Hiking in a Flat City

Upon checking the calendar yesterday, I realized there are only fifteen days left until my brother and I will be hiking in the Smoky Mountains. Up to this point, I’ve solely been focused on what I need to pack for the trip. I have multiple lists for food and gear and have been adding or crossing things of those lists for the last few weeks. I’m feeling pretty good about our preparedness level.

While on a walk with my dog yesterday I felt a little tweak in my right hamstring which at the moment didn’t surprise me. I’m 40. I wake up and things just hurt most days. Although, that tweak made me realize I’ve spent all this time planning for what to take for our hiking trip, but I’ve spent no time planning for my fitness level to actually do the hiking.

I’d say I’m generally healthy. I walk everyday, jog a few miles a week, and stretch routinely. All good enough for a flat lander. Chicago is flat as a board and out on a dog walk, I don’t encounter any grade change. The biggest challenge is walking up three flights of stairs to our apartment.

I decided I needed to take the next two weeks and try to prepare my body for hiking in the mountains. Aside from walking up and down the stairs a thousand times, I wanted to find something more entertaining. We are fortunate enough to live close to a high school with a sports complex open to the public.


I knew I wanted to focus on cardio and leg strength. For my first day, I started with a ten minute stretch followed by several 50 yard sprints on the football field. I sprinted at about 75%. No need to blow out a hamstring on my first day of training. After I felt good and loose, I did some 10 yard lunges, followed by 5 yard side to side step lunges. The small set of bleachers off to the side served well for a few sets of step-ups and standing ‘box jumps’. Even though the bleachers are only about five rows high, I decided running up and down the bleachers would simulate some grade change.

Step Ups

One thing I learned hiking in Washington State a few years ago, is that I underestimated how challenging hiking downhill can be. As a novice hiker, I was thinking the uphill portion would be the most taxing. Downhill puts extra strain on your knees and thighs. It’s like doing wall sits for extended periods. Not fun if you aren’t prepared.

Four years ago on Mt. St. Helen’s when I wasn’t as prepared as I thought I was

After running up and down the bleachers for a few minutes, I was looking for a bigger challenge. I found a loading ramp at the high school across the street. The ramp is probably 100 feet long and the overall grade change is about 13 feet. This is nothing compared to some mountain trails, but in a flat city this would have to do. I walked down the ramp and ran back up the incline for about ten total sets. I felt a little burn. I followed up the incline session with a mile jog and a cool down stretch. Pretty good for day one of training.

Incline Run

By no means, am I health expert or fitness trainer. The good news is I don’t have to be to create a training program that feels right for me. I know my body and my limits. Over the next two weeks I plan to repeat these exercises and increase the amount of reps. The true test will come on the trails of the Smoky Mountains.