5 Tips for Running in the Mountains

By Tom Amaral

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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.