It’s a problem every outdoor enthusiast in Wichita has felt: How can I train for my next mountain adventure down here at 1300 ft. with topography that is less than ideal? There are a couple of factors that play into this question. First, there is the obvious challenge of higher elevation… potentially 13 thousand feet higher in the Rockies (let’s just leave the Himalayas out of this). The second challenge we have to consider is the topographical monotony that exists as the mainstay of the Great Plains.
As it turns out Wichita once would have been just on the banks of the great Western Interior Seaway, the prehistoric ocean which divided the North American landmasses into eastern Appalachia and western Laramidia. Eighty-five million years later our prehistoric past has left us with a blanket of rich topsoil which makes Middle America such a great place for farming. It’s a history we should be thankful for as it allows Kansas to be the leading contributor of wheat and grain sorghum in the United States. However, it’s also the reason we have such simple topography.
So how de we overcome the barriers to becoming the outdoor experts we want to be? Apart from traveling every weekend to state or national parks we have a few options.
- Get Out and Stay Out – One of the best things we can do as outdoor athletes is, as my ultra running, mountain climbing friend and Wichita local, Mike Strong, likes to put it, “get out and stay out.” There is no training for outdoor adventures without being outdoors a lot. I don’t mean just when it’s nice out either. Did it snow on your long run day? Better put some leggings on and watch your step. This type of training prepares you both physically and mentally for the real challenges of mountain pursuits.
- Hill Repeats and Stairs – It’s not the most exhilarating of activities, but going up and down a large hill or long set of stairs is a great way to get your muscles ready for the vertical challenges mountains have to offer. Today, as preparation for a backpacking trip in the Bitterroots of Montana, I loaded my pack up, strapped it on and hiked to the north end of the Arkansas River Path to the Big Arkansas River Park. There is a relatively large hill here that you can spend glorious hours on. Others I know have gone to the Cessna Stadium on WSU campus to do stair repeats on the bleachers (though it’s worth checking stadium availability before heading over there).
- Stifled Breathing – As many of you already know, the challenge of higher elevation is that their is simply less oxygen to be had. While you probably don’t have access to an Altitude Chamber to sleep in like Michael Phelps you can simulate the effect of altitude in your training in a few ways. The simplest method is to breathe only through your nose as you’re training. (This method is especially effective if you have allergies…) Another method is to wear your Buff over your nose and mouth. If you’re looking for a little more intensity you can combine the two.
Each of these techniques will help you prepare for the mountains, but keep in mind they are not a be-all and end-all of training. There is no better way to ready yourself for a mountain adventure than by training in them. If you can find time to travel to higher elevation to train even a handful of times before your big trip it will pay off. If not, practice the above techniques here in the lowlands and you will feel the difference when you get to altitude.