mountain run

Summer Sport: Mountain Running

It’s the elevated version of trails.

Athletes who are sick of cruising on flat roads are finding a solution in higher altitudes: mountain running. The sport (which involves serious vertical gain as well as technical terrain) is picking up steam not just as an elite endeavor, but as a form of recreational exercise

Most mountain runs are done on paths (whether dirt or paved) that weave up and down the sides of mountains, requiring a mix of running, hiking, and climbing steep, technical terrain. They also bring you up to high altitudes where the air has less oxygen, so you can expect to get closer to your max heart rate. Trail runs, on the other hand, don't involve as much elevation gain and don't take you as far above sea level (even if it's a hilly route).

“Mountain running takes a different kind of skill,” explains Ellen Miller, coach of the US Women’s Mountain Running Team and the only American woman to climb Everest from both sides. Running uphill activates the quads, hip flexors, glutes, and soleus muscle in the calves more than level runs do, she says. It also shortens your stride because you’re working against gravity.

Many mountain races are on paved roads. The 7.6-mile Mount Washington Road Race in Sargent’s Purchase, New Hampshire, has 4,650 feet of vertical gain. With a summit that lies at 14,264 feet above sea level, the 14.5-mile Mt. Evans Ascent in Idaho Springs, Colorado, is the highest road race in the country.

It's a tough workout, but people’s main attraction to the sport is the beauty: Soaring above the tree line, you’ll often find sweeping views of the horizon, wildlife, and flowing streams. It’s a great way to fully immerse yourself in nature.

“There’s an art to mountain running,” Miller notes. On the climb, don’t try to lengthen your stride—smaller steps are more efficient. Balance training can prepare you for the rocky, undulating trails, she says. Stairs and hill workouts can also prep your body for the long, uphill stretches. To learn the intricacies of the sport, she suggests taking to the peaks themselves. Here are three of the most stunning locations in the country.