Mountaineering isn’t necessarily a leisurely stroll – the term encompasses any activity that involves ascending mountains, such as traditional mountain climbing or skiing. Athleticism and strength is required in order to not only possess the ability to complete the task at hand, but also to have a good time. It’s no fun to set out on a trek under trained.
So, is running good for mountaineering? Running is considered one effective way to train for mountaineering, but shouldn’t be the only/main element in your training routine. Any trek that requires sustained effort also requires cardio – and a combination of a regular running routine, complete with a longer effort and a hard workout (preferably hills), a strength routine, and task-specific training (hiking if you’re training for a hike, for example) will greatly improve your fitness and mountaineering experience.
A few years ago, my dad planned a 3-day long trek through the Beaten Path in Montana– a 26-mile one-way ascension and descension through the beautiful Beartooth mountains. Understanding that covering nearly 10 miles a day with vertical was not a feat he could tackle untrained, he decided to work on getting his cardio up prior to the trip.
He went on a few runs and long bike rides, and if I recall correctly, he even saw a strength trainer twice a week.
When the time came for the trek, he, his nephew, and his friends drove to the entrance point. They strapped on their 45 lb. pack, sprayed themselves with bug spray and sunscreen, and started onward. He was able to complete the hike, though he lamented at how much better it could have been if he had properly trained.
Every hiker whose done a multi-day trek, including my dad, has either under prepared or not prepared at all in terms of fitness for their hikes. Perhaps the idea of a hike, when it doesn’t involve any serious vertical, is understood to the casual hiker as a leisurely activity.
At least, that’s how I understood it until I went on a hike with enough vertical to make me forget that I didn’t bring any bear spray– I was so tired, I almost welcomed a bear attack.
How to Use Running as Preparation for Mountaineering
As I mentioned above, running should not be your only method of training for mountaineering. So when you’re laying out a training plan that includes running, don’t forget what you’re training for. Ideally, you will be training year round and peaking when your big mountaineering trek comes around.
But with busy work schedules, family, and other life events, it’s hard to maintain a training schedule with a balance of running, strength training, and task-specific training. In this sense, running is a great way to, at least, maintain fitness year-round.
If you can only keep two consistent elements of training year-round, keep strength training and running– but make sure you’re getting out on the hills, tough terrain, and getting in longer efforts/fartlek style workouts (unsure of what a fartlek is? Check out my article on all of the types of runs).
The best way to go about training is to set a plan. Before you can set a plan, it’s important to assess your current fitness: how often do you exercise? When incorporating running into your training routine, reflect on your current running routine/fitness as well.
If you’ve raced recently, such as a 10K, what’s your current best time? How comfortable are you with running up hills/on rocky terrain? Once you’ve determined your fitness, you can go about incorporating running, alongside other training aspects, to your preparation.
Gradually Build Your Running Volume
If you’re a beginner, then the key is to start your training regimen slow. Train every other day for a few weeks before you get into a daily schedule, and make sure you have plenty of variation, such as different weight lifting routines, different running workouts/routes, different hikes, etc. Adding variation to your routine will continuously challenge your muscles and, in turn, make you stronger.
As far as beginning your running routine, start off by running 15-20 minutes a session on the hilliest terrain possible, preferably a trail or dirt road (check out my article on breaking into running for more in-depth information). Increase your weekly mileage by 10% each week.
When incorporating a running routine into your training regimen for mountaineering, don’t forget about building volume into all other aspects of your training. Splitting your time as equally as possible between running, task-specific training such as climbing or skiing, and strength training is imperative.
As you grow stronger, start reducing your rest days to 1-2 days a week, to 1-2 days every two weeks, to 1-2 days every month. Combining training aspects in a singular day (for example, strength training + running one day, climbing + running the next day, etc) should also be a gradual process, and should not be every day, unless you are a seasoned veteran.
Only when you’ve been training regularly for at least 2-3 months should you start doing this.
This time frame begs the question: when should you start this training schedule? Obviously, I’m going to say today. If this is what you want to do, there’s no point in waiting. However, in terms of relativity to the date of your planned mountaineering trek, ideally, start at least six months prior to this date.
Video: Here’s an interesting interview with Simone Moro. He states that his training for Everest includes 100 to 140 kilometers of running per week!
How Many Times a Week?
You should run at least three to four times a week to elevate your cardio training into your routine. That being said, running can be a daily activity to coincide with your mountaineering training. Some days can be easy, three-mile slogs prior to a climbing session, other days can be a hard hill workout to precede a weightlifting session.
However, it should not be your main source of training– running produces a type of fitness that doesn’t sustain a long, severely uphill hike carrying a 50-lb. pack.
The only way to become better at something is to practice at that thing on a regular basis. That means, if you’re training for a climb, you must prioritize climbing– even if you can only climb once or twice a week, you make that the day where you get the most out of it. Your hard workout days, basically. The rest will be increasing your general cardio, strength, and maintaining your fitness.
Obviously, access to climbing walls, ski hills, and other places to train may be scarce in your area. If you can do the best you can, while supplementing with a running and strength routine, you’ll do just fine!
Also read: How Can I Get Faster At Uphill Hiking?
An Elite Level Mountaineer’s View on Running
In my research for incorporating running into a mountaineering training plan, running was certainly important, but was not at the forefront and was interchangeable with other forms of cardio, such as swimming or mountain biking. However, they stress that running on flat terrain will never translate to mountaineering– running must serve as a singular aspect to a training plan that requires many aspects.
This video featuring Chad Kellogg and how he trained for a speed record attempt on Mt. Everest reveals his thoughts on running.
“…trail running is a fantastic cross training device and ultra running specifically is a very important aspect for an alpinist and for speed ascents because you can go on a really long run with an amazing amount of vertical gain and loss that I think is directly applicable to mountain speed climbing”
Sample Training Week with Cardio/Running
This is a general look at what a mountaineering training week might look like. This is an example for once you’ve built your base, and before you start peaking. Ideally you will start peaking two weeks before your trek– meaning you will ease off of strength training and hard workout days.
- Monday: Cardio (40-60 mins) + Strength
- Tuesday: Cardio (40-60 mins)
- Wednesday: Hard Workout (hill sprints/circuit, intervals, tempo run)
- Thursday: Cardio (50-70 mins) + Strength
- Friday: Off Day or Active Rest Day
- Saturday: Long Hike or Climb with Pack
- Sunday: Cardio (30-60 mins [depending on feel])
Mountaineering Training Plans
If you’re like me and need a training plan written out and set forth for you by an expert, it’s helpful to look at some preparation guides. Here’s a 12-week plan that I found for those at an intermediate level of fitness.
One plan that I found that looked promising was one by Big City Mountaineers. The 16-week plan (here) included strength, cardio, cross-training, hikes and climbs, and 2-3 rest days per week. However, it did include more climbing and hiking, so if you live in an area where completing those days isn’t possible on a regular basis, then you may need a different training plan.
There were many training plans that also looked promising that came at a cost. If you’re serious about mountaineering and your trek, and you plan on dedicating much of your time to said trek and to future treks, and you don’t have access to a coach/experienced mountaineer training partner, then I would suggest purchasing a training plan.
This is coming from an athlete who has been coached her entire running career– I’m a firm believer in trusting my coaches plan (and, in this case, a trusted expert’s plan) and having it laid out in front of me. You don’t have to strictly adhere to it, however. If you need a rest day, take a rest day! But if you find yourself constantly changing up the routine, then you may need a new, restructured plan.
If you have any mountaineering plans in the future, tell me about it in the comments– also, let me know what you’re doing to prepare. Best of luck, and happy training!
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Emma is a semi-professional runner for the Hoka One One Aggies, based out of beautiful San Luis Obispo, California. She is an NCAA DIII All-American, has made multiple top-10 all-time performance lists for track and field and cross country for her alma mater, Linfield College, and graduated with a degree in creative writing with honors. When she’s not running, working, or in physical therapy, she enjoys going to the beach, fishing, or lazing around watching Netflix with some Ben & Jerry’s chocolate brownie ice cream.