Efficiency of Running vs Walking Uphill

Have you been plugging along on a trail run, come to a section of climbing and wondered if you should try to run the whole uphill or try to power hike?  At what point does it become more efficient to walk the hill vs try to run it? In the road running world it is more commonly accepted to try and run most of the hills because they are lower in grade and usually not as long sustained as some of the climbs that you may come across on the trails.  When I first transitioned to trail running there was definitely a learning curve of knowing when to run the hills and when to walk them. At first I tried to run all of them, coming from that road running mentality. I quickly noticed that most of my running group would be power hiking (the glorified term us trail runners affectionately use for walking uphill) and would ultimately make it to the top of the climbs faster than me who was expending a lot of energy trying to run it.    

The simplest starting point for you to know which way is most efficient for you is to monitor your pace uphill.  If you are trying to run it and you are going slower than an 18:00 m/m (minute/mile) then it is likely steep enough that you would be more efficient power hiking.  This becomes especially more effective the longer the hill is. Think of the story of the tortoise vs the hare. The hare may initially sprint past you but will quickly reach his lactic acid threshold and have to slow down significantly while you (the power hiking tortoise) is steady-eddying it to the top of the climb.  Now there is going to be some play with these numbers, depending on your fitness level but start with that 18:00 m/m number and make your individual rules from there. A large component of a successful race finisher isn’t just about their ability to run fast, it’s about their ability to be most efficient over different terrains and knowing when to be the tortoise and when to be the hare is going to give you the competitive edge you need.

Run smart,
Coach K