If you are a trail runner training for a mountainous ultra marathon, then you will potentially be doing a lot of hiking during your race. Only the fittest of runners in a 30 to 50 mile plus race are going to be running the uphill portions of the course, especially in the later stages.. With this in mind, it’s important that you get your power hiking dialed in well before race day.
So, what exactly is power hiking?
Power hiking is simply an intensified form of hiking that is utilized by ultra marathon trail runners when covering mountainous terrain. Instead of attempting to run or jog on the uphills of a course, they will power hike to conserve energy but still maintain a steady pace.
Power hiking has been adopted by the running industry because it is faster than normal hiking but does not expend as much energy going uphill than normally running during that section of a race. Thus, the time that is lost while power hiking uphill can be gained back by having more energy to keep up a breakneck pace later in a race on less steep inclines when you can run again.
Studies show that depending on the steepness of the terrain while running, it may be advantageous for athletes to transition to a hike vs continuing to run. However, this is all to be taken on a very case by case determination. There are so many factors that can play a role – steepness, technical aspects of terrain, using poles or not, amount of pack weight, distance, fitness level of athlete and pacing goals etc.
Power Hiking Vs Regular Hiking
The main difference between power hiking and regular hiking is the speed at which you hike during power hiking and the correct posture used for power hiking. The posture you should use for power hiking will be way different than the upright walking posture you use while regularly hiking.
Here are a few tips to make you a better power hiker:
When power hiking, you want to lean forward with your back straight at an angle similar to the grade you are traveling up. This allows you to keep a lower center of gravity and good forward momentum. On a less than steep grade you can still power hike but should be a little bit more upright.
Open Your Airways
Opening your airways means keeping your chest open and your shoulders back. You will not be so hunched over while power hiking besides leaning forward. Keeping your airways open will help keep oxygen in your lungs and let you take deep breaths. Maintaining good lung capacity while power hiking is critical to staying energized and then being able to finish the rest of the race with good pace.
Shorter strides are great for not burning out your muscles while power hiking. This helps you to stay fresh for when the terrain of a race changes and you can begin to running again. Shorter strides will help you work your glutes rather than your calves by keeping your heels on the ground for a longer amount of time.
The theory here is that the glutes are a much larger and stronger muscle so using energy from the glutes for power hiking allows you to save your calf muscles. The calves are worked much harder while running so being able to use different muscles while competing in an ultra-marathon or trail run can improve your times because these other muscles keep stress off the main muscles used for long distance races.
Keep In Mind…
The point of power hiking is to save yourself some energy on the steeper more grueling uphill climbs during a race. Then, because you have saved energy and muscle strength during difficult course sections, you can make up that time and even get faster later in the race. Power hiking helps your body be conditioned to still have fuel left in the tank for later parts of a race.
So, what is considered a fast hiking pace? A fast hiking pace is between 4 and 5 miles per hour. This pace means that you will be hiking between a 12 and 15 minute mile. This pace can be very rigorous but should be a good bench mark for getting faster at hiking.
If you stick to these numbers over longer distances without very much drop off in times, you’ll be able to push harder on the more moderate portions of the course. This combination will result in becoming faster overall.
How To Increase Hiking Speed
There are many ways to increase your speed for hiking. Honestly, just getting outside and going hiking on a regular basis will increase your speed over time. If you want to follow some of the trail running tips I gave above, tracking yourself and setting goals will help you increase your hiking speed.
Mainly though, I would recommend hiking with a purpose. This will force you to be conscious of your pace and that alone will make you hike faster. Hiking the same trails in your area will also let you know how much faster you are moving once you begin to hike a lot. But, don’t let that stop you from getting out there are exploring new trails.
Also read: How Can I Get Faster At Uphill Hiking?
Improved Power Hiking Leads to Faster Trail Running
In order to become a faster trail runner, you need to seriously dedicate yourself to the sport and spending time conditioning your body to work more efficiently. Improving on your run times is difficult but can be done through hard work and perseverance. Here are a few tips to become a faster trail runner.
1. Track Your Times
Tracking your own personal best times is critical to becoming a faster trail runner. Use a GPS watch or a stopwatch to keep track of your distances and how fast you were during each mile.
Over time, you will see where you are improving and possibly things you need to work on with regard to your running. You will also be able to assess energy levels long term based upon how you feel and will get to know your body better by tracking your progress.
2. Set Goals
Setting goals for trail running is also extremely important to pushing yourself to be a faster trail runner. If you set goals that you can strive to reach and beat, you will be much more motivated to achieving those goals and push yourself even more. Make sure that you set goals that will be difficult to reach but are not unobtainable.
You want to be able to reach your set goals so that once you do, you will be motivated to set a new goal and continue training harder than your were before.
3. Make A Plan and Stick To It
This might be one of the easier tips to say but hardest to do. Make a running plan or schedule for yourself and stick to it. Similarly as with setting goals, you want to push yourself out of your comfort zone so that you can become a faster trail runner. If you are currently running 9 to 10 minute mile times, try to push to reach 8 minute mile times.
Also, running on a set schedule is important even if you are just loosening up your muscles for a mile or two on a rest day. I would recommend running at least 4 times per week for extended periods of time or distances if you really want to improve your trail running times.
Ultra Marathon Trail Races With Insane Vertical Gain/Loss
When it comes to power hiking, during any ultra-marathon, you will have to power hike during some sections. Below, I’ll detail some of the most mountainous courses with insane amounts of vertical gain/loss:
The Ultra Trail du Mont-Blanc is one of the hardest and most grueling ultra-marathons in the world. Take a look at the course profile to see just how many mountain passes and country borders you will have to traverse over in order to complete the race.
If you are looking to participate in the UTMB, power hiking will be essential to making it over many of the mountain passes while also leaving yourself enough energy to continue on to the next pass or the finish.
Also read: Best Poles For Ultra Trail Running: Our Top Pick
The Hardrock 100 is another race where you will certainly have to use power hiking to save energy in order to complete the race in the required 48 hours. The race starts and ends in Silverton, Colorado but takes you through the San Juan Mountain Range in southern Colorado.
The course takes entrants across 13 major mountain passes that are all between 12,000 and 13,000 feet in elevation with a few summits above 14,000 feet. For this race, power hiking is vital to using in order to keep at a good pace while hiking up steep mountain inclines.
Fat Dog 120
The Fat Dog 120 is a race held in Canada every year. It is known as one of the hardest ultra-marathons in the world with an elevation gain just shy of what it would take to climb Mt. Everest. Thus, power hiking is very important to making it to the end of such a long race. You do not want to burn yourself out running up steep elevations like those in this ultra-marathon.
FAQ – Is Hiking A Good Workout?
Hiking is a great workout. It is especially good for the leg muscles like the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. Hiking is also a good whole body workout because you are burning calories while doing so. One of the best parts about hiking is the fact that anyone who can walk can participate in it.
So, even if you consider yourself unhealthy or someone who doesn’t like to workout, you can still work out by getting outside and hiking. Plus, hiking forces you to enjoy the outdoors making it not seem like a workout at all.
Final Thoughts on Power Hiking
Always remember, power hiking should be used mainly on courses with large amounts of elevation gain. Once the terrain mellows out, you should be able to begin running again. Power hiking should be used as a trail runners tool to stay energized and to tackle tough uphill course sections. While you are power hiking, remember to hike with a purpose because you are still in the middle of a race.
Keep your form because power hiking is not the same as regular hiking. Having proper form will allow you to work different muscles and no be burned out on later portions of the course. Practice and train for power hiking the same as you would for trail running. That way, when a tough section during a trail run comes upon you, you are ready to push through it with some power hiking.
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Cameron Bailey is a writer and musician currently living in Evanston, IL. He spends most of his time outdoors hiking and fishing but also spends plenty of time reading, writing, and working on his photography.
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