I walked with poles the other day in the snow up Kinder for the first time. Was a bit meh... definitely I think lets you power up hills quicker (you don't have to put your hand on your knee or a rock or whatever when you're doing a big step up); and then I think coming down hill made me a lot more stable but then on flat I was happy to put them away.
I'd really like to get to the point where I can run / walk a marathon or more up in the hills this year. I'd love to do the Welsh 3000s at some point (in my life). For context last year I ran an average of 20k per week but when I plotted this in a graph it was very jagged - I almost always did 10k one week then 30k next week. I didn't increase steadily.
I once saw a chap running up some fells in the lake district with poles. What's the pro's / con's of this do people think? Say if you were going to run/walk 20+ miles in the hills?
Is it more important for me to steadily increase my mileage week on week than to learn to run with poles if I want to do something like the 3000s? I wondered if it might reduce the strain on your knees because I often get pain for days in my left knee if I've pushed too far with distance or hills.
Sorry for the broad question! cheers
I'd say, up your distance first. Poles are a nice to have.
I've found them useful for uphill and downhill, as well as stability when running in mud and ice. However, I found they decrease your speed. Its easy to just plod along, like a giant mantis, without putting much effort into them. They work best when you actually push off with them. The bottom line, is if you're not fit, then you're going to struggle anyway. The extra few % that poles give you will be more than offset by the general lack of fitness and / or stamina.
I have found poles really useful on very long ascents, particularly in larger mountain ranges (Alps, Pyrenees). I don't tend to use them on shortish stuff or terrain with only short climbs.
Everyone has their own preference, but for me, they get in the way on the downhills and on the flat, so I have got some tiny foldable ones, and they slide into a rubber strap on pole carrying belt I bought. Those that use them all the time prefer sturdier poles that don't fold as neatly.
Another con for me is that it means having both hands occupied, so things like taking on food, drink or taking of a layer become a bit of a faff.
I would suggest that the poles are of secondary importance at this stage.
To run/walk a marathon in the hills is very doable this year and I would suggest increasing your running mileage by 10% a week with a recovery week every fourth week. Integrate hikes (with increasing distance) into your training as they will support the endurance required for goal events. Don't forget that you also need to include ascent on some of your runs too so keep an eye on total weekly ascent and push that out in increments, as above. Increasing ascent and mileage should be combined in your 10% to make gradual gains. Try and find some local routes that will mimic your goal event to to practice on.
Lastly, worth joining UKC Strava Club to get an idea of what fellow enthusiasts, with very different goals and ability do.
Enjoy whatever you decide to do!
PS: I have poles and do use them on longer days out.
I use my running poles only for uphills (unless the ground is icy, in which case I use them for stability on flat and downhills too)
I find that they help to do two things: decrease pressure on joints etc and maintain a good posture. They do not impact on my speed during one run, but improve recovery time and decrease injury likelihood - so do improve speed over a multi-day and improve speed overall across a 6 month period etc
As they are a bit of a faff to get in and out, I only tend to take them if the route is 18 miles + and has long sections of uphills (vs lots of little ups and downs)
Re your point about training, increasing your mileage week on week is ideal, without more than a 10% increase per week. There is no reason why you shouldn't combine an increase in mileage and height gain with the use of poles - the two are not mutually exclusive. Use poles on your weekly long slow runs and possibly on hill training, and not on any speed / interval training
As you do start to use poles, here are some considerations:
*weight - running poles are lovely and light - but the lighter they are the less functionality they have, e.g. mine do not adjust in height. I have learnt how to adapt my body position with the poles to suit the terrain, so have no need to adjust.
*storage - I tried 3 or 4 different ways of carrying poles when not in use. Ideally, borrow some and have a play before committing to a new pack / quiver / waist belt
*eating - generally on a long hilly run, you will want to eat on an uphill, but that is when you want to be using your poles. I have experimented and found food that I can eat either quickly or easily with poles in use
*nav - checking maps etc is harder with poles in hand! I use a GPS watch to help and also am strict with myself to check nav regularly even if I have to put my poles away
*safety - if you want to not use the poles for a short downhill section, hold your poles in one hand, with points downward. V important in a race / on a busy trail, as if you trip (or someone behind you trips into you) you want your sharp points to stick into the ground, not some random other person. Also be extra careful on styles!
Don't mind them for uphills on longer days out, especially if icy, but I only try to use them on the second half and not be overly reliant on them. At the same time, they add weight and are a pain to get out and put away.
When it comes to downhills, I find they just get in the way and become a trip hazard, to the point that on fast techy downhills I think they're dangerous to have out.
For those of you saying that poles are awkward and time consuming to take out and put away, you need to get a new pack !!
eg the Ultimate Direction ones have loops at top and bottom of each side, and you can fix a collapsed pole in about 10 seconds without taking the pack off or having to stop.
My pack is pretty similar to that. It's one thing putting them away in a shop while stationary like in the vid, but it's more of a pain on rough techy terrain while actually moving. It's not difficult by any means, but it's still a faff.
I thought downhill was worst for your knees so always thought poles would come into most use whilst going downhill - consensus from the responses here seems the opposite which is interesting.
I'll try adding 10% to my distance each week for the next 3 weeks then lowering my distance for week 4, then doing 10% more than week 3 in week 5 (and starting the cycle again).
My knee's still a bit sore from running too much just before xmas and doing loads of hills so I could get to two Everests last year haha
> eg the Ultimate Direction ones have loops at top and bottom of each side, and you can fix a collapsed pole in about 10 seconds without taking the pack off or having to stop.
I've got the UD AK3.0 and those loops have perished - the first one went just at the start of an 86km race with 5000m of vertical so I had to carry one pole round the whole way (the rules say if you start with poles, you finish with poles).
It took me a while to start using them. I started a couple of years back and only really use them on the long, slow stuff - all day+ ultras where there might be several climbs of an hour or more. I think it helps a bit, but like most stuff is probably more psychological, and being a marginal gain is probably one of the last things you want to be worry about until after you've got fitness, form, nutrition and experience under your belt.
Like many other here, I have used poles mainly on alpine uphills while carrying a pack. One advantage I found (unexpectedly) was that using pole helps you control you pacing - you have to be a little more deliberate and 'measured' to keep poles and legs in sync rather than resorting to inefficient 'hop, skip and jump' walking.
One thing I'm not convinced about is the 'less stress on joints' business. The force you generally put though poles is trivial compared to your weight. What they do compensate for is lack of core stability - particularly around the hips - so the small hip stabilizing muscles in hips don't have to work so hard keeping you balanced. Useful if you're not used to walking with a heavy pack, but ideally you should get the root cause (weak muscles) sorted rather than rely on poles.
They are certainly slower but help on super long days. I'd say even longer than the Welsh 3000ers.
More the big mountain run/hike days.
Downhill does batter your knees and quads but poles don't really take that much of a load off of them. You'll get even more battered if you trip over one when flying down a downhill and your arms can't keep up with your legs!
I can recommend Training for the New Alpinism by Steve House and Scott Johnston, or their Training for the Uphill Athlete, which they wrote with Kilian Jornet. You can get as down in the weeds and nerdy as you like or simply follow their training principles or plans.
I'm a relative novice to structured training for endurance sports, and over the last 9 months have benefited from and really enjoyed their work and advice. Feel free to drop me a line, if you want to chat about it!
I have posh folding poles that I bought before my second hip replacement, they were the next step after getting off a single crutch and before walking unaided. I even ran a couple of parkruns carrying a single pole for reassurance during my convalescence. I have tried using the pair on the hills, since getting back to fitness, but much prefer just to have one pole in my right hand, especially on rubbish descents like off Glyder Fach down to Tryfan. When we actually did the 3000s in 2019 I was quite happy not to carry any poles, despite using one in several of the recces/failed attempts. Last year I carried one around the Derwent Watershed and found it handy in some of the boggier sections. Yes, you can push off firmly to maintain pace but basically the pole supports half the weight of your forearm even if you don't push, thus saving some load on your knees...
I think get your mileage up as priority.
I carry light (and expensive) poles for stuff that warrants extra balance wherever it's needed, up, down or exposed trails. The poles are light enough to just carry, even two in one hand, and just use when needed. When not needed at all i collapse them and slide between my back and pack, only inside if there's no need at all in sight.
There’s a whole discussion on Jason Koop’s podcast with an Italian researcher who has tested poles in the lab with an inclined treadmill. Basically you get a few % improvement, but only for very steep slopes. But the test are very short and the consensus is that poles are useful in reducing muscle fatigue in longer efforts that are very difficult/ impossible to test in the lab or the field.
But as others have said, increase the distance first, maybe using poles on your longer runs.
I think the poles are a side issue. I would find a training plan which meets your objectives- run a mountain marathon- on Training Peaks or similar and stick to it, even the hateful VO2 max intervals and hill repeats. I like having my poles with me, but as I get fitter use them less and less.
Look after your knees....I started upping the distance I run a few years ago.....25 miles sort of thing.... 4 to 6 hours in the fells. I would get a mild ache in a knee for few days but didnt worry. I know have a worn out chronic meniscal damage that stopped me running. I think poles on the down hills will take strain off knees alot.
I guess listen to your body.....things wear out.
It sounds like your first priority should be to do some strength and conditioning! You should not have considerable soreness in any specific joint for days after a run, that is a sign of a problem which is likely to get worse if you don't do anything about it. Increasing mileage will not make it go away, quite the opposite.
There are lots of exercises you can do at home to stabilise your knee, though improving your core strength is likely to be needed as well.
Now all I need to do is heed my own advice...
> ... but it's more of a pain on rough techy terrain while actually moving...
I have a belt which is almost unused except for a bit of food and my phone, which I use as well as my pack - I can rotate it around my waist, stick the poles in and then pull them round to the back. This has worked better for me than any quiver or pack system - some of which have been utter failures and I have then had to carry the poles for 20 miles.
> I thought downhill was worst for your knees so always thought poles would come into most use whilst going downhill - consensus from the responses here seems the opposite which is interesting.
I think this might be a split between running and walking downhill.
Poles are very definitely useful for walking downhills, doubly so on long days/rough terrain.
For running downhill, I'm not even quite sure how you'd start to use them.
All this knee talk is disconcerting!
Someone in their 70s once told me every runner they've ever known had terrible knees in old age, this was before I ever ran.
Any tips where I can look for knee stopping hurting advice / exercises? I ran a (relatively) flat (couple of hills) 11km two days ago, as fast as I can comfortably, and my knee is not hurting now. I just checked by running up the stairs and down :-D.
Before this, after my big push of distance and hills over Xmas, it was hurting every day for about a week or so.
I don't think I'm running today but I am going to try and increase distance this week (I did 24km last week so this week going to try and do 26.5km, probably in 2 x 5km and 1 x 16km run between Wednesday and Sunday) so I'll see how my knee feels after the first 5km and go from there probably.
Cheers all this is helpful.
PS. I'm always anxious I have already, or will, damage my knee through running too much / irresponsibly and then I'll never be able to run again and I don't know what I'd do with myself
> I think this might be a split between running and walking downhill.
> Poles are very definitely useful for walking downhills, doubly so on long days/rough terrain.
Hmm, each their own, but I've always found that unless you are moving really slowly - e.g., heavy load - then they just get in the way. You're having to place 4 points of contact accurately instead of 2 - my brain struggles with that at any decent pace.
> PS. I'm always anxious I have already, or will, damage my knee through running too much / irresponsibly and then I'll never be able to run again and I don't know what I'd do with myself
Do what most old runners with knackered knees do: get a bike! Or even better, get a bike BEFORE knackering your knees.
Strong muscles and activity are good for your knees. I think lots of people give up running as their knees ache without working out why so whilst many runners say it’s good, none runners think it’s bad.
Look at your parents, your weight and previous injuries rather than running per se. Football seems far worse for the knees to me!
For a biased opinion look up knees and running on the runners world site
Thanks this is helpful, could you recommend any other resources I could look at for excercises / routines? Training for alpine fitness is out of stock everywhere!
I am over weight and hoping / planning to lose some weight this year which I am hoping will improve my running.
I've got a pretty decent gym set up at my house so could do exercises like squats etc. for leg strength / knees.
>Any tips where I can look for knee stopping hurting advice / exercises?
The knee, as with a lot of things running related, is complicated. E.g. People have dodgy footwork, but it may manifest as back or hip pain.
First thing to do is to identify where it hurts. Inside, outside, sharp pain, dull pain, going up hill or only on down hill, does it go away after a few km or get worse. Once you know what you're looking at, dr google will give you 200 conflicting answers. You can then start to narrow it down.
Generally stretching and foam rollers, go a long way to help many running niggles. As do core exercises. They are not as exciting as buying the latest new trainers, but the benefits last much longer.
I think most running websites will do basic strengthening routines, and there's loads of stuff on youtube. Just do have to be aware there's a lot of dross on youtube, but some useful stuff as well.
I'm taking the lockdown as an opportunity to sort out my core strength (which is shockingly poor!) and also sort out differences in strength - right quad is much stronger than left, left upper body seems stronger than right (and I'm right handed, how does that work?).
What kind of core exercises are you doing? the kind of stuff you do lying down on a matt like various leg raise / sit up type things? The kind of stuff you find if you search for core exercise routines?
I've tried to make a commitment to do core stuff this year, and would definitely benefit from stretching!!
James Dunne - Kinetic Revolution 30 day challenge
This is a good programme
I do a very easy “3 minute perfect plank” routine daily, plus a number of stretching and strengthing exercises culled from various sites that I find don't overstretch things too much.
As SouthernSteve as pointed out, James Dunne, (despite his slightly odd presentation) does some very good youtube stuff that you can take from. I might have a go at the 30 day challenge after a month of basic stuff.
> James Dunne, (despite his slightly odd presentation)
I have met him a couple of times, he seems a knowledgeable and straightforward type of person. Mrs SS swears by the 30 day challenge.
For the OP:
Remember pre-exercise stretching is not recommended these days, always warm up first or do 'dynamic' stretches before – often with a relatively small range of movement compared to the ones afterwards.
My warm-ups to date have consisted of waiting outside the house for the 5-10 seconds it takes for my watch to get GPS signal then running off immediately for a 30m-2 hour run.... hmm
I think some of it depends on if the terrain is too steep to run, hence power walking is required. Suppose that depends on your VO2 max vs's local leg muscle aerobic efficiency?
I think basically if the gradients are so steep alot of walking will occur, getting good at power walking with pole increase efficiency and reduces the local latic acid issue.
I think that logic applies no matter how fit you are? Infact less fit hill runners would be likely to need to power walk more I suppose.
Personally I think two things help my knees...
Do longer runs with rest days, not short runs every day to get the weekly mileage. This then gives longer recovery stints. I personally also get faster with this approach.
Legs and lower back weights. Think this just helps keep you in balance and the pelvis area aligned. The running only approach can cause muscle imbalances for me. I actually leg press fairly heavy once a week (180kg in reps of 4), but I think just see how you go.
At the very least I would recommend running the first kilometre or two slowly. Long strides on cold legs are a recipe for disaster.
> All this knee talk is disconcerting!
> Someone in their 70s once told me every runner they've ever known had terrible knees in old age, this was before I ever ran.
Nah it's more like 50% I think.
> Any tips where I can look for knee stopping hurting advice / exercises? I ran a (relatively) flat (couple of hills) 11km two days ago, as fast as I can comfortably, and my knee is not hurting now. I just checked by running up the stairs and down :-D.
Naturally the gold standard advice is to spend some time with a physio who can draw up an optimised plan for you. Otherwise knee exercises tend to focus on the muscles of the upper leg, as these support the knee. For example:
I would say that the key thing is to do things in lots of positions (normal squats plus wide leg squats plus asymmetric squats etc) so you work some of the off-centre muscle groups if you see what I mean. The same is true of core exercises - adding some side plank etc will make you stronger from side to side which is probably more important when it comes to keeping your knee tracking straight than having six pack abs.
Don’t forget your glutes. My experience is whenever you get injured a physio will blame weak glutes.
I do an online physio led pilates class which is really challenging and works pretty much everything. Lots of single leg balance work, hideous core work and truly painful glute work (and a few pushups).
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