The Bob Open is less than six months away. If you’re thinking about making the trip this is less time than you think, and I’d recommend starting a training plan now if you have not already.
(I started this post in the wee hours, after waking up to the sudden realization that I hadn’t reserved the West Fork Cabin for Friday night. Thankfully, it had not yet been taken, so we have it. One of my favorite FS cabins.)
A training plan can mean many different things beyond doing structured intervals and logging 20 hour weeks. For someone looking to “merely” finish the Open in decent shape and not on the ragged edge, the sort of scientific efforts that the phrase training plan evokes are not necessary. But the commitment and consistency associated with such seriousness is vital for a good run at the Bob. Plenty of people, myself included, have done the right things here, just not often enough, and as one looses fitness much faster than gains it, that can be a terminal mistake. What follows are some suggestions to follow, in chronological order, for a Bob Open prep, starting now.
1: Don’t get fat.
Weight is the enemy of speed, performance, and comfort on your body as much as it is in your pack. You won’t notice it as well, just like you wouldn’t notice a 20 pound pack if you carried one all day every day, but it will slow you down. It being dark in the northern hemisphere, as well as the social holiday season, today is a good time to commit to not over-eating too much in the next four weeks. Starting out ahead is as simple as it is effective.
2: Get time on your feet
There is no substitute for specificity in training, which makes the best way to train for backpacking walking, ideally with a pack. Thankfully, this is easy to fit in to all sorts of little windows in the day, though people may look at you funny. Rough terrain is important in this area of preparation, eventually, but lots of miles done every week, week after week, will build the proper foundation. Even if they’re just on sidewalks between your house, and park, and the coffee shop.
4 days a week at an hour each, with a 5th day for a longer hike, is a good place to end up. For the next few months, a few days doing other physical stuff, like skiing or biking, is just fine.
3: Get faster
I mentioned in a comment this morning that the speed at which one can hike is something of a prerequisite for big days in the wilderness. A heavier pack, deadfall, tough footing, fatigue, and mental stress will all serve to slow you down during a hike like the Open, so it is useful to start out with a maximum cruising speed that is pretty high. 3 mph, on rolling trail with a 20 pound pack, is a good all-day mark for aspiration.
A subset of this is functional strength. Leg speed without power is very limiting, be it while going uphill, postholing, or hiking in mud. Training these specifically is beneficial, be it via seeking out tough terrain, or via structured intervals. The overall idea is to build power and speed somewhat early in the overall training process, so that longer, endurance building hikes closer to game day will build on that faster base.
Hilly and/or fast hikes two days a week during most of January and February is a decent place to start.
4: Get confident
After building a solid base of consistent physical preparation, cultivating mental strength is the most important thing for a successful, and satisfying, Bob Open. If you’ve never been out in a wilderness as large as the Bob, especially in late spring when there’s almost no one else around and bear tracks everywhere, it can be intimidating. The best way to get prepared is to scare yourself a couple times prior to the big day. Things which get into your head, and disturb your sleep for the night or two prior, are what I’m talking about. A personal record dayhike locally, a big spring trip in the Grand Canyon, or a big ski or packraft route all qualify.
In an ideal world you’ll have 2 or 3 of these in the bag for April and early May, multiday stuff preferred, in the actual Bob Marshall even better.
Rest and recovery is vital for the Bob Open, both physically to maximize your training, and mentally to arrive in Montana with everything stacked for you. If being solo in the woods is intimidating, schedule plenty of times with friends in the weeks prior. If bears scare you, some reading (or not) might be in order. Or pack bear spray, or a big foam PFD, or a little more food, if that will make you a bit more relaxed. A bit lighter pack is not worth a heavier head.
Good luck, and see ya’ll in May.