One Dirty Magazine

Trail Running Involves Walking, And That Is Freaking Awesome

Walking doesn’t make you less of a trail runner.

David Roche September 23rd, 2019

Trail Running Involves Walking, And That Is Freaking Awesome

Walking is an essential part of trail running. Almost every trail runner on the planet walks, from the fastest superbeast to the superathlete just starting out. Walking is imperative for efficiency, speed and health, even if it might not be on every magazine cover. So the message of this article is simple: walking is something to celebrate with love and joy. Walking doesn’t make you less of a trail runner … in fact, embracing walking may be part of what makes you a true trail runner. 

It all gets back to the challenge and variability of the sport. “Trail running” is a catch-all term that captures a lot of different activities. There’s Northern California-style singletrack, where the presence of a single rock will start a criminal investigation against the park manager. There’s Colorado-style high country, where I’m guessing the trail designers take extra-strength CBD gummies before drawing straight lines to the top of mountains and calling it a day. There’s Pennsylvania, where the rocks seem to be sentient, and all of them are free-market jerks that voted for Gary Johnson.

I could make gross generalizations all day, but to channel Walt Whitman, the point is that the sport contains multitudes. There are different trails, different distances, different mindsets. Every athlete with every different type of trail experience is welcome under the trail-running tent. And no matter where they live or what their goals, almost every athlete in that tent will be doing a lot of walking.

Everyone Walks

At the Western States 100 this year, Matt Daniels ran some of the fastest times in the brutal canyons sections. To be precise, he walked many of those trails, but I don’t think anyone would call what Matt did that day a walking race. He’s the ultimate runner, a sub-4-minute miler with unlimited ability. Now, he channels that speed with lots of power walking all over the globe. 

My mom is a trail runner just like Matt. She is 68 and suffered from a near-fatal internal bleed in May. A few months later, she is stronger than ever on the trails. For her, that means mostly walking, with some running when the terrain is smooth and there is less fall risk. 

At the Trail Runner Running Campo back in July, the fastest runners walked consistently on uphills. At the World Mountain Running Championships back in 2014, a 12K race up a mountain, I got passed by the whole Italian team as they walked faster than I could ever dream of running. Jim Walmsley walks, Kilian Jornet walks, Courtney Dauwalter walks, Clare Gallagher walks. So does the beginner athlete on their first trail run, the intermediate athlete in their first trail 10K, and the expert veteran racing a trail marathon.

Own Your Walking

Walking is ubiquitous in this sport. But behind the scenes, I don’t see people being as loving and accepting of themselves when they find themselves walking. Athletes will lament in their training logs, “Walked the whole climb, wouldn’t even call myself a runner,” or “Had to walk over the technical trails.” It will be tinged with sadness and self loathing as if walking is something to be ashamed of. 

Screw shame! In all contexts, shame deserves to be locked in a chest and buried on a remote island, as it’s an emotion that ignores just how amazing and perfect you are no matter what. But even if you don’t agree with that touchy-feely stuff, shame about walking as a trail runner is ridiculous because everyone walks. Put Kipchoge on some trails and he’s walking, just like my mom has to walk on some trails. If we start making value judgments on what type of walking is OK and what isn’t, we’re just looking for reasons to exclude others or harmfully evaluate ourselves.

So embrace your walking swag. Walk with purpose, using good form and training it like any other skill. Lean forward, use your arms, mix in some run steps if the terrain calls for it, walk the whole thing if not. Walk when you need to based on your background and goals, whether that’s on uphills, on flats, on downhills. Walk with passion and love and joy, because it’s sometimes the most efficient way to cover ground and explore your limits, and other times it’s just the most fun option in the moment.

For some of you, that might mean that you walk the whole time you’re out there. Are you a trail runner? I bet you can guess where this is going. HECK, YES, YOU’RE A TRAIL RUNNER. 

Run/walk up a steep mountain? You may be Kilian Jornet, and you’re a trail runner. 

Walk during an ultra? You may be Matt Daniels, and you’re a trail runner. 

Walk during a short mountain race? You may be a member of the Italian national team, and you’re a trail runner. 

Walk consistently for breaks? You may have been a rockstar at the Trail Runner Running Camp, and you’re a trail runner. 

Walk most of the time? You may be my mom, and you are a trail runner. 

Walk the whole time? You 👏🏻 are 👏🏻 a 👏🏻 trail 👏🏻 runner.

Crutch on some dirt, roll a wheelchair over some gravel, think about one day maybe shredding some single-track? Trail runner, trail runner, trail runner.

Does this article have a point? I’m not really sure, thesis statements are not my strong suit. All I ask is to not let the speed you go on trails or the method of locomotion you use to go that speed define how you interpret your experience. You and Kilian and my mom are all going to walk sometimes, and that is such a cool shared experience. Trail running can be unconditionally inclusive. And it gets back to what I see as a simple truth of trail running:

Walking is not a momentary break from being a trail runner. I’d argue that owning your walking awesomeness is part of what makes you a trail runner in the first place. 

David Roche partners with runners of all abilities through his coaching service, Some Work, All Play. His book, The Happy Runner, is about moving toward unconditional self-acceptance in a running life, and it’s available now on Amazon.

 

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Dana MeskeBill ReishAllan HoltzRickMelissa Recent comment authors
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Melissa
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Melissa

Love this. You are awesome, I look forward to these articles all week, and I’m glad your mom healed up well <3

David Roche
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David Roche

Thank you so much Melissa! This lifts my soul up a ton, you are an incredible person!

Chris
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Chris

Five days out from a weekend 50k in which run/hike/walks are central to my finishing/PR strategy, this is a terrific validation and reminder. Thanks, David.

Robert Brodey
Guest

Yup, walking is all part of the trail running gig. It’s required for recovery and is often a more efficient use of energy on a long run — particularly in alpine terrain. Still, I do suffer occasional bouts of self-loathing about it…

JoeM
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JoeM

this is just what i needed to read. i ran my first 50K over the weekend and struggled with the fact that I had to walk the last 5 miles after cramps & GI problems made running impossible. it was a rough finish but a finish nonetheless.

Jen
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Jen

I see a wave of serious backlash coming your way, but, I.Love.This. Thank you!

Amanda Weilandt
Guest

LOVE THIS SO MUCH!!! I try to tell this to both new and experienced trail runners all the time!!!

philip lescano
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philip lescano

thank you for the uplift…i often feel like a failure if i walk…44 years of running thinking speed is the only measure of a runner…hard thinking to break but your writing really helps. need to read your book!

X Y
Guest
X Y

I agree with this article except when you write “think about one day maybe shredding some single-track…trailrunner.” No, no, no, no, no!!! Trailrunners walk, they crawl, they sit down or even sleep on the trail but a trailrunner DOES NOT think about one day. A couch potato thinks about one day.

Greg D
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Greg D

leave poor hapless Gary Johnson out of it….heck, just don’t mention anything political…i think we’ve all had enough already…even if you pick on the little guy its still too much

and yes we all walk a lot, especially a life-long mid-packer like me

John Bryan
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John Bryan

Thanks Greg D – my thoughts as well. I’ve spent the last ten or so years completely ignoring “the news” and have been a happier, healthier person for doing so. Running is a sanctuary so let’s not muddy things up with (not really all that funny) cultural/political references. Otherwise, a very insightful article on walking – no way I’d every haul my chunky carcass through a long trail run without walking!

Cindy
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Cindy

Thank you for validating that walking is okay! I’ve so often shamed myself for walking instead of running. This is awesome! Thank you so much!

KellyDawn
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KellyDawn

Beyond thankful for your articles. Every time I feel like I’m smiling and nodding my head. Thank you 🙂

Frank P Agius
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Frank P Agius

Great article, and I’m glad to know that i’m not the only one out there walking. Just think about all of those that can’t. Celebrate and embrace everything physical that your able to do.

Doug
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Doug

I did the Mt Washington Road Race, when you can walk faster than you can run it’s time to walk. There were plenty of opportunities to improve your time by walking, at least for me.

Tom Noll
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Tom Noll

Dana, so good to see your name. I lost track of you after Leadville about twenty years ago. Run On!
Tom N

Atlanticred
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Atlanticred

Great article! Best advice I ever got when I started trail running: if you can’t see the top, power hike it. Have used this to win (age group!) multiple mountain races despite being a mediocre road runner. Sometimes walking really is faster.

al dimicco
Guest

Thanks so much for this. As I get older (I’m 72) it’s hard mentally to consider walking as running. I’ve done over 150 marathons/ultras and still am out there. As I perfect my fast walking with slow running, I can enjoy this crazy sport. Thanks again.

Will
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Will

During a tough climb in Toro Park in a Spartan race, I power walked and actually passed someone who was running. Embrace the power hike/walk.

Marshall Brown
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Marshall Brown

I, like your mom, are older and dealing with physical limitations. Thanks for the reminder that even though I walk at least as much as I run, I’m still a trail runner and ultra runner. Your article was a mental boost that I truly appreciated

L Christenberry
Guest
L Christenberry

This means a lot to me. Our physicality gets complex as we age, and at 55 with pituitary tumor surgery in my rear view mirror, I’m walking more than not, but I’m getting out there. Thanks. And kudos to your mom.

Dayofthe Dog
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Dayofthe Dog

Went on vacation this summer and scoped out a great trail run that turned out to be too technical and rock filled to run very of it. I enjoyed the chance to look around more because I was walking so much of it. My only problem was I didn’t bring enough food to account for the much slower time it took me to do the distance than it would on my usual trails.

Diana Wikblom
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Diana Wikblom

Lovely, I really need to save this article and read it over and over until I get this in my head. Because you are so right!

Alberto
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Alberto

Cool post, David. I also do my power walking, sometimes not so powerful, during long trails or in technical terrain, even on steep climbs. That´s all about trail running!!

Aaron
Guest

Awesome article!! Sometimes when I talk about an upcoming ultra race I feel the need to qualify the distance with a comment, “Well, there is a lot of walking…” if for no other reason to point out longer distances aren’t superhuman, just regular ‘ol human. 🙂

Maybe a new word for ‘trail runner’ someday that incorporates the fact that we all walk, something cool like traceur for parkour aficionados? Traverser?

Kristen
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Kristen

Running my first 25K trail race this weekend and reading your article helped put my mindset in a much better place!

Always enjoy watching you on Ginger Runner! Thanks for always having such a supporting and positive outlook on trail running.

Kev
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Kev

So very true👍

Firefly56
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Firefly56

Thank you, thank you! For so long I have had the attitude of “walking is not the performance I was looking for.” Now I will embrace it and be proud!

Brady
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Brady

David (and Megan), I absolutely love your writing. After reading your writing for the first time, I went and purchased ‘The Happy Runner’ immediately. I am only in the first half of the book, yet everything I have read resonates so clearly and soundly (even the negative things). I am already trying to focus more on process, live in the moment, and being mindful of love. It’s been awesome. As a runner, and as a Human, I feel that I can connect with these values and I appreciate the message you two are sending to the world!

John Pick
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John Pick

Thanks for this article. I’m a 67 long time runner who is contemplating my first trail ultra. Walking in my training and my race would be an absolute must. Thank you for removing the stigma!

Anita Heybourne
Guest

Thank you so much for this article. As someone who used to run everything i now find myself
mostly walking with some running added in, like the downhills, like the soft grass. Learning to manage injury and an ageing body that doesn’t recover like it used to is humbling.

skim
Guest
skim

No need to convince me that walking is necessary/beneficial in certain terrains. If the elites do it, then recreational runners like me should feel no shame in walking during training or racing. However, if walking is nothing to be ashamed of, why is it excluded in the name of this magazine? Why is the verb “walk” hardly ever associated with our sport of trail running or ultra running? It seems that if we indeed should embrace walking, if we acknowledge that walking is an essential part of trail running, then we shouldn’t hide it at all in our personal persona.… Read more »

Robert H
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Robert H

Thanks for the great perspective! Im working through an injury and working through your book! Thanks for the encouragement!

Paul
Guest
Paul

Wow, thank you so much for this, I love running trails, but due to knee problems I am now limited to was walking. Hopefully one day I can run again , but for now I am a trail walker. Uplifting article. Thank you.

Melissa
Guest
Melissa

Learning that most people walked during ultras/trail runs was the biggest surprise (and relief) when I first branched out from road to trail. Thanks for the validation!

Rick
Guest
Rick

Heartening post! I’m brand spanking new to the idea of calling myself a “trail runner”, and have struggled primarily to use that term due to the walking. I’ve got a fast-twitch nature and blast up the hills, but the downhills have walking to save my knees, and I’m also just low in endurance stamina…..so I walk a fair bit. Still, the intent is to run/get better at running, and I thinking that’s really what matters!

Allan Holtz
Guest
Allan Holtz

I am 69. I started running at age 43. I am much slower now and my walking speed is not much slower than my running speed. For any distance longer than 5 miles I can walk it as fast as I can run it. For longer distances, I can walk it faster than I can run it. I recently finished the Lean Horse 100 by walking all of it. Three weeks later I became the oldest finisher ever of the Superior 50 mile by walking the first half and adding a little running on the smoother downhills the second half.… Read more »

Bill Reish
Guest
Bill Reish

Fantastic article. I’ll be running a 50k for my upcoming 65th birthday and will be rewiring my thinking on walking during a race. The information David wrote in the story needs to be read by anyone who runs trail races of any distance.

Dana Meske
Guest
Dana Meske

This article was exactly what I needed to read! I completed my first 50k last weekend and I was beating myself up about the amount of walking I had to do to get it done. Thank you for putting pen to paper and sharing this! ♡

 

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