Training for Kilimanjaro (III): break the routine

This past week-end I shamelessly ditched the gym for a far better alternative – Dorset’s bit of the Jurassic Coast.  A World Heritage Site, this magnificent landform consists of Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous cliffs, spanning the Mesozoic Era,  and documenting 180 million years of geological history.

Durdle Door

Durdle Door

During World War II this rugged coastline was adjudicated by the Ministry of War – which explains why, to this day, you can still spot shooting ranges, military outposts and even an odd number of war ships.  This, however, does not detract in the least from the spectacular surrounding beauty.

The hills behind the coastline make for beautiful countryside walks – a perfect opportunity to train outdoors.  Braving the cliffs can be slightly dangerous in some places – and more so after downing half a bottle of sauvignon blanc – but the views are well worth the risk, especially on a sunny day.

The week-end coastal path training was thus a total success.

Total distance walked: 36.5km (about 22.5 mi)

Total number of awesome picnics: 2

Total number of four-legged friends made: inordinate (Billy, a geriatric whippet; two VERY social billy goats; and oodles of cows, sheep and hares).


Lulworth Cove

Lulworth Cove

Mupe Bay


The Mupe Rocks

The Mupe Rocks


Training for Kilimanjaro (II): work it!

If half the challenge of reaching the summit is in the brain, then the other half is pure, unadulterated physical effort.  Make no mistake – training for this takes time, commitment and loads of patience.

I am not an expert, but I have consulted some I and did my own research on the side.  The result is a training routine based on a few simple concepts that made the most sense to me, personally.  Save for the first part, which caters to mountain trekking specifically, this routine can generally be used for conditioning and toning up, irrespective of fitness level. Here are the few simple rules I follow:

1. Train by simulating the conditions of the Kili trek, to the best of your ability. Ideally, this would entail lots of outdoor walking and hiking (3-6 hrs/day @3-4 days a week).  Since I live in an urban environment, however, I have to make do with my gym membership – at least during the week.  Every single one of my workouts thus begins with one of the treadmill exercises below:

a) Alternating low speed and high incline segments (4km/hr @ 15% incline) with high speed and lower incline segments (6km/hr @ 7% incline).  Each segment should initially be 10 mins (for a total of 1hr), gradually increased to 15-20 mins for a total of 90-120 mins on treadmill.

b) low speed (4.0 km/hr) at high incline (13.5-15%) for 70, 90 or 120 mins.

2. Help your muscles help you.  The Kili trek will entail approximately 80km over the course of 6 days, all the while carrying a 10kg backpack – you don’t want all that effort to be absorbed by your lower back.  So work at strengthening the V-Core (abdominals), the glutes, the upper legs and the calf muscles – their stamina will be critical during the ascent.  There are any number of ways to doing this: gym floor machines (abductor, adductor, etc), TRX, power plate, etc.  I am partial to TRX because I like the idea of using the weight of your own body to strengthen it.  Also, it’s extremely versatile.  Here’s part of my TRX bible:


4. Have fun.  Training all by your lonesome can be a boring, isolating and limiting experience.  I usually complement my treadmill and gym floor workouts with any of the following classes, to ensure a more structured and complete workout: intensive V-core, TRX, body conditioning or kettlebells.

3. Take it easy.  All this training is good in preparation for the ascent, but consistent, vigorous workouts can also lead to back problems and muscle tension.  Stretching for 10-15 mins at the end of each workout is therefore essential.  1-2 yoga or pilates classes/a week will also help relax your muscles and help them regain flexibility.

Conclusion: my routine generally involves an obligatory session on the treadmill (1-2 hrs), in combination with gym floor exercises (machines and/or TRX), and a class (V-core, body conditioning or kettlebells).

Average time: 2-3 hrs

Average calorie burn: 700-1000

Frequency: 4-5 times/week

Training for Kilimanjaro (I): applying lessons learned

Conventional wisdom says that people who are in good shape (i.e. normally go to the gym 2-3 times/week) only need 2-3 months of training to summit the mountain.  If true, this is good news for me.

At the end of March I ran my first half marathon and did a decent job of it.  It’s not the grandest of achievements, but it does give me that extra bit of self-confidence that I could, actually, get to the rooftop of Africa if I take my training up a few notches.


The advantage of long-distance running is not just getting in shape, however.   It’s also a great exercise in testing one’s own physical and psychological limits.

Running implies a constant process of negotiation with oneself – after all, it’s an exhausting, highly redundant and oftentimes painful activity.  Hardly attractive.   You have to obliterate procrastination, laziness and self-defeat just by getting off the couch and running those first 5 km. But once you do that, something else kicks in – the impulse to push yourself to the limit.  When you become utterly exhausted during a run, you have work at convincing yourself that you can go further.  You have to make yourself believe that you can reach the next kilometre mark; and the next, and then the next.  And then you have to make your body follow.

The next day, you start all over again – and push yourself even further.  Luckily, the feeling at the end of that run is pretty damn amazing – a feeling that keeps you running every day thereafter, until you reach that 21.097 km mark.

This is the lesson learned in the last eight months of running that I will take with me up Mt. Kilimanjaro, and which will hopefully help me reach the summit when exhaustion kicks in (and it inevitably will): half the challenge is in the brain.