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Take a Hike

We’re letting you in on a little secret… If you are striving to be a better endurance trail runner, hiking might just be the elusive silver bullet.

In a recent article  by Outsideonline.com, hiking was described as the most underrated endurance workout around.

“There’s something special about moderately paced movement through nature that leaves one feeling refreshed, renewed, and satisfied. Because of that, hiking is rarely considered a sport in the same way as trail running or mountain biking, both of which are more acutely painful and taxing on the body. And yet recent studies show that a walk in the woods—especially at the right tempo - is a superb way to build endurance and strength.”

Image: Jonkershoek Mountain Challenge 

The pressure to hit the trails hard and fast in preparation for an endurance event can suck the joy right out of the training programme. We forget to look up or look out at the surrounding scenery, and focus our intent on speed or splits, rather than the gorgeous glute-building strength that comes from a long and winding climb with a heavier pack and full permission to stop and survey the scene. Trails have their own unique way of encouraging (inspiring?) increased effort, and an unbeatable ability to transform effort to in to pleasure.

“For a study published earlier this year in the journal PLOS One, a team of researchers affiliated with the University of Innsbruck in Austria had individuals complete two three-hour workouts under distinct conditions. The first was a “fast walk” on an indoor treadmill; the second was an outdoor hike through mountains. In the treadmill condition, the incline settings were contrived to mimic the outdoor route as closely as possible, so that the physical strain of both scenarios would be similar. (The researchers could not force the treadmills to decline, so outdoor downhill segments became indoor flat segments.)

During and immediately following both workouts, the researchers collected physiological and psychological measures. What they found is interesting, a bit paradoxical, and fully in support of hiking.

For starters, participants pushed themselves harder during the outdoor hike, as evidenced by heart rates that were, on average, six beats per minute higher. Given this, you’d think the participants would have experienced the outdoor hike as more tiring and perhaps less enjoyable. But the opposite occurred: They reported increased feelings of pleasure both during and immediately following the outdoor hike, and they said they felt less fatigued afterward. Put differently, going hard while hiking in nature feels easier than going hard indoors.”

Image: Marloth Mountain Challenge 

Hiking is a great break from the monotony of running or riding, providing decreased risk of injury and fitness that is easily transferred to various sports. In South Africa, we have a thriving community of hikers ready to absorb the trail running community across a myriad of trails.

Get your hike on by subscribing to pages such as https://www.hikingsouthafrica.co.za/ where trails are frequently reviewed, along with gear reviews and other resources.

SA mountain guru, Fiona Mcintosh outlines five of the best long distance hiking trails which include the Drakensberg Grand Traverse (KZN), the Wild Coast Hike (EC), Rim of Africa (WC), Otter Trail (WC) and the Tsitsikamma Hiking Trail (WC). These are some of the biggies, but local hiking communities can guide you to a route nearby. Or, just pack a little extra and head out in your trail shoes for a change in pace.

Jesse Kropelnicki, founder of triathlon training company QT2 Systems and coach to multiple Ironman champion athletes, loves prescribing day hikes as formal workouts.

Image: Helderberg Mountain Challenge

“Many athletes get so caught up in their daily swim, bike, and run routines that they begin to operate with complete tunnel vision when it comes to incorporating other activities into their training,” says Kropelnicki. “There are a few unorthodox workouts that—even during the race season—hold merit, are efficient, and are actually quite specific. One such workout is hiking.”

In addition to the psychological reprieve, Kropelnicki says hiking offers a handful of unique benefits for the body. “The total time spent on your legs and eccentric loading [that is, lots of downhill] are great for strength,” he says, “and the extended duration of taking in nutrition while working relatively hard helps train your gut to efficiently digest and use calories while active.”

So there you have it. Get stronger, enjoy a change of pace whilst improving your endurance by simply… taking a hike. Think of it as trail running, at photography pace.

Words: Kim Stephens