To understand the necessity for extensive training it’s important to know about the extent of the trek to the top. Mt. Kilimanjaro is almost 6.000m (20.000ft) high. Starting at approx. 1.800m and climbing for four days this results of around 1.000 height meters per day! And with every day, with every meter or foot the air becomes thinner and thinner. Bear in mind that at summit level there’s only 50% of oxygen left compared to sea level.
Speaking of which: One of the most heard misconception about oxygen and height is the “fact” that the concentration of oxygen in the air decreases in higher altitudes. In fact the concentration is always at roughly 21 per cent. The only thing that changes is the atmospheric pressure. Meaning that even at 6.000m the air consists of 21% oxygen, but the molecules have much more space in between them… Anyway: the result is all the same: we’re missing oxygen at high altitudes, which results in a huge amount of problems. I’ll not go too much into detail about altitude sickness, HAPE, HACE and and and – let’s just say for the moment it’s much more exhausting climbing at altitude. The better prepared you are, the higher are the chances reaching the summit.
Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro is of course also a financially demanding. That’s one of the reasons why I didn’t want to risk anything and prepared myself very extensively.
That said: what did I do? First of all I needed to work on my endurance, so I started running. I was (and still am) lucky that I’m living next to huge park which is an optimal training ground for running. One round around the outmost trails of the park is roughly 5km, which is a good distance to start with. It took me a couple of weeks to be able to run that in a constant speed. Finding the right pace is key – the easiest and mostly mentioned strategy is to run at a speed which still allows talking in complete sentences. If this means that you need some walking breaks in between – no problem. Don’t push your heart rate too much. If you’re using a HRM (heart rate monitor, a.k.a. fitness watch etc.) don’t exceed 70-80% of your maximum heart rate. (Either by testing it or simply calculate: (210 minus your age) as a very rough estimation).
Also important, especially when starting: Don’t train on two consecutive days. Your body needs to rest to adapt to the training impulses.
I extended the training continuously until I was able to comfortably run 10km in approx. one hour, which then was my task for three days a week. (don’t increase your weekly running distance for more than 10% to avoid stressing your body and risking injuries) For me it was the best to run directly in the morning before breakfast – that way I had completed my training for the day even before work. Motivating yourself after an exhausting shift is even more challenging.
In total I ran 1.200km in 18 month (>150 training sessions) and was finally able to run 10k in 48:00 minutes. Even when I was traveling I packed my training gear and went for a run. One thing which I discovered for me is what I call “sightseeing running”. I tried to include all major sights of the current city into my running track:
As hiking is more than just running endurance it was also important to increase the body stability. So I added functional training to my training pensum, which resulted in more than 50 training sessions of “bootcamp”. In the final phase I was running three times a week and also had two sessions functional training.
Important to mention: It’s key that you find YOUR way. I’m not the gym type. Training in a small group at a scheduled time worked much better for me. Could be different for you!
I’ve read and heard a lot about people who did a lot of sport their whole life and nevertheless faced challenges once on the mountain. I’d like to give you some bullet points to think about – I’ll write more about that in later episodes:
- train to carry a backpack (with some weight in it (8kg a solid start)
- train to use your drinking system while walking
- wear your hiking boots if they are new to break them in
- wear your outdoor clothes to see if there are unforeseen issues
- go hiking to nearby mountains and hike for more than 6 hours per day
- if you’re planning to bring energy bars try them in advance to prevent digestive problems
- if possible do some altitude training (more about that in a later article)
So what I did was all of the above – my training ground was the Brocken mountain, Harz, Germany and the Ötztal in Austria where I for example discovered some problems with my shoes which I could luckily solve.
All in all I felt best prepared for the mountain. So follow me to the start of the adventure:
The adventure begins: Marangu Route