For many local athletes, running 26.2 miles is considered the ultimate test of endurance. But Ringgold resident Tim Chomyn says walking that same distance can be just as much of a challenge.
When the 67-year-old psychologist began training for his first hiking marathon, Chattanooga's inaugural Trailblaze Challenge, in 2016, there were plenty of runners who thought the course would be a breeze, he recalls.
Most quickly changed their minds when they reached the hills.
"A lot of people think [a hiking marathon] is just a long walk," says Stephanie Wilkins, director of development for the East Tennessee Make-A-Wish Foundation, which started the challenge to provide more event options for hikers while raising funds to grant wishes for children with life-threatening conditions. "But you're talking about varying terrain, and sometimes, you're climbing over rocks."
In order to complete the Trailblaze Challenge, which climbs about 1,000 feet from the base of Cloudland Canyon up the backside of Lookout Mountain, participants must build endurance, Wilkins says — and no one knows that better than Chomyn.
Not only was the longtime Chattanooga Hiking Club member one of the event's top fundraisers, securing more than $12,000 for the local Make-A-Wish chapter with the help of corporate sponsors; he was also one of the stronger hikers, finishing the course in 10 hours — one hour behind the fastest competitor and four hours ahead of the slowest.
"You better be ready when you get on the trail with Tim," Wilkins laughs. "He sets a mean pace."
Though there is plenty of overlap between hiking a marathon and running a marathon when it comes to nutrition, foot care and aid stations, there are several notable differences.
Here, Chomyn shares a few of the training tricks hidden up his sleeve that have made him a powerhouse on 26.2 miles of trail.
Get to know the terrain.
Much like runners, Chomyn says the best way for hikers to prepare for their marathon is to slowly increase mileage over time — preferably on the very trail they'll be hiking for their event. Chomyn took that a step further by spending two days climbing up and down the 600 steps on Cloudland Canyon's Sitton's Gulch Trail, which he says is the toughest part of the course. On one of those days, he managed to summit the stairway five times, climbing a total of 3,000 steps.
Group up and socialize.
A runner speeding through a course may not always make time to chat, but a hiker trudging through a course over 10 hours most likely will. For the Trailblaze Challenge, hikers started grouping up in June, when Make-a-Wish began hosting training hikes every other weekend to prep participants for the event. The steadily lengthening treks gave hikers a chance to find others to match their pace, offer support and provide company on game day. "Otherwise, 10 hours can get pretty lonely," Chomyn chuckles.
Crank up the difficulty.
Chomyn says his best training hikes take place at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where the trails are shorter but the elevation changes are much more brutal. Instead of sticking to routes that climb 3,000 feet over the course of 20 miles, the park's steep grade enables him to build strength on trails that climb 3,000 feet over 3 or 4 miles.
Hit the gym – then rest.
When Chomyn can't make it to the trail, he supplements his training with dumbbell squats, an hour on an elliptical machine and an hour on the StairMaster. His goal is to build lower-body strength and, more importantly, cardiovascular strength. "I go at it really hard, because you've got to have the cardio," he says. "If not, you'll die on the trail." On weeks when he hits the gym, however, he takes a break from his time on the trail, or he does gym work early in the week so his legs can rest up before they get back into the action that weekend.
If you aren’t quite ready for the full 26 miles, this year’s race also includes a hiking half-marathon option (13.1 miles). Register at trailblazechallengeetn.org.
Date: Saturday, Oct. 28
Time: 8 a.m.
Where: Lula Lake Land Trust