How to Balance Hiking with Long Distance Running

How to Balance Hiking with Long Distance Running

Ryan and I are both runners and hikers, and often get questions about how we balance hiking with long distance running without being sore all of the time, without burning out, and without getting injured. More than anything, I think hiking has benefited my running both mentally and physically as an excellent form of cross-training. However, I understand the concerns that people have (I had them once too!), especially the risk of rolling an ankle and being unable to run, or being too sore from a hike for your next workout. So for today’s post, I want to share some tips for how to balance hiking with long distance running.

How to Balance Hiking with Long Distance Running

How to Balance Hiking with Long Distance Running

1. Wear supportive footwear.

Regardless of whether you wear neutral or stability shoes for your running, opt for a supportive shoe for hiking – and preferably a boot. When you hike, you navigate uneven, technical, and sometimes slippery terrain. Footwear with some stabilization and ankle support will minimize the likelihood of rolling an ankle or injuring your feet. Plus, happy feet means happy running and hiking! 

Just as you should with running shoes, go to REI or your local outdoor gear store and have an expert fit you for the appropriate hiking shoe.

2. Utilize trekking poles.

If you follow me on Instagram, you probably have seen several pictures of Ryan and I holding waist-height poles on our hikes. These are called trekking poles and I firmly believe these simple pieces of gear have improved how I balance hiking with long distance running, especially in terms of injury prevention.

Trekking poles provide more stability as you hike uphill and downhill, which decreases your risk of fall and incurring an acute injury. As we tackle more and more technical terrain, trekking poles help us keep our balance over boulder fields, through streams, and up steep inclines.

How to Balance Hiking with Long Distance Running

Studies such as a 2011 paper in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise has determined that trekking poles decrease the risk of musculoskeletal injury and reduces muscle soreness in the 48 hours after a hike. When you’re fitting hiking into a full training schedule, it’s good to know that you won’t derail your marathon plans with an injury or be too sore for tomorrow’s run!

3. Polarize your hiking, just like your running.

Polarization is the concept of keeping your hard effort days/weeks hard and your easy days/weeks easy. When applied to running, it minimizes your risk of injury while increasing physiological gains. The same holds true for hiking, especially when you’re striving to balance hiking with marathon or half marathon training. 

When I know I have a hard week of training (usually with a harder long run), Ryan and I opt for a harder, longer hike; when I’m running easier workouts or taking a cutback week, we hike a gentler trail. This way, I’m not decreasing the efficacy of a recovery week with a hard hike. 

4. Hike carefully and steady to reduce downhill impact.

The temptation emerges to speed up as you climb down the mountain, especially since gravity is in your favor. However, resist this temptation and take the downhills as slow and carefully as you hike the uphills. Why?

Whether you are running or hiking, downhill movements require eccentric contractions of the muscles in your legs. Eccentric contractions place more stress on your muscles. The impact of downhill movements are 3x that of uphill or flat movements, meaning that your muscles and feet will take quite the pounding. The last thing you want to do is add speed into that equation and end up with an overuse injury.

The only times Ryan and I have ever slipped and fallen on hikes were on steep downhills. No matter how careful you are, if you hike frequently enough you will likely slip on a wet rock or loose branch at some point. Since falls have the inherent risk of causing an acute injury such as an ankle sprain, don’t increase your risk of injury by flying down the mountain and being thoughtless in your foot placement. Hiking downhill slower and ensuring proper footing with each step on the downhill you can reduce your risk of injury.

5. Avoid the injury trap of too much, too soon.

Ryan and I have knocked out some challenging hikes recently, but we didn’t start there. Both when we began hiking and after the off-season, we started with shorter and flatter hikes, adapted to those, and then gradually increased our load with steeper and longer hikes. Begin with the hike equivalent of a couple hours on your feet (4-5 miles at gradual incline) and then progress to either steeper hikes OR longer hikes – just as you would increase only volume or intensity at once when training for a race.

6. Ensure you are eating enough. 

Long distance running burns a lot of calories. Hiking burns a significant amount of calories as well, so when you combine the two on a frequent basis – you burn a lot of calories throughout the week! Even if weight loss is your goal, you will still need to make sure you are eating enough calories so you do not deficit too much and risk problems such as undereating or female athlete triad

Eating enough while hiking is also essential. You fuel during long runs shorter in duration, so it makes sense to fuel for a 4+ hour hike! Nut and seed bars, trail mix, peanut butter sandwiches, jerky or these trail mix cookies make excellent hiking snacks – and pack more than you think you may need. Trust me, marathon or half marathon training runger can strike even when you’re out in the mountains!

7. Schedule your training appropriately. 

Trust me from experience on this one: do not do your long run the morning of a hard hike. In fact, if you’re hiking for longer than a couple hours or on a challenging trail, schedule your hike on a day in which you don’t run, if possible. Fresh muscles are desirable for hiking, since you want maximum stabilization, balance, strength, and endurance. 

Want to start hiking? You may enjoy these posts:
A Beginner’s Guide to Hiking
What to Wear for Hiking in Cold Weather

What concerns would you have about balancing hiking with long distance running?
When does runger strike you the most?


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23 Responses

  1. I would be interested to know how my body would balance my riding with my long distance running. More so from a time perspective, I guess. I used to ride 3-4 horses a day, then run a few miles, and then do weights for an hour! Oh, the days of being indestructible, lol. Now I’m like PSH NOT

    1. Wowsa that’s a lot of exercise! It’s amazing what our bodies can handle in that 14-22 range. And then even in the mid-20s, our bodies are like “whoa slow down!! Take it easy!”

    1. It’s challenging for the full – much easier for the half marathon – but it definitely has great cross-training benefits! Plus it’s nice to get out and move without worrying about pace or distance as much.

  2. I’ll be honest… I don’t like walking. I love the views of the hike but the actual doing of it feels like the biggest ass dragging of my life. Maybe if I had Charlie with me, I’d enjoy it a lot more. 🙂

  3. Okay….I am so ready to get out and hike more!!! If only there was more time between the baseball games, running, strength training…..oh life. 😉

    Great tips today, Laura! Thank you for sharing!!

    1. Thank you! lol I count hiking as a day of strength training as well – especially with a heavier pack and a steep incline you get a good workout there!

  4. Before kids, we used to do a lot of hiking and I miss it! I definitely think it helps in overall running fitness too, without the impact. Enjoy having access to gorgeous trails and the freedom to use them! 🙂

    1. Thank you! We are definitely enjoying how much freedom and access we have right now. After living in an area with no hiking it still feels surreal to get to do this!

  5. Hiking poles – YES! When I started using mine, it made a world of difference. Especially on the descent. That’s when my knees, ankles and back feel it. But with poles, I can put some weight on it and off of me. Great tips!

    1. They truly do make such a difference! I’ve noticed I fatigue less quickly during a hike with them. I used to think they looked funny until I used them – and now I don’t like to hike without them. And thank you!

  6. I’m aiming for some 25K and 30K trail races this summer and working on a training plan that includes running and hiking. I need to keep some of these tips in mind as I try to figure that out!

    1. I’m glad you found these helpful! oohhhhh those races sound so fun, especially when the training is both running and hiking! Good luck on your training! 🙂

  7. Great post and terrific tips! Curious… Do you recommend including your hiking mileage with your weekly running mileage? While I keep track of both, I don’t include my hiking mileage with my running mileage totals. But the more I think about it, hiking is still time on my feet, using similar muscles.

    Thank you!

    1. Thank you! I personally don’t include my hiking mileage in with my running mileage, since it’s a different stress on the body and hiking mileage represents a much longer time on my feet – but I do factor the time on my feet into my overall training and count it as a workout day, not a rest day.

  8. I am wanting to train for a 50 miler this summer but also want to be able to get out and do my hiking/backpacking! Do you ever substitute hiking with running? Do you think I should run extra miles to make up for miles I didn’t hike? Curious if you have any tips in this regard.

    Thanks for the tips!

    1. Hi Lindsey! That’s awesome you are training for a 50 miler! If it is a trail 50 miler, a combination of running and hiking will prepare you well for the race, since you will likely include power hiking in the race. I never sub hiking for running for road race training (I do it as a cross-training workout), but training for a trail race or ultra is different. Hiking as part of a run or in place of a run is more specific to the demands of a trail ultra. You could add hikes on as runs or do one hike per week in place of an easy run, depending on your plan.

  9. I’m signed up for my second marathon in October. My wife’s 40th birthday is a week before and she wants us to go do a big hike to the summit of a mountain a few hours away. It’s over 3,000 meters at the top. I’m looking forward to it but nervous about how my legs will feel that week after. We do a lot or short hikes. This will probably be 13-15km up, split over 2 days, then back down. In place of my final weekend runs the week before the marathon? 😬⛰🏃🏻‍♂️🤞🏼

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