Preparing for K2 – the physical

26 May 2014

People often ask me ‘how’s the training going’ and ‘how do you train for K2’? The general answer to the first is much like many of our school reports from years yonder - good, could do better. The answer to the second is simple - train for what you’re going to be doing.

That means mountain hiking, stair running and rock climbing, in that order of importance - even though there are a number of vertical sections with technical climbing involved on the mountain. Fitness is very sports specific and nothing prepares your legs for mountaineering like, surprise, mountain hiking.

And, although I’m often away from the country, we are blessed with a fantastic and extensive mountain range on the UAE/Oman border to get fit for task. It may only rise to a maximum of 3000m, with the majority less than 2000m, and there aren’t exactly many 60 degree ice and snow sections to climb, but the rugged and rock strewn landscape is second to none for leg and core stability training.

I’ve thus had a full season hiking or climbing in the mountains at weekends when I’m here – and midweek too - with a great group of friends accompanying me on most occasions. For most hikes I am now using ankle weights and a medium weight pack, rather than how I used to with normal hiking shoes and a heavy pack. Yes, hauling a bulky pack up a mountain helps build strong quad muscles, but I believe the simulating of heavy double mountain boots is even more important.

The special addition this year is sand dune running – possibly the hardest training one can possibly imagine, it is brutal.

I have always cross trained for all round fitness and have continued this pre-K2 with cycling, running, weights, and circuits as supplementary training. Cycling builds the quads, weight training is always in my fitness training and the circuit training the one thing I felt I needed more of in 2013 – lung capacity.

Whatever training one has done in the year/6 months prior to a challenge, it is the 2-3 months prior that is the most important and where I step up the intensity, whatever the challenge. And if one is training hard enough, that intensity is indeed difficult to keep up beyond three months.

I never taper, be it for Ironman, cycling, running or expeditions – on the latter, travelling to and admin time in destinations and, on mountains, treks in are more than enough taper.

I’ve also started sleeping in my oxygen tent for a short pre-acclimatization prior to heading to Nepal at the end of the month to climb 6200m Lobuche East as a warm up for K2.  To me this is a vital component – a two week continual hiking and climbing period to get legs fully attuned, to acclimatize, to test equipment in challenging conditions and, although it is much like riding a bike, to shake out ice climbing skills. But, perhaps most of all, the critical need to get into the essential mindset required for the immense challenge in June and July. I will additionally be using ankle weights on the trek in for Lobuche.

And finally, I am going to be using a hypoxic mask for training the next three weeks, which forces the lungs to work harder with less oxygen coming in.

In short, nothing is left untouched or to chance on the physical side – and nutrition is so important on its own that I will write a separate blog on this integral part of physical preparation. My ‘good, could do better’ comment only represents what many of us training for big physical goals sometimes feel – that we can always do better, longer, faster and harder. But in the end, it’s simply about being in the best possible condition we can be.

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