover my ego from the last trip to Camp Muir.  Darrin and I headed up this morning and I made the round trip hike in four hours and forty minutes with forty-five pounds, forty minutes faster with five more pounds than the last time.  I felt restored and realized the obvious, which was that I had had a bad day on the 6th.

May 13th, 2012
To complete my back-to-back workouts for the weekend, today I headed up Tiger Mountain, a peak near Seattle, it's a beautiful meander with the right amount of steepness and rocky paths, at least it was the first time I went up this morning.  On my second trip, people started asking questions.  My feet ached from the forty pounds in my back pack, and rocky terrain.  But I had made it in just four hours total, and was happy to go home and soak in the tub.

May 15th, 2012
In addition to preparing myself physically to climb Denali, I am also focusing on honing the mountaineering skills that will be essential to traveling safely on the mountain.  One of these skills is traveling with running protection.  To simulate the snow pickets and strung together with climbing rope that I'll experience on the mountain, I hauled wooden pickets and an old rock climbing rope to the park near my house and set up a line or running protection on its steepest hill.  This was an effective training exercise as I was forces to bend over and do a squat each time I needed to move my carabiner between sections.  I was also able to practice improving my speed during this maneuver.  But, I'm worried that soon my neighbors truly believe that I've lost it.

May 19th, 2012
I'm starting to feel disconnected from my friends who are making Memorial Day plans and excited for the warmer weather, I looked around my house today and realized that I've become disconnected from it too, the lawn and landscaping looks neglected and in need of spring cleaning.

May 20th, 2012
On the summit of Mailbox Peak
Photo:  Darrin White
Today's objective was Mailbox Peak, or as I have decided to call it, Hellbox Peak.  It was rainy and cold and gross when Darrin, Jeff, and I passed the trailhead sign, warning of primitive terrain and poorly marked trails.   I had 50 unbearable pounds in my pack, but despite motivational tunes on my Ipod, my little legs couldn't keep up with the boys.  I sulked and dropped a 20 pound bag of cat litter next to the trail.  What a difference that made,  we made it to the graffiti-ed mailbox at the top of the in an hour and forty-five minutes.  I went home and hiked 2,000 feet in 1.5 miles on the treadmill to make up for it.  I think that I'm officially obsessed.   

May 24th, 2012
Today is my last tire drag!  I have retired Harley and graduated to a SUV tire donated by a friend.  I was looking forward to this last tire workout and also dreading the 102 pounds I would carry.  After carrying 100 pounds already, I knew that I could physically do it, but I also knew that it would be miserable.  But, I would much rather be miserable now than on the mountain.  So, I tried to focus on the trash and dead birds along the road, and instead thought about my muscled getting stronger and more prepared, we leave in sixteen days.  I should probably be tapering.

May 26 - 27th, 2012
Memorial Day 
The best training for climbing - mentally and physically - is climbing.  Darrin, Jeff, and I along with another climbing friend, Stephen decided to climb Mt. Rainier.  I have an annual goal to climb Rainier, I like to know that I'm maintaining the fitness and skills needed to do it, it's like a barometer for me.  On this trip, our route was a toss up between the Ingraham direct and disappointment cleaver routes, and in the end we chose the Ingraham because it was the Park Rangers were ascending it and we wanted to avoid the crowds on the cleaver.  

We only made it to about 12,000 feet, there were just too make open crevasses on the way.  Even though we didn't achieve our goal, it felt really good just to be climbing, I laid in my tent tingling with excitement before our summit attempt.

We also had an exceptional opportunity to pick Stephen's brain about climbing Denali, as he summitted previously.  He assured us that we were more than prepared which made me feel better.  

May 28th, 2012
Before each climb, I have had a moment of overwhelming confidence when I knew that I was prepared and capable of reaching my goal.  Previously it had happened at the end of a yoga class, during savasana, but this time I knew that I was ready while running yet another interval prescribed by Courtenay.  It's hard to explain this feeling, but I just know that I'm ready.  It doesn't mean that a summit is assured, just that I have done all that I can do to prepare myself.

May 30th, 2012
Gear check has begun!  Sadly, I realized that there are no down parkas at Feathered Friends to rent in my size, guess I'll need to buy one!  I've also decided to buy some Intuition boot liners which will keep my feet warm and hopefully give me some more padding for my aching feet.

June 2, 2012
I guess that I just needed a little more assurance that I'm ready, today I opted for one more tire drag, and loaded my back up with 65 pounds plus the 48 pound tire.  I weighed just 5 pounds more than this mass.  

June 4th, 2012
Since my training has finally tapered, I'm using all of my new-found free time to be sure that I'm comfortable with the technical skills needed to safely climb Denali.  Several months ago I tied an old climbing rope to the banister in my house, I simulated anchors by knotting the rope around some on the spindles, and used my ascender and heavy mits several times per day when I walked up and down the stairs.  I also spent unknown hours wearing the same mits as well as gloves while tying knots and dealing with the zippers and straps on mt gear.  All of it seems tedious, but really helps me to simulate the skills and movements that I'll need on the mountain.

Today I decided that I would replicate the anchor system outside on a steep hill in a park near my house, I needed a test that was longer and more like the the real thing, including wearing a heavy pack.  I collected fifteen wooden pickets from the garage, drilled holes in them, and hammered them into the hard mud at intervals on the hill.  Then I laced an old climbing rope through the hole in each picket, with my ascender attached to my harness just like it would be on Denali, I walked up and down the hill with a forty-five pound pack.  This exercise seemed closer to the conditions that I would experience on Denali because the terrain was uneven and I had to bend over to clip and unclip from each anchor.  I got a lot of weird looks, but at this point all of my neighbors think I'm crazy anyway, so I'm not concerned.  I left the pickets in place and plan to revisit them again.

Five days to go! 

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