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February 2023 Issue
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Fitness secrets of the guides

Jess Cooper turns to running and yoga to stay fit

Have you ever wondered how a professional tramping guide stays fit to clock up the kilometres day after day? Here are the secrets from three guides.

Iris Wegmueller lives in Auckland and contract guides for inbound tour operators. Wilderness walking tours – small groups of 7-18 people – are her passion and she’ll walk for several hours each day in scenic reserves or national parks throughout the country: “They’re mostly day walks, but some tours include overnight tramps staying in huts. I need to have a good base fitness to be hiking day after day.”

Wegmueller is a naturally active person. “I don’t have a sedentary lifestyle. I love to kayak, go sailing, do yoga and pilates.” She walks every day, and loves gardening. “That’s a workout by itself,” she laughs. “The key is to do what you enjoy. I have a good diet, a healthy lifestyle and access to all those activities from where I live, so it’s easy for me. I don’t dedicate any time to physical activity that doesn’t give me considerable pleasure.”

Sadao Tsuchiya spends all his spare time in the outdoors, which helps keep him in condition
for guiding

Sadao Tsuchiya, from Queenstown Wilderness Adventures, has been a guide since 2007: “I take nine-day hiking tours, with a couple of days off in between each tour. I’ll cover anywhere from 10 to 20 kilometres a day.”

Like Wegmueller, Tsuchiya leads an active lifestyle. “My spare time is spent outside. Living in Queenstown, I have everything I need nearby. I don’t do ‘exercise’ as such, I just spend time doing things I love with my outdoorsy friends, like trail running, mountain biking and hiking. One of my favourite things is to climb Ben Lomond as I can do it straight from home.”

Tsuchiya loves endurance running and has personal goals for long-distance trail running races like UTMB. “I have to be of a higher fitness than my clients, and this keeps me on my toes,” he explains. “My favourite winter sport is ski touring, which builds up my fitness, then I spend the  summer trail running.”

Tsuchiya recommends doing things with a good friend: “It’s difficult to keep motivated if you’re doing things by yourself. It’s especially good if they have slightly higher fitness, as that helps push your boundaries. Other people also give inspiration for different activities to try and locations to visit.”

Tasmanian wilderness guide Jess Coo-per moved to New Zealand in September last year: “I’ve been a guide for around seven months, leading groups on multi-day walks in the Bay of Fires and on Bruny Island.” Before that, Cooper worked in an office in sustainable tourism and event management. “I got out more at weekends and on my lunch breaks when I worked behind a desk. However, I’m more active now as I exercise as part of work,” she says.

She runs and does home workouts and yoga regularly to keep up her fitness, especially in the off season. “My favourite exercise is definitely tramping, and I love yoga as it goes hand in hand with walking to keep me flexible.”

Cooper recommends just getting out there and walking, especially in the hills: “Walking uphill is a great way to get fitness up. I found it daunting getting into hiking to start with as my lung fitness wasn’t that great, but like anything, the more I did it, the better I got. My advice is to start short and gradually add time on.”