I felt like writing a quickie post today to help you pace your hikes and scrambles, whether you just got into hiking or have never really found a way to truly enjoy it.
Let’s start with a PSA: hiking is not necessarily always a comfortable experience. It doesn’t have to be. If you are hiking uphill or downhill for long periods of time, you probably will wind up with aching calves and ankles. Your breath will quicken. That’s all OK. You know what? That makes it feel all the better when your hike is done. I’ve always said one of my favourite aspects of hiking is the feeling that you’ve earned a big cheat or comfort meal in the end. I know I’m not alone in this, while still acknowledging a great deal of my time is spent thinking about food.
With that said, a little discomfort is OK. That’s quite normal, especially when your muscles aren’t accustomed to that kind of use. However, learning to maintain a good hiking pace can make everything a lot more enjoyable (and even speed things up).
It’s happened to me many times before, especially while hiking or scrambling on some highly trafficked routes: another hiker starts off at a quick pace, one that they can’t maintain, and they end up taking frequent rests that last up to several minutes. They then start back up at a fast pace once again, perhaps not as fast as before, but still faster than they can maintain, and more and more breaks happen. You end up trading the lead for much of the first part of the hike, which can get annoying at a certain point. In the end, they slow down drastically.
OK, maybe they are training their capacity, working on sprints, or have some other reasoning behind the quick tempo… but this generally isn’t the case. If this is you and you genuinely enjoy hiking this way, feel free to stick with it. I’m simply trying to offer up an alternative.
Many people go into a hike with a certain mindset that moving faster and going through the entire thing out of breath will certainly get them to the end faster. This is not generally efficient, especially when you are working with steep climbs. Treating scrambles like trail runs doesn’t really work unless you work at it relentlessly.
Instead, try going at a pace you can maintain with some level of comfort, and then even slow it down a bit. Your breath will quicken, but your lungs shouldn’t be burning. You should be able to trudge along uphill, one foot in front of the other methodically, without having to take breaks of more than 10-20 seconds at a time.
This isn’t a breakthrough by any means, but going a bit slower than you think you need to can help mentally and physically when you are new to the whole hiking and/or scrambling thing. Getting caught up in the speed of others can make you push too hard and forget to enjoy the experience. At the end of the day, the reason you are outside and not in a gym is because you want to get some benefit from being outdoors.
Your pace may be slower, but consistency pays off. Those sprinters I’ve passed many times on so many trails nearly always taper off near the end. So let go of that impulse to rush it. Go a little bit slower than you think you need to, avoid unplanned breaks, and get into a zone with it. Your lungs, and other hikers on the trails, will thank you for it.