Run on dirt. Run up hills.
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.
You just need a few key pieces of gear to get out and run on snow. Find a pair of running snowshoes to go with your trail running shoes and wear light, waterproof layers. Here’s what I recommend…
With so many options on the market today, it is difficult to decipher what is the right equipment to get. Since this is all about running I’m only going to discuss snowshoes designed for running.
Atlas Snow-Shoe Company leads the charge in my eyes. Especially west of the rockies, they have cornered the market and rightfully so, they have one of the best running snowshoes on the market.
Others worth considering, though, are: Redfeather, Northern Lites, DION Snowshoes and TSL. (TSL running snowshoes are hard to find in retailers in the US but are the most popular running snowshoe in Europe.)
Regardless of brand, you need a snowshoe that is specifically designed for running.
Shoes & socks
Considering the weather will plays significant role in your experience, it’s important to pick a running shoe that suits the environment. Note: you do not want to snowshoe run in hiking boots.
You can probably get by with your normal running shoe if you don’t intend to be out for more than 30 minutes. Otherwise, invest in a pair of goretex running shoes. They will reduce the initial moisture infiltration and assist in keeping your feet warmer once they are wet.
Gators and wool socks are the other two components that round out what is needed at the basic level. Chemical tow warmers that stick to your socks are an option for really cold conditions.
I mentioned wool socks, but the rest of the way up needs to be nestled in layers. Big puffy jackets are not a good option. I tend to wear a winter tight for my legs, typically CWX. They wick the snow off your body better than a lose fitting winter pant.
On my core I will often have 2-3 layers. The initial layer should be a synthetic moisture wicking layer, followed by a secondary layer for warmth with built-in ventilation. Then the third layer is for the elements.
To help stay dry I often use a thin wind breaker that has been protected with a water seal. This layer often gets shed quite quickly, but is still good to have since it weighs nothing and takes up no room.
Hands & head
Gloves requires a bit of trial and error. Temperature and your own body heat will dictate whether you want a thinner or thicker glove. I often bring two pairs with me, both thin.
A beanie or ear protection is also vital. Even though new research shows that only 7-10% of your overall body heat is lost through your head, it is still important to be protected.
And don’t forget the basics: sunglasses, sunscreen, water, fuel, a GPS watch, and a cell phone.
Your entire backside tends to get very wet due to snow flying off the snowshoe tails. Keep this in mind when planning your clothes and packs.
Bring dry clothes and footwear to change into afterwards if you’re not close to home.
All of the above rounds out my gear list. You can invest in additional items like poles or anything else that keeps you comfortable in the wilderness. I like to keep it as simple as possible. The less gear, the better.
November: This is the time all you ultra runners sit and wait with anticipation for the lottery results. Odds are never in your favor and disappointments abounds. Fear not. Those few races that fall into the lottery category make up only a small fraction of the races out there to be had. Also, not all of you are interested in participating in ultra races. You may be perfectly happy conquering an awesome half marathon or even a 3.6 mile uphill race. Only you know.
December: Its time to make some decisions. It seems like a long ways off to choose a race but it’s the best time to commit. Your chances of getting into various races are better, coaches have probably not filled their rosters for 2017 yet and it’s a great time to convince your family. Remember, if you don’t have family support, your journey to a successful race will be that much more challenging. Besides, it’s better if they’re along for the ride.
Here we go. I’m going to break this down by month as that helps when making decisions. Also, to keep this list reasonable in size, I’m limiting it to regional races (easy drive from Truckee-Tahoe).
#1. First on my list is the Racing Gnome Snowshoe Run. (Tentative date: January 29, 2017.) This 10km event has moved around a bit. It started at Royal Gorge, it spent some time in Johnsville and last year returned to Auburn Ski Club at Donner Summit. This two-lap course offers runners a chance to really red-line, challenging the steep climbs, the single snowshoe packed trails and the infamous final downhill. It’s a great low-key event that allows you to really experience what snowshoe racing is all about.
#2. Inside Trail Racing director Tim Stahler has an arsenal of trail races to participate in. The Marin Ultra Challenge (a.k.a. MUC, March 11, 2017) has quickly risen to the top of must-do early season race lists. He offers a variety of distances from 25 km up to 50 miles. The coastal trails are lush and green this time of year and the weather is typically fantastic. I’m not a weather man and everyone that did it last year would argue that point. Regardless, it’s a great race if you need to get off the hill and down to the bay.
#3. I’ve got two for April. First off Canyons. (April 29, 2017) If you’ve been stung by the Western States bug then it is a must-do. New this year Chaz added a 5km and 10km that supports non-profits in Foresthill. If your significant other is a ultra junky, one can do the 100km or 50km while the other enjoys a 5km or 10km.
#4. The other April must-do is Escape From Prison Hill Half Marathon (April 22, 2017, Carson City, NV). This course has all kinds of fun stuff going on, some fire road, rocky single track, rolling sand hills and steep sandy downhills. I try to make it out to this event every year. It’s so much fun.
#5. The Silver State Striders put on a great race with 3 distances (50m, 50km, 1/2 marathon) called the Silver State 50/50 and 1/2 marathon. This iconic race in Reno, NV, has been around a long time and they continue to improve the race experience before, during and after the event.
#6. The second running of Broken Arrow Skyrace (June 17, 2017) in Squaw Valley will test your climbing legs. There is a VK, 26k and a 54 km. These races are so much more about conquering the climbs than the distance.
#7. July brings our the other big Tahoe race by our running club neighbors, the Tahoe Mountain Milers. The Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) Endurance Runs (July 15, 2017) include a 55km, 50-mile and 100-mile event. This race has gone to a lottery but it is one I think everyone should do. The course is beautiful and their tag line says is all, “A taste of heaven a glimpse of Hell.”
#8. I would be remiss if I didn’t include Donner Party Mountain Runners Castle Peak 100km. This course is all about having the opportunity to experience what I believe to be a collection of the best trails that Truckee has to offer. There is only one distance and this race is not for the faint of heart. A mountainous 50-miler is required to even register, but don’t let that deter you. “Unafraid,” we like to say.
#9. If 100k is not yet in your wheel house, consider our friends at Auburn Ski Club. They produce the Sierra Crest 30km and 50km (August 6, 2017). The course touches on a few miles of the Castle Peak 100k course and is also a point-to-point race.
#10. Big Blue Adventure hosts a bunch of races, but the Emerald Bay Trail Run is extra special (September 17, 2017). It’s 7 miles and is also a point-to-point run on one of Tahoe’s great (short) trails. Fall in Tahoe is a great time to run along the lake and even take a post-race dip in Big Blue if you dare!
There are so many more races and this list could go on and on. For now, dig in and see what these races have to offer. You will not be disappointed by a single one. Stay healthy, cross train and get that core strong – 2017 will be an epic year on the trails.
Contact Peter Fain for a training consult if you’d like help planning your 2017 trail running season.