There are a lot of unknowns in running. Everyone's body is different and when you get out there on race day and see some clear areas to improve upon it is hard to find the right answer.
We have heard several questions asked more than any others when it comes to running and racing so we have a series of articles addressing them by our favorite knowledgable running coaches.
The first topic is how to become better at climbing hills and power hiking. Hills are definitely a challenge for those just getting into trail running as well as the experienced ultra runners. We put it to our trusted coaches to get their expert advice on power hiking and hill work.
Yassine Diboun, Danielle Snyder and Andrew Miller lay out their answers below.
What is your number one method to become a more efficient power hiker?
Power hiking is an essential skill for runners and often misunderstood as a weakness. It is a great tool and often underutilized as a way to manage energy. Here are some of my tips in order to best utilize this skill.
Start sooner! If you think you will need to power hike at all during the race, start early. When you choose to hike rather than being forced to hike, you feel more in control and can manage the longevity of your energy stores. Hiking is a great tool to use after eating as it also help with digestive issues.
Hike with purpose. This is not a leisure walk in the park: this is an intentionally fully body movement that can often match other’s running speed uphill when done right.
Especially up hills, set small manageable goals— pick a visual spot and hike to it. Hit your goal spot and choose another spot. For example, you hike intentionally powerful to a big rock, get there, ‘celebrate’ and then find another visual cue and make your way forward.
Poles are a wonderful way to help correct form and make sure you are not hunching over. When we start to hunch, we stop being able to breathe as deeply and ‘waste’ energy not taking deep breaths.
There are many ways to become a more efficient power hiker and they all involve consistency. If I had to choose the number one method it would be hiking w/ poles and weight on your back. For my build-up to Hardrock 100 I hiked while wearing a 25-lb weight-vest at Evolution Healthcare and Fitness altitude room in Portland, OR. This allowed me to use a "stair mill" and simultaneously acclimate to higher altitude. Even on days that I didn't have access to Evolution I would put extra weight on me, such as a weight vest or hydration pack loaded w/ ankle weights and other gear.
I like to use stairs as much as possible because there is less torque on the lower legs and achilles tendons. Sometimes I will hike up trails too, and using my Leki poles help me have a couple more points of contact to thrust me up the mountain. I do a lot of cross training in the form of bodyweight exercises and weight lifting to strengthen my quads, hip flexors, calves, anterior tibialis, and hamstrings which are the primary muscles used in power hiking.
As I said in the first sentence, consistency and specificity is the name of the game; anything you do a lot of you will become more efficient at! In the past I would try to run all the hills, and then I would find that in my ultras I would be doing so much hiking.
For this past training block for Hardrock I intentionally focused on refining my power hiking and, even though I could run some of the hills, I chose to hike with intention to develop that gait and the necessary muscles needed to efficiently cover some ground.
To become a more efficient power-hiker, the most important step you can take is to practice consistently. This may sound very basic, but most runners never hike during training unless the hill is so steep they can’t run.
In trail races, especially ultras, runners often hike upwards of ¼ of the event. If you haven’t practiced hiking in training, then you haven’t trained for ¼ of the event. That’s pretty significant! To improve your hiking efficiency, practice at least one time per week. If you have a sustained uphill where you can hike for 30-60 minutes, this is a great option!
If you do not have a sustained uphill, hiking hill repeats works well too. When selecting your hill, pick a hill that is a similar grade to the average grade you will be hiking on race day. It’s tempting to pick the steepest hill possible, but you will get more out of your hiking practice if you match your training to race day. After 4-6 weeks, you will see significant improvement in your hiking speed.
Danielle Snyder is an avid ultrarunner who is constantly reminded of the importance of mental training in addition to physical training. She has run countless 100-mile races, set the FKT on the Oregon section of the PCT, and holds the FKT on the Rogue River Trail.
Danielle has worked with countless professional athletes and Olympians and specializes in helping athletes avoid the pitfalls of negative self-talk, so that they can achieve more balance in all parts of their lives. Using multiple different techniques, Danielle guides her clients along their paths to physical and mental well-being, helping athletes reach their potential. Danielle is a Certified Running Coach and a licensed clinical social worker with extensive additional training. Learn more at Inner Drive Wellness.
Yassine Diboun is a co-owner of Wy'east Wolfpack where he remains highly active coaching athletes of all abilities, including kids, office workers, folks in or seeking recovery from substance addiction. He still likes to get after it on the ultramarathon racing circuit and has enjoyed a long sustainable career. You can learn more about him and the wolfpack at: Wy'east Wolfpack and follow @WyeastWolfpack and @YassineDiboun on Instagram
Career Highlights: *4-time Western States 100 finisher (once in the top 10) *3-time HURT 100 finisher (once in the top 3) *Top 100 finisher of the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) *Top 25 finisher at Hardrock 100 *Top 5 finishes at Bighorn 100, Cascade Crest 100, Pinhoti 100, & San Diego 100
Andrew Miller lives in Oregon where enjoys running and volunteering on the local trails. Andrew has won 16 ultramarathons, including the 2016 Western States 100, and works as a running coach at Andrew Miller Coaching. *Represented Team USA at the IAU World Trail Running Championships in Annecy, France (silver medal)