Six Tips for Climbing and Descending

Prepared by: Jen Segger

With just under two months to go until race weekend, there is STILL time to improve and develop your hill running game in time for September’s Golden Ultra. Whether you plan to partake in only one day of racing or take on the entire 3 day challenge, hill running, up and down, will likely be the key to your success!

I’ve been competing in trail running events and epics for nearly 12 years, choosing to mainly tackle races that have daunting elevation profiles. Through practice and focus I’ve learned how to become an efficient climber and to actually embrace hills when I come across them. By focusing on form and technique, I was able to remove fear and hesitation in descending and learned how to save my legs for the next climb. All my coached athletes, whether new to running, veterans or elite, work on hills throughout their training cycle.

Each of the three stages are unique and your legs need to be ready to take on the demands that the Golden Ultra trails have waiting for you. Day #1 is purely vertical, short and sweet covering 1,000m of vertical gain in just 5km. Day #2 begins with a mix of ascents and descents but ends with a long sustained downhill so you want to make sure that your legs are prepared to take on multiple kilometres of downhill running (almost 20km!!!!) and still have functioning limbs for the final day at the event. Day #3 being a mixed bag of everything including a number of downhills that are technical and steep. As you can see, it will be beneficial to have a diverse set of hill skills for this race!


Assume Position As you approach a hill, no matter how big or small, determine the game plan for how you are going to get to the top. This might sound simple but many people don’t think about the most efficient way to climb based on the grade of the hill, the terrain (technical or smooth) and the length of the ascent. Set your body position. Stand tall, drop your shoulders and avoid hinging at the waist. Look up to where you want to go and ensure your arms don’t swing across the body. Avoid toe running unless the terrain gets really step. This will help prevent fatiguing the smaller muscles in the legs such as the calves. Then from that position you can determine if it’s a power walk, a steady controlled ascent or a fast and powerful all out climb.

Breathing Longer hills require that you get control of your breath. I do this immediately when starting a hill that is anything longer than a quick up and over. You want to keep your breathing rate steady and avoid gasping for air. Control the rate of your inhale and exhale. Aim to avoid quick, shallow breathing. Dropping the shoulders and relaxing the upper body including the arms will help promote quality and controlled breaths. For short power climbs that are only a few steps or 10-20 seconds in length, a more aggressive pattern can be established that will almost match the rhythm of the arms as they pump forward to propel you up. As soon as you crest over the top though, resume controlled breathing.

Cadence Aim to keep your cadence (or stride frequency) the same regardless of if you are climbing, descending or running flats. Instead adjust your stride length. Focus on short steps for a steep grade. If you need to power walk the hill, do so with purpose. Keep the legs turning over and stacked under the hips. You want your feet moving and propelling you, rather than feeling like you are hauling 2 heavy weights up the hill.

The 123’s of DESCENDING

#1 Little Effort Running downhill should require very little exertion. The more you can relax and let your body move with gravity, the less energy you will expend and the more your quads will be saved. Think about it like this: How you run one downhill will ultimately affect how your legs feel for the next climb that you ask of them. The first part of your body down the hill should be your chest (sometimes called leading with the heart), especially in non-technical terrain. By maintaining an engaged core yet relaxed arms and legs, this is achievable.

#2 Lengthen Out As your speed increases, lengthen your stride but don’t let cadence drop. If the terrain is more technical you may need to sit back slightly and shorten the stride but remember that quick foot work, paired with high cadence will move you over rocks and roots with ease. Regardless of terrain, land on the balls of your feet and avoid heel striking. Aim to have the least amount of foot to ground contact time as possible. Strive for quick, fast, agile feet.

#3 Look Ahead Focus your eyes down the hill, looking to where you want to go and not at your feet. I suggest a 45-degree angle to the ground is a good starting point. The more you practice this, the more your confidence to trust your feet will grow.

Finally... The Tears!

Selkirk Slacker in all its glory.

Selkirk Slacker in all its glory.

There's nothing like waiting for it... at long last, we present the detailed course description for day 3 of the Golden Ultra: "The Tears."  

This course was a tricky one to design to make sure we hit all the best trails in the Mountain Shadows network and developed a nice loop with no cross-overs.  The final step of the design process was to literally run the course past a couple local runners, including Roger Smith who describes those very trails as his "church."

While this stage was originally going to be “flat and fast,” it’s not exactly flat and probably not fast (it’s technical) but it will be another great day on the trails, and a fantastic way to cap off the inaugural Golden Ultra.

Similar to The Sweat, runners will start at Spirit Square, but this time head across the historical timberframe bridge across the Kicking Horse River and follow the Rotary Trail along the south side of the river for approximately 2 km before the first challenge awaits.

After departing the river banks, the Rotary Trail kicks steeply upward for about 300 metres of pain, or “tears?”  That short shock is followed by another 1.5 km of nice rolling running on double-wide Rotary Trail before crossing Bowie-Evans Drive and into the beautiful single track of the Mountain Shadows trail system.

"The Big Trees" intersection - you'll know it when you see it.

"The Big Trees" intersection - you'll know it when you see it.

Cruising along Selkirk Slacker is pretty nice until the hard left turn onto Quinton’s at "the big trees" and the subsequent right turn onto Huff and Puff - aptly named.  This “inner loop” gets the juices flowing for what’s next.  Huff and Puff is normally descended on a mountain bike but the views and flow go equally well uphill for runners.  Quinton's and Huff and Puff run through a relatively new cut block so you also get to enjoy mountain views.

As you leave the cut block on Huff and Puff you will take a quick right turn down a steep hill to Kobe's, not far from where you left Selkirk Slacker.  Continuing on Kobe's you head south with a bit of climbing, some nice switchbacks and overall great single track.  

Kobe's ends at Huff and Puff (a section that you have not yet run) and subsequent right turns take you on to Magic Dragon and Trial and Error.  While the trail name descriptions through Mountain Shadows sound confusing it's actually pretty easy to navigate on the ground by mostly "staying right."  

Trial and Error and Rock About are two loops stacked upon each other that are run in a counter clockwise direction.  Trial and Error, the first half, is a fun technical, rocky trail that is mostly descending.  It leads you out to a double track and you'll turn right off the double track onto Rock About.  

Some of the cool rocky slopes on Rock About.

Some of the cool rocky slopes on Rock About.

Once on Rock About you go up 11 switchbacks.  It's a great place to do intervals so they've been counted many, many times.  There's a bit more climbing past the top of the 11th switchback but the primary direction is down along some beautiful rocky slopes, back to Trial and Error.  As expected, these switchbacks are just past the half-way mark on the course.

The "last" half of Trial and Error is pretty lush, forested single track and it leads you right back to Magic Dragon.  This next section of trail, Magic Dragon and Cliffside are some of the nicest you'll run if you like visual stimulation.  There are huge big rocks to run through that tumbled down the mountain years ago and a beautiful viewpoint at Cliffside over the Columbia Wetlands.  You'll see why they're so famous for birdwatching and SUP'ing!

Cliffside - the viewpoint - is a happy spot because it also means that the rest of the course is *mostly* downhill.  There are a few short climbs but nothing of note.

The last 2 km is all about river, sky and the wings on your feet.

The last 2 km is all about river, sky and the wings on your feet.

At the bottom of Cliffside, proceed onto Chute the Duck and then take a right on to Selkirk Slacker.  Here's you're 5 km from the finish line and you'll be running essentially the same trails you started on, but back to the finish line.

Check out the elevation profile and download the Google Earth file at  If you're attempting a pre-run of this course, the Golden Cycling Club app or the trail maps produced by Tourism Golden will be infinitely helpful.  Maps can be picked up for free at Bean Bag Coffee Roasters, the BC Visitors Centre, the Chamber of Commerce or any sport shop in  Golden.

The Golden Ultra is a three-day stage running race (or relay) in Golden, BC from September 18-20, 2015.  Runners may participate in all three stages as a solo or part of a relay, or may register for any single or combination of two stages separately.  

ScatBelt Keeping You Safe in Bear Country

(c) Scat Belt - The Griz, featured in the Golden Ultra monthly prize packs.

(c) Scat Belt - The Griz, featured in the Golden Ultra monthly prize packs.

As passionate trail runners and nature advocates the Golden Ultra organizers are super excited to partner with ScatBelt.  ScatBelt manufactures belts that comfortably carry bear spray and other small items while you’re out running.

“I carried bear spray in my hand for years until I got a ScatBelt,” shares local trail runner, Sabrina Grecu.  “There was just not a good option for runners.  All of the existing holsters were designed to hook onto belts – great for hikers, not so much for runners.  The ScatBelt is awesome because I can also put my phone and car keys in it and it does not chafe or bounce.”

While it is unlikely that you’ll be greeted by a wild bear on the trails of Golden during the Golden Ultra, organizers are recommending that all runners consider carrying bear spray in the event and as part of their training.  Bear spray is the most effective deterrent for bears and other large animals that pose a threat to runners – including deer, elk or large cats. 

In a recent study in Alaska, 72 people used bear spray on a bear at close range and 98% of people who used it were uninjured.  The minor injuries that occurred didn't require hospitalization.

Our monthly prize packs feature the Griz Scat Belt.

Our monthly prize packs feature the Griz Scat Belt.

It’s always better to just avoid bear encounters by making noise, traveling in groups and being aware of your surroundings.  Consider training without ear buds or with only one in.  In case you do have a bear encounter, know that the bear spray you are carrying is the most effect deterrent for stopping an approaching or charging bear.

“I run with bear spray because I’d just rather have it with me if I see a bear.  It’s kind of like my insurance policy.  I love to be out in nature and do some pretty big mountain runs so it’s the safest choice when I think about coming home to my 18-month-old boy.”

Scat Belts are available online ( and will also be available at the Golden Ultra.

The Golden Ultra is a three-day stage running race (or relay) in Golden, BC from September 18-20, 2015.  Runners may participate in all three stages as a solo or part of a relay, or may register for any single or combination of two stages separately.