The power hike is a skill that even the most elite runners must embrace at some point in a trail race due to terrain, fatigue, race strategy, or even injury or illness. Each presents its own mental hurdle with some being more crippling than others.
As we reach this crossroad, our mind tends to play tricks on us. It often reminds me of movies that have the devil standing on one shoulder and an angel on the other. I waiver depending on who I feel like listening to at that moment.
Terrain is the most obvious reason to employ the power hike. When power hiking steep climbs, I like using the phrases “move with purpose” and “hike with a sense of urgency.” It’s easy to gear down into your lowest granny gear and chat away with the person near you, but instead you should maintain your output level just more efficiently with a quality power hike.
With so many races including steep climbs that exceed 20, 30 and even 40% grade, it is tough to even consider running some of those pitches. And know that for most runners, with a pitch over 20%, you’re more likely to be more efficient with a power hike than a run effort. (*paraphrased from a recent article in American Trail Running Association)
Fatigue is the devil saying you cant do it, you’re weak, you shouldn’t be out here, you’re undertrained, the list can go on. Know that you can go further and harder than you think you can.
By switching to a power hike you can regroup and get yourself to the finish line with confidence. Fatigue is a normal part of running hard in the mountains. The reserves will come and you will bounce back. Power through.
For those of you out there to win it, strategy will dictate your effort level. Sometimes you’re fully capable of running a climb, but the competition right in front of you has slowed to a power hike. Unless you’re confident enough to use this as a moment of a attack, it is often a good moment to hold back. Or, if you’ve built a massive lead and you’re lonely, power hike some of those climbs until you have some company.
There are a couple problems with the power hike. For one, when you start the power hike you take too long to start running again. Another problem is if you use horrible form and end up using as much energy power hiking as you would running.
To combat each issue, create clear goals. When power hiking a climb, it’s good practice to switch back to run mode after about 10 steps beyond the top of the climb. This allows your legs to begin to feel light again and you’re more inclined to feel a slight spring in your step.
Regarding the power hike form, it’s not just about walking forward. It’s about moving with purpose. This means you have a quality knee drive, efficient arm swing, and the proper slight forward lean from the hips not the waist. It makes a difference.
Injury or illness can be a motivational mind fuck. Often injury is associated with a tight muscle or some chronic injury from your training season. Or it can be something acute. Then there is the infamous chafing. For the first two cases, I encourage a switch to power hike until you reach an aid station for a quality diagnoses.
Chafing, well what can I say. If it’s between your legs adjust your stride or power hike until you get to an aid station so you can lube up appropriately. Chafing sucks. Prevention is key.
Illness is often stomach-related. You’re either nauseated, have bad poops, or cramps (obviously not an all-inclusive list.) This is tough. Each requires quick attention so you don’t get lost in the negative space in your head. Typically nutritional failures are to blame, so slowing to the power hike can help ease the stomach as you eliminate or drastically reduce the jarring effect of running.
Needing to peel off and take care of number 2 in the woods. It happens. When you need to go, don’t wait as this will bring your power hike status of turtle head management to a 12” off the trail emergency pit stop in poison oak and tick-infested leaves. It sucks. I’ve been there.
Muscle cramps, on the other hand, need a focused power hike to shake out the stressed muscle. When transitioning to the power hike due to a muscle cramp, do your best not to compromise your form, or you risk problems later on.
Ultimately the power hike is a measure of efficiency. When racing you want to move as efficiently and quickly as possible and you want every step you take to provide the most forward propulsion with as little effort as possible. I encourage all runners to incorporate power hiking into their training programs. You’ll be a more efficient runner if you do.