Training for a Multi-Day trek in the Dunes- useful to ladies signed up for the Women's Heritage Walk
Updated: Nov 25, 2019
A multi-day journey through the desert is nothing to be afraid of, in fact it's an exciting, wonderful opportunity and people from all fitness backgrounds sign up each year for the Women's Heritage Walk in the UAE http://womensheritagewalk.com and other expeditions like it. But to really, really enjoy your adventure, you must be fit enough.
Being fit means that you can concentrate on the stunning views, the spiritual side of a long walk, the nature around you and the varied and fascinating company of your comrades. Fitness also helps to prevent injury. And, training for your trek is a great way to improve your overall health and well-being and an opportunity to meet your fellow trek buddies if you have the chance to train together.
Your training should start a few months before your multi-day trek, depending of course on how fit you are to begin with. And before starting any training program, you should consult your Doctor, particularly if you have any health issues.
A regular 1-2 hour wander is not enough to prepare you for an event such as 5 days of 7-8 hours of walking through rolling desert terrain. So...
...Let’s Dune It!
1. Prepare to Conquer
Not only will training before hand strengthen your joints, ligaments, tendons and muscles and improve your endurance, it will also improve your odds of completing your trek. Training before you go improves your overall fitness which lowers the physical stress of the hike, decreasing your likelihood of an injury.
Very few trekkers quit because they chose the wrong backpack, season of sleeping bag or forgot the zip locks. I’ve never had a case of a trekker in my 20 years of trek and cycle leading use any of these as reasons for abandoning a trek. It is almost always injury or fitness. Trekkers spend too much time planning for things that mean much less to the success of the hike, rather than the physical condition of the body that will make or break the adventure.
2. Start walking now
The best way to prepare for a walk in the dunes is....to walk, ideally in the dunes. Start with small-ish distances and work up to the kilometers that you’ll be trekking on your sand dune adventure. If you really don't do much walking right now just begin by increasing your step count through the day, so that you are used to being on your feet. Anywhere will do; to and from the coffee machine, on the school pick-up, round the supermarket...just get the number up to at least 10,000 steps. Then introduce some short walks, the terrain doesn't matter at this stage. The 5km loop on Hudayriat in Abu Dhabi is perfect for example. And when you're ready, do it twice. When you start doing dedicated walks leave a day in between each walk to let your body recover. But as your body gets fitter, try to do back-to-back sessions each day – it’ll help build your stamina for the relentless nature of a multi-day dunes trek, where you won’t have the luxury of rest days. Ideally, you want to be able to walk 4-6 hours – comfortably – before the start of your adventure. As soon as you can, venture into the desert, or a sandy beach might work well too. It is harder to walk in dunes. One step forward, half a step back! Join us on one of our Tuesday training walks , or if you have signed up to the WHW our Friday training walks are included in your fee. Experience the desert terrain and ask as many questions as you like.
3. Find the time
To achieve your training and fitness goals organize your time as best you can. There are many ways to ensure that your time is maximized even if you feel that you have no time:
Organize your week to make sure you get out and do something
Don’t give up if you miss a day’s training, just start again the next day. But try not to miss 2 days in a row.
If it’s too hot or dusty or you can’t get outside add another indoor session, but try and walk as much as possible in ‘real’ conditions. The more you train in similar conditions to your challenge (sandy and undulating) the better.
Get up an hour earlier and take a quick walk before your day starts.
If you can walk to work, school or your local shop, do. If you can’t walk the whole distance, walk part of the distance and park your car nearby.
Get your family and friends training with you at the weekend or in the evenings. Suggest a walk rather than a coffee - or even better, both.
Use your lunch hour to take a brisk walk around the immediate area. Or if you are working on one Abu Dhabi or Dubai's tower blocks, climb the stairs a few times.
It is important at weekends to get in some sandy and undulating miles to experience trekking on this surfaces. Join us on our Tuesday training walks in the desert.
It is important to try and make the time to trek on some consecutive long days. A good excuse for an exciting weekend trip. Nothing will prepare you for your challenge better than actually going out for some long walks
When you can’t walk longer, walk faster. It’ll elevate your heart rate and get you fitter than if you stroll.
4. Get Kitted Up
For all that I've dismissed the state of your kit as less important than the state of your body and fitness, it does help. If you have the correct footwear, sun protection, clothing, bag and poles it really will make your training and multi-day trek, particularly when you venture into the desert, more comfortable, enjoyable and safe.
Walking poles will become your two best friends. They take the pressure off your knees on the downs, and give you extra support on the ups. Incorporate poles into your training sessions so you get used to walking with them. And they're great for the bingo wings ;)
Your footwear is essential to your comfort on a desert trek. Using the shoes or boots that you will be doing your walk in breaks them in so that they are comfortable for your trek and you are less likely to suffer from blisters and pressure points. Wear them everywhere (well almost) until you are sure that they fit you like a glove. Choose great gaiters to keep the sand out and the blisters away.
The correct sun protection keeps you safe from heat stroke, sun stroke and sun burn.
Wearing your back pack during the training will help you to prepare for the additional weight during your trek. On almost all trekking trips, you will need to carry a small daypack, packed with essentials like your phone, snacks, sunscreen, water and a warmer layer. So in all of your training, make sure you’re challenging yourself with a weighted bag. If you really want to push it, pack your bag with a few extras, so it’s a little heavier than what you’re planning to hike with on the trek – it’ll make the eventual trek feel like a walk in the park.
For some further kit tips, visit our kit blog
5. Don't get Lost
Take care navigating if you venture with friends into the desert. Consider using an App like Sports Tracker to help with this, or drop a pin of your start location and use your phone to navigate back to it if you feel lost. Tell someone where you are going and carry a phone with you. We don't recommend that you venture into the desert or unknown territory on your own. Don't start your walk too late in the day either when there may be a risk of you being out after dark in unfamiliar territory.
6. Fed and Watered
It’s SO important that you’re stocked with enough water and food during your training.
Whether you are training in a hot climate or not our fluid requirements increase significantly when trekking. Losses on the breath and from sweating reduce your blood volume, making your heart work harder. Also, exercise increases our body temperature, which is cooled by sweating. If your body isn’t properly hydrated, it's not able to properly cool itself. Yes, drinking too little water can make you feel thirsty, but it can also cause dizziness, light-headedness, lack of energy, and muscle cramping. Severe dehydration can lead to heat exhaustion, heat stroke and seizures. Worth a minute to take a drink now and then I'd say.
And if you are hydrated, expect great things. Fluids help with muscle contraction and blood flow – two things necessary for your body to receive the full benefits of physical activity.
And make sure you remember to eat. Nuts, dried fruit, muesli bars and chocolate are all good, quick sources of energy and protein; keep a selection of these healthy snacks in your day pack. While you’re in training-mode, try to eat and drink ‘on the go’ as much as you can, so your body can get used to digesting during strenuous exercise
7. Build strength and endurance in major muscles that trekkers rely upon.
About half of what is required for walking 6+ hours comes from increased strength of the muscles. The other half is about the improved ability of your muscles to keep going - endurance.
Muscles worked during hiking include the quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, glutes, abs, hip and core muscles. To successfully improve your hiking, focus on strengthening and toning these. If you are a member of a gym, ask your trainer for advice on which exercises and classes would help. You can also do strength training at home - squats, lunges, calf raises and core exercises. But remember that they must be done correctly, if you are unsure seek advice. Try to fit in 2 strength training sessions per week and space them out to allow the muscles to rest between sessions. Stronger legs and core muscles will support the load in your pack and help you hike harder, longer. But don't forget the top half of your body, after all you have to carry your day sack with at least 2 litres of water and you may also choose to walk with walking poles.
You need this on a multi-day trek, to keep going. Here are some training suggestions, to be considered together with the ideas above in my first point. But don’t do too much too soon, get too tired or injured.
Weekdays - Gradually improve your staying power by increasing the length of your cardiovascular workouts. Start with 30 to 50 minutes; build to 75. Aim for three or four sessions a week at a high intensity (a 7 on a scale of 1 to 10).
Weekends - Once a week, treat yourself to a nice long session. Like the distance runner doing long runs for endurance, prepare for a multi-day trip with a trek of 4 to 5 hours or around 15km. Aim to try a final 20km distance before your trip. New trekkers, start with 90 minutes, build to multiple hours by adding 15 to 30 minutes each week. Trek quite quickly at around 3 or 4km per hour although on a desert surface this will be closer to 3km/hr.
8. Improve your balance
You need a stable base that will allow you to take uneven terrain in your stride. Walk on varied terrains and surfaces in the boots or shoes you will be wearing for your adventure. Ideally you need to practice going up and down the dunes. Poles will definitely help with your balance and so will feeling used to the weight of your back pack which can affect your center of gravity. I remembers taking a guy up Kilimanjaro and he had trained hard for it - in the gym. His daughter had bought him a number of personal trainer sessions and he had been to them all. Fitness was fine and he had all the right kit too. But life in a city had not prepared him for the balance and intuitive ability required to comfortably and safely walk on rough ground and he had to turn back 2 days in.
9. Listen to your body
Finally, a reminder to listen to your body.
Working too hard can result in over training or injury, so be conservative. Take excellent care of yourself when training particularly when you start to hit the longer distances, and get plenty of rest at night and on your days off. If you’re feeling unwell or just very tired give yourself a good sleep, plenty of nourishing food and time to recover. If you feel any pain that's not just an overtired muscle then stop and take time to heal and rehabilitate. Treat yourself like the thoroughbred you are.
I hope that this advice helps you to become physically capable for your adventure and able to enjoy every minute. Good Luck.