How to train for multi-day hikes and trail runs

How to train for multi-day hikes and trail runs

How real people can train for multi-day hikes and trail runs

By Helen Cooper, Director of Primal Adventures

Reality check – most of us are now back at work. Sigh…

Serious athletes structure their whole lives around training. Unfortunately that’s just not possible for ordinary, real people who have jobs, family, shopping, cooking and all the other day to day responsibilities that go along with it.  

So how can you live a relatively ‘normal’ life, and still get out into the wild places to have adventures?

What have you got in the calendar for this year that keeps you inspired?

How are you going to train for it without creating additional stress for yourself or others?

Here are five training ideas that you can fit into a busy life and stay motivated:

1. Set a big bad goal (if you haven’t already)

It’s that time of year when the catchphrase is goal setting. That’s because this is the time of year when we are most receptive to altering our routine and trying something new. Find a location that you’d like to explore, or an event you’ve always wanted to participate in and lock it in. 

You may have already registered for something big and exciting, which means you definitely have to get a training plan in place. 

So dream big…. find something that will get you out of your comfort zone. Now imagine yourself at the end of the journey, how fantastic you will feel. How alive and energised. 

2. Consistency, consistency…and rest

Create a training program that will suit you and stick to it. The rare few can motivate themselves to train alone day after day. For most of us, joining a group of likeminded people is key to keeping on track. 

Whether you need to:

  1. join an outdoor training group
  2. a running club
  3. walk the dog
  4. do yoga
  5. All of the above

Make a weekly fitness routine for yourself or find a fitness trainer to help you create one, and show up. Rain, hail, sunshine, injury, bad mood….any excuse can get in the way. Showing up is half the battle.

The other equally important part is rest. It’s an easy mistake to start a new training program and think you can smash it out like in the old days. Everyone needs to take time out regularly so you don’t burn out, get bored, or injure yourself. Consistency of training interspersed with rest will produce incredible results!

3. Get on the trail…any trail!

The effects of any exercise are specific to the type of exercise you’re doing. Swimming or punching a boxing-bag won’t necessarily help you walk or run up a hill, although it will help with all-round fitness and provide variety.

The most effective way to train for a multi-day hike or trail run is to be in an environment as similar as possible to the one you’ll be exploring. Once a week, it’s important to get out on a trail to train. Your body uses a range of different muscles when walking or running on uneven ground, as opposed to on a road or in a gym. These small muscles, many that you may not even know exist, are what help stabilize your body and prevent injury on the uneven terrain of the trail.

It can also be tricky to train for a mountain adventure if you live by the coast or where there are few hills. If this is the case, find some uneven stairs or a steep hill and go up and down an increasing number of times. For example, week 1 you may do 2 sets of stairs; by week 10, you’ll be able to do 20 sets!

4. You’ve probably heard of HIIT, but have you heard of HIIPA?

HIIT (High intensity interval training) is an excellent form of exercise that should definitely be part of any training program. Studies have shown that alternating short bursts of extremely high-intensity exercise with easy recovery periods can be massively beneficial in improving fitness and general health.

Bringing this approach into everyday life can create opportunities for HIIPA (High Intensity Incidental Physical Activity). It’s a way to increase your fitness while not taking more time out of your schedule. Doing things such as;

  • Take the stairs instead of the lift
  • Find a carpark outside the shopping centre
  • Ride your bike to get the milk and bread

Each activity can be as little as 15 seconds, but if you do it fast and increase your heart rate, it all adds up to significant fitness gains.

5. Get your gear sorted early

Find all the equipment that you’ll need 2-3 months in advance and start using it.

Make sure your shoes are well worn in. Shoes that are too old or too new can lead to big problems. I’ve seen quite a few 20 year old hiking boots fall apart on the trail, and many a blister from shoes that are too new!

If you’ll be carrying a pack, then get the right pack for the job and start carrying it. There are so many packs for so many purposes that you may need a quiver of backpacks for each different pursuit. 

This is my personal collection of backpacks – you may not need this many 🙂


Finally – keep your training interesting and varied, or routine and structured according to what you enjoy. The most effective training program is one that you will actually do, not the one you dream of doing. Before you know it, you’ll be somewhere incredible.

See you out on the trail soon!