Walk, Don't Run - Page 2
When to Walk
First, you must first decide that you are willing to walk, which may be difficult for runners who have primarily run shorter distances or come from a road-running background. If in doubt, try it in training or a low-key race environment. Know that you're not swallowing your pride when you walk; you're simply taking part in an activity that includes both running and walking.
To determine when to start walking, look for two clues. If your breathing is ragged on any hill, that's an excellent sign you should be walking. In addition, unless you're nearing the finish line, if you're running up a hill and everyone around you is walking, take the hint. Tonya Olson, a physical therapist, learned that lesson early in her ultrarunning career, "If everyone experienced in a sport is engaging in an activity, then maybe you should, too."
When does Max King switch to walking? "It's usually when I'm redlining and I just need a quick break to bring my heart rate back down a few beats. Also, if I figure out that walking is just as fast as running, then it's pointless not to walk."
As you gain experience, you will build awareness of how to maintain an even effort on the ups, flats and downs. You'll know when to downshift from running to walking on a hill. Obviously, this perceived target effort tends to be harder in racing than in training and harder in shorter runs than in longer ones.
How to Walk
The most common mistake is walking and using the wrong muscles. Says Olson, "You should push yourself up the mountain with your glutes, rather than pull yourself with your quads and calves." Not only will you be using a bigger set of muscles when you need them most, you'll be resting other muscles for running the trail.
To help engage your glutes (aka butt muscles), lean slightly forward with your center of mass slightly in front of your pelvis. However, don't hunch over, and keep your back straight.
Once you are employing your glutes, focus on shortening your stride (when you look down, your line of sight should fall even with your toes) and maintaining an even cadence. Long strides with a large moment of suspension are a big energy waster.
Consider using trekking poles while walking up extremely steep or long climbs, particularly in marathon or longer events. They can help you power up a hill. In contrast, avoid using your hands on your knees while you're climbing, as that's a sign you're engaging your quads rather than your glutes.
The single best way to improve your uphill walking? Practice. Otherwise, Olson advises trying any activity or exercise that isolates the glutes, such as side-lying hip abduction, a single-leg bridge or a split squat with your rear foot elevated (see http://www.tensegrityphysicaltherapy.com/exercises.html).