Get crowd-sourced advice on the weekly mileage and number of runs you should do to smash your marathon goal.
There is no perfect way to train for a marathon. Different runners can succeed with different approaches, and often the amount and type of training you do will be dictated by your own individual circumstances. That said, it’s certainly no bad thing to check out what other runners are doing, especially those that have achieved a time target you are aiming for.
Fitness tracking app Strava is one of the best sources for this kind of information. You can browse the training logs of millions of other runners, including pro athletes, to see what they’ve been doing. And when you put all that data together, you get a pretty clear picture of the approach successful marathon runners tend to take with their training.
Strava has accumulated the data of male and female marathon runners who have hit times ranging from sub-three to five-plus hours and looked at how they trained in the 12 weeks leading up to the race.
The data is broken down by weekly mileage, the number of runs per week, and the average pace of those runs. It’s no surprise to learn that faster runners cover a greater distance in their training, with sub-three male runners averaging around 60 miles (96.5km) a week and female runners around 50 miles (80.5km). If you’re looking to chalk up a sub-four marathon this year, Strava shows the average weekly distance of runners who have achieved this is around 32 miles (51.5km) for men and women, while a sub-five marathon involves 20-25 miles (30-42km) a week on average for men and women.
The number of runs per week can be skewed a bit, especially as faster runners have a habit of recording warm-ups and warm-downs separately from an interval or tempo workout, which may be why sub-three men average eight runs a week. In general, however, the Strava data suggests that for every hour faster you get on race day, you’re adding one training run per week. So sub-four men and women do around four runs a week, sub-five do three, and five-plus runners do two to three.
As for building up your mileage and tapering before the race, the Strava stats show that most runners only take one or two weeks to hit their overall average distance per week and stick with it until two to three weeks before the marathon itself, when the distance starts to come down.
We’d caution that these stats aren’t enough to base your entire plan on. It’s important to remember that if you’re not doing anything like the mileage listed, you shouldn’t suddenly up it; instead, add 10% to your own total week by week to increase it gradually and reduce the risk of injury.
It’s also important to recognise that not all running is the same. You’ll need a variety of runs in your week, especially when you get to the faster times. So a six-run week will typically include three easy runs done at a pace much slower than your goal marathon pace, one interval session with short sections at faster than marathon pace interspersed with ever shorter rest periods, a tempo run at around or just below marathon pace, and a long run taken fairly easy. Even if you only do three runs a week, it’s important to mix up the types of running you do to get the best results – check out our free marathon training plans for more in-depth advice.
Written by Nick Harris-Fry for Coach and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s nearly dark when Kathleen Hamrick jogs into the jungle camp. She’s exhausted, overheated, soaked to the bone with river water, sweat, and grime. She has been running through the Amazon for five days now—through swamps that swallow you up to the waist in mud, along poorly marked village trails, up and down punishing hills, and across deep water river crossings.
There will be no sleep tonight. This stage of the course involves racing through the darkness, and there are two days still to go before the finish line. But Hamrick lays down her pack and immediately begins the nightly ritual: shoes off, dry your feet, get in your hammock, and rest while you still can.
A few minutes later another runner stumbles in, and Hamrick’s brother, William, part of the medical team, walks over to him. “Hey man, what’s going on?” he says. “You need me to take a look at your feet?” The guy nods his head and peels off his shoes, and William steps back.
“The whole bottom of his foot was coming off,” says Hamrick. “Jungle rot.”
This is the near-legendary Jungle Marathon, dubbed “The World’s Toughest Endurance Race” by CNN. The race covers 157 self-supported miles in six stages over seven days through the deep Tapajos National Rainforest in Brazil, where runners face extreme heat, unforgiving terrain, and dangerous wildlife. Except for water, runners have to carry everything they will need for the whole week—packs usually weigh in at just over 30 pounds, lugging the extensive list of compulsory items, which includes all their food, iodine, and hypodermic needles for blisters.
This past October 2016, 55 runners from 14 different countries tested their physical toughness and mental tenacity against the brutal course. Hamrick was among them.
A native Alabamian, Hamrick wasn’t much of a runner growing up. That all changed when, after some serious health complications in 2006, her doctors told her she might never be able to run. Most people would take their word for it. Hamrick decided to prove them wrong, and ran her first marathon.
Running became for Hamrick an active protest against her limitations, a way to see progress, get outside, and experience the world on foot, away from the noise and demands of day-to-day life.
“I developed a love for my feet against the ground in these beautiful places,” explains Hamrick.
Clearly, she loves a good challenge. As Director of the iLab at Birmingham Alabama’s Innovation Depot, Hamrick regularly puts in 60+ hour weeks overseeing UAB’s (The University of Alabama at Birmingham) entrepreneurship program, coaching budding businesspeople in risk management and start-up initiatives.
Expedition races are just one more way she pushes herself and the boundaries of what is possible.
In 2013, Hamrick and her sister Liz ran the 170-mile Grand to Grand ultramarathon, racing from the rim of the Grand Canyon to the summit of the Grand Staircase over seven brutally hot days. Despite suffering a stress fracture mid-way through the race, Hamrick won her division.
She carried that mental toughness and love of a challenge with her into the Jungle Marathon. For Hamrick, this was more than a race, it was about facing her fears and becoming something more.
“I’ve always been terrified of deep, dark water,” Hamrick says. “So that’s one of the things that attracted me to the race. I knew I would have to face that and overcome it.”
Over the course of the race there were miles and miles of swamps and river crossings, but the worst, for Hamrick, came on day four when the course ran straight down a river for several miles.
At first, the river was clear and cool, a welcome refreshment from the blistering heat, but before too long it turned murky, the water got deeper and faster, and Hamrick started hitting trees that had fallen under the surface, ripping the skin from the front of her legs with the impact. When she tried to get a footing, the muddy river bottom pulled her down up to her neck, leaving her floundering to keep her trashbag-packed gear dry and colliding her now-raw skin again and again into the hidden logs.
“I found myself hyperventilating out of fear,” says Hamrick. “I couldn’t see what was in the water with me, didn’t know what I was grabbing onto trying to get my balance. I was terrified. I just had to calm myself down, take deep breaths, and continue down the river more slowly.”
“I was scary, but it worked,” Hamrick adds. “I’m not afraid of deep, dark water anymore.”
Training to be Queen of the Jungle
To prepare for the race, Hamrick began training around a year before, starting from a base of only around seven miles a week and running primarily for time on her feet rather than miles.
“I mostly trained on trails in Birmingham,” says Hamrick. “I like Red Mountain Park because it’s close by and all in all a really fabulous place to run. Then I did elevation training at Ruffner and Oak Mountain State Park… They’ve got some good climbs and descents.”
In the final few months, she was running about two hours a day, every day through the week, then running for eight hours every Saturday and Sunday. To mimic the conditions she would face in the jungle, one long-run day per week Hamrick would carry a 31-pound pack and step into a hot shower, shoes and pack and all, to start off her run completely soaked.
“My main concerns for the race were heat and humidity, which we have here in Birmingham,” Hamrick adds. “Anybody around here in the Southern states would actually probably do quite well in the jungle, because it’s just a perfect environment to train for that race.”
One thing you can’t train for is the wildlife. According to the race website, jungle creatures abound. Runners step over snakes on the trail and sometimes spot piranha, anaconda, and river dolphins in the numerous water crossings throughout the race. There’s at least one story from a runner several years back about being stalked by jaguars while racing through the night. None of this phased Hamrick. According to her, one of the biggest dangers was simply not taking good care of your feet. Remember that guy with jungle rot?
Thanks to her disciplined nightly ritual, Hamrick’s feet fared better than most. But other, less careful runners started to get blisters by the third day, and with nearly a hundred miles to go through parasite-filled jungle swamps, many of those blisters became badly infected and caused huge problems.
“Foot care was key, and a lot of people were just not caring for their feet. They were keeping their wet shoes on and not drying them out,” says Hamrick. “Some of the fastest runners dropped because of foot complications.”
Heat was another huge challenge. With 99% humidity and temperatures climbing over 100 degrees, the jungle was intensely hot and wet, so much so that Hamrick and the other runners were given two days to acclimatize before the race began. With the heat, water became a major issue. Because the race ran through remote, protected areas of the rainforest, the race organizers had arranged for local villagers to put out water at designated drop points for runners to rehydrate. That didn’t always pan out.
Sometimes, the villagers would forget to put out water, or they would put it somewhere different than the prearranged spot. As a result, runners would go for hours through the blazing, sticky hot jungle, carefully rationing their water, only to arrive at a designated water point and find that nothing was there. Hamrick ran out of water three times this way. Several times she added significant mileage to her total when, finding no water, she thought she was lost and retraced her steps.
“It’s really terrifying to run out of water in the middle of the jungle,” Hamrick says. “It just plays tricks on your brain, you know?”
Though Hamrick had some close calls, other runners fared much worse from the heat and dehydration. Several threw up blood. One athlete collapsed alone in the jungle, and the medical crews had to go find him. All told, the race had a 30% dropout rate, better than most years.
On the final day of the race, a 15-mile stretch of soft sand beach, Hamrick, once again, could not find water at the designated drop.
“I sprinted that section,” laughs Hamrick. “I was the first female across the finish line that day only because I was terrified that I would die of thirst.”
The “Why” of an Expedition Racer
What is often most fascinating about adventure athletes, particularly outdoor-oriented endurance athletes, is the reasons why they do what they do. Though innately competitive, it’s often when you press ultrarunners, mountain climbers, and expedition racers that you learn the unexpected philosophical or existential motives. The reason they run, climb, bike, suffer, usually extends beyond the sport or the event.
“One of the big reasons why I do these expedition races now is that, at the starting line, I don’t know 100% if I can finish it,” says Hamrick. “It’s scary to jump into something that you might fail, but I think that stepping into that place where you are uncomfortable is how you learn and grow. That’s why I do these races, to push myself outside of my comfort zone.”
Hamrick sees similarities between expedition racing, entrepreneurship, and life—the assessment, risk management, problem solving, and then ultimately, constantly and intentionally pushing the envelope and taking calculated risks, in order to grow, whether as an athlete, a business, or a person.
“That’s something I try to instill in my students,” says Hamrick. “If you’re not a little uncomfortable, you probably are not doing whatever it is you do to the fullest extent.”
So, what’s next for Hamrick? She’s currently got her eye on a 155-mile, self-supported expedition race in Hawaii, running from one volcano to the world’s most active volcano (of course). She’ll be training for it over the next year, and raising support for a number of charities along the way.
Written by Andrew Shaughnessy for RootsRated in partnership with BCBS of AL and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.
Grab your (trail appropriate) shoes and get ready to off-road.
Whoever you are, you owe it to yourself to embrace the great outdoors. In a 2015 study, Stanford University researchers found that volunteers who exercised in a natural setting – as opposed to an urban one – not only reported decreased anxiety and depressive thoughts, but actually showed decreased neural activity in areas of the brain associated by mental illness.
Researchers theorise that natural settings feel less threatening and turn off our evolved stress response, but there might be more to it than that. “The ground beneath your feet demands 100% of your attention,” says running coach George Anderson. “It’s the perfect mindfulness practice. Every step needs careful consideration.” And, of course, your body will also reap the benefits, adjusting to the demands for core and hip stabilisation that come from running on uneven terrain.
In short: it’s the season to hit the trail. But don’t just throw on your most beaten-up trainers and head out to the nearest wilderness – that’s the path to injury. We’ve assembled an everyman’s guide to getting outside your comfort zone, from taking your first (tiny) steps to competing in your first race. Thank us when you’re breathing that sweet, oxygenated air.
Trail Running Technique Tips
Once you leave the pavement, it’s less simple than left foot, right foot. Here’s how to change your movement from the ground up
Give your feet time to adjust
“The biggest mistake I see people making is making a complete switch suddenly,” says Dr Andrew Murray, an ultrarunner and consultant in sport and exercise at the University of Edinburgh. “Around 85% of running injuries are due to training error. This can be doing too much too soon – increasing volume by more than an average of 10-15% each week – or it can be by completely changing the terrain you’re running on. I’d advise making any change a gradual transition – start with a three-miler [5K], and increase your volume gradually.”
You’re bound to be tense at first, and it messes up your running. “Running relaxed can enhance your lower body’s natural suspension system,” trail and ultra veteran George Anderson. “But it takes conscious effort to overcome the desire to stiffen the joints.” Check in with yourself every few hundred metres, and note when you’re stiffening up.
Use your arms
They’re an afterthought on the road, but crucial for efficiency on the trail. “Using your arms for balance is key,” says author and trail runner Tobias Mews. “Keep your arms – or at least your elbows – a little bit wider for added balance on more technical trails. You might need also need to lift your feet a little higher.”
…and your eyes
“Trails, by their very nature, are littered with hazards – stones, roots, drop-offs, scree, mud, sand and so on – which means that your senses need to be fully functional,” says Mews. “It helps not to be too obsessed with looking at your feet. Focus on looking a metre or so ahead to work out where you’re going to go for the next few strides.” Soon it’ll become second nature.
Don’t overdo it
“Running off-road requires a lot more balance than on the flat road surfaces you may be used to,” says Anderson. “Feet landing at funny angles and a constantly undulating gradient places increased demands on the stabilisers in the core and hips, so you’re always going to go slower than you do on the road. Run by time at first, rather than planning a run on distance and ending up taking an hour longer than you’ve planned.”
Aim for negative splits
“Start off slowly and assess how you’re feeling every few minutes,” says Anderson. “It’s always better to finish strong than to start strong and limp home with your muddy tail between your legs.” Don’t try to maintain a consistent pace throughout your run – you’ll need to run based on the terrain.
“Alongside nutrition, the key to any form of running is to know your body,” says Mews. “Think of yourself like a car – you need to find the optimum speed that burns just the right amount of fat and carbohydrates without going anaerobic and overcooking yourself. The simple way to do it is to do a bleep test or if you have the chance, a VO2 max test – neither of which is much fun. But the results are useful.”
Go with the flow
“You can’t go for a minute-per-mile pace in a trail race,” says Mews. “So you need a shift in mindset to make that relaxing, rather than stressful. Think of it like this: instead of focusing on the details, you’re free to relax and go with the flow, even when you’re running hard.”
Practice your passing
“There’s a certain etiquette to passing people on narrow sections of trail,” says Mews. “It’s worth practising – try nipping past people smoothly on training runs.”
Don’t get hung up on time
Even comparing races from year to year isn’t necessarily a great way to plan your race day pace: trail conditions can change due to weather, trail maintenance or even wildlife. One piece of advice that always applies: don’t go out too fast.
Perfect your fueling strategy
Going out for over two hours means eating on the move.
Pre-hydrate before you leave
The average person loses between 800ml and 1.4 litres of water an hour during exercise – more in the heat. Glug a bottle of water before you set off – and avoid booze the night before, since it impedes your body’s ability to produce the glucose your body needs for energy.
Take on custom chews in the early going
They’re favoured by the old school but jelly babies are full of simple sugars that release quickly, causing a rush of water to the gut and possible stomach upsets. Look for maltodextrin chews, which your enzymes take longer to deal with.
Drink as you eat on the final stretch
If you’re sweating and moving fast, your blood flow’s going to your skin and muscles, not your gut. Dehydration worsens the effect, ruining digestion and upping your chances of bacterial infection. If you feel nauseous, slow down and take on more fluid.
Remember: leave no trace
If you’re used to lobbing your wrappers, get out of the habit now. You’ll typically be DQed for littering – so get used to carrying your empties.
Build A Trail-Proof Body With This Conditioning Workout
Off-road running demands more functional strength than sticking to the road does. Put a spring in your step with this single-leg circuit. Go through the whole thing, rest 90 seconds and repeat three times
I was standing in a parking lot in Yellowstone National Park staring at a mess of gear strewn across the pavement.
“Where’s the rainfly for the tent?”
One thousand miles away in my apartment in Dana Point, Calif., that’s where it was. Because I didn’t double-check all of my gear before I departed for Wyoming, I didn’t realize the rainfly was in a stuff sack in my closet. So, during a 70-mile journey through the soaking Yellowstone backcountry, I struggled each evening to fold and shape a rectangular blue tarp into a dome-shaped fly. The word “origami” comes to mind.
That wasn’t my first backpacking trip, but my failure to thoroughly check my gear was the type of mistake novice backpackers make all the time. And they don’t make mistakes because they’re dumb or careless. It’s because you can easily mess up when you’re doing something for the first time. Plus, it’s simply not easy to organize all the possessions you’ll need to leave civilization and explore unknown territory. If you’re new to backpacking, do yourself a favor and take heed of the following rookie mistakes. With a little knowledge, you’ll improve your chances of a successful first outing.
Mistake 1. Not Reviewing Gear and Supplies Carefully
I was actually lucky that I realized in the parking lot that I had left the rainfly behind, because I was able to duck into a general store and purchase a tarp. But, many novice backpackers don’t realize they’ve forgotten something until they reach their backcountry camp. To avoid this problem, create a gear list weeks in advance of your trip and begin immediately acquiring the items you need. Don’t wait until the last minute to purchase things, except maybe stove fuel if you’re flying to a destination.
A week or so before you depart for your trip lay out all of your gear and supplies on the floor in your home. Then, check off each item on your list as you place it in your backpack. This will give you time to pick up things you may have forgotten about. Also, avoid washing clothes at the last minute, because things tend to be hectic right before a trip, and there’s a good chance you’ll leave something in the dryer. Before you leave civilization for the last time and go the trailhead, do one last shakedown of your gear.
Mistake 2. Not Testing Gear Before A Trip
Several years ago I loaned a camping stove to friends who were heading to Alabama’s Sipsey Wilderness for their first backpacking trip. When they returned, they told me they had fun but confessed that they owed me a new stove. They hadn’t tested the stove before they hit the trail, and when it flared up while making dinner, they were startled and kicked it into the Sipsey River. While that did a great job of putting out the flame, the current carried away the stove, and they ate a cold supper.
To avoid such a disaster, be sure that you know how to use every piece of gear before you hit the trail. It’s common for people to arrive in camp without having ever set up their tent, and they spend some very frustrating moments trying to figure out which pole goes where as darkness quickly descends. Keep in mind that you might arrive in camp not only late, but also tired, hungry, dehydrated, and not thinking clearly. It’s not a good time to learn how to use something for the first time.
The most important thing to test before your trip is your hiking shoes or boots, especially if you’re wearing leather boots that you have to break in. You don’t want to discover during the first day of a trip that your footwear causes blisters.
Mistake 3. Arriving at the Trailhead Much Later Than Expected
It’s a familiar scene for people heading out on their first backpacking trip: You planned to pull out of the driveway at 9 a.m., but two hours later you haven’t left yet, and you’re dashing around the house trying to find sunglasses, or some other important item. Then, you realize you forgot to put gas in the car. Once you’re finally on the road and approaching the trailhead, you lose your cell signal and make two wrong turns.
Travel delays can have big impact on backpackers. If you arrive at the trailhead much later than expected, you’ll have less time to reach your first campsite. During the late fall, winter, or early spring, when the days are shorter, you could end up hiking and setting up camp in darkness, which is a pain, especially if you’re not experienced.
To avoid this scenario, gas up your vehicle the night before the trip and load as much gear as possible. On the day that you plan to drive to the trailhead, wake up pretty early to give yourself buffer time in case you have to search for something you misplaced. If possible, plan to hike only a few miles on the first day of your backpacking trip. If you’re delayed, you’ll still have time to reach camp at a reasonable hour.
Another option is to drive to your general destination a day early and stay in accommodations relatively close to the trailhead. This will allow you to start hiking relatively earlier, even if you get sidetracked.
Mistake 4. Attempting Unrealistic Hiking Mileage
During my first backpacking trip as a teenager, my buddies and I showed our overly ambitious hiking itinerary to the park ranger, and he said flatly, “You better eat your Wheaties.” Naturally, we ignored him, and we suffered so much we still talk about it today.
One of the biggest mistakes beginner backpackers make is building trail itineraries that are too ambitious and don’t take into account physical abilities, difficult terrain, and high elevations. If your itinerary requires you to hike 10 miles each day and climb several steep hills, you’re going to be pretty worn out. Plus, you’ll have little time to relax around camp and just enjoy yourself. If possible, hike a few miles the first day and gradually increase your daily mileage over the course of the journey.
People who have been backpacking for several years will tell you they’ve made plenty of mistakes and learned many hard lessons on the trail. So, if you’re new to backpacking, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll have your own mishaps, and that’s OK. That’s part of the adventure. But, if you’ll heed the advice of experienced hikers, you can minimize your foul-ups and spend more time enjoying the wilderness rather than stressing over things that you left in your closet, or kicked into the river.
Written by Marcus Woolf for RootsRated in partnership with BCBS of AL.
Weekend backpacking trips are one of the greatest gifts of the summer. You can get so much in just two to three days: a breathtaking vista, a serene mountain lake, a secluded old-growth forest. The only problem is that all too soon you’re back at the trailhead, preparing for the long drive home and wondering how you’ll get through five more days before your next big adventure.
Usually, this is when hikers start to google “Appalachian Trail Town Guide” or “PCT Gear Checklist,” but if you aren’t quite ready to quit your job and sell your house, there are other long trail options, ones that can be squeezed in alongside life’s many other responsibilities. And since these trails don’t get the same press as the jewels of the triple crown, the odds of getting a week of breathtaking vistas all to yourself are even better.
1. Benton-Mackaye Trail
States: Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee Season: Year round Duration: 2-4 weeks Learn more: BMTA.org
The Appalachian Trail is widely considered one of the most social trails in America, and no wonder as thousands of hikers attempt a thru-hike every year. But if you’re looking to experience what the AT might have been like before its fame grew far and wide, look no further than the 300-mile Benton-Mackaye Trail. It shares its southern terminus (Springer Mountain) with the AT, but quickly veers to the west, deep into the Appalachian Mountains and away from the crowds. Here you’ll find the small wonders this corner of the world is known for: deep, lush forests, blooming wildflowers, and cool, bubbling creeks. While this trail is well-maintained by a devoted group of volunteers, amenities are kept at a minimum compared to other trails in the region. The good news is that a lack of established shelters and infrequent signage mean that you’re even more likely to have this trail all to yourself. (If you only have time for a section hike, be sure to check out the best Benton Mackaye day hikes in Georgia and in Tennessee/North Carolina.)
2. John Muir Trail
States: California Season: Summer Duration: 2-3 weeks Learn more: PCTA.org
The granddaddy of them all, the John Muir Trail offers a wholly unique adventure for intrepid backpackers: 211 miles of trail without a single road crossing. Starting at a mere 4,000 feet in Yosemite Valley, you’ll soon leave behind the crowds as you climb up above the treeline and into the high country where no fewer than eight mountain passes await you. Make no mistake about it, the remoteness (not to mention the difficulty) of this trail requires serious training and planning, so be prepared to cross snowfields, wade through swollen rivers, and safeguard your food from the area’s notorious bears. The majority of JMT hikers are headed southbound, but you’ll still see plenty of northbound hikers along the way, as the PCT shares 170 miles of trail through the High Sierras. The only real downside to this trail is its popularity as most reservations are snapped up months in advance of hiking season.
Leave behind the noise and crowds of Houston and travel an hour north to find the solitude and quiet you’ve been craving on the Lone Star Hiking Trail. Tucked away in the Sam Houston National Forest, this 128-mile pine needle-cushioned footpath takes you deep into the backcountry along serene, bubbling creeks and over gentle slopes. As you hike, you’ll wind your way through dense stands of magnolia trees and miles and miles of hardwoods, home to woodpeckers and bald eagles alike. This is one of the few long distance trails that can be hiked year-round, and might even be best in winter, when the scorching temperatures of Texas are moderated. Another bonus: no permit is required to get started, and maps can be downloaded for free at the volunteer-maintained website.
4. The Long Trail
States: Vermont Season: Late spring through late fall Duration: 3 weeks Learn more: GreenMountainClub.org
America’s obsession with thru-hiking may well have started with the Long Trail, the country’s oldest long-distance route, and the inspiration for the Appalachian Trail. Traveling the length of Vermont, the bulk of its 272 miles trace the ridges of the Green Mountains, traveling along remote streams and through alpine sedge, and climbing the state’s highest peaks: Camel’s Hump, Killington Peak, Mount Mansfield, and more. But this trail is known less for the views than as a rugged journey through a thick forest of hemlocks, eastern white pines, sugar maples, and balsam fir. Be aware that while this trail doesn’t reach the same elevations as its Western cousins, it offers significant terrain challenges for the novice and advanced hiker alike. Expect scrambling, slippery log crossings, and rough trails. Today, the LT shares 100 miles of trail with the AT, but while the latter stops midway through Maine, the LT takes you all the way to the Canadian border.
5. The Mid State Trail
States: Pennsylvania Season: Spring to fall Duration: 5-7 weeks Learn more: Hike-MST.org
If you’re looking for something a little longer, and little wilder, check out the 522-mile Mid State Trail running straight down the middle of Pennsylvania. Straddling the Appalachians and the Allegheny plateau, this path is unusually solitary and remote, even as it brings you within spitting distance of established communities (and one or two ghost towns). It accomplishes this by keeping hikers above the fray, traveling from the highest knob and steepest ridgelines, across densely forested highlands, and up and around rolling hills. Like many of the trails in this region, the route is scattered with boulders of varying shapes and sizes, making it difficult to cover ground quickly. But, unlike those other trails, the secret’s not out on this one yet, and it’s a toss-up which you’ll see more of as you hike: bears or backpackers.
If your ideal wilderness trek is one where you won’t encounter another hiker for days on end, the Ozark Highlands Trail should be near the top of your list. But even if you start out in search of the trail’s peaceful valleys and lonely vistas you’ll stay for its smaller wonders: delicate waterfalls, remnants of bygone pioneers, and impressive rock formations, like the Narrs: a narrow catwalk of stone snaking along the Buffalo River. While reasonably well-marked, this trail is more rustic than most, so be prepared for your feet to get wet (and stay wet) during its many stream crossings. Fortunately, there are a number of ancient structures scattered along the way where you can air out and dry off. Procrastinating thru-hikers may rejoice that this one doesn’t require a special permit to get started, but know that the remoteness of the terrain and the difficulty of resupply (there are only two POs and no grocery stores along the way) mean it requires just as much, if not more, planning.
7. River to River Trail
States: Illinois Season: Spring through fall Duration: 1-2 weeks Learn more: fs.usda.gov
Even if you don’t have the time to hike the entire 6,800-mile American Discovery Trail, you can still tackle an important leg of it: the 160-mile River to River Trail travels across southern Illinois, from the Ohio River to the Mississippi. If you’ve never been to this part of the country, you’re in for a real treat. Towering slot canyons, sandstone sculpted bluffs, dense deciduous forests (hike this one in fall if you can), and, of course, sweeping views of two of the most iconic rivers of the Midwest are but a few of the treasures to be found along the way. While the forests surrounding this trail look untouched today, don’t be fooled, as you may be following an ancient wagon trail, long overgrown. A word of caution: since this trail is not maintained to the same standards that you’ll find in established wilderness areas, aspiring thru-hikers should come prepared with serious navigational skills.
8. Shore-to-Shore Trail
States: Michigan Season: Spring through summer Duration: 2 weeks Learn more: MTRA.org
Begin your adventure by dipping a toe into Lake Huron at one of two starting points on the eastern half of the 220-mile Shore-to-Shore Trail. As you travel west, wander through warbler territory, join up for a section of the 4,600-mile North Country Trail, and then skirt the more popular tourist destinations as the trail winds across the rolling hills that characterize the middle of the state. End your trip with a plunge into Lake Michigan via the steep bluffs of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. While there are many upsides to choosing this thru-hike, one downside is that heavy equestrian use can make this trail more challenging for those traveling by foot. Expect longer distances between established campsites (20-25 miles), deep grooves along the path, and maps that are more focused on the needs of thru-riders than thru-hikers.
9. Tahoe Rim Trail
States: California and Nevada Season: July through September Duration: 1-2 weeks Learn more: TahoeRimTrail.org
While Tahoe’s beaches are packed with tourists you’ll be high up on the ridgeline enjoying stunning vistas on this 165-mile loop around the lake’s perimeter. This one is anything but routine, traveling through densely wooded forests, up high mountain passes (there may be snow early in the season), and around the shores of shimmering lakes set against the moonscapes that are specific to this region. The TRT also shares a footpath with the Pacific Crest Trail for 50 miles through the Desolation Wilderness, offering ample opportunity to get some insider info before you plan next year’s big hike. Give yourself a minimum of a week to complete if you’re doing it all in one shot, or break it out into 14 separate day hikes and earn your Weekend Warrior stripes. Added bonus: since the TRT is a loop rather than an end-to-end thru-hike, transportation planning is a snap.
Discover 93 miles of pure heaven circumventing Washington’s most iconic peak. Its jaw-dropping spectacles include fields ablaze with wildflowers of all colors, bridges hundreds of feet over raging rivers and waterfalls, and a new angle from which to see the mountain up close and personal every single day (at least as long as PNW’s infamous weather cooperates). While you’re not climbing Mt. Rainier (14,411 feet), expect significant elevation change (22,000 feet in all) as you climb up and over its many ridges. The Wonderland Trail’s reputation has grown in recent years from a local treasure to a national destination, but if you have a flexible schedule this might just be the perfect year to hike it. A glitch in the reservation system for 2016 means that all reservations are now first come first serve, making it easier than ever to secure a last-minute spot on a once-in-a-lifetime thru-hike.
What’s a hiker’s worst and most common enemy? Bears? Weather? No! It’s the common, but painful, blister.
Even a short day hike can seem like a death march when you have blisters, but there are ways to prevent this suffering, or at least reduce the pain. The key is to know potential pressure points where a blister can form, and to know how to recognize when one might be forming. Plus, you can take certain precautions before hitting the trail.
Now, that’s not to say that you can reliably prevent all blisters from forming. But, you can definitely minimize the risk, pain, and possible infection with just a little pre-hike prep.
What Causes a Blister?
First, we need to know what causes blisters in the first place. There are many things that can cause a flare-up, including sunburn, mosquito and bug bites, and allergies. But the most common cause is friction.
Friction can be produced in a number of ways. When your skin is wet or damp it becomes very soft, and even the normal rubbing of your socks against the skin damages cells to a greater or lesser degree. If you have a simple wrinkle in your sock or a tight spot in your boot that puts undue pressure on a single spot on your foot, that rubbing will cause a blister. And, even if you wear gloves to do trail work, a blister can form due to the friction between the gloves and your skin when you use maintenance tools.
While blisters are painful, keep in mind that it’s actually the body’s way of repairing the damage caused to your skin cells. When the skin becomes damaged, the liquid that is formed within the blister acts as a buffer to prevent further damage to the skin and also aids in healing.
An Ounce of Prevention
Luckily, there are some common sense preventive measures you can take to avoid a painful, hike-ending blister:
Make sure your boots fit properly. If possible, buy them from a store whose staff members can precisely measure and fit your foot. Also, top-notch footwear and outdoor gear stores will have small ramps that allow you to see if your foot remains secure in the shoes or boots while ascending and descending. When you’re trying on footwear, wear a sock that is similar to what you’ll wear while hiking.
Consider buying an aftermarket insole to improve the fit of shoes or boots.
Before putting on socks, make sure your feet are clean and dry.
Avoid cotton socks. They retain water and sweat. Purchase either synthetic or wool socks.
Make sure the sock fits. You don’t want it too loose so it can slip and rub, or too tight where it will cause pressure points on your foot.
If your socks get wet, change into a dry pair immediately.
If you have areas that are prone to blistering, cover those areas with moleskin or adhesive tape to prevent problems later.
Check your feet often during breaks.
As soon as you feel uncomfortable friction in your shoes or boots, act quickly to prevent a blister from developing or worsening.
Prevention also means having the right gear with you just in case a blister begins to flare up while on the trail. There are basic blister kits available online or at your favorite outfitter, or you can simply pack the following:
Molefoam (which is thicker than moleskin)
2nd Skin (this is perfect to use on a hot spot when it flares to prevent cell damage)
Heed the Warnings
The key to preventing a full-blown blister is to recognize when you’re getting a “hot spot,” which signals that a blister is beginning to form. A hot spot is a small area that is red and feels a bit sore or hurts. It’s a sure sign that something’s up.
If you find that you have a hot spot forming, stop hiking and take care of it immediately. Take off your boots and socks, dry your feet, and then cover the spot with a circular piece of moleskin that will reduce the friction on the spot.
Even if you take all the proper steps to prevent a blister, there is still a chance that one will form during a hike.
If you get a small blister—less than the size of a nickel—cut a circular hole in the center of a piece of Molefoam, which is much thicker than moleskin. Center the hole in the molefoam over the blister, stick it down, and you’re ready to go.
If it is a larger blister, avoid draining it if possible. The liquid helps the healing process, and even though it’s rare, opening a blister increases the chances of infection.
There are times, however, when a blister is just too painful and you need relief. In that case, you will need to drain and treat it.
Wash your hands and the blister with antibiotic soap.
Sterilize a needle over a flame or with alcohol.
Insert the needle at the base of the blister.
Coat the blister with an antibiotic ointment and place a bandage or piece of gauze over it.
Just like you did for a small blister, cut a “doughnut hole” in a piece of Molefoam, center the hole over the blister and stick it down.
Fill the doughnut hole with an antibiotic ointment and cover the wound with adhesive tape.
Written by Joe Cuhaj for RootsRated in partnership with BCBS of AL.