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Preparing the Body for a Hike
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Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Preparing the Body for a Hike on 10/11/2010 15:30:46 MDT Print View

Just finished reading Craig W's Grand Canyon Trip report. Having hiked with Craig, I know he is in phenomenal shape.

One thing that really hit me was the amount of sleep he had prior to his trip and something I experienced this weekend.

Over the past 10 years or so, I have found that I can easily get by with 6 hours of sleep or less, and perform well at work or on the trail. But at what point does the lack of sleep negatively impact our physical performance, or even endanger us?

Over the past few weeks I have been testing a McHale pack, carrying much more weight than normal, and completing day hikes of 10 - 16 miles over varying terrain and conditions. So I am in fairly good condition.

Last week I had to make a quick business trip across the country to the east coast, and probably slept an average of 4 hours per night on Tues, Wed, and Thurs. I flew home Friday and only got a couple hours of sleep. Saturday morning I felt great, and planned on doing an 11 mile hike with an 8,000' elevation gain; a hike I have done many times.

The expected high temperature was around 92F, and considering the small amount of sleep I had gotten during the week; I took a hydration bladder to ensure I was always completely hydrated.

The 1st mile included a 1,000' elevation gain. At that point I felt great. However as I hiked the next two miles and gained another 1,500' elevation, I became totally exhausted. I have never been so tired starting out on a hike. At this point, I really gave serious thought about going forward, and decided to bail. On the return hike, which was all down hill, I had to hike very carefully and slowly, as my legs were jelly. I actually slipped and fell 3 times, because my legs were so weak. Luckily I did not get injured. It was a good decision, because had I continued I could have been in serious trouble (although I had ample water and gear to sleep overnight if necessary, as I was carrying extra gear just to test the McHale pack).

Once I got home, I took a 4 hour nap. Saturday night I slept 12 hours. Sunday morning, my legs were a little sore, but after walking a couple minutes they felt fine. Just to see if the prior day was just a matter of not enough sleep, I went out and did the same 3 miles out and back, and it was a piece of cake.

Craig W.
(xnomanx) - F - M
Re: Preparing the Body for a Hike on 10/11/2010 15:57:17 MDT Print View

Days like you describe are weird...I get them sometimes too, days when things just don't click. Maybe it is sleep, but at times it seems almost random, like the body is suddenly trying to rebel, obviously telling us it doesn't want to do what the mind wills...
It honestly sounds like you were just wiped out. Maybe you shouldn't make too much of it.

I know most athletes have restless nights before a big day, even very experienced ones. I've heard countless tales...Imagine trying to run something as tough as the Western States 100 having only slept a few hours...But in the end I suppose it comes to your conditioning and knowing your body. Regardless of adverse conditions, sleep included, the body will revert to doing what it was trained to do.

But for how long?

There's the fine line, that subjective threshold we all have. I think we can get away with a lot, especially if conditioned...but night after night without adequate sleep, proper diet...

I was actually thinking about this in a different way on my Grand Canyon trip.

Not to underestimate the suffering that can exponentially unfold after 12 hours/many miles-I've been there- but I almost feel like staying the night at the North Rim made things worse than if I had just rested for an hour or two and headed back.

It certainly allowed some pain to leave the legs, helped with rehydration/calories (I was probably running a deficit as I new I would be spending the night and have time to catch up).
But it was also a fitful night with little sleep, a lot of wind, and breathing cold, dry air. I was also dreaming and thinking too much...generally a bad, restless night. Morning found me not very well rested with my sinuses feeling terrible.
It got me questioning whether a solid 1-2 hours of rest (without sleep) at the North Rim would've been better than my 7 hour fitful night.

At what point is 1-2 hours of quality rest better than a bad night?

Edited by xnomanx on 10/11/2010 15:59:10 MDT.

tommy d
(vinovampire) - F
sleep needs on 10/11/2010 19:41:19 MDT Print View

I've noticed that my sleep needs have changed a lot over the years. In my teens, I needed 8+ hours of sleep a night to really function. In my twenties, I just didn't need to sleep much at all. I went on 3-4 hours of sleep for years. I never napped and I could do as little as 1 or 2 hours and still hike, run, swim, or whatever at my normal pace. The last few years, my sleep needs have been increasing to 5 or 6 hours a night. I wonder if in a few years I'll need 7 or 8 hours.

I suspect that different people need different levels of sleep, depending on age, their own bodies needs, ect.

Chad Helmke
(the-gear-recycler) - MLife

Locale: High Rockies
Glad I'm not the only one... on 10/15/2010 17:16:41 MDT Print View

I recently had the same experience under almost the same conditions.

Same hectic week with less than normal sleep, Friday eve a friend got married and got even less sleep (only 2 adult bevs in anticipation of next days hike-boo), and Saturday got up feeling fine for our hike of Mt Huron in central CO. It was approximately 4000' gain in 4 miles from where we started and my first 2 miles was fine. Rest of the day was an utter struggle but I did summit. Sore for 4-5 days afterward which is very abnormal. And to boot, I am a meter reader who logs 50-75 miles a month while working not to mention hikes on weekends for fun. Not rockstar shape but can hold my own.

I really think the cumulative sleep loss the previous week was to blame and can't explain the excessive soreness. I'm a 8 hour a night person when it comes to sleep and maybe as I'm usually walking 7-12 miles a day my body just needed a break? Still rough to have your butt handed to you and then your even tougher fiancee goes for a 16 mile run the next day.

Man did I feel like a wuss...