Megan’s Guide to Training for Kokoda

Written by Megan Fraumano

For many, hiking the Kokoda Track is a bucket list item. It is unique in that due to the historic significance, many people who don’t necessarily call themselves “hikers”, will attempt Kokoda. This is different to many other hikes around the world, where generally only those crazy enough to call extreme exercise and carrying a pack a “holiday” are attracted to the destination.

With this in mind, we see many people with a moderate (or minimal!) amount of fitness decide to get fit and train for Kokoda. The thought of letting your group down, or being left behind in the jungle is generally a pretty good motivator to get you training and improve your fitness.

I hiked the Kokoda track when I was 21 with 8 of my family, including my Dad and Grandpa (who at that stage was 71). The hike was a great challenge for all of us in different ways. I was determined to carry my own pack and not use a personal porter. My Grandpa on the other hand was just happy to get to the end in one piece, which he did! I have since been back to PNG to volunteer with No Roads to Health along the Kokoda Track to deliver health services and education to the local villages. This experience was quite different to my initial trip but equally challenging.

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Aside from PNG, some of my favourite hikes include Mt Kinabalu (Borneo), Routeburn Track (NZ), and The Overland Track (Tas). Each of these feature different weather, terrain and difficulty and it is best if you can adapt your training accordingly.

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Here are some of the things I have learnt while training twice to hike the Kokoda Track:

1. Train on tired legs – Most of us with reasonable fitness could get through a big day of walking if required. The real challenge on a multi-day hike like Kokoda, is waking up and doing it all again day after day, especially after a night of sleeping in a tent or hut on a self-inflating mattress! The practicalities of finding big hills to hike, mean that often our long walks are confined to the weekends. This is fine, but to make the most of this, I would recommend slowly increasing your mid-week training so that you are doing some shorter walks, a cycle class or some weights. This will mean that you will hopefully wake up for your Saturday walk with heavy, tired legs – exactly what we are after. Even better if you can then follow it up with another hike on Sunday.

2. Find similar terrain – This can be tricky in Ballarat! When I was training for Kokoda the second time, I remember spending lots of time researching hikes online, and was always disappointed to read things like “newly resurfaced track” – probably a bonus to some, but not ideal when you’re on the hunt for rough/muddy/uneven terrain. It is really important to get your feet and brain used to training on rough tracks. Having to actively think about where to step on a muddy, sandy or steep track is completely different to walking the lake. (See my list of recommended training hikes below).

3. Test out your gear – there is nothing worse than a gaiter cutting off circulation in your calf or your pack giving you a sore back. Making sure that everything fits properly, doesn’t rub, and that your body is used to it cannot be underestimated. Testing out ALL your clothing, your pack with your gear (and some bricks if required) in it, and wearing in those shoes is super important. If you plan to use trekking poles then test these out too, preferably on some extra rough terrain where you can actually use them.

4. Practice snacking – most of us don’t consume protein bars, gels and sports drinks on a day to day basis. Check what your hiking company provides and get used to snacking on these things. As it is, the food you will be eating for dinner could be quite different from what you are used to training on (think rice dishes with local choko and yam as well as your regular Aussie camping fare – cup of soups and tuna wraps with Kraft long life cheese!). Even just the act of snacking on the go, or walking soon after a meal is important to get used to.

5. Get strong – Strength training cannot be underestimated. Adding in some light weights to your training program is highly recommended. Having adequate strength in your hamstrings, glutes, calves and quads is a great start. When you see how quickly the locals can climb some of the mountains you will begin to appreciate the strength and endurance required.

6. Get mentally fit – Much of the strength required to hike Kokoda is mental. Regular training can help you to prepare for how you motivate yourself to continue walking when every muscle in your legs are screaming. Regularly pushing yourself past your comfortable zone, as well as continuing to walk that little bit further or faster is a good place to start.

Suggested hiking training locations:

  • Mount Donna Buang (Mt Victoria track – starting behind the golf course at Warburton. Generally muddy, rough and steep, with a chance of leeches!!)
  • You Yangs
  • Glasgow Trail (35 Glasgow Rd, Mount Dandenong. Short but steep)
  • Mount Macedon
  • Mount Beckworth
  • Mount Cole
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