5 Tips for Running in the Mountains

By Tom Amaral

allan 21.jpg

As a runner, you probably ditched the sidewalk long ago in favour of enjoying local trails instead. While the image of yourself running through the mountains is even more attractive – the stuff of North Face ads – the reality of doing so is slightly more intimidating than going for a jog in the park, for example. Despite popular misconception, you don't have to be a super-athlete to bag summits in your sneakers and have tons of fun doing it. 

Here's 5 tips to help you find your stride in the mountains:

1.    Find a Nice Mountain with a Good Trail
The first mountains you consider running should be ones with great scenery and "buff" trails: ones that climb gradually and aren’t too rocky or rough. If you're planning to bag a summit, you can't avoid putting in a bit of hard work, but at least the views will be pretty and you won't be stumbling all over the place. From there, you can expand your horizons of what can be achieved in running shoes… a limit yet to be discovered.

2.    Get Used to Sustained, Moderate Effort
Comfortably climbing hills doesn’t look like full-blown sprinting up the mountainside as though you were raised by gazelles. Much of mountain running – and ultramarathoning – is walking, plain and simple: sustained hiking at a moderate pace with regular stops for food and water. Running steep hills is too tiring and burns too much energy. Hike up hills at a comfortable pace, jog the flat parts, then run downhill as fast as you can!

3.    Watch your Footing
Running up and down mountains requires more care than running on the sidewalk. Soil slides, rocks roll, and roots conspire to catch your toes mid-stride. Keep your eyes on the trail and try to anticipate how the ground will act and feel where your foot is about to land. With practice, you'll start adjusting each step automatically before it makes contact with the ground, which will result in a lot less slipping, sliding and overall frustration.

4.    Embrace Freefall
Downhill running, at its best, is a fine line between almost falling on your face and attempting to launch into flight. It’s also easier on the knees and more fun than painfully plodding back to the trailhead. Use gravity to your advantage and let your feet gently "kiss" the trail as you descend. Pretend you're a ballet dancer, or trying to hop across lily pads floating on the surface of water… You get the idea.

5.    Have Fun!
Mountain running is the kind of activity where the size of the challenge equals the size of the reward. The “rewarding” part might not be obvious while breathlessly slogging up a hill, but your first outings should aim to be more than torture sessions. Focus on the positive reasons why you're out there and the sense of accomplishment you will feel standing on the summit or after your run. Don't forget to drag a few friends along, pack some snacks, take in the scenery and – most of all – be amazed at what you can achieve outdoors in a pair of sneakers.

Next time you're thinking about jogging around town on the boring, old sidewalk, consider checking out trails which lead in a more vertical direction instead. Mountain or hill running is a dynamic and challenging activity that can be enjoyed all over Canada, including your local ski hill.

A few resources to help you out:

Clubtread.com – Trip reports and hiking-related discussion about trails in BC and Alberta.

irunfar.com – Trail, mountain and ultra-endurance running news and articles.

Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies – The “bible” of hikable mountains in the Canadian Rockies. Supplement the somewhat simple route descriptions and photos with more comprehensive trip reports found online.

Lingering Clouds of Scree Dust

 Charging to the summit of Mount Bourgeau to steal fire (and a longstanding FKT) from the gods.

Charging to the summit of Mount Bourgeau to steal fire (and a longstanding FKT) from the gods.

"Fall Moods"

By Tom Amaral

My name is Tom Amaral and I'm an ultra­distance trail and mountain runner living in

Banff, Alberta. Pat asked me to write some guest posts describing my life in Banff.

Although the following might seem a dour subject for an initial fitness­related post, it

describes the ebb and flow of the moods of a person intimately tied with pushing

themselves hard in the mountains.

Check out my #mountainporn on Instagram (@scree_dust) or read about past adventures

on my blog, screedust.wordpress.com.

...

It's late fall and the days are getting shorter, the mornings frigid and the mountaintops

dusted with snow. My running season's been long: nine months of training; thousands of

vertical metres; hundreds of kilometres; many summits and multiple ultras. I feel the way I

normally would at this point in the season, characteristically conflicted, desperate to pull

off something epic yet lacking patience for anything too big... Over the summer, through

repeated exposure against an alpine flintstone, I sharpened myself into a fine­tuned

mountain­running tool. Have I now widdled this stick down to nothing?

Mountain running emerged as part of a feedback loop that formed between me and the

mountains. Like a groan of distortion spiralling out of control, I hiked, then scrambled,

then ran, then sprinted my way up them. I became inspired, then possessed; obsessed

and depressed. The relationship between me and the mountains, and the type of fitness

that now defines me, has been shaped like a chunk of clay on a spinning wheel, chiseled

by repetitive contact with the alpine. At peak fitness one becomes the perfect mountain-
running machine. Beyond that, the medium is widdled away to nothing.

The question I ask at this point in the season is: how much is too much contact with the

mountains? How much stress and pressure is too much? Or more simply: "Should I head

out to the hills this morning or should I really stay in bed?"


 Weather and basic demands of life can often get in the way of ambitions to send epic projects in the high country. Banff's Mount Rundle in LOTR­esque conditions.

Weather and basic demands of life can often get in the way of ambitions to send epic projects in the high country. Banff's Mount Rundle in LOTR­esque conditions.

It seems obvious that I should feel this way late in the season, but it's been my

experience that this low can occur at any time and begs the question: from where do we

get the mental fuel that drives us in the mountains?

 Sometimes just getting out with friends on an easy hike or run on a nice day is enough to rejuvenate you. Muleshoe Ridge with my buddy Glenn (@itsglennwith2ns)

Sometimes just getting out with friends on an easy hike or run on a nice day is enough to rejuvenate you. Muleshoe Ridge with my buddy Glenn (@itsglennwith2ns)

Mountain and ultra­distance running is considered by many to be fun, albeit "Fun 2.0",

something painfully challenging yet abstractly rewarding. "It doesn't have to be fun to be

fun," said Mark Twight, who was a master of suffering. The mountains are an arena to

challenge yourself and in the Rockies the size of the challenge is as big as you want it.

It's easy to dream big, shoot high, then get out there on the ridge and find yourself utterly

lacking the will to do what you set out to do. Sometimes you have the gusto and even

though everything sucks, you push on and succeed. Other times, you're just heading out

the door and subconsciously know that though you have the ambition and ability, you

don't have the drive.

 ­ Pushing myself hard on "easy" peaks; one way to shake up monotony. Mount Fairview FKT run: 9km, 1061m vertical, 52min to summit, 1h21m RT.

­ Pushing myself hard on "easy" peaks; one way to shake up monotony. Mount Fairview FKT run: 9km, 1061m vertical, 52min to summit, 1h21m RT.

This mercurial quality of the mountains ­­ themselves carte blanche for the projection of

our inner dramas ­­ I find arcane and fascinating. I've always marvelled at Banff's Mount

Rundle which is never really the same mountain twice; whose character and mood shifts

with changing weather and light. These monolithic heaps of choss are, if anything, the

victims of nature and aren't scary, malicious, inspiring or any way I happen to feel about

them. The mountains are big hills of rock, clad in ice, snow and whatever adjective we

ascribe to them. On this other plane however, they are like metaphysical prisms which

take hold of our worries and aspirations and warp our realities entirely.

 As a trail runner, it's easy to get up and down small objectives quickly. Hitting up these easy peaks before or after work, at unique times of the day, can be supremely satisfying. Tower of Babel at sunset, Moraine Lake.

As a trail runner, it's easy to get up and down small objectives quickly. Hitting up these easy peaks before or after work, at unique times of the day, can be supremely satisfying. Tower of Babel at sunset, Moraine Lake.

When it comes to the "feedback loop" between me and the mountains, this indicates a

disconnect between my positive and negative emotions and what I can actually physically

accomplish. Sometimes I pussy­out on projects I'm knowingly capable of. Sometimes I

feel burnt out and turn back on perfectly "easy" peaks. Other times, it's truly a miracle that

my little legs can accomplish what my silly imagination can think up. This indicates an

independence between my mood and perceptions regarding the mountains, and their

reality. "Inspiration" is something I have sometimes exploited for success; in other

instances small worries have kept me from my goals.

This conflict and emotional collision between inflated fears and dreams characterizes the

mood of fall for me as a mountain runner, and much of mountaineering at the best of

times.

~~~~~~~~~~

I want to know how fall and the onset of winter impacts your mood as a trail runner. How

do you feel at the end of the long running season? Are you looking forward to some

much­needed rest and perhaps a little cross­training, or get stir­crazy like me? What does

fall mean to your mood?

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Welcome

Welcome to the Mountain Stride blog.  

You can expect to find a wide variety of topics covered on this blog.  Training, nutrition and race reports will all be central but there will also be guest posts on things that relate to health, fitness and the running lifestyle.  

So look out for posts from myself and other special guest posters in the near future!

Now get outside.

-Patrick Sperling