How to Train for a 19er When You Work Three Jobs

 In Hikes, International, Skills, Training
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I can’t believe our Bolivia mountaineering trip is almost here! We fly out Sept. 9. And just between us, I feel completely unprepared. But I’m a hopeless perfectionist, so I’m probably making it 37 times harder than it needs to be. Today I’ll share a little about our plans and how I’m getting ready.

How to Train for a Bolivia Mountaineering Trip When You Work Three Jobs

First, welcome to the year I tried to hike myself to death.

2017 was supposed to be the year I took high altitude mountaineering school (HAMS) and climbed Mount Rainier. I figured it would take six months of hard work. But after July, life would normalize. Awesome!

Then my Mount Rainier teammate invited me to climb Pico de Orizaba in Mexico over Thanksgiving. It’s been on my list for awhile, so my stoke level was high.

And then, in April, a guy contacted me through the HAMS Facebook group. He was planning a mountaineering trip to Bolivia in September and looking for a third team member.

OK, now this was getting out of control!

Because training for big mountains is hugely time-consuming and a total pain in the ass. Especially when I’ve been working three part-time jobs since January. And if that weren’t crazy enough, I’m also part of a business accelerator, which gives me flashbacks to my master’s program.

So yeah, the timing definitely sucked.

But then I remembered the time I went to a job fair, and my only offer came from Shanghai. It was totally unexpected and completely impractical to move to China. But I knew if I said no, I’d spend the rest of my life wallowing in existential regret.

So it was yes to Shanghai and yes to Bolivia.

(Believe it or not, I’d planned a fourth trip in August, which I canceled due to family health issues. So 2017 could have been even crazier!)

Climbing 19ers in Bolivia

Our three person team plans to fly into La Paz (elevation 11,942′!) and climb a few peaks. Nothing on the itinerary is a household name, but the main event will be Huayna Potosi (19,974′). God willing, this will be my first 6,000-meter peak and the highest I have ever been.

  • Think 19ers are a bit excessive? These Colorado 14ers might be more your speed.

So how does one prepare for a trip like that? Well, coming off of Mount Rainier gives me an advantage. I’ve got a decent training base, a lot of the gear in my closet, and my glacier rescue skills are fresh.

But there’s still plenty of training to do! Here’s a rundown.

Photos: August training trips to Rosalie Peak, Mount Ouray, Saint Vrain Mountain, and Chicago Basin.

How to Train for a Bolivia Mountaineering Trip When You Work Three Jobs
Camping at Chicago Basin near Silverton, Colo.


Full disclosure: I struggled mightily with my fitness this year. I totally overtrained for Mount Rainier to the point I was fatigued, miserable, and getting slower instead of faster. (And as an extra smack in the face, I actually gained weight. Ugh.)

Things clearly needed to change before Bolivia. So I started working with a trainer, who helped me dial in my bonkers workout schedule. (No more strength, intervals, and tabbata on the same day allowed!)

It was totally scary to cut back my cardio, especially with 19ers looming on the horizon. But I’m now convinced it was the right choice. I’m not getting a lot faster, but I’m feeling way less wrecked. And I actually look forward to working out, which hasn’t happened since February!

My typical workout week:

  • Monday – 45 minutes of high intensity interval training. Usually I do this by running hard for three minutes and resting for two minutes. The trainer also showed me how to do this with battle ropes, which was a lot of fun!
  • Tuesday – 50 minutes of strength.
  • Wednesday – 75 minutes of distance. If possible, I try to do this as an after work hike. But running works too.
  • Thursday – Strength again.
  • Friday – Because I’m so burned out on exercise, I’ve made this a cross-training day. I take off the heart rate monitor and just do something fun like jogging in the park or mountain biking. And if I’ve got a big weekend planned or just feel tired, I rest.
  • Saturday and Sunday – I take at least one hike that gains 3,500′ or more. This month, I’ve done Saint Vrain Mountain, Mount Neva, Mount Ouray, and Rosalie Peak. Because we’ll have mules and porters in Bolivia, I’m no longer lugging a 50-lb. pack (yay!), though I sometimes throw a rope in for a little extra challenge.

How to Train for a Bolivia Mountaineering Trip When You Work Three Jobs
Saint Vrain Mountain trail near Rocky Mountain National Park


So with everything going on in my life, this has been a tough one. Because I exercise a lot, I’m ravenous most of the time. But with three jobs, I don’t have time to cook myself dinner every night.

Instead, I cook up a big batch of something healthy once a week. The CrockPot has become my BFF, though it feels weird to be using it in the summer. My friend @adventuresofjennyp got me totally hooked on this four-bean veggie chili recipe. I also get some great recipes here and here.

My other big challenge is protein. According to the MyFitnessPal app, an active female my size needs 128 grams of protein a day, which seems totally insane! That was just not happening with my old diet, and it was probably contributing to my weight gain and hunger cravings. So I’ve been supplementing with whole grains, Greek yogurt, and King Soopers pulled rotisserie chicken (yum).

A breakdown of my daily meal plan:

  • Breakfast – my staple is an egg white sandwich and a cheese slice on whole wheat bread. If I have time, I scramble in a little spinach. I’m also big on green smoothies. Here’s my fav recipe. (I don’t like things too sweet, so I leave out the OJ.)
  • Lunch – I won’t lie. Lean Cuisine frozen meals have been my lunch staple. (Though if you look at the labels, they’re actually surprisingly nutritious. If you go for it, watch the sodium.) I usually have one in the midmorning and another one in the afternoon.
  • Dinner – Time to eat a big helping of leftovers. I like a glass of red wine with every dinner, but I’ve been trying to go at least three nights a week without alcohol.

How to Train for a Bolivia Mountaineering Trip When You Work Three Jobs
Mount Ouray, one of Colorado’s 100 highest peaks


So it probably sounds nuts, but I just got done eating my live typhoid prescription!

Seriously, it’s a vaccine.

To recap, Kaiser’s travel clinic gave me four little capsules of live typhoid and told me to keep them in the fridge. (Which if you know the story of Typhoid Mary seems so wrong!)

Then, every other day, I swallowed a typhoid pill with a glass of warm water. The water can’t be too hot or cold, because it might kill the live typhoid in your stomach. (Clearly it’s a precious little germ.)

If this sounds like a giant hassle, it is. It also upset my stomach a little. But it’s worth it to me, because when I lived in Asia, I actually had a friend who caught typhoid.

She was vaccinated, so she had a mild case. But for about a month, she was too sick to get out of bed. And for a long time after, she had to visit a doctor weekly to make sure she wasn’t having complications. Like a ruptured intestine. (Ouch.)

Having seen that shit firsthand, I can’t imagine the horror of having full-blown typhoid. So I’ll happily take a live typhoid pill! (There’s nothing like living in the developing world to make you an enthusiastic pro-vax.)

How to Train for a Bolivia Mountaineering Trip When You Work Three Jobs
On Mount Ouray’s summit


I’ve always sucked at self-care. Probably because I tend to distrust stuff like meditation, mindfulness, and yoga. Not that I think they’re harmful. I just don’t see much science behind them.

But honestly, the six-month lead-up to our Mount Rainier climb totally sucked. We had a hard time getting a permit, the group had some friction, and I’ve already mentioned my training issues. By the time we got back from Seattle, I was feeling pretty unhinged. So I decided to give mindfulness a try.

I started by taking this self-compassion test. It asks you to rate yourself on statements like, “I see my failings as part of the human condition” and  “I am patient towards aspects of myself that I don’t like.” (Hah. Never to both.)

And the results were honestly not surprising.

Basically, I totally suck at self-kindness, rule at self-judgement, and see my failings and weaknesses as uniquely huge and shameful.

It’s not exactly a new problem. But high-altitude mountaineering school definitely exacerbated all these tendencies. I’ve been bitching all year about the annoying, competitive mountaineering personality. But I apparently have it too!

So I’ve made self-compassion a priority. Now I’m listening to my body and being more understanding about its struggles. I watch House of Cards when I should be studying the Bolivia Lonely Planet and making gear lists. And I’m even wading into meditation and yoga (which is amazing for my sciatica, by the way).

How to Train for a Bolivia Mountaineering Trip When You Work Three Jobs
Solo hiking on Rosalie Peak near Bailey, Colo.

Phew! Now that I’ve written all that, I need a glass of wine.

A final thought: although this year has sometimes felt endless, I also know it will be gone before I know it. So I’m doing my best not to wish it away. I’m trying to be mindful (ahem) and live in the moment.

And there you have it. Special thanks to my Mount Rainier teammates and to all the friends who have gotten up at 3 a.m. to hike with me in 2017! I can’t wait to spend more time with you in December.

For weekly updates on our Bolivia mountaineering trip, like our Facebook page. Or you can email me your questions here. Happy hiking!

Sarah xx

How to Train for a Bolivia Mountaineering Trip When You Work Three Jobs

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Showing 12 comments
  • Dayna

    What a badass! You’re making me feel like a super lazy person but also very motivated to plan some kind of fitness activity, probably not a 19ner but something. Thanks for the motivation.

    • El Jefe

      Fitness activity? I’m in! Maybe we can grab a hike in October?

  • Diane Mongno

    I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I don’t know what a 19er is…., even tried to google it and came up with both a bike and a car. Oh well! But I’m amazed at you Sarah!!! You are certainly ‘going for it’ as they say! And doing fabulously!!! I’m thrilled to read that you are embracing yoga, meditation, and self compassion!!! They will all be tremendous assets to you, both in climbing and in your life!!!
    Looking forward to reading more about your adventures!!! XOXOX

    • El Jefe

      Aw, thanks love! And thanks for reading. (A 19er is a 19,000-foot peak.)

  • Jenny Pierno

    Thanks for the shout out my friend! Great read!!! You are a rock star!

    • El Jefe

      Thanks for the chili! I made it for a party a few months ago, and it was a hit. Everyone thought I was so grown up! (Fooled them, heh heh.)

  • Kirsten

    I’m glad to hear you dug yourself out of your overtraining hole. Not always easy to do! Enjoy your trip to Bolivia!

    • El Jefe

      Aw! Thanks love. I’m not completely sure I’m out, but we always underestimate ourselves, right? Thanks for reading.

  • Kamala

    SARAH!!! this is SOOO inspiring….and so were the Winds (when I could see them in the smoke)~ I am going to write up my Fall training program and become a real backpacker/mountaineer, just like you!! No more of this whimpy sport climbing crap. Big girl pants time. We will connect when you get back in the country!! SAFEST of travels~ Kamala

    • El Jefe

      Dealio. I’ll do alpine with you if you teach me how to sport climb again!

  • Don Bray

    When you have time, I’d like to share something about yoga with you. It is the most beneficial thing I’ve learned in all my years. PM me. Safe winds ~

    • El Jefe

      Def! Any time! We should grab beers sometime.

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