I recently hiked the Grouse Grind as part of my Knee Knacker training program
It's been a few years since I've done this hike/run as I find it too busy a trail for my tastes. I encountered at least 40 people on it during an overcast Monday at mid-day so the hike is as popular as ever.
There are plenty of other trails on the North Shore mountains that are much more scenic and relaxing, but for a relatively quick hike and challenging outdoor workout the Grouse Grind is hard to beat. And chances are if you're hiking the Grouse Grind, you're looking for a killer workout. There's a good reason it's called Mother Nature's Stairmaster: you climb 2830 stairs over 2.9 km and gain 853 metres in elevation.
Probably one of the first questions asked of anyone who does the Grouse Grind is "what was your time?" While some hikers may frown upon this obsession with tracking how quickly you can do a hike, I think for the average fitness enthusiast it's a good idea to keep records. External goals like this can give you motivation to stick with your training program.
Tips to Prepare for the Grouse Grind
The Grind is a serious workout. You should develop a base level of fitness before you do the Grouse Grind and not the other way around. The people who have the worst experience on the Grind are generally the ones who are most ill-prepared physically to do it. You wouldn't run a marathon the first time you ran would you? Well don't make the Grind your first workout in years.
- Build strength. Build up your strength by weight training in the gym or at home. It's crucial to include exercises that target your butt and thighs such as squats, lunges and step-ups. Remember, you'll be climbing over 2800 steps and the stronger your hips and legs are, the less effort it will take for each step.
- Start slow. Hike some easier Vancouver trails before doing the Grind for the first time. This will help you get your "trail legs" and get you accustomed to hiking. Make sure you choose trails that have some hills so you condition your climbing abilities.
- Lose some weight. I realize many people begin doing the Grouse Grind to lose weight, but you'll be better off by trying to drop some pounds beforehand. There are effective and much less punishing methods to losing weight; use the Grouse Grind as a performance measure.
- Develop your mobility and flexibility. You don't need to be able to do the splits but tight hips and tight calves will hold you back and hurt. Even a couple of mobilization exercises or stretches every day can help a lot.
Tips to Do the Grouse Grind
- Wear workout clothes not jeans. Don't be that guy or girl okay? You're not shopping on Robson street you're climbing a mountain for Pete's sake!
- Wear appropriate footwear; running shoes or light hiking boots.
- Dress in layers if conditions are rainy, cold or unstable. Chances are you won't be cold doing the Grind but once you stop you'll cool off quickly. Temperatures and conditions at the top of the mountain can change quickly so have an outer layer ready if you need it.
- Bring some water or a sports beverage. You'll probably be sweating and the fluids will be refreshing.
- Take a break if you need it. There's no law saying you can't stop for a breather.
- Let people who are going faster pass you. And if you want to pass someone wait until you're at an appropriate section of the trail. Don't shadow and hike with your nose inches away from someone's butt; it won't be comfortable for either of you. Let them know you'd like to pass when it's safe and say thanks when someone does let you by.
Tips to Set a Faster Time
Once you have a base level of fitness and have done the Grind a few times you may be ready to set a PB (personal best). Here are some tips to help:
- Check the weather. Choose a cooler day to attempt a PB.
- Wear trail runners that are as light as you can use. The less weight you have on your feet the less weight you have to lift every step.
- Warm up before you start. It may sound crazy, but do an easy five- to 10-minute jog or fast walk before you start the Grind. This way you can gradually increase your body temperature and heart rate rather than going from zero to warp nine.
- Learn how to pace yourself. Find a rhythm for your steps and don't start out too fast. The trail is conveniently marked at each quarter; aim to make the last quarter your fastest.
- Play mind games with yourself. Don't think about climbing the entire hike; break it down into shorter sections. Think about going quarter to quarter. Sometimes I like to look ahead and try to catch a specific person. Then I'll pick another and so on.