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Fast Hiking JMT: Sleep
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Nathan Hays

Locale: San Francisco
Fast Hiking JMT: Sleep on 04/05/2012 16:07:52 MDT Print View

I'm contemplating a fast hike of the JMT, going for a personal best over long distance. I have no illusions about the records - Brett are just too awesome.
The FKTs have spurred me to approach this with a technical eye.

What strikes me about my own experience (Rae Lakes Loop in a day) and the FKT trip reports is that sleep is the biggest problem not yet teched out. It seems the FKT efforts have been to maximize distance on each hike with fewer sleeps - Brett with 60mi/6h/90mi/3h/70mi for example. What I notice is the poor speed at the end of the hikes.

I believe it may be better to hike more, shorter hikes and sleep less each time.
My thinking is that the total time actually hiking can shrink a lot if one doesn't push the miles at the end of exhaustion.

Brett's average speed was 2.83 mph while hiking. If more of the hike is done right after a nap, that could go up to 3.00 mph (6%) which would add a whopping 5 hours of sleep for the same overall time. That's 14 hours sleep total, fairly normal for 3 days, 2 nights.

Breaking the effort up into 6 hikes of 36 miles each and getting 2 hour naps in between plus toiletries.


Nathan Hays

Locale: San Francisco
Fast Hiking JMT: Nutrition on 04/06/2012 15:24:53 MDT Print View

The Hammer Fueling Handbook has some excellent info on nutrition for endurance athletes. There's a section on osmolity, which is the measure of whether a solution takes up water or lets it out. The ideal point for transfer of nutrients into the blood is about 300mOsm, not much more and not much less. Simple sugars (i.e. sucrose) create that only at low concentrations and thus are slower to be absorbed than say maltodextrins which get to 300mOsm at much higher concentrations. More complex carbs such as starch stay in the gut longer because of the digestion effort.

So I've been trying this out - eating sugars, malts, or starches, with equal caloric content on day hikes. I keep my nput at 250 cal/hr, output at 500-550 cal/hour (3.5-3.7 mph over 3+ hours on hilly terrain). I am very convinced that Hammer is right.

Sugar: Candy with >50% cals from sucrose, I get insulin highs and depression. Very much a roller coaster. Energy loss overall on the trail, more difficult to keep up the pace.

Malts: Hammer perpetuem, 80% cals from maltodextrin, nice, smooth energy - no ups and downs at all. No appreciable energy loss after 3+ hours. Very fast recovery after long staircases (+400 ft elev), basically walking off the breathing within 50 yds.

Starch: Oatmeal, pasta with cheese. Felt tubby for first hour, then energy picked up, but not too good on recovery time. Felt energized at end of trips.

Now I'm putting together a meal plan that relies heavily on constant malt-calorie input while hiking and not so much heavy meals at the end.


Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: Fast Hiking JMT: Nutrition on 04/06/2012 15:40:23 MDT Print View

"Sugar: Candy with >50% cals from sucrose, I get insulin highs and depression. Very much a roller coaster. Energy loss overall on the trail, more difficult to keep up the pace."

Very interesting, because the insulin response is largely suppressed by exercise:

So if you are experiencing an insulin spike, a large number of university grad students would like you for their research project.

A bigger problem with sucrose is that an osmolality imbalance (too much sucrose in the gut) will lead to "flooding" response commonly know as "the squirts". And a low enough intake to keep things balanced will result in caloric deficiency.

Hence the reliance on complex carbos - specifically maltodextrins that are balanced for exercise (versus baking cakes).

Edited by greg23 on 04/06/2012 15:44:44 MDT.

Nathan Hays

Locale: San Francisco
Insulin spikes on 04/06/2012 16:08:05 MDT Print View

I have attributed the rush and bust from sugar as a spike in insulin, but if research shows insulin level is not likely the reason, I'm good with that.

The trail bars I've found don't have the mix I want, with sugar and fats dominating. I'm ordering a bag of maltodextrin (can't seem to find it on the store shelves anywhere) to make up my own bars. I've been working with Hammer Perpetuem Solids, but they're kinda messy and big choking danger on an uphill. You gotta eat 10 of those powder pills per hour to get 260 calories. I can easily see them getting boring after a couple days...

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Insulin spikes on 04/06/2012 16:52:26 MDT Print View

"I'm ordering a bag of maltodextrin (can't seem to find it on the store shelves anywhere) to make up my own bars."

You should PM Greg Gressel. He knows where to find the ingredients you're looking for.

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
A few thoughts on 04/06/2012 18:41:08 MDT Print View

1) Sleep - There was an AT speed attempt last year by a hiker/named Natureboy. While he didn't finish he had an interesting schedule that he was keeping. He broke the day into two 20 mile days with sleep/nap in between. He had a blog, you may find some items of interest in it.
2) Sugar spikes - I didn't see any evidence of this on my thru hike. I was alternating junk food and maltodextrin each hour and it may be that the combination of carbs was helpful. But I have also fasthiked at the speeds and durations you are talking eating little chocolate donuts so I'm not convinced that there is one right answer like Hammer suggests.
3) Maltodextrin. Go to and search under trailname-Malto. This is the journal of my PCT fasthike. The prehike entries have all the info on my Maltodextrin sources and the recipes for the malto and electrolyte mix.
4) Consistency. This may not apply to shorter efforts like the JMT but I believe that for longer fast hikes like a long trail it is important to have consistent days verses pushing too hard only to pay the next day. I found this to be true and I also noticed that Williams and Bradley had this down to an artform on there PCT record hike. If you find Natureboys blog you will see that he violated it and paid for it in the following days.

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
Maltodextrin Source on 04/06/2012 18:47:49 MDT Print View

You can find smaller quantities of Malto (8 lbs.) by doing a search for "Carbo Gain" It not that much more than I paid per lb for my 50lb bags of malto. ($1.90/lb.)

Nathan Hays

Locale: San Francisco
Re:Maltodextrin Source on 04/06/2012 19:41:33 MDT Print View

Thanks Greg! Your journal is a joy to read. Thanks for putting so much time into it.

Carbo Gain looks like the right thing to get local. I hadn't found a 100% source, always with extras (not necessarily a bad thing). I found which stocks 50lb bags for $60 + $5 shipping. They also have a lot of freeze dried stuff worth checking out. I'm also ordering up some of the freeze-dried fruits they sell. I get the impression they serve a lot of DIY bomb shelters...

I bought some liquid Stevia for sweetening, if needed. The best sugar substitute I've tried.

My son, "Sure I'll fast-hike the JMT with you, but there's no way I'm living off powerbars the whole way. We're stopping for burgers."

(RobertM2S) - M

Locale: Lake Tahoe
GU Drops on 04/06/2012 19:54:45 MDT Print View

Re: "I've been working with Hammer Perpetuem Solids, but they're kinda messy and big choking danger on an uphill." GU Drops don't seem to me to have any choking danger, but I'm no expert. They are expensive, I know, but perhaps they would be worth the cost if used only on the uphills?

Nathan Hays

Locale: San Francisco
GU on 04/07/2012 10:58:47 MDT Print View

GU shots have water weight. The other alternative is to make up a 3-hour sludge bottle from the powder.

Cam Baker
(Trail_Turkey) - F
Malto Source on 04/12/2012 10:53:59 MDT Print View

The 50# bag price you've shown is competitive but you should have no problem finding malto locally. Best place to look is beer brewing and wine making supply companies. The place I go stocks 1# bags and special orders 50# bags for $57. Much more ecconomic in the 50# bags.

will sawyer
(wjsawyer) - F

Locale: Connecticut
Re: Fast Hiking JMT: Sleep on 04/12/2012 12:56:38 MDT Print View

I've put significant thought into this as well. While a theoretical plan like your 36 miles, 2 hour nap seems like it would work, I imagine it would have trouble in the real world.
one 36 miles stretch could take only 10 hours while another takes 18, so you'd still have an imbalance of distance.
an 'ideal' plan that doesn't take into account other natural variables like daylight and temp would also be tricky. You'd want to minimize your travel time at night and during very hot/cold times of the day, depending on climate.
I also think that many factors that slow you down at the end of a long day will not be alleviated by going to sleep, or sleeping for an extra hour.

In the long term I will be seeing how long (time) I can move before needing sleep and practicing that. In ultra races many participants stay on their feet for 30-35 hours (with short breaks, but no sleep). I recall reading in a Barkley race report that most don't sleep for the entire 60 hours.

What about going the opposite way, what slower speed could you hold for a long time without sleep. Could Brett have slept half as much on each of the two occasions and hiked at a slower average pace, for the same finish time? Could you train yourself to go a few days without sleep (caffeine?) and hike at a slower pace? Without sleep hiking at 2.6mph you could beat Brett's fkt by an hour or so.

There is some optimal ratio, different for everyone I am sure. I would bet that as fitness and experience go up, the ratio of miles hiked/hours slept also goes up.

I hope this isn't too jumbled and will be food for thought for someone.

Aaron Sorensen
(awsorensen) - MLife

Locale: South of Forester Pass
Re: Fast Hiking JMT: Sleep on 04/12/2012 13:28:07 MDT Print View


I tried to go for Brett's record last year, but felt bad from the get-go. I will admit now that I could not get that record anyway. For what ever reason beyond my grasp, Brett takes no (0) minute breaks every hour. It seemed my pace was the same as his but every second I stood still he would be another second ahead of me.

I also went for the unsupported JMT record leaving the same time Michael Popov broke it.

Here is my 2 Cents
For the JMT you are not going to get by on naps of less than 2 hours. A R.E.M. cycle lasts for approximately 90 minutes. Therefore if you are not going to get at least 90 minutes of sleep, it will do you no better than a 20 minute nap will. A 20 minute nap is good for the brain to reset and feel better, but does not help over-all pace other than moving at that pace for longer. You can get easily get by getting 1 rem cycle on a 3 day 2 night hike with some 20 minute naps. Anything more, you'll just suffer with a slower pace. It's even more difficult at a higher elevation.

I was going to try to get at least 90 minutes right before sunset and after sunrise when it warmed up and that did not work. There are way too many little animals that make a lot of noise during the day to even attempt to get any sleep.

My best advise is that by know you should know what time you normally get really tired at night to where your pace starts to significantly slow down. At this time you should decide if you want at least 3 hours of sleep or at least 4.5 hours of sleep. Deciding before will help you break the night up better. If you slept for 4.5 hours you would want to wake up at first light. This tricks your body in to thinking you got a good nights rest. If getting only 3 hours, (and again this is 3 hours from the time you actually fall asleep), then you want first light to come so that you are not already fading and slowing down before your body even starts to wake up.
Some people like to go to sleep early and wake up around 1 or 2am and go from there. I would personally hate this, but it may work for you. In the end the whole idea is to have it so that your speed fades out the least amount of time.

Edited by awsorensen on 04/12/2012 17:12:48 MDT.

Nathan Hays

Locale: San Francisco
Re: Fast Hiking JMT: Sleep on 04/12/2012 20:45:03 MDT Print View

@Aaron - Your comments (and experience!) are well taken. I think the key is the ability to truly sleep at will.

I usually drop off hard asleep in just a few minutes and wake up 2-3 hours later and be wide awake. That happens once or twice a night and at times during the day even in the sun. I suspect I have mild narcolepsy. I'm gearing up to force that schedule while hiking. I can get in 3 or 4 30 milers on my weekend schedule.

I'm lucky enough to have a hilly terrain right from my front door. I can tailor all kinds of up and down up to a 600 ft/mi grade. Mt. Tam is an easy 16 mile hike from here and offers +2400 ft up.

I've built a detailed spreadsheet to help understand how it all fits together. It has 120+ waypoints taken from Wenk's JMT guide. I enter estimates for my speed over different grades and when I think I would rest, and it calculates the trip. I think it would be very useful for anyone who hasn't yet hiked the JMT but wants to wrap their head around it. Not sure how to post, but I have it in PDF form.

Kinda nerdy to reduce it to numbers, but what are you going to do when the SEKI trail report says, "Winter conditions exist". I did hike 12 miles in Tahoe snow last Sunday, including +2600 feet elev, so I did get *something* of an alpine experience.

Nathan Hays

Locale: San Francisco
Re: Fast Hiking JMT: Sleep on 04/12/2012 21:07:42 MDT Print View

@Will -

My son and I hiked around the Rae Lakes Loop (46 miles, +/- 7000 ft) in 20 hours two years ago. The thing I found was I got in a real funk after 14 hours of non-stop hiking. We basically slowed down to 1.5 miles an hour during the last 10 miles.

Things *should* be different now since that was without training and I've lost 20 lbs. However, it was definately a sleep issue - same feeling as driving too too far. We had only gotten 5 hours sleep the night before.

At 3 mi/hr, the JMT takes 72 hours. I just don't see myself hiking for 72 hours at any pace. YMMV.


Aaron Sorensen
(awsorensen) - MLife

Locale: South of Forester Pass
Re: Re: Fast Hiking JMT: Sleep on 04/15/2012 11:30:31 MDT Print View

So are you going for a sub 5 day pace? You should have no problems with Rea Lakes because at the end you are going down hill. If you can sleep and wake up as you state, I would just crash when your pace starts taking a dive and when you wake up 3 hours later keep going.
Are you going to go N-bound or S-bound?

Nathan Hays

Locale: San Francisco
Re: Sub Five on 04/16/2012 19:08:15 MDT Print View

Yup, <5 days is my goal. I'm aiming for 30-36 miles/hike keeping it above 3mph. On the RaeLL, we went up to Vidette (+4500) averaging 3mph then fell off to 2.5 up to Charlotte Ridge and over Glen (+2500), including all pauses. I think JMT 3mph = 72 hours hike and 48 hours sleep is quite doable. I will set out at record pace (2 or 3 hour naps) and see how that plays.

Originally I was thinking NOB, but I didn't win the lottery. So SOB it will be. My family (5 of us + at least 1 more) are hiking sob starting 6/28. I'll be fast hiking later in the season.

Hiked 24 mi (+/- 3500 elev) on saturday and found that at about 20 miles I felt a droop, went from 3.5 mph to 3.3. I slept only 4 hours before to get some sense of short-sleep hiking. Was headed for 36 miles but had to stop for family. Not bad for the first real hike of the season. Hiked another 12 sunday for good measure, effortless. Carried 25 downto 15 pound knapsack (jug o' Perpetuem).

Almost all of my hiking this year (4-12 miles) has been >3.7mph. I'm looking to stretch that over longer distances. Of course, between hike recovery is everything.

No blisters, chafing, or joint issues. I will be buying some new shoes though! These Merrell lowtop suede trail shoes put too much pressure across the top of my metatarsal and I slip a lot in the shoe heading downhill. Very comfortable on the flat and up though.

Next weekend I'll set out with no sleep Fri. eve, do 30+ miles overnight, sleep for 4 saturday morning, then hike it again. That will really separate the fantasy from reality. I love having a 2600' mountain 20mi from my house!

Been thinking about gear...

Nathan Hays

Locale: San Francisco
Re: Fast Hiking JMT: Sleep on 04/22/2012 17:24:42 MDT Print View


Second test hike:
2 hours sleep, 26.5 mi, +/- 4100 ft, 9:33 hours = 2.77 mph
Includes all stops (two water, bunch of breath-catchers)
Weather went to 87F, 72% at the steepest part of the hike.
25 lb downto 15 lb pack (3L H2O + 2L MYOGel)

Asleep by 3:00am, woke at 5:00, on trail at 5:30.
First 15 miles, +1700/-1700 4:06 = 3.58 mph (pretty darn good)
Next 7.5 miles, +2400/-0000 3:24 = 2.21 mph (really felt it, target is 2.6 mph)
Last 4.3 miles, +0000/-2400 2:03 = 2.15 mph (would've been 3 mph w/o bushwacking)

Runkeeper reports 6582 total elevation gain, but I don't believe it. In my JMT spreadsheet I use major elevation points so the ups and downs don't count anyway.

I ended up bushwacking about a mile through an extremely steep redwood forest. This was because I was on a bum trail that ended in nothingness. Cross country shortcuts aren't always! Correcting, the leg would've been 3 mph (same as the rest of the downhill). Total corrected time would've been 2.96 mph, not good enough!

Had minor issue with top-of-the-foot tendonitis on both feet. Painful this morning, but working out.

- Better pacing on hot uphill to prevent runaway pulse/need a break.
- anti-inflammatory every 4 hours, not 8.
- stick to realistic trail for trials.
- could not do 2 of these in a row on 3 hours sleep each.
- 11% improvement in speed would add one hour to sleep time.

Since this was a single hike, not stacked, I want to get to 36 miles, +/-6000 ft, 3.2 mph. (round trip starting at the other side of the GG Bridge - too much flat for a good trial).
JMT - 44 mi/day: /22mi /3h nap /22mi /6h sleep = <5 days

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
Re: Re: Fast Hiking JMT: Sleep on 04/22/2012 19:18:47 MDT Print View

you should be able to knock out a 40 mile day with 10k+ in elevation gain without fading to do what you are proposing. Then focus on the critical task of refueling and recovery for tomorrow. If it were me I would intensify your training, not worry about sleep. (It is fairly easy to do back to back 40 mile days without sacrificing a decent night sleep.)

Finally, I would drastically increase your daily elevation gains to compensate for the lower altitude that you are training at. I would target 10k+ over 40 miles. I also believe that you will need to be able to do 150% of your daily mileage for a multi-day event. The extra 50% compensates for the wear and tear that you will have on days 2-5. Good Luck and keep posting the progress.

Edited by gg-man on 04/22/2012 19:41:09 MDT.

will sawyer
(wjsawyer) - F

Locale: Connecticut
Re: Re: Re: Fast Hiking JMT: Sleep on 04/22/2012 20:14:20 MDT Print View

Some good words by Greg.

in my opinion, get the physical fitness first, then focus on dealing with the mental aspects and sleep deprivation. that means caring for your body and smart recovery most of the time. I think sleep-deprivation has its place in your training, but maybe once every three weeks instead of every weekend.

personally, I would get up to doing 40-50 miles w/ 10k elevation w/ pack a weekend, and do 20-40 miles running during the week. every other weekend I would do a back to back, so maybe 35 miles saturday, 15 miles sunday, with a good solid recovery. Maybe every other back to back (so every fourth weekend) do one with sleep deprivation.

doing a few trial hikes might not be a bad idea if you can. Eg, go for three days at your intended pace on similar terrain.