This post is part of a larger series of posts about my climb of Mt Rainier This 3 day climb is very physically demanding, and culminates with a 12-18 hour summit day. RMI stresses that you must come to the mountain in the best shape of your life. I started preparing physically about 8 months before the climb. You need to be able to keep a pace of 1,000 vertical feet per hour for two days in a row while carrying around 40lbs of gear. The old marathon axiom “it is easy until it gets hard” holds true here. That pace should feel pretty easy and relaxed at first. It is much harder at 14,000ft with 6 hours of climbing behind you. I felt my training plan left me well prepared for my climb. I was in good enough shape to have fun almost the entire time. I was very tired at the end, and my feet hurt a lot, but I was not completely exhausted.
Phase 1 (4 months)
The goal of the first phase of my training was to build strength, focus on my weaknesses, and build a strong aerobic base. During this phase I ate a calorie excess and managed to pack on about 15lbs of muscle. I focused on heavy compound lifts (bench press, back squats, deadlifts, cleans, over head press, pull ups). I did a full body routine for about an hour 3 days per week. I bought a groupon and did about 1 month of Cross Fit. To fill in cardio time I built back my running (I had taken a hiatus due to knee injury in late fall). I ran as much as by body would allow (which was 10-12 mi per week). I used a heart rate monitor and kept all of my runs in zone 2 (karvonen zones) Throughout the winter I got out and hiked mountains climbing three 14ers, and three 13ers in calendar winter. I also did a snowshoe hut trip, and a few snow boarding trips.
Phase 2 (3 months)
The goal of this phase was to build aerobic fitness, build anaerobic fitness, maintain muscle strength, and condition my feet and lower body soft tissue. To motivate myself for this phase I registered for the Colfax 1/2 marathon in May (a little less than 2 months from the Rainier Climb). I loosely based my run training plan off of Hal Higdons Intermediate plan My main modifications were that I did more strength training, and I stretched the time frame out to accommodate hiking / climbing. I still continued to do strength training 3 days per week. The big shift in strength training was that it was my second priority. The intensity of my strength workouts were based on how I felt, and what my next day training plan was. In addition to weight training, I started doing hill repeats with a heavy pack. I also occasionally hit the climbing gym in place of a strength day. At least once per week I made use of “brick” workouts. These workouts come from the world of triathlons and consist of a bike immediately followed by running. These proved quite useful to really stress my aerobic endurance without risking injury of back to back long runs. I also used the bike to add a few easy miles after long runs, and to recover when my body felt to beat up to run. I suffered a low grade hamstring strain which sidelined my training for almost 3 weeks. I found a cheap pair of vibram 5 fingers, and began wearing them when not working out, and for light runs. I found this to be a great way to strengthen and condition my feet. This phase coincided with spring snow climbing season in Colorado, I got out on several moderate grade snow climbs. I also continued to hike in the foothills around Denver, and put up a few 13er assents.
Nutrition: Durrng this phase I lost 13 lbs of fat. I ate a slightly calorie restricted diet. I also followed intermittent fasting 4 days per week. This meant consuming no food from 8PM – 12PM daily. The reason I chose to do this was to teach my body to be a more efficient fat burner. This helps increase your aerobic capacity, and feel more energetic on long sustained efforts.
Phase 3 (1 month)
The goal of this phase was to “put it all together” combining my strength and cardio fitness by simulating what I would be doing on Rainier. Hiking with heavy loads at altitude. The first two weekends I did back to back long hikes. I did local hikes 3-4 hours with a full pack, followed the next day by a long hike or climb of 6-9 hours. During the week I did some trail running, biking, and short hikes with a very heavy pack. With only three weeks to go until the climb I managed to injure myself again. I was descending loose and steep 4wd road at the end of hiking Almagre mountain. I was stupidly trail running fast with a pack. I slipped and opened a large gash in my knee. I had sustained a similar injury on my bike the previous fall, and the skin on my knee was week. The gash was deep, full of dirt and gravel and clearly at risk for infection. I chose to seek treatment and got 4 stitches to close about 1/4 of the wound. This injury left me sitting on my butt during a critical phase of my training, and was a stupid mistake to make.
The final weekend before rainier I went on h a 3 day backpack to conundrum hot springs.
I think a real key for designing a training plan is learning why you need to do certain types of workouts, what the goal of each workout and phase is. As you learn why you do things, it enables you to build a custom flexible plan. This is much preferred over a one size fits all plan that you get from the internet.
- RMI Conditioning Plan
- Climbing: Training for Peak Performance. This is a very useful book that describes how to train to climb mountains.
- The Outdoor Athlete
- Training for the New Alpinism
Post Climb Update
I felt I was well prepared for this mountain. At no point did I struggle either cardiovascular or strength. I was quite tired by the time the climb was over-with, and my feet were hurting pretty bad on the last stretch. I would train as HARD as you can for this climb. Going in well prepared not only increases your summit chances, but it makes the experience much more fun! If you have the ability to get up on a mountain in cold weather I would strongly suggest it. I think the amount of winter summits I did really helped me out.