I’ve always believed in the rule of seven Ps: “Prior Proper Planning Prevents Positively Poor Performance.” The rule definitely applies to backpacking: preparing one’s gear, fine-tuning even the smallest, most miniscule details of the itinerary, familiarizing oneself with the route. But what about the most impressive tool in anyone’s arsenal – their body? It is absolutely the same, training and physical preparation benefits any sort of backpacking, from an overnight weekend-warrior adventure to a proper thru-hike on one of the three major long trails.
I’ve always found running, on trails or roads, to be a great way to maintain a good level of fitness for backpacking. It is, essentially the same motion – one foot in front of the other. A general rule of thumb I’ve picked up somewhere states that a mile ran counts as two hiked, which seems to be just about right as far as perceived effort and energy expenditure goes. While other modes of cardio activity, as well as strength training are also very important, running is a good, almost universal and all-applicable way of training.
Folks residing in Portland, Oregon are of course lucky to find themselves in the near proximity of Forest Park – an approximately 5000 acre urban wilderness, stretching along the Willamette River, with its southernmost reaches literally within minutes of Portland’s downtown. Technically a part of a real mountain range, the Tualatins, Forest Park offers many opportunities to run on its trail system that contains about 70 miles of trail.
Wildwood Trail, the longest in the system, stretches along the backbone of the park and consists of 30 miles of fairly technical single track. Off limits to cyclists, it is very inviting to a person desiring to put in a nice long run. Multiple access points throughout the length of the trail allow for numerous options for loops or car shuttle routes.
Of course Wildwood is not the only option – the park has other long-run options, like Leif Ericson drive, an 11-mile, well-marked dirt-and-gravel road with more gradual hills, along with a number of super-technical and steep trails, sometimes labeled as “firelanes” probably for land management and wildfire prevention purposes, crossing the longer arteries. Those are great for slow-ish and carefully-footed hill repeats, or inserting a steep climb into one’s Long Slow Distance run.
My usual choice of footwear for Forest Park ends up being a well-cushioned, supportive trainer, like the Karhu Strong5. Some workouts could call for a lighter, or, maybe grippier shoe, but mostly, I find myself putting in long and steady miles, rather than testing my lactate threshold or seeing how fast I can get through a 10k.
If you ever find yourself in Portland, even a brief running pilgrimage to Forest Park is a must! And I will keep coming back there to train for everything, from marathons and ultras to the next thru hike.
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Barb is @wildlifesangria