Sunday, February 2, 2014

PCT training: knee problems and aerial dance

My plan when I was started preparing for the PCT was to focus on physical training and injury prevention.  To get into “the best shape of my life” before starting.  

I read books about exercise- Chi Running and Fix your Feet.   I set out a training plan involving gradually increasing my distance and pack weight, and doing specific exercises to targeted at my hiking form. 

Knee problems
Despite my efforts, around New Years, my old knee pain (IT band problem) returned.  I overdid it by hiking too fast with too much weight than I was probably ready for.  (oh, I miss my lightweight pack!)  Since then I've reduced the weight I've been carrying to 15-20 lbs, so it doesn't hurt.  However, doubt at my physical ability had hit an all-time high.  What if the only reason that I've always felt so strong as a backpacker is because my pack weight is light?  When I carry a heavy pack for the long water carries on the PCT, could I get too injured to hike?

Fortunately, I’ve had other things to keep my busy….  preparing for another aerial dance show (i.e. dance trapeze and aerial silks- sort of like Cirque du Soleil- only at an amateur-level).  I thought this might give my legs and feet time to heal.  Ironically, all the aerials practicing left me exhausted and ever more sore.  It doesn’t seem like rest climbing the silks over and over, or when I am walking around with my pack at 6 AM.

Why I'm so sore- climbing up and down and up and down.
In-town hiking in the morning.
Lessons from trapeze and aerial silks
I've learned a few lessons from getting ready from our aerial performance that I hope will help me for the PCT. 
From doing aerials, I learn that soreness is part of the process, and is a physical sign that I am getting stronger, but I also learn how to not push it too far.  I stretch, I rest, I do exercises to improve my form, then I go back to practice. 
Massaging my sore forearms.
I learn to listen to my classmates and teachers when they tell me that I am strong enough to do a trick, when I don’t believe it myself.  It always turns out they are right.  I think about this when one friend tells me "I have no doubt in you completing the PCT in a thru-hike.” 
 Photo by Susan.
This show was the most challenging one I’ve ever done-  the cues were tricky, there were two transitions that I only get ‘right’ 25% of the time, and there was little time between our two pieces to rest my forearms.  When we first choreographed our aerials piece, I didn’t know if I would ever have the strength to make it through the entire set of tricks.  A few times during practice, I’d have to climb down, unable to continue, my muscles spasming.  But I knew my classmates believed in me and that arms have never been so strong.  Sure enough, we totally pulled off an awesome show!  I hope I will be as strong for the PCT.  I poke at my rock-solid forearms wondering if those muscle cells can please migrate down to my legs.

When I look down at my hands and see my callouses, I know I have the hands of an aerialist.  I realize… I AM an aerialist!   I practice saying "I AM a PCT thru hiker” and can hardly believe it will become true in another 2 months.  
The final performance goes really well!  Photo by Susan.


  1. Aerials! How cool is that!

    can you plan your hike so.that you don't have to carry more than 25 lbs? Seems doable. And start slow.

  2. Hi Mary,

    Absolutely will try to keep the pack weight down. For the water carries, I will be drinking the water, so the weight will go down as I hike. And I'll be starting slow for sure. Though it's gonna be a challenge cause I think I'll be so excited I'll want to hike all day. :)

  3. IT band, I know all too well how that hurts and wish you had mentioned it last week, I would have should you how I manage it on the trail.

    BTW- did you find a pair of mystery muddy glove liners in your gear?

  4. JJ- Oh drat wish I'd asked you, but I'd completely forgotten about the IT band last week. Too focused on everything else. :)

    Will look around for the glove liners...

  5. I'm happy to look at your stride, core balance & posture for no charge; all these things are very important while natural walking. Best to set up a time to talk about it on webcam. Let me know what time works best for you.

  6. I too have no doubt that you will finish---YOU WILL! :) You'll get the kinks worked out.

  7. Wow, Jake, that's very generous of you. I'll contact you to find out more. Thanks!

  8. Hi Joan
    With your knee and ITB problems, you may find this article on gluteals interesting:

    My understanding: if your gluteals are weak, your hamstrings take over, leading to tight hamstrings, knee and ITB issues. Strengthening the gluteals helps!



  9. Hi Mary,

    I thru hiked the PCT in 2013. It took me four months to finish. Along the way I injured my knee. Although I despise hiking poles, I borrowed a pair to help me continue. They relieved the stress on my knee a great deal. If not already, you might consider using them. I will be on the CDT.

    Good luck, Steve

  10. Hi Stuart- That’s a great article, thanks for recommending it. When I had this problem a few years ago, my physical therapist told me to do exactly what you said- strengthen the glutes. It helped back then, but I didn’t keep the exercises up, so that’s another reason I think the problem returned. Definitely back to doing them now, and I think it’s helping.

    Hi Steve- I am a big fan of treking poles as well. Glad to hear they help you too. Have fun on the CDT! :)