Hiking for Runners
by Mitch Utterback
As a runner, you may have a vague memory of the scenery speeding by in your last race. Perhaps you thought to yourself, "Wow, that's really a nice view! Wish I could come back and enjoy it."
Of course, you banish the thought as you check your heart monitor, slurp on a gel pack, gurgle some water down and prepare to pass the person you've been wondering about for the last mile, Is that a man with long hair or a hairy-legged woman?"
That race is over now and, before your next one, give some thought to getting out and seeing nature - while at the same time deriving a training benefit from it. If you're like me, every form of physical exertion must be rationalized into some form of cross training. Hiking is truly the best of both worlds.
Defining Your Terms
Hiking as a form of cross training for runners should be defined here. Let's assume you have access to some kind of trail system and have the ability to get to it for at least an hour once a week. Let it become a part of your long, slow distance training. Take along a friend or loved one you usually don't run with. You'll both enjoy the time.
Whether your hiking trail is within view of your home or miles from the nearest sign of civilization, a few simple steps should always precede a training hike.
You'll be amazed how sound this simple advice is if you apply it - and how disappointed in yourself you'll be if you choose to ignore it.
- Always let someone know where you're going and how long you expect to be gone.
- Carry a cell phone if you've joined the 21st century.
- If one is available, carry a trail map.
- Bring a little food and water for even the shortest of hikes.
- Don't go too far if you're trying out new gear - just in case it doesn't work for you or fits poorly.
- Pay attention to the weather and dress accordingly!
Walking on a trail means you'll have to pay a little more attention to where you put your feet. When hiking uphill, take small steps and look for a place to plant your foot so that it will remain level. This is called "mountain walking." The intent is to conserve energy while hiking uphill by seeking a natural staircase for your foot placement. This is best accomplished by stepping onto uneven surfaces or rocks with your heel.
If you find you just can't get away from the need to elevate your heart rate before you can feel good about yourself, try carrying some extra weight in a backpack. This is called load-bearing training. I suggest you start out carrying water in your pack as you experiment to find a weight that will work for you. Water can always be dumped out or consumed along the trail if you realize you've got to reduce the weight to hit that target zone. I find 60 pounds keeps me near my 85% Max Heart Rate (MHR) on a hilly course near my home.
The Science of Hiking
As with running, plenty of science and technology can be applied to hiking cross training. Gear selections are numerous, so here are some tried-and-true recommendations:
Footwear: Lightweight hikers are now the norm for short hikes, and certainly appropriate for cross training purposes. If your tastes are more conventional, 400,000 troops couldn't be wrong about combat boots. Sure, you might get some looks, but these things really work. I like the black jungle boots.
Socks: Try a two-sock combination when you size your footwear. I suggest a thin, wicking liner sock and a slightly thicker outer sock.
Backpacks: Salomon has hit the mark with a super-light pack developed for adventure racing. Try the Raidpack 30L for short trips and day hikes. Camelbak has branched out with several new load-bearing systems that include their famous hydration system at www.camelbak.com.
Trekking Poles: Poles are the most significant contribution to enjoying a long hike since hands-free hydration systems. Leki trekking poles allow you to use your upper body while hiking by propelling yourself uphill, stabilizing yourself on the downhill and reducing impact on your lower body. More and more Americans are using trekking poles every year. You'll get used to the ski pole jokes from the uninitiated, believe me.
Heart Monitor: The best product on the market these days for this kind of workout is the Suunto Advisor. Not only is it a multifunction heart rate monitor, it also serves as a watch, stopwatch, digital compass (remember that trail map?), altimeter and barometer. It is truly what the company calls a "wristop computer."
Spend some time browsing at your favorite camping store to see if anything else catches your eye. You may like your cross-training so much you decide to extend your training into a backpacking trip or even an adventure race. Plenty to choose from out there.
Hope to see you on the trail.
You can find Mitch on the trail in San Diego at Mission Trails Regional Park every Sunday morning looking for that 85% MHR.