trail running poles podcast episode

Should You Use Trail Running Poles At Your Next Ultramarathon?

Topics Covered In This Episode:

  • The benefits of running with poles
  • Factors to consider when choosing whether or not to use poles
  • How to properly size your running poles
  • How to incorporate trekking poles in your training
  • Common mistakes athletes make when using poles

Guest Bio

Adam St. Pierre is a former CTS Expert Ultrarunning Coach who has participated in and coached athletes for some of the biggest ultramarathon events such as Hardrock 100, Western States 100,  Leadville 100, and many others. He is now the Head Nordic Coach at Montana State University.

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Episode Transcription:

Please note that this is an automated transcription and may contain errors. Please refer to the episode audio for clarification.

Corrine Malcolm (00:06):

Today on the podcast, we are diving into the what, where, why and how of utilizing poles in the sport of trail and ultra running. I’m joined by coach Adam St. Pierre to help break this topic down while Adam and I fall into the camp of pole zealots. We know many of you might be more pole curious or even pole skeptical, and that’s okay. Throughout this discussion, we try to zero in on types of runners who might want to use poles, types of races, where we might really strongly encourage you to try them, how strength training can help in this process and when to put the polls away, because there’s a time for that too. I had a lot of fun chatting with Adam, and I hope you too enjoy this conversation. My guest today is no stranger to this podcast. Um, he’s actually been on once before with former host, hilly goat, Allen talking, all things training. Um, I’m talking about the one and only Adam St. Pierre. Adam was one of my coaching colleagues at CTS. He’s now the head coach for the cross country ski program at Montana state university. Um, where I also skied in college and Adam is my coach. So I’m a little bit biased. Um, but he’s done it all. He’s been an exercise physiologist and biomechanist, um, in CU at the medical it’s like medical performance sports center

Adam St. Pierre (01:22):

Is that it was the Boulder center for sports medicine when I was there. Um, now it’s the CU, um, sports medicine and performance center.

Corrine Malcolm (01:32):

Yeah. And you’ve also, you still work closely with USA, ski and snowboard, um, doing various, uh, I feel like various jobs for them. Um, you yourself are an ultra runner. You’ve run, um, hard rock, 100, you’ve run Washa 100, you’ve done a bunch of the big ones and you come from minority skiing background. So I feel like you are the perfect guest to talk about how trail and ultra runners can, should, or should not utilize poles when it comes to big mountainous races this summer.

Adam St. Pierre (02:02):

I, I am a, a very strong proponent of using poles for mountainous ultra races. <laugh>

Corrine Malcolm (02:08):

Yeah. And we’re gonna dive into that for sure. And we’re both old biased. We both come from a ski background, so poles are an extension of our arms, but that’s not the case for everyone.

Adam St. Pierre (02:16):

Yeah. And that that’s an important, important distinction.

Corrine Malcolm (02:20):

Yeah. So I think what we wanna talk about more than anything too, is kinda like the, what, where, why, how runners can think about using poles. Um, I’ve got a bunch of athletes from the Midwest training for things like UT M B, um, which is a pretty intimidating proposition coming from the flatland. And so I think where we wanna start is, you know, when you, I think we should start with an example, I think we should start with, you’ve got an athlete, let’s say, you know, the com the common thing would be like, they’ve got, you know, they’ve got a, a Leadville, a U 100, a UT, M B, they’ve got maybe a hilly, a hilly mountainous race coming up Wasatch 100. Um, big horn is this weekend. For example, what do you think an athlete should be doing throughout their season? Maybe if, particularly they don’t live in a place where they, it necessitates them using poles, every single run, how can they start to incorporate using poles in their training? When should they start doing that? Like, how do we get off? How do we get athletes off the ground when it comes to using poles, which can feel super foreign.

Adam St. Pierre (03:17):

So I think, I mean, a good place to start is, is what do pros do for a runner? Um, and, and, you know, that, you know, running running is primarily a leg sport. Um, we also know that in ultramarathon, um, you know, leg fatigue is, is one of the main, uh, factors we’re, we’re training to, uh, training, to survive for the duration of the race. Um, you get into some of the, the, the Hillier, the more ascending, more descending types of races, and you’re, uh, you’re putting more, you know, fatigue and more eccentric contraction, more leg damaging work onto your legs. Um, so poles are a means of, um, switching some of that workload to the upper body. Um, so it’s important to note that like poles increase the energy cost of running. So, right. If you, if you go up a hill without poles, and then you go up with poles, it is more costly, it takes more calories, uh, more oxygen, um, you know, more, more work to, to get those poles up the hill with you.

Adam St. Pierre (04:19):

Um, but it’s less work on the legs. Um, so the hope in, you know, in ultra endurance event is that by shifting some of that work from the legs to the arms, your legs, don’t crap out on you. And, you know, the last 30 miles, the last 20 miles. Um, so often the choice of whether to use poles or not is a factor of, you know, the, the terrain. Um, you know, if it’s, if it’s a flat course, you know, Western states doesn’t allow poles, but that’s not a course. Most people would use poles for anyway. Um, it doesn’t have enough enough vert. Um, then you look at a race like a, you know, like a speed goat, 50 K you know, some 50 Ks. Absolutely. You know, you don’t need poles. Um, but then you add the vert component and maybe poles help. Um, but then there’s also an element of, of personal preference. Um, so I’m, I’m sort of proud of being generally one of the faster guys with poles out there. Um, like I remember a couple years ago at, at San Juan solstice passing a guy and moving into the top 10, he was like, damnit, I got passed by an old guy with poles. Like, I wasn’t, I wasn’t even that old at the time. <laugh>, um, it’s just like, there’s this connotation that polls are for, you know, old guys. Um,

Corrine Malcolm (05:34):

Yeah, that’s a big difference between like European trail and ultra running, I think, and in the us too, is that there are less of us that are kind of year around, quote, unquote, mountain athletes, IE using like S Schmo or Nordics skiing in the winter to balance out our running season in the, the spring and fall and summer in Europe. I feel like most people gravitate towards that winter sport. And so it seems like a more natural and natural back and forth. So I think what I thought was really interesting about that was okay, you’ve got this cost benefit analysis, right? You’ve got athletes that yes, pole should save your legs. I personally feel that way, but it is an ener energetic cost. Like how do athletes start to make that decision? Does it just come down to personal preference? Like, what does that look like? Because I think that’s the hard part when I work with these athletes from Texas or Michigan or Wisconsin, and they’re, you know, they’re trying to weigh out, do I use poles or not like, is it gonna be practical for me if I don’t feel efficient using

Adam St. Pierre (06:30):

Poles? Yeah. And that’s, I mean, that’s a, again, there’s no, there’s no cut and dry answer. It’s largely personal preference. Um, and like the tricky thing is, you know, for instance, like I, I do probably 85% of my running with poles. Um, granted, I, I don’t like running flat places, so, um, I just go to the Hills and I run with poles and, you know, if it’s, you know, 15 or 20% grade or higher I’m, I’m in a power hike mode, if it’s that, you know, eight to 15% kind of douchey grade, you know, I might be, might be SCR running, you know, ski running where you’re, you’re, you’re, you’re still in a running motion, but you’re, uh, also using your arms for a little bit of, uh, of propulsion. Um, and then if it’s, if it’s flat, uh, I, I might not use my poles, but that’s, that’s pretty rare, you know, if I’ve got my poles that I’m using, ’em, I’m not someone who, uh, Staes them for parts of races.

Adam St. Pierre (07:22):

Um, the other play, the other factor to consider is, is downhills. You know, I did the, I did the old Gabe. Um, I ended up doing the, the 30 K last weekend instead of the 50 K and I was kind of shocked that the amount of people who were just carrying their poles on downhills, um, because for me, like downhills is where you really save the impact on your legs. Um, you can kind of just, uh, lean into the hill and, and take really quick steps and use your, your poles to lessen some of the, you know, that quad, deadening, uh, impact, um, the tricky thing there is it’s, it’s such a technical skill. It has to be practiced to the point of mastery before it becomes, uh, something you’d want to use, you know, for instance, uh, I’ve, I’ve run with people who are trying to learn to use poles and they, you know, they trip themselves on the downhills. Um, and that’s not, obviously not a, uh, not an ideal scenario and a race to be, um, taking yourself out, you know, causing yourself to fall and potentially jeopardizing your finish. Um, so then it’s, do you want to use poles enough in your race to commit to the time and training it takes to get good enough at using them? Um, so there’s a bit of a catch 22 there.

Corrine Malcolm (08:36):

Yeah. And I think, you know, is I keep going back to the, like the flat land athlete, right. Because I feel like that’s, that’s the most, for the most part, those are the biggest question marks. Like how can those athletes get in that practice, utilize it. Um, do you think there’s like a minimum threshold, or do you think it’s, that’s gonna come down to the individual athletes?

Adam St. Pierre (08:54):

I, I think it’s super, super individual, right? Like you, you and I come from a ski background, we’re used to using our arms and legs in a Contra lateral fashion. Um, whereas for, for someone who’s, you know, never skied before or never used poles before you just have these awkward long, uh, foreign objects attached to your hands. Um, and, and many athletes may find that that’s, uh, really challenging and takes a long time to get used to, um, I would probably, with those athletes, have them use them on flat runs, just purely, just purely to get the, you know, get the, get the hang of it. Um, and if you look at, you know, many of the top skiers in the world, um, Norwegians and, and Swedes and fins are known for their moose hoofing workouts, which are essentially running with poles and, you know, not necessarily hilly terrain, but kind of boggy terrain or slow terrain. Um, and, and just getting the hang of moving your arms and legs, you know, Contra laterally, um, which is, which is the normal running mechanic. Um, but then adding in a, a, uh, a pole to the equation, um, and just getting used to not sticking them between your legs.

Corrine Malcolm (10:02):

Yeah, you do. Definitely. I definitely see people pick up poles for the first time. And it’s like, they all of a sudden try to switch to same arm, same leg motion. I’m like, no, no, no. It’s just like running. Yeah. It’s just like running, but now you’re holding sticks. Like, that’s exactly. Um, the one other thing, I think, you know, why practicing it one, it helps with like the general feel and the general motion, but the other part is like that strength component, cuz you think of it, it’s one, it’s more metabolically demanding, right? Cuz you’re using more muscle mass to, to move yourself around on, on terrain. So that’s less quote efficient particularly when you’re learning how to do it. But the other component I see with a lot of runners, right, is that particularly if they’re not doing strength routinely, that that could become a limiting factor, right? Like all of a sudden like they’re in races in their triceps are tired and their laps are tired and their core is tired because they haven’t been doing this motion. Do you think that you can, I’m not gonna say, you know, I don’t wanna say cheat it, but like, is there a way you can implement strength training or utilize strength training to feel not necessarily more efficient with pulls, but at least have the strength to utilize them out on the trail?

Adam St. Pierre (11:05):

I mean, you can certainly target the muscles pulls and gauge. Um, you know, I, I I’ve definitely, uh, had races where the, the sores things, uh, after the race are my, my abs, you know, recta, Adom as well as my triceps. Um, because you know, those, those muscles are getting used and, and maybe I’m not training them, you know, enough, uh, in, in my day to day training, although I use polls a lot. So I think that’s probably just a factor of me using them a lot. Um, but I mean, you can easily do, you know, you can do dips or tricep extensions. You can do pullups, you can do lap, pull down, you can target those muscles. Um, so that fatigue in those, you know, non-essential running muscles, uh, doesn’t become a limiting factor, you know, whether that will help you, uh, become more, a more proficient user of poles. Um, I can’t say, but it can’t hurt, um, you know, to, to do some pullups and dips a couple times a week, um, you know, makes you look good. Uh, when you take your tarp off for those hot summer runs,

Corrine Malcolm (12:10):

Uh, yes, there is a little bit of that too, I guess. Okay. So I, this was brought to my attention recently. Franwell DEHA and Dylan Bowman are the exact same height, but Dylan Bowman uses poles that are about 10 centimeters shorter than what Franwell Dene uses. And part of that’s probably due to ski background, but all of a sudden, you know, they’re, they’re tall guys, they’re over six feet tall. Um, and when your poles are much shorter, you’re gonna utilize different muscle groups, right? Like you’re gonna utilize more like your biceps. If your poles are a little bit shorter versus being able to utilize like your lats and your poles are a little bit longer, do you think that there is a, a formula or a specific way that runners should think about sizing poles? Because I think that that is a, that’s a common question I get, like, what length am I supposed to get, uh, beyond personal preference? Do you think there’s a way that runners should be thinking about that when they go to purchase poles to use over the summer?

Adam St. Pierre (12:59):

I mean, the, the general rule of thumb that people use is to stand with your elbows close to your body, bent at 90 degrees. And the height of your hand, uh, from the ground is the length of pole you should use. Um, and then beyond that, there’s some personal preference involved. Um, you know, for instance, I like my pole significantly longer than that. Um, but again, like the, the poles I use for classic skiing are 160 centimeters for skate skiing. I’m using 170 centimeter poles. So for me using 135 or 140 centimeter pole for running, even it doesn’t feel challenging. Whereas if you don’t have a background of, you know, hundreds to, to thousands of hours utilizing those really long poles, um, you know, getting poles longer than that 90 degree, uh, elbow angle length, um, will feel even more unwielding. Um, so yeah, like, yeah, everything’s a cost benefit.

Adam St. Pierre (13:58):

Um, if you have longer poles, you’re, you’re able to transfer more of the work from your legs to your arms. Um, but you risk, you know, tripping yourself. Um, so maybe, you know, for a guy like Deebo using a slightly shorter pole, you know, allows him to get some of the benefits of poles without the, the, the major, uh, detriment. Whereas a guy like Fran wa who’s, uh, done, done a little bit more of the, um, probably some ski skating and some S skimo, uh, from his home in France, uh, he’s more used to the long ones and can, uh, can, can handle them. Now if Dylan decided you wanted to use longer poles and he could spend a, spend a winter, you know, on snow, uh, utilizing longer poles, and maybe he’d, maybe he’d be better off for it, but, you know, that’s a sacrifice and, and, and a gamble, uh, for a runner of his caliber. Um, and it may, you know, impact his career in a way that, that wouldn’t actually help him.

Corrine Malcolm (14:55):

Yeah. The individual factor here is so, is so interesting and so difficult, and there’s not a lot of research in this space at all right now. There’s very, there’s definitely some research coming out that looks at hiking at certain grades versus running. But as far as I know there, isn’t a lot of research out there looking at like the metabolic cost, for example, of say power hiking with poles versus not. Have you seen anything to, to that

Adam St. Pierre (15:18):

Effect? No, not a ton. I mean, I used to love running with Jackson Brill in Boulder, cuz he was doing research on yes. Uh, you know, the, the run hike, transitions at different grades. Um, and he, he said once that like I was the, uh, the best downhill polar he’d ever run with, um, I took that as, as a bit of a compliment, but I, I think it’s also because a lot of times the guys at the front of the field, you know, I, I am faster descending without pulse. Like just I’ve, I’ve done, you know, time trials and, and tested it. Um, and I am faster downhill. So if I was running, you know, a 30 K or if I was, you know, a sub a sub five, like sky runner, 50 K type, I probably wouldn’t use poles. Um, but, but I

Corrine Malcolm (16:03):

On the, down on the downhill specifically. Right. Yeah.

Adam St. Pierre (16:06):

Um, but I, but I’m not that, um, I’m, I’m a straight up endurance, uh, super long, uh, kind of kind of runner and, you know, I, I just use them. Um, so runners have to make that, uh, that choice, you know, I think there is research looking at the, the additional energy cost of using poles on uphills. Um, but anything related to downhill running is really difficult to quantify. Um, you know, you can look at different markers of muscle damage. Um, you could look at VO two, but you know, those are, those are gonna be kind of indirect markers of, you know, do they help you over the course of a hundred mile race?

Corrine Malcolm (16:48):

Yeah. And that’s multifactorial at that point too. So it’s sometimes it’s really hard to kind of pull, pull what is actually having an effective,

Adam St. Pierre (16:56):

Is it annoying? Take my poles off to drink or, or to eat yeah. To minor in convenience. And, and did I wipe out and the old Gabe 30 K while, you know, trying to get a gel. Yeah, absolutely. Um, that, that doesn’t happen often, but,

Corrine Malcolm (17:12):

But it, but it does happen. It does sometimes. So, so I’ve got a great example of, of this or a question kind of often example of this is that I had an athlete in TDS last year and is really efficient with poles, loves using poles. And he noticed that one of the, one of his takeaways from the event was that like he needs to put his pulls away on some of the downhills because he was really having a hard time kind of getting more quickly into that running motion from a performance standpoint, you know, trying to, you know, jock jockeying for position type type of thing, as opposed to just surviving TDS. And that brings up an interesting point too, is like, you know, how do you help athletes navigate the decisions of one to use poles one when to St. The PO poles? Like, is there a plan that goes into place for an athlete lining up for one of these races that you might, you might work through with them to try to like, you know, make sure that we’re ticking the boxes of like, how to be most efficient out

Adam St. Pierre (18:03):

There. Yeah. And, and, um, I think, uh, it, again depends largely on the athlete, but I know in, in myself I’ve trained with poles so much that I’m completely dependent upon them. I, I go for run without poles and like my legs burn because they’re not getting the assistance from poles, um, on the bus. So maybe

Corrine Malcolm (18:25):

You’re too extreme.

Adam St. Pierre (18:26):

I’m, I’m too extreme to the, the pole side. Um, so I think, you know, there there’s value in, um, in, in tr both training with, and without poles in, in hilly terrain, you know, don’t just use poles in the Hills and no poles in the flats. It’s good to do some Hills with no poles. And, and maybe for the, the, the novice pole user do some flatter runs with poles. Um, so PR practice those extremes a little bit, um, and don’t become a, a complete, complete one complete one trick pony. Like when I, when I broke my poles at like mile 40 at Wasatch, um, I was devastated. Like I considered dropping out just because I didn’t have my poles. Um, I knew I had,

Corrine Malcolm (19:07):

Yeah. I talked to an athlete recently who broke one pole at a race last year before I started working with him. And he was like, it

Adam St. Pierre (19:13):

Was, I had spares at mile

Corrine Malcolm (19:14):

Eight, do not recommend, uh,

Adam St. Pierre (19:15):

But I had to do, you know, a hard 40 miles of Wasatch with, with one pole. Um, so yeah, it’s good to, good to practice both with and without, um, but you also have to know, like how much practice with poles do you need, um, for them to be a positive addition to your race. Um, you don’t wanna show up on race day with poles for the first time and, you know, find that they they’re, they’re more of a hindrance than a help.

Corrine Malcolm (19:43):

Yeah. And I, I have athletes who I think have gotten to that kind of other place where it’s like, they’re okay with poles and they don’t mind using them, but they’ve recognized that they’re just much more efficient without, and they’ve, you know, they’ve done the UT M B thing where they carry their poles, you know, in their pack, the entire race and never use them type of thing. And I look at case someone like Casey lick tag, who, you know, famously runs in Nebraska and has done well at UT M B. And it’s like, you can do these races without polls, but you need to be really, really efficient in whatever, whatever run running modality you have available to you. Yeah.

Adam St. Pierre (20:14):

Yeah. The, you know, as with everything in, in coaching and training, you know, you’ve gotta make the most of what you, what you have available to you. And, you know, if you’re a Flatlander training for mountain races, maybe that’s getting really good without poles. Um, I think, you know, poles generally, you know, it, it seems like at least the, the perception is it’s more the, the back of the Packers, the longer you’re out there, the more important poles become. Um, because they’re, they’re almost, I look at them as almost a, a preservation tool. They, they preserve your legs. Um, often the front runners have more, you know, just more, more training, more miles, their legs don’t need as much preservation, um, as perhaps a, a mid back of the packer. Um, you know, that being said, you know, ultra running, you know, particularly as you get, uh, over the, the a hundred K 160 K distance, um, it’s all a race of preservation. Um, so,

Corrine Malcolm (21:12):

And at attrition and attrition. Okay. So it sounds like despite us being pole maniacs and obsessed with using our poles so much, so that going for a flat run is kind of off putting it doesn’t sound like we, we, we are coming to a, a conclusion that like runners have to like, ultimately have to use poles, right? Like that, like, I guess, is there anyone that you’ve, I mean, you’ve coached for a long time. You’re predominantly coaching skiers right now, but what does that looked like? You know, historically, have you, have you nudged athletes, you think too hard to use poles who might have been better off without, or vice versa?

Adam St. Pierre (21:51):

That’s a good question. You know, I like, I’m just trying to think of a couple of the athletes I’ve coached for a long time. You know, hilly, hilly is a really interesting one. I’ve never actually seen Hillary run with her poles. Um, she, like, she mostly trains without them. And then she shows up at races and uses them, and it seems to work for her. Um, but like when I, when I used to live in Boulder and run with her a lot, I’d, I’d have my poles out and she would just, you know, be running right up the grades. So, um, but then, you know, there there’s other runners who didn’t know how to use poles and made a really big effort to use them. Um, largely if, you know, as they’re transitioning to longer and longer races, um, we’ve kind of made the decision that, you know, yeah, you, you know, you survive this trail marathon, you know, really hilly one, but to make that jump to 50 K maybe it’s worth, you know, putting some real, uh, real focused attention onto use of poles.

Adam St. Pierre (22:45):

Um, you know, and unfortunately, like it might, it might be more than a couple weeks to get really efficient with poles that might be a, a month to years long proposition, uh, depending on, uh, on how quickly you pick it up. Um, you know, but I can think of a couple athletes that, you know, have no ski background and, and we made a very, uh, strategic choice to learn, to use pulse. You know, if, if they targeted an event like, like a TDS, like a speed go, like a, like a power of four, some of your high altitude, um, you know, 3000 meter, 50 vert, 50 Ks, or, or, uh, or similar longer races, um, you know, where we thought poles would be useful. And we, we put in the time and the work, uh, to, to make polls a, a strength, um, rather than a weakness.

Corrine Malcolm (23:36):

Yeah. I think that kind of what I’m getting out of that is that like, if you have the terrain available, or if you really feel like poles are going to be your friend, you have to put in the work to get there. And that’s something that you’re have to feel out and it could, it could take no time at all, but it could take a lot of time. And then I think, you know, the next component of that is being okay, maybe with the knowledge that you don’t, you’re not gonna use poles, or you’re not gonna need poles, but maybe it’s one of those. I don’t know. I, I think I’ll still send all my flatlanders to, to U T M B or similar races with pools on board. And they can always put ’em away if they decide that it’s not, it’s not really working for them just because I feel like it’s a preservation you’re right. It’s not to say that they’re a crutch, but there is that preservation component to

Adam St. Pierre (24:14):

’em worst case scenario. They, they can be used as a crutch. Like I’ve, you know, I’ve, I’ve

Corrine Malcolm (24:19):


Adam St. Pierre (24:20):

Scenario, the last, you know, 15 miles of, of the Leadville 100, which are totally runnable, like with poles, you know, on, on busted up feet, um, would I have finished without poles? Probably not. You know, that being set up, you know, Leadville or races like that, where the, uh, the course is very, you know, segregated into flat sections and hilly sections. You know, if you have the, if you have the ABA capacity to pick up poles, you know, for certain sections and only use them then, and then drop them for the flat parts, you know, that’s, that’s totally doable as well.

Corrine Malcolm (24:52):

Yeah. You took my poles away from me. I didn’t get Leadville. Yeah. You’re like, okay,

Adam St. Pierre (24:55):

You’re done. I’ve, I’ve had no, I ran. Um, I remember running the, he as 50 miler, uh, a couple years ago, um, when I was like, I was feeling quite fit. Um, and I ran with poles and I found that I used them too much as a crutch. There, there was too much sort of douche grade running that I should have run. And instead I hiked it with poles and I, I ended up losing time, you know, that that’s when I was more competitive. Um, and I think the, the polls encouraged me to hike more than I should have in that instance. Um, but, but again, it’s a very individual kind of case by case course by course, uh, basis, you know, the calculus changes all the time on whether, whether polls are yep. Uh, are something you should use or not.

Corrine Malcolm (25:40):

Yeah. And it’s, so it sounds like for sure that this is an individual very individual, right? Like every, every runners gonna be

Adam St. Pierre (25:46):

A different case, it might change for the same runner based on the day. You might have a day where you’re feeling great and you’re, you’re, you’re hands on thighs, power hiking, and you’re feeling smooth on the downhills and, and life is good. And then you twist an ankle and all of a sudden you need, you know, you need those poles to finish the race. Um, so

Corrine Malcolm (26:04):

Yeah, so I guess, you know, outside of the individual, have you looked at, is there any like math, or this is a question that came up recently kind of, um, on a, on a survey sent out to runners, um, kind of like trying to get to the bottom of like, when do, when are we starting to use poles? Is there a, is there a kilometers or miles to, to vert, like to, to, you know, change per mile or type of race that you think that there’s a line as far as like poles versus no poles for an athlete who could go either way, for

Adam St. Pierre (26:35):

Example. So, I mean, I use some, some rough calculations, like with athletes, I coach, you know, I call anything with, with less than a hundred feet of climbing per mile. I call that flat. Um, and I apologize to okay. Uh, to many folks out there for whom a hundred feet per mile, uh, is, is a hilly run. Um, but I’ve been in mountainous areas for the last 15 years. And, um, <laugh> sorry. Um, so then, like, you know, a hundred to 150 feet per mile, I call that rolling. And that’s probably still not, not pole terrain. Um, mm-hmm, <affirmative>, you know, unless you’re a, a Nordic skier running through a bog in Norway, trying to get a very specific adaptation there, um, 150 to 200 feet of climb per mile. I, I consider that kind of, kind of hilly. Um, and that’s sort of the threshold where, um, for, you know, uh, a front end of the field athlete, like they’re probably running every step. Um, and in those places and poles are probably not worthwhile, um, for an athlete. Who’s not, you know, uh, uh, Karen Malcolm, uh, a Hillary Allen, uh, a John REA shout out to my boy,

Corrine Malcolm (27:45):

Shout out to John REA,

Adam St. Pierre (27:47):

You know, polls might be helpful there, um, because you’re not necessarily looking at, you know, running in that terrain for a, a 16 hour, a hundred miler, you know, you’re running in that terrain for a, a 26 plus 28 plus hour, a hundred miler. Um, and then you get into like 200 plus feet per mile, 250, 300 feet per mile. The, the UTM BS, the hard rocks that’s like poles are a no brainer, uh, in my opinion there.

Corrine Malcolm (28:14):

Yeah. And they’ll still be athletes that are very successful without, but I do think that you’re right, that it becomes if you’re gonna, if you’re gonna commit to a race like that. And you’re considering using poles, it’s worth putting the practice in, um, when you’re getting into that. Yeah. That 300 plus feet per mile change, or really, really long, like 200 plus mile races. I don’t know if you’ve worked with anyone recently in that regard, but, you know, that’s an interesting proposition. I’ve got an athlete in Tahoe 200 and I was like, Hey, are you gonna use poles? And he was like, I don’t think so. Like I only like to use them on very specific climbs and it’s not that like, there’s not gonna be that many, like it’s not continuous climbing at, at Tahoe 200 this year. And so, you know, I don’t, I don’t think I’m gonna use them. And, and for me it’s like, oh, it’s two miles. I’m gonna use poles. Do you think that there’s a, a length factor there for people that should, I

Adam St. Pierre (29:00):

Think there’s almost a time on feet factor, right? You look at, you look at a, you know, every race course is gonna take, you know, some people much less than other people, right? Like, like speed. Go’s a good example. Yeah. You know, the winners are sub six hours and the cutoff I think is 12. Um, so if you’re out there for six hours, mm-hmm, <affirmative>, you’re probably fine without poles. If you’re gonna be out there for 12, you know, maybe poles are the answer. Um, and, and, you know, that sort of continues to climb up, but I think once you get over, once you’re getting over like 20, 24 hours, um, polls are probably gonna be helpful for most people. Um,

Corrine Malcolm (29:37):

Okay. So we’ve got the, we’ve got the individual factor, but then we also have the, the 200 5300 plus feet per mile factor, and the, maybe the 12 plus hour factor, or at least like, let’s look at like, kind of where, where you’re gonna fall in the cutoff for races that allow poles. And if you can pick up poles at certain points or not, or you gotta carry

Adam St. Pierre (29:54):

Them, I think most race

Corrine Malcolm (29:55):

Think is at big decision

Adam St. Pierre (29:57):

The whole time. I think there’s very few like Leadville being one where Leadville, you can have rules in Leadville. Leadvilles like lawless,

Corrine Malcolm (30:03):

There’s no rules at Leadville,

Adam St. Pierre (30:05):

But yeah, you can, you can, you know, use ’em for power line and hope and, and leave ’em with your crew the rest of the time, or have your pacer carry ’em. Um, so yeah, there’s all kinds of considerations that go into it.

Corrine Malcolm (30:18):

Do, are there any common mistakes you see athletes make when it comes to practicing with poles or using poles in a race that they might, that might not Dawn on us? Just like kind of, you know, going into a race for the first time with poles, for

Adam St. Pierre (30:30):

Example. So I, I, I had a little beef with buzz Burrell a number of years ago, um, mad respect for buzz bra. And, um, but I was, I was test testing some ultimate direction pulls, um, and they had like the straps coming out of the top and the strap was completely useless. Um, like the in to get propulsion uphill. You, you want you’re pulling on the strap. Um, and, and maybe on a technical downhill, you’re taking the strap off, so you don’t dislocate your shoulder, but, um, like the strap provides stability. It’s like, would you run with your shoes untied? Um, so runners who cut the straps off their poles, uh, I think that’s stupid. Um, and that you should learn how to use your poles such that you can use your straps, um, sorry,

Corrine Malcolm (31:12):

You don’t have to grip your poles. Exactly. You’re not using that. That’s kind of the thing here. Right. You don’t have to like,

Adam St. Pierre (31:16):

And I’ve had a couple margaritas tonight, so maybe, um, maybe that’s showing

Corrine Malcolm (31:21):

<laugh>, we’re really passionate about, about use the straps, the strap, some pole,

Adam St. Pierre (31:25):

And, and yes, it does make it annoying. If you have to take your poles off to get your gel or get your water bottle, but then, you know, if you’re gonna use poles, you, you, uh, set up your fueling and hydration system such that you, you know, can just reap down to your vest and, you know, suck off the straw

Corrine Malcolm (31:39):

And you practice it, you practice it in yeah. In training runs. Right? Absolutely. Just like you read as your nutrition, you gotta practice this in training runs too.

Adam St. Pierre (31:47):

So that’s, that’s one mistake not, not using the straps, uh, as they’re intended to be used. Um, yeah. I mean, stashing ’em for downhills. Like, I, I, I think, I think they have a greater value in the downhill, um, just from reducing the amount of, of eccentric contraction. And, and I often find as I fatigue, you know, they’re just helpful for stability, you know, like I’ve, I’ve had

Corrine Malcolm (32:10):


Adam St. Pierre (32:11):

Hundreds, thousands, countless times where like I’ve caught a toe and would totally have Superman. Um, you know, as over T kettle down the trail, had I not, you know, had my pole in a place to catch me. Um, so if, if you’re good enough, you know, they become sort of like, sort of like training wheels on downhills. Um, they, they allow for you to make some mistakes on downhills without, uh, without suffering catastrophic consequences.

Corrine Malcolm (32:39):

Yeah. And I don’t think of them as breaks. I think of them as like yeah. As training wheels. Right. It’s like that guide that balance point that, um, Madeira that I ran in April had a ton of like, kind of step down. Yeah. It’s like kind of big steps downhill, and you can kind of get your pulls out in front of you and, and really take some of that load off without it being a big breaking force. But I think you’re right. Like, it’s that com it’s that factor of like, if you’re in a short race or you’re at the very front of the field, maybe, you know, putting the poles away could be beneficial, but otherwise in the downhill, I think for most of the field, I’m gonna include myself in there. I get a lot of benefit outta keep my poles out on those

Adam St. Pierre (33:12):

Downsides. Yeah. If you, for the most part, if you’re limiting factor is, you know, aerobic capacity, um, you know, fitness mm-hmm <affirmative> then, then maybe poles aren’t that important. But if you’re limiting factor is, is just the, you know, sheer muscle damage incurred by running, you know, hundreds of kilometers, um, then, then poles can definitely offset that.

Corrine Malcolm (33:34):

Yeah. I that’s hugely valuable. Okay. So we’re in a user straps, like they were intended. I’m a big fan of that. I think it takes the low off. I take you don’t, you’re not gripping your poles. You’re not demanding all that extra energy from your forearms. You can lean into your poles in, in quite a big way and then not stashing them up for every downhill. Is there any other mistakes that you see runners use, particularly when they’re, maybe when they’re newer to using poles?

Adam St. Pierre (33:57):

I have, I can’t think of any, so I’ll, I’ll toss it back to you.

Corrine Malcolm (34:02):

So the one that I talked to an athlete about recently, they’re going over to race in cor, um, not, not, they’re not doing the long, the long race operator, they’re doing another race and, um, their news poles. And they said anything I should keep in mind. And I said, yes, like, it’s gonna be really easy to get into the groove and have your head down on a big, long climb. And all of a sudden realize you haven’t had anything to eat or anything to drink in over an hour because it’s, you know, you’re, you’re not touching anything. You’re not touching your pack. You’re not touching your, your bottles. And so being extra cognizant, I have done this at UT M B, where your head’s down or at TDS, your head’s down you’re, you’re climbing, you’re climbing, you’re climbing it’s 90 minutes go by and you haven’t had a single sip of water.

Adam St. Pierre (34:44):

So that old Gabe I’m like, oh, shoot. You know, I’m, I’m, I’m due to, you know, slam a gel right now, but I’m, I’m grinding this climb. I am cranking, I’ll just put it off a little bit. <laugh> um, so yeah, it does become, you have to be a little more cognizant, a little more thoughtful, uh, about your fueling strategy. And, and sometimes it means like, okay, I know I’m almost at the top of this climb and, and then I’ll eat, you know, and if it’s a, you know, a five or 10 minute, uh, addition, then, then maybe that’s okay. Or if it’s like, wow, I, I have no idea how long this climb is. So I’m just gonna keep cranking and eat at the top. And that it ends up being an hour or 90 minutes later. And then you’re in chloric deficit. Um, then maybe that’s, you know, not, not the best idea.

Corrine Malcolm (35:23):

Yeah. And a whole world hurts. So don’t do that. Okay. So I think the big, the big takeaways I have here is that it’s gonna be highly individual there’s no, there’s no a hundred percent. You should use polls or not. But you know, there are courses where you should consider it, that you can practice even in flat areas. If it’s something that you really wanna do, but practice is really important, just like you’d practice anything else that there are easy mistakes to, to do, but also to avoid. Is there anything else that you think people should know, um, who are on who maybe who are on the fence? Or maybe we should pitch it both ways. What, okay. Let’s, let’s do this. We’re gonna pitch it. We’re gonna pitch it both ways. This is a fun, it’s a fun podcast tonight. Um, what, okay. We’re gonna give TV set of advice, your piece of advice for someone who is obsessed with poles and needs to give ’em a break and your piece of advice for someone who is maybe on the fence, and isn’t sure if they should use use poles and, and why should they,

Adam St. Pierre (36:14):

Um, and this is to, to Joe Gray, mad respect polls are okay. And I know you’ve had some Twitter beef with folks before Joe, um, about how polls are, are not okay, but some of us love them. Um, <laugh> I think you just, I think you just wanted,

Corrine Malcolm (36:31):

That’s a good third person.

Adam St. Pierre (36:32):

Incredible. Um, so, uh, to the anti polar, it’s like, don’t knock it till you try it, um, to the, to the, on the fence polar. Um, I think, I think it varies, right? Like, you know, I’ve got an athlete here in Boulder that I’ve, you know, known for years and, um, she’s trained for, for mountain is 50 miles where poles have been an important component. Uh, this spring, she did me walk. Um, so it was important that we had her do runnable Hills without poles. Um, because me walk, you know, while it’s a very hilly a hundred K course, it’s not a poles course. Um, so, you know, if you’re a, uh, a proponent of poles, be willing to put them away, if the race you are training for necessitates it. Um, and, and similarly, if you are, you know, generally a, a flatter runner, um, and you are making four rays into Hillier races, or, or maybe you’re, uh, you know, a marathon 50 K runner and you’re making forays into, uh, longer races, you know, don’t, don’t be afraid to try poles.

Adam St. Pierre (37:39):

Um, if you think they’ll help you. Um, and there’s, you know, there’s, I think there was a study. It might have been like 15 or more years ago, just looking at, you know, even like Nordic walking, you know, walking with poles, um, and, you know, even that saves some impact. Um, so if you are concerned that, you know, your, your legs crapping out on you will be your limiting factor and your upcoming race, then maybe poles are for you, even if it’s not, you know, what one would think of as a mountain race. Um, and a lot of hundred milers, um, you know, ones that aren’t considered mountains, you know, if it’s a 30 or 36, probably not a 30, but if it’s a, a 32 or 36 hour cutoff, um, you can walk every step and finish. Um, and in that instance, you know, walking with poles may be better. Um, so there’s, uh, there there’s times and places to, to try it out.

Corrine Malcolm (38:36):

<affirmative> for sure. And then what about, what about someone like you, someone like you who maybe lean, leans too, FARs a

Adam St. Pierre (38:42):

Question on direct

Corrine Malcolm (38:42):


Adam St. Pierre (38:43):

You know, like, like I said, you know, when I’ve, when I’ve tried to be competitive before, like, I think I, I would’ve been better off, uh, doing some without poles, um, just to have a little more, a little more confidence in my ability to run uphill, um, instead of always going into a hike. Um, so I think my, you know, my, my notion would be, don’t become so dependent on them. Um, you know, intentionally, you know, instead of 85% of you’re with poles, you know, maybe can, but at 50 once, once you’re at a certain level of proficiency, um, and, and similarly, you know, maybe be a little more strategic about, about where you use them, um, and, and put ’em away for those, you know, those five to 10% grade runable climbs, um, and only take them out for the, you know, the steeper stuff, uh, where, where it really is more effective to hike.

Corrine Malcolm (39:40):

Yeah. So from either side, you gotta make your training count both with poles and without poles. And I think that’s a great, a great takeaway message. So maybe we, maybe we, uh, we’ll have provoked more questions in people then we answered on this, but I, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. So I think if you are, let’s say poll curious, um, or poor, or, or, or maybe poll skeptic, right. You could be poll skeptical or poll curious, um, reach out to us. Like we would love to continue, I think, to, to push this conversation or have this conversation go down the road. So do not hesitate to reach out. Um, Adam, thank you so much.

Adam St. Pierre (40:10):

I’m for your answered

Corrine Malcolm (40:11):

By direction

Adam St. Pierre (40:12):

Or L or black diamond, I’ve used all their poles and they’re all wonderful. Um, but if you wanna send me some, yeah. Some poles, I would happily use them.

Corrine Malcolm (40:22):

<laugh> sponsor ploy, get Adam St. Peter some poles. Um, well, uh, we’ll make sure that ends up in the show notes. It’s Adam, thank you so much again this evening. And like I said, if you’ve got any more questions at polls, don’t, don’t hesitate to reach out. You can find me on Twitter. I’m happy to answer those questions as they might.

Adam St. Pierre (40:39):

Thanks Corrin. Go Bobcats.

Corrine Malcolm (40:40):

Thanks everyone.

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