Running is a taxing sport, both mentally and physically. We push ourselves to extremes constantly and expect our bodies to respond without hesitation. For that reason, sometimes we need some relaxation. I know what you’re thinking, “But, I’m a runner and I don’t have time to relax!!” I understand completely — My “recovery days” consist of easy miles and beers with friends.
That’s why I make it a point to hit the trails. Hiking benefits runners by still exercising without actually running. Too many of us get caught up in that monotonous forward motion pounding away on the pavement. There are times when I just need to escape the hustle and bustle. No group runs. No tempo runs. And no long runs. It’s just Mother Nature letting me into her world. Let’s explore the benefits of hiking for a runner.
Everybody around you is always saying to cross train, right? Well, hiking is a great alternative to running and doesn’t require a pool or a gym. Hiking (walking) is lower impact which makes it a great recovery tool for the day after a long run. Not to mention, it’s cheaper than buying that triathlon bike that is only good for 6 months out of the year.
Runners spend half the time worrying about mileage and heart rate and the other half their splits and pace. We tend to freak out when it comes to our precious time. It’s what we do (and damn it we do it well). However, when you hike, none of that matters. Hiking is all about enjoying the sites around you, rather than running by them staring at a GPS watch. Listen to your body and let your brain dial down. Bring the dog, leave the cell phone, and pack some nutrition, you’ll thank me later.
Work the Lungs
Breathing is usually an overlooked part of running. Hiking in higher altitudes allows the lungs to work and increases breathing ability without taxing the body. Of course, we all don’t live in Colorado, so cold weather can do the trick as well. I like to focus on my breathing when I hike – in through the nose and out through the mouth. Or, as I say, “Fresh air in – city air out.”
Find Your Weakness
My personal reason for loving hiking so much is for the strengthening of normally weak muscles. Specifically, the ankles. Assuming that hikes take place on off-road terrain, there are many obstacles to climb over and work around. This requires a bit of ankle stability. Rocks, roots, and soft dirt all force muscles to turn on that would normally be dormant during a run on the road. Don’t be surprised if the following day after a long hike you’re feeling sore in unusual areas.
Hit the Hills
If your hike takes place on some form of a mountain, then you are getting some hill training without even knowing it. One of the greatest benefits that comes from hiking is activating those glutes! Walking up steep inclines is an easy way to properly use the correct muscles. It even mimics the same movement that we use during running. Who knew!? Hit the trails to practice for that inevitable uphill battle during the last mile of your next race.
Bring a Friend
Hiking is friendly. I say that because running with a partner is hard. Personally, I don’t like to talk much while running, it throws my concentration off. Also, I find it difficult to keep pace with those who may be faster or slower than I am. Hiking levels the playing field. For example, running with my fiancé requires me to jog at a snail’s pace. That’s a joke – I’m going to have to sleep on the couch for writing that… Bringing a friend along can also be beneficial for safety reasons, just in case you inadvertently make a wrong turn.
All kidding aside, it’s all about having fun so get outside and make it happen!