Hiking: A Great Cross-Training Exercise

I finally transferred most of my photos off my phone to my Google Photos account! I must have had a good 150 pictures from January to March back when I was going iPhone 6 camera crazy; and they were just sitting there. Taking up space. And now my phone feels a hundred times lighter!

As I was transferring the pictures I realized that Val and I went hiking a lot this past late winter and spring. Back in New Jersey, hiking meant driving at least an hour to good trails, but 2 hours if you wanted to really find any kind of decent elevation gain. 2 hours!! So…we didn’t hike in New Jersey. But here in Portland, we can get to a number of great trails with elevation to climb that are within an hour’s drive from our apartment. Looking back, I guess realizing this made us more apt to head out on the weekends for some adventure.


Val is triumphant! Look at that slope!

As someone who thoroughly enjoys ultramarathons, I find it strange that I don’t get out to the trails more often. Ultrarunning kind of goes hand-in-hand with the trails and trail running, but for some reason, I stick to the roads. I’ll get to the trails occasionally so that I remind my body how to avoid roots and deal with switchbacks, but I definitely don’t get enough mileage in on the trails. I think it’s because with running, I don’t like to drive someone to for a run. Most of the time, I’ll run an extra 4 miles or so to meet for a group run instead of driving there. But when it comes to hiking, the hour drive doesn’t matter to me which is likely because it’s not just me going hiking as Val is there with me.


There are several reasons why I’m so glad we went hiking in the Columbia River Gorge so often when we first moved to Portland. First, we got to experience early on just a small slice of what natural beauty Oregon has to offer (seriously, the Columbia River Gorge is Bee-U-tiful!). Second, Val and I knew we enjoyed hiking through woods and trails from previous experiences when camping, so it was great to feed that desire again on such a regular basis instead of just the once a year family camping trip. And third: the workout. Hiking is no joke. Our favorite trail to hike, Angel’s Rest,  is about a 5 mile out and back hike with about a 1,500 ft of elevation gain. It’s short, sweet, and has spectacular views when you get to the top. But our most memorable hike to date has to be Mt. Defiance even though I ended up catching a fever the night we hiked the challenging Nesmith Point (10.6 miles round trip, approx. 3,800 ft elev. gain).


One of the many amazing views from atop Angel’s Rest. 

Mount Defiance. Boy oh boy. MD is a 12 mile round trip with about 5,000 ft of elevation gain. After the first half mile or so it’s basically straight up for the next 5.5 miles with very few and short stretches of flat elevation. At about mile 2 or 3 Val and I were already talking about throwing in the towel. Calling it quits. Packing up and heading back…I’m so glad we didn’t though because I think that defying (and conquering) Mt. Defiance definitely built character for both of us. Plus we got some spectacular sights from the top.

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Views from near (or possibly at) the top of Mt. Defiance. 

They say cross-training is great to include your training plan. I second that claim. Cross-training allows for some rest to certain muscles, the engagement of lesser-used muscles, and many other benefits such as lowering the risk of burnout. When I was training for a Memorial Day 50K back in May, hiking proved to be a great cross-training exercise. By choosing trails with sufficient elevation gain and a decent amount of technical terrain, I was able to strengthen muscles that wouldn’t be targeted when running such as the extremely important gluteus maximus. It also strengthens your ankles and makes them more flexible which is very helpful, and quite necessary, for trail running.

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Running is a very linear sport. If you run on the road, track, sidewalks, parks, etc., then you run horizontally. Hiking allows, and often forces, you to perform different movements when progressing forward = Great engagement of different muscles!

Val and I didn’t do too much hiking over the summer, but I’m hoping that will change soon. We did go hiking two weekends ago with our neighbors Lance and his son Echo so maybe that’s the start of our return to trailheads and mountain views. I’d love to tackle Mt. Defiance again, but I’m looking to get away from the Columbia River Gorge. I think Mt. St. Helens is calling my name!


Lance, Val, and the greatest 2 year old explorer on the planet, Echo.


Just soaking it in. Soaking it all in.

What kind of cross-training do you like to incorporate into your training? Do you enjoy hiking? Swimming? Cycling? Walking? Let’s talk about cross-training and hiking in the comments!


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