I have to be the first to admit that I have never used poles for running but I decided to write about them after a recent off road experience where I happened to overtake a runner using poles. I can’t say that any of this comes from my own experience, rather the opinions of others that do use them. While I am determined to get by without ever having to use them, I can see the benefits of them and there have been occasions when they would definitely have helped me. Cheddar Gorge 30 miles into a 56 mile ultra springs to mind! Anyway, let’s take a look at running with poles, how they could help you and in what situations. 

The Benefits of Running Poles

There are many benefits to running with poles. Some of the most common include:

  • Increased efficiency: Poles can help you run more efficiently by transferring energy from your upper body to your lower body. This can help you conserve energy and run longer distances.
  • Improved balance: Can help you improve your balance, especially on uneven terrain. This can help you avoid injuries and make running more enjoyable.
  • Reduced impact: They can help to reduce the impact on your joints, especially your knees and hips. This can help you prevent injuries and run longer distances.
  • Increased power: Assist in generating more power when running uphill. This can help you improve your speed and performance.
  • Improved posture: Poles can help you improve your posture by keeping your back straight and your shoulders relaxed. This can help you avoid injuries and make running more comfortable.

When talking to another runner that uses them, he said they took the pressure off his sore feet and allowed him to run more comfortably. Some just like to have them when they get tired and want some assistance. There are many different types of walking/running poles available, so it is important to find a pair that is the right length, weight, and material for you.

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When to Use Poles

There is a time and place for poles. Some say that if a course has over so many feet of elevation they will then start to use poles. This might be 3000-4000 metres for some. Others prefer to have them for anything over 30 miles with a fair amount of elevation. It’s a balance with how long it will take vs how much vert there is. If you are likely to be out there for anything more than 6 hours with around 4000 metres of climb or more, you may decide to take poles.

They need to be lightweight – consider how much kit you already have to carry. Fortunately, most poles are lightweight and many hydration vests actually come with special pockets for your poles so that you can strap them to your vest. Pick up a carbon pair of poles to ensure that they are as light as can be. Make sure you do a practise long run with all of your kit so that you can make sure you are comfortable and not weighed down.

You also want to consider the terrain before deciding whether to include poles as part of your kit. Rocky, uneven terrain may end up with your oles stuck in crevices which is going to cause you issues, especially when running and not hiking. You will soon be able to work out if they are a help or a hindrance when you are out on the course doing your recce runs.

Leki is considered a good brand of running poles and come in various models to suit different budgets.

Mountain King are another brand of pole that are popular with trail runners.

Tips for Using Poles

Here are some tips for using poles:

  • Hold the poles in your hands with your elbows bent at a 90-degree angle.
  • Use the poles to push off when you start running and when you are running uphill.
  • Use the poles to help you balance when you are running downhill and on uneven terrain.
  • Keep the poles close to your body when you are not using them. This will help you avoid tripping over them.
  • Do not lock your elbows when you are using the poles. This can put stress on your joints.
  • Use the poles to help you maintain good posture. This will help you avoid injuries.
  • If you are new to using running poles, start by using them for short runs and gradually increase the distance as you get more comfortable.
  • Make sure you are confident with unpacking and packing them ahead of any long runs or races.

Poles can be a great way to improve your running performance and reduce your risk of injuries. If you are considering using them, be sure to choose the right poles for your needs. Also, and with anything you are going to use on race day, practice using them beforehand. It’s wise to use them on a shorter run to get used to the feel of them and the technique. Just like your trail running technique, it’s going to require a little practise before it feels natural.