How Hiking Can Fit into Your Marathon Training

One of many hikes with the kids this summer.

For runners who also enjoy hiking it can be a challenge to know how hiking can fit into your marathon training plan without you feeling sore all the time or getting injured.

Hiking can be approached in so many different ways depending on the type of elevation, length of the hike, your pace, and how many rest breaks you take.

I personally feel that hiking can take the place of easy runs, be done on some cross training days (as long as you’re not neglecting strength work), and even be an occasional substitute for long runs.

How Hiking Can Fit into Your Marathon Training

Substitute for easy runs and cross-training days

If you’re on vacation and will be doing a lot of hiking there’s really no point in trying to fit in all your scheduled runs in addition to your hiking (unless you’re doing very easy hikes- like with young children with short legs). Then you may want to do something more cardiovascular in nature on your own.

The great thing is that trail running and hiking can be very similar. They both help build lower body strength and balance. Plus, they’re also associated with lower anxiety and decreased risk of depression. Getting out in nature can be healing! I love the challenge of pushing to the top of a ridge or mountain, enjoying the view, and then having the satisfaction of hiking or running down.

We spent much of the summer hiking in Montana, Alaska, and Alberta. Trevor believes all the hiking up mountains prepared him for the Jungfrau Marathon in Switzerland which involved ten miles of relentless uphill hiking to reach the mountain finish line.

Use your same gear

Much of the gear that you use for trail running and hiking are interchangeable. I often wear my running clothes, hydration pack, and trail shoes for hiking (which helps with reducing the need to pack lots of duplicates if you’re traveling).

Trevor likes to hike in trail running shoes, plus hydration vest and tracking poles

  • Make sure that you have comfortable and sturdy hiking shoes/trail shoes. I’m currently using Altra Lone Peaks
  • We like hiking in trail running shoes but if you have problems with ankle sprains you may want a boot that comes up over the ankle.
  • Another thing you may want to consider is having trekking poles. Using poles can reduce the intensity on your lower body which can save energy on longer hikes or for other activities. Trevor uses Leki Trecking Poles
  • Another good safety measure is to make sure you’ve studied a map of the area, have considered the weather conditions, planned for your food and water needs, and have possibly told someone else about your route and ETA.

Other considerations

Many people worry about falling while hiking and it does happen, especially on the downhills or in wet/slippery conditions. One key is to keep your weight over your center of gravity and keep your knees soft on the downhills. If you can avoid the braking motion it makes for less of a jolting motion and makes it easier on your knees.

Also, since hiking can burn a lot of calories make sure that you’re eating enough and refueling afterward with protein. That will help preserve muscle strength and endurance. I always like to get out hiking in the couple days post-marathon because it helps work out tightness and I seem to recover more quickly.

Before doing a lot of hiking you definitely need to evaluate where you’re at in your training schedule and how important the upcoming race is to you. If you’re training for a PR then you’ll want to be more intentional about when and how you hike (allowing time for recovery and avoiding injury).

It’s also best to avoid doing a long or strenuous hike the day before your long run. Hiking the day after your long run might be a better choice. The key is to listen to your body and not ignore signals that you’re overdoing it.

To hear about our adventures hiking and running across the US and Canada this summer check out Angie and Trev’s Most Excellent Summer Adventure part 1 and part 2.

3 Responses to How Hiking Can Fit into Your Marathon Training

  1. Tim in VN August 9, 2020 at 5:53 pm #

    I am signed up for a marathon October 18th. This is also right around the time of my wife’s birthday and she really wants to go do a hike that will take us up to the summit of a 3,000 meter mountain. The hike would be split into 2 days, and would be 8 days before the marathon. What do you think? Would appreciate any thoughts or suggestions.

  2. Angie Spencer August 10, 2020 at 12:30 pm #

    Hey Tim, As long as you’re doing some longer hikes in the weeks leading up to your 2 day trip it should be just fine. In general you want to avoid doing any new activities in the days leading up to a marathon to avoid potential soreness. However, if it’s a week before the marathon you should have time to rest up after the hike and recover from any muscle soreness. Good luck with your marathon training (and hiking) 🙂

    • Tim in VN August 10, 2020 at 6:46 pm #

      Thanks Angie! We do regular hiking as a family, though nothing that long or steep. We have some longer ones we can do leading up to it though. Can’t wait to get to the top of Bạch Mộc Lương Tử (Ky Quan San), then do my second Hanoi Marathon. Thanks.

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