A good friend of mine from my hockey days is running a 50km trail race this summer. This person is a serious athlete and one of the best hockey players I know. Since she’s an elite athlete I assumed the fundamentals of race strategy would be innate knowledge for her. During our conversation, however, she said, “but I have to hike the up hills, so it’s not really a run for me.” “Hold up,” I said, “You are NOT supposed to run the up all of the hills. You are doing it right. Power hiking is a more efficient & more time effective strategy.”
A trail race of any distance is almost guaranteed to have a few steep accents during the course. Attempting to run fast up these hills will empty your gas tank in a hurry, and worse than that, you’ll often find that you’re not even moving much faster!
Master the art of the power hike. Power hiking is different from regular hiking, first and foremost because you are still attacking that hill with purpose. Secondly, you’re using your entire body to get up the trail as efficiently as possible. Here are a few key tips to help you master the power hike.
1. Lean forward
In order to properly use your body you have to lean forward. A great system is to try to keep your upper body parallel to the grade of the ground. You’ll be able to fight gravity most efficiently in this position. As a bonus, it uses different muscles and might give you a little more pop in your run post climb.
2. Use your hands
Look through photos of trail races and you often see racers using poles. On climbs, the poles help runners push off the ground and make their steps more powerful. However, many races don’t allow poles, so while you’re power hiking you can use your arms to create the same effect. Try this by putting your hands on your knees and pushing into your legs as you climb.
Power hiking isn’t terribly complicated, but it should be practiced before race day. The downside of the power hike is that you’re in a more crunched over position and may find that your back gets sore or that you’re not able to fill your lungs to capacity. Spend a little time even once a week on your power hiking form so that you’re not caught off guard during the race.
4. Get comfortable with your own timing
One of the most difficult things during a race is forgetting your own strategy and getting caught up in what the guy next to you is doing. Practice a few longer runs and get comfortable and confident on the grade that you’ll be hiking, deciding when to run and when to slow down.
5. Practice the transition
When you get to the top of a steep hike and the road flattens out, use that flat to run! This is a fitness component as well, so must be practiced in training. There are often few flats to pick up speed during a trail race, so be sure to use them all to your advantage.
Where to start - Get out there and give it a try!