Any time you consider participating in a long distance run, triathlon, strenuous hike or multi-day backpacking trip, physical preparation is a given (at least I hope so anyway. I don't know anyone that can run a marathon without training for it!) But what about mental preparation? You may not have realized, but being physically ready is only half the battle. You must be mentally prepared as well. Here is a list of items to consider when training for your next adventure.
1. Your hike will be harder than you think. You will be hiking in a different terrain and climate than where you are training. If you are planning a Grand Canyon Rim to Rim backpacking trip, you must consider the potential for excessive heat and a dry climate. If you are planning to hike Yosemite's high country, you have to hike elevation. If you start your adventure with high expectations about your ability, you can become easily disappointed, thus breaking you down mentally. You will get frustrated, start believing that you will not make it and wear yourself out physically. I have seen tears on many occasions from people that are in great physical condition because of their preconceived notions. About 99% of people that have backpacked the Grand Canyon have said it is much harder than they thought. These same people will rate themselves as an 8 out of 10 on a fitness scale and finish their hike rating themselves as a 3.
2. Set realistic goals. Say you can hike 20 miles in a day on relatively flat terrain in 70 degree temperatures. Don't assume you can do the same with a 30lb backpack, with elevation and 110 degree temperatures. Be sure you take all factors into consideration before setting your day to day distances. Have a backup plan just in case you can't reach your goal. This will help keep you mentally stable instead of in a state of panic.
3. It is not a competition. Don't set up a deadline to reach a particular destination. There are so many factors out of your control (i.e. Mother Nature) that can effect your hiking or backpacking trip. And don't try to compete with hiking companions. The assumption you are in better shape than your friend is mental sabotage if he or she is doing better than you. Experience the area you are hiking - take in the views, the sights and the sounds. Take interest in what is around each corner instead of "when" you are going to get to the final destination. So live in the moment and don't anticipate the ending - you will get there (as long as you had already set realistic goals). Which leads to the next point.
4. Envision finishing - eventually. While you want to take the time to "smell the roses," you do still need to keep that ultimate goal in mind - finishing. If you have ever completed a marathon or any other endurance race, this is a key factor in your success since it can get very easy to just quit and get a ride home. When you are hiking and backpacking several miles from any civilization, this is not an option. You can't just give up once you are miles into your hike. You have to keep going. I have decided that this isolation makes it a bit easier to endure and mentally prepare. I cannot count how many times I have seen people suddenly decide they can't "go on" the second they realize they can get a horse ride or helicopter out of the back country. Will and determination cannot compete against the quick fix.
5. Swallow your pride. You will be sore, sweaty and dirty. Who cares - so is everybody else (except me!) Pride will destroy you before anything Mother Nature can throw at you! Just remember, you can do anything you set your mind to, as long as you keep it real!