To Walk or Not to Walk?

Any time I go for a run with a running group on a particularly steep hill, I hear a lot of comments such as “be sure to conserve your energy on the hills” and “don’t let your pride get in the way of walking the hills”. This always seemed strange to me, is conserving energy a common excuse used among runners so they can walk difficult section of a course without feeling bad about it or does it actually contribute to a faster overall race time? I set out to find the answer.

The justifications I have heard for walking up particularly steep sections of hills always boils down to energy conservation. I found that it can actually be beneficial to your overall race time to walk some hills in some situations. It is very similar to coming out too fast in a race. When you come out with too fast of a pace in a race and expend too much energy you can not maintain as past a pace over the remainder of the race thus resulting in a slower overall time. Walking up hills is very similar, if you expend too much energy on running them then it is possible that you will not have enough energy for the remainder of the race to get your optimal time. Clearly then, the decision to walk up a hill would depend on, where the hill is in the run, your current fitness level, and many other details.

Photo by Competitor

Even Max King, elite trail runner, walks up hills on occasion. In the 12K 2010 World Mountain Running Championships he managed to be the second American finisher by walking about 1/3rd of a kilometer over the race up particularly steep sections of the course.

I didn’t walk much, but there was a steep two-mile section of which I walked probably 10 percent. I never like to [walk], but sometimes it just makes sense.

-Max King

There are many different ways to walk a hill.  The correct form can be determined based on current fatigue level during the race as well as heart rate. The different variations of walking hills allow your body to recover and conserve energy in unique ways.

Try not to use energy conservation as an excuse during a run to walk because you are tired. When used appropriately in moderation and during the correct circumstances, walking can in fact yield a faster overall pace.

What are your experiences with walking up a steep hill vs powering though? How else do you conserve energy on race day?

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