Monday, 11 April 2016

Training for Kilimanjaro

I touched briefly on my fitness build up and initial goals back hereThis post is a more in depth training guidance for anyone planning to climb Kilimanjaro. Obviously you may have a different fitness level than I did and you should take into account any health conditions or injuries etc. before taking on such a challenge – so this plan assumes you are reasonably healthy with no injuries, and you haven’t done anything like this before.

Basically my thoughts on the challenge are that you do not need to be running ultra-marathons or be mega fit to make the summit, but the fitter you are the better time you will have and you need to be in good shape. Having had time to think about my training and what I did right and what I could have done more of it’s good to write it all down, hopefully it will help someone!

The top things I did to train were:


In the year or more leading up to the trek you should go on at least a few challenging hikes (at least 10 miles, and involving rugged terrain and steep ascents), and generally walk as much as possible. Once a week, or a few times a month. Running or walking on a treadmill is fine for some of it but you also need to get used to uneven terrain, unpredictable weather, doing it in boots with a heavy bag etc.
The Malverns

Walking is what you will be doing on the mountain and lots of it, get your boots as early as you can and walk in them. Also get used to carrying your backpack on long walks with 2L at least of water inside it as well as waterproofs, layers, food and suncream etc. We did a night summit of Snowdon to try to simulate summit night, nothing actually does simulate summit night but it was worth it to have at least some experience what walking in the dark for hours is like. We also got in the habit of walking everywhere via the hills nearby, BBQ at dad’s…lets walk there (12 miles)! Sunday dinner at mum’s…walk there (14 miles)! Food festival in a nearby village…let’s walk it (10 miles)! I did a walk as often as I could mostly on a Sunday, sometimes with Tom sometimes on my own. We joined some organised walks too at a local walking festival.

Forest of Dean
We are lucky to be in a city area but with nearby access to countryside, I found some walks nearby that I could do in a few hours so could squeeze them in if I didn't have all day. I made sure these all included some steep hills to go up, one day I just went to one nearby hill and walked up and down it as many times as I could in the time I had available. However if you aren't able to access walks easily then you will need to set aside some time to go on trips to places where you can. I drove out to some areas like the Malverns (the walk from Herefordshire Beacon to Worcestershire Beacon and back again along the spines of the hills is a nice one, easy to follow path and parking available, with lots of hills) and we went to the Peak District and Wales - Brecon Beacons and Snowdon. The Snowdon night summit was an organised trip with Action Challenge who we did the climb with, they had other options for training walks and other companies we looked at did similar. It was actually really nice to get out and about in the countryside and made me appreciate our local area and the UK countryside.

Local Hillside

Improve your general fitness and cardiovascular health. When I wasn't walking I did a bit of running, climbing and lots of gym classes. The best one for kili training I think was circuits once a week, lots of burpees, lunges, kettlebell swings etc. I also did gym circuits on a Saturday which used more of the machines, a tabata class (short bursts of body weight or cardio exercises) on a Friday and another class on a Wednesday/Thursday which changed every so often like boxing, TRX, running club, circuits again…to be honest I can’t remember all of them but it was basically classes mon, weds, fri and Sat. I usually did 3 classes a week out of those 4, then the rest of the days were either climbing or running. When we stopped climbing so much as Tom sprained his ankle I picked up the Saturday morning gym circuits and did 4 classes a week.


You want to improve your general fitness, my personal goal was to get to running 5k reasonably often. I wasn't a runner before I started training so it was a benchmark for me on how my fitness had improved as to how easily I could run 5K. If you are already a runner then maybe work in some interval training and hills too. I found the kili trek to be a lot of epically hard parts interspersed between not so hard parts, so some interval runs and hill running will help build your endurance and power.


Basically I spent 2014 doing leg day over and over. Your legs are the main part that you will use, so I did loads of squats, lunges, leg presses, walking, running, cross trainer and stepper. Have a leg day at least once a week - If not more!


Get outside! We spent just under a week climbing in Stanage Edge following a night summit of Snowdon, which was great for testing our kit. The conditions are the hard part really of the trek, being outside for a week straight (or more depending on your route) is hard, getting wet, hot, cold, bitten by bugs, sun burn, wind chill and the space of a day. Go camping a few times if you aren't outdoorsy already, practice packing up your tent every day and check if you can sleep well in a tent, do you need ear plugs? Is your sleeping mat comfortable enough? See my post here on kit. 

Snowdon night summit - watching the sun rise
Other than that you can do altitude training to get used to the altitude effects, we didn't and I don’t regret that. My thoughts were that if I was going to be affected by the altitude I’d deal with it when it happened, we read enough to know what to expect if we did get altitude sickness and had experienced guides and a team doctor, if I knew before that I was going to get bad altitude effects what would that change for me other than make me anxious about it? 

What could I have done more of? Well we made it so it seems our training was enough, but I felt that I could have done a little more training generally. I basically did no exercise until about 10 months before we went, so I think just having longer to prepare would have been helpful as I was starting from unfit. Other than that maybe some more strength training or weights, as I feel MUCH stronger now than I did when we went. However I'm unsure if this would have made a huge difference in how well I managed the trek other than in my mindset!

You can read about my Kili experience on my old blog, and I will copy them over to here at some point. Any questions please comment and I'll do my best to answer or direct you to someone who can!

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