You’re set and ready to get going on your first real long-distance hike, you’ve put in the training, broken in your vegan hiking boots, your legs are feeling good and you’re excited to hit the trail – this beautiful feeling the honeymoon period!
Enjoy it, basque in its warm fuzzy feeling but know it won’t last forever and at some point it is going to get hard so, how do you actually train your brain for a long distance hike?
This summer I went back to the U.K to hike The South West Coast path, a beautiful 650 mile coastal trail starting in Minehead in Somerset and finishing in Poole in Dorset, I knew the hike was going to take around two months to complete and this is what was happening inside my head by day ten…
“Is that shin pain getting worse?” “I wonder if the bruising on my hips are getting worse?” “How many more hills do I have to climb today?”⠀⠀⠀
There’s something about the routine and rhythm of hiking that easily allows you get lost in your thoughts.⠀
Luckily, this wasn’t my first thru-hike and I’ve spent years training my brain for the hard bits and I know that the rewards of hiking and backpacking are well worth all the hard work and discomfort, one of my biggest motivations is seeing what my body is capable of.
I am definitely not the toughest hiker out there (just talk to me about camping in the rain for one month solid this August) but every hike I’ve done has taught me that mental toughness, or grit, willpower etc, whatever you want to call it, is a special quality that allows not just hikers but people in general to keep going in the face of difficulties.
Here are 5 ways you can start training your brain for a long-distance hike.
1: Find Your Motivation & Define Success
If you’re thinking about doing a long-distance hike or maybe you’ve already got one planned, what is your number 1 motivation for doing it?
There’s no wrong or right answer here and you might need to spend some time thinking about it. I’ve been leading hikes and expeditions for many years and here are some common motivations I’ve seen in both my clients and myself; seeing what our bodies are capable of, experiencing a different/challenging geographical environment, seeing unusual or exotic wildlife, spending quality time with the people we choose to hike with and to succeed in a first solo hike.
When you’re clear on your motivation, write it down! I encourage my clients to create a special hiking photo folder on their phones and create some fun graphics on Canva to be able to look at as a reminder of why they’re out there in the first place if things get tough.
What does success look like to you, is it about finishing every single step of a long-distance hike or are you more motivated by the overall journey? Get really honest with yourself and specific about what success looks like for you.
2: Build support Systems
This is something you can set up before you leave home, get friends, family and co-workers involved in the journey! Let your support system know what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and how they can follow your journey which could be on social media, in a private WhatsApp group or in person pre-trip meet ups.
You’ll be amazed at how motivating it is to know people are cheering you on. You could ask somebody in your support system to record voice notes for you to listen to on the trail or make your own motivational graphics for your photo folder, only you know what will work best for you so get creative!
3: Boost Your Dopamine On The Trail
There was a day on the South West Coast path hike this summer that was just brutal, I’d found a hiking buddy so we set off together that morning and the weather went from bad to outrageous! The rain was relentless, the wind had us on all fours gripping onto the rocks and after twelve miles of this both of us were cold, tired and the only thing we had ahead of us was another cold wet night camping in the rain, the happy hormone, dopamine was at an all-time low.
Here’s how you can shift your mood on the trail when the going gets tough; listen to music, better still have a few go-to motivational songs at the ready, stop and connect with your hiking buddy or group, listen to a podcast or take some photos, it’s amazing the difference in mood a quick chat can make, eat something familiar like your favourite energy bar or something sweet and when you get to camp in the evening a quick foot massage or hiking pole calf massage will help, self care on the trail is important.
4: Remember, It’s Not A Race
If you’ve already done a few day or summit hikes you’ll know it can sometimes feel like a bit of a race. “I got to the top in 3 hours.” “How long did it take you to do such and such a hike?” Long-distance hiking is a totally different animal and you have to adopt a different mindset right from the start, focus on a hiking pace and style that works best for you and enjoy the journey without getting caught up in times and miles covered.
Pre, during and post-trip, get the journal out! Recording how you feel both physically and mentally after a hike will help you see what’s going well, what needs to change, take note of areas that you think you might need to work on to help build up that mental grit needed for a long-distance hike.
Has the wanderlust kicked in yet? I hope so! If you’re interested in doing a long-distance hike, send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org to get on the wait list for the next Costa Rica coast-to-coast hike, 280km from the Caribbean all the way to the Pacific!
Emma – Vegan Adventure Holidays