The Benefits of Using Running Poles when Racing

Racing across technical and hilly ground provides an added challenge to the body’s muscles and joints so we have teamed up with Charlie from Mountain Run...

Charlie Sproson
By Charlie Sproson


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Racing across technical and hilly ground provides an added challenge to the body’s muscles and joints so we have teamed up with Charlie from Mountain Run to discuss the benefits and top tips of using running poles when racing. 


Photo credit: Route North  

Top Tip 1 – Use the straps!


Don’t grip the handles; they are not designed for that. Use the strap supplied and work out slick ‘connection and disconnection’ using the strap and release button. Using the poles this way will give all the power through the strap and heal of the hand, exactly as it's designed and make sure the strap is close fitting, not tight, but firm, as you want all the power transfer without compromising blood flow.


 Photo credit: James MacKeddie

Top Tip 2 – Working in opposites


Nordic Walking works with opposing forces. Using the poles at walking pace is what 98% of ultra runners will do in a hilly or mountainous ultra. Getting the right technique will mean you are as efficient as you can be. Nordic Walking is the same as taking a stroll, your arms move opposite to your legs. Left leg, right arm, right leg, left arm and so on. Make sure the poles strike at roughly 45˚ to the ground, thereby giving you propulsion and striking behind your foot, so there is no trop hazard.


Photo credit: Route North  

Top Tip 3 – Double Pole Plants


Steep terrain can be challenging and when racing, you'll need as much power as you can generate to get to the top of the hills. By using the double pole plant, this will generate the power to get you to the top. 


As the angle increases and you start to ascend the steep hills, double poling can be a really effective technique. Place both poles, still angled at roughly 45˚ to the ground [think about it], planting the tips at the same time, this will gain you more effective drive. Forget the cadence of poles to footwork and walk through your poles until they stop being effective, bring them back through and start the cycle again. Resume normal Nordic Walking once moving on less steep inclines.


Photo credit: Andy Jackson  

Top Tip 4 – Lightly does it!


No need to hammer your poles into the ground, all this is going to do is shorten the poles life, cause shock to load through the pole and ultimately transfer into your hand and wrist. Mile after mile, km after km, you are just adding to stress in your joints.


Have a light touch; we teach to imagine an egg in the hand, uncooked, that if you grip too hard, it smashes, same with the pole placement. Lightly does it, just use enough force to hit the ground and then steadily increase the pressure through the cycle, giving a little kick at the end, when you become fluid with it all. Overall, don’t try too hard and this will help to stop you ramming them into the ground.


Photo credit: Route North 


Top Tip 5 – Running with Poles is different to walking with them


Efficiency is key over ultra distance races, the longer you go, the more important this becomes. When walking in ultras, Nordic Walking is the style you need. When running in ultras, then use ‘Running with Poles’.


At Mountain Run we teach a 1, 2, 3, 4 technique. The poles plant 2 times to every 4 foot steps, meaning less time pole striking, so less energy used and expended. Nordic Running is great for short distances, but in an ultra you will soon learn why it's not the technique for running long.


Don’t get it?


Book a course with Mountain Run to learn it all.


Mountain Run's Running with Poles Courses



Photo credit: Callum Robinson

If you'd like to take part in a running with poles course to improve your skills, we highly recommend booking on a course with Charlie Sproson who has over 20 years of experience coaching countless runners to run more confidently and safely over extreme terrain.


He specialises in all aspects of trail, sky and ultra running, including running with poles, and has also supported and enabled a growing number of safe and successful Bob Graham rounds.


If you'd like to find out more info, please click here.

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