Hiking: A Cross-Training Bonus
Last year, I ran through a really bad thunderstorm. I was cruising along when suddenly the sky blackened and began spitting rain. The wind started hurling tree branches left and right and the sound of thunder echoed in the air. Thankfully, I was able to reach a safe place before I was struck by debris. In hindsight, I definitely wouldn’t recommend running during a storm. But it did seem like a solid choice at the time. Anything was better than running on the treadmill!
Storm or no storm, running outside is invigorating. There, my senses are stimulated and my perspective is broadened. Every mile promises new sights and new opportunities for thought, and I never grow tired of discovering them. This isn’t just true of running, though; you can hike outdoors and experience very similar benefits.
As an avid runner and hiker, I know this well. I also know how hard it can be to balance the two. My regular hiking trips have often left me fearful, wondering how to prioritize training while also enjoying the literal mountaintop hiking experiences.
So how do you accomplish that balancing act? First and foremost, you need to ask yourself: “How committed am I to my training?” When I was a college athlete, summer mileage was the linchpin for cross-country success. For that reason, I was more cautious with the summer hiking I did and how I did it. Now that I am a post-collegiate athlete, training looks a lot different. One of the upsides is that I can be more flexible with my runs and workouts. Right now, I don’t have a big race coming up until late fall. Given that timeframe, I might indulge in a little more hiking on my trip to Colorado next month. I know that hiking will provide aerobic exercise, give my body a break from the routine and allow me to enjoy my vacation. I’ll still run, but I’ll probably run a little less since I don’t have to be in top form for an immediate race.
Regardless of your training goals, if you are running and you value your running: Don’t be reckless. I applaud you for wanting to hike a lot this summer or booking a vacation to a stellar hiking destination. However, I also encourage you to consider the relationship between your running and your hiking before you hit the trails.
The most important thing is to plan ahead. If your heart is set on doing a grueling, eight-hour hike, opt for a day of the week that isn’t right before a big workout or a long run. Even if you’re doing lighter hiking, you can adjust your training by decreasing your mileage by 10 to 20 percent. If you don’t want to decrease mileage (or even if you do), consider running on some of the trails instead of hiking. Both these tactics will guard against you overtraining or overtaxing your legs.
Finally, listen to your body. If something feels off, it probably is. When your calves feel like rocks, lay off the heavy mileage. The world has a lot to offer us wild adventurers, if we take the time to be smart and plot out our priorities. I’ve accomplished a few successful hiking stints and I’ve also gotten injured on a few. Trust me: The key to enjoying running and hiking is striking a balance and listening to your body.