How to balance climbing and running

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  • #3426

    I am a trail runner and somewhat of a climber. Over the past few years I have focused mostly on running/skiing but lately I have been trying to become a better climber. While I concentrate mostly on endurance training, I am looking for a way to become a stronger climber without sacrificing my endurance.

    Am I just going to have to sacrifice something or do you guys have some suggestions? Focus on climbing for a few months to build a base? Specific workouts instead of just climbing?



Posted In: Mountain Running

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    Anonymous on #3428


    The term “climbing” encompasses a broad spectrum of activities from 10 foot boulder problems to alpine routes like the Rupal face on Nanga Parbat. So can you be more specific about what kind of climbing you are doing.


    MulletsUnited on #3429

    Hey Scott,

    I’m more talking about 1-4 pitch sport/trad routes. I climb some in the gym during the week but have a hard time really pushing past 5.10. Is this just something I’ll have to keep as a hobby on easy stuff or do you see a way to progress without sacrificing endurance? Should I concentrate on specific finger strength workout to get more bang for my buck? I really enjoy climbing but find it frustrating to not see much progress.


    Luke Nelson on #3433


    I can appreciate your conundrum. I have spent the last 8 years heavily focused on running, with some sport climbing mixed in on occasion, as well as a bunch of peak scrambling up to easy 5th class. I am certain that if you focus heavily on running that your climbing will suffer some. They are both very specific in the metabolic demands required to reach highest potential. It sounds like defining what you would like to accomplish with climbing and running will help you determine what training should look like. If you want to go from climbing 5.10 sport routes to climbing 5.12-13 then you would probably have to have the majority of training focusing on climbing. I think it is possible to have good running fitness and good climbing fitness, but it will be challenging to be great at both at the same time. I would suggest some periodization in focus. Take several months to focus on climbing, maintain a couple of runs a week for cardio fitness and to keep the joints/tendons appropriately stressed for running. Once you have achieved the goals you are after in climbing, shift the focus to an equal balance of both or perhaps to running. Your sharp-end climbing fitness will decline, but not immediately and not dramatically as long as you maintain some climbing during the running training.

    I am working on a bit of the same right now, trying to get a bit stronger at climbing while maintaining running fitness. I am taking the approach, with Scott’s guidance, to use climbing as more of a strength training tool and not just climbing to get stronger at climbing. Right now I am including two climbing sessions a week in my training. One focused on bouldering and the other on climbing routes. My overall goals rely more heavily on endurance fitness so training focus has to be a majority of endurance. I have seen good progress in climbing by climbing more regularly than in the past. I think in order to see full potential I would need to shift the focus almost entirely from endurance training and go through a rigorous climbing training for several months.


    MulletsUnited on #3458

    Thanks Luke! I appreciate the advice and it makes a lot of sense. I’ll report back on how it goes.


    Andy Traylor on #4897

    Even though this thread is a bit old, I’ll add my experience here. I’ve been interested in this topic for the past few years as I’ve included more running in my training and focused on increasing my running performance.

    My background: I’ve been climbing (boulder, sport, trad, aid, ice) for 12 years consistently. I’ve run inconsistently over the course of those years but in the last 3 years, I’ve focused more on running specifically, following various training plans and eventually working up to 50K distances.

    I think it really helps to have a history in either climbing or running – a large background of experience (skill-wise and understanding your body) and conditioning (building tendons over a decade). I do not have that history with running, so I spend much more time (3-4 months) training for running if I want to perform well. With climbing, I can whip myself into relatively good shape in 3-4 weeks. Over the past few years, I’ve alternated climbing-specific training with running-specific training with decent success. I pick objectives (races or routes) and categorize my training focus a year ahead of time. I’ve tried two different tactics:

    1) Spend ~90% of training time focused on the objective’s discipline. The remaining 10% is spent on maintaining a level of baseline fitness for the other discipline. This can work for either climbing or running and usually ends up alternating between the two in blocks of 3 months.

    2) This tactic works if I have a running objective, followed closely by a climbing objective. Spend ~75% of training time running, while the remaining time is spent maintaining a higher fitness level for climbing (compared to tactic 1). Once the running objective is finished, spend 3 weeks focusing 90% of training time climbing.

    In 2016, I used Tactic 1 with some success. In March of 2016, I redpointed a 13a at Smith Rock after 3 months of dedicated climbing training. I maintained around 10 miles a week of running during this period, which was around 10% of total training time. I cut out all running for the two weeks I dedicated to working and sending the route.

    Next, I switched to about 90% of my training time focused on running.

    June 2016: Ran a trail half marathon in 1:48 (~8:20 pace).
    July 2016: Ran a relay race as an ultra team, cumulative miles: 40, average pace: 8:40.
    August 2016: Ran another relay race, cumulative miles: 20, average pace: 7:45.
    November 2016: Ran the Oregon Silver Falls 50K in 5:46 (~11:00 pace)

    Following this race, I took the rest of November and December off, then started a new cycle in January. This time around, I used Tactic 2, with 75% running and 25% climbing.

    January 2017: Redpointed 12b
    February 2017: Redpointed 12c
    8 April 2017: Ran the Zion 55K in 6:40 (~11:50 pace). Following this race, I spent 2.5 weeks with 90% of time spent training for climbing.
    27 April 2017: Climbed Black Orpheus and Levitation 29 in a day (20 pitches up to 11c). Two days later redpointed a 12c and a 12a in the same day.

    In 2016, I sent 5.13 and ran a 50K in the same year. My primary goal this year was to redpoint a 5.12 sport route and run a 50K in the same month, which I was very happy to accomplish. I think it’s possible to send a 12+/13- climbing route and run a 50K around my previous paces in the same month, but it would require very focused training and a ton of work. I’m sure if I had a decade of ultra running experience, refining both disciplines at the same time would be a little easier. I’m interested to hear if others are pushing their personal limits in both disciplines and how closely spaced the performance periods can be.

    Anonymous on #4931


    This is exactly the approach Steve and I advocate and what Luke was referring to in his post. For all but the lowest level beginners, increasing your ability requires a significant investment in time and energy. You can’t do this in two sports like hard rock climbing and running which are almost diametrically opposed types of training. Simultaneously moving from 5.7 to 5.9 while training to finish your first 10km road race is very doable. Moving from 5.10 to 5.12 while training for a 50 miler will be extremely difficult for all but the very most gifted. Better to cycle (periodize) and focus on a single goal. It is much easier to maintain a quality than it is to build it in the first place.


    Andy Traylor on #4943

    Thanks, Scott. Indeed, periodization seems to be the key. Appreciate all the insight on these forums!

    Steve House on #5144

    Yes. Build once capacity at a time. (Unless you’re under 26 years old and have nothing to do but run and climb. Then you can probably pull off developing both climbing and running at one time.) And Bump.

    MulletsUnited on #5203

    Appreciate all the conversation and information on this!

    Andy, thanks for the information! This does sound pretty logical but it would be tough for me to not run more than 30 miles a week. I’m hoping to have a successful summer but will get back to you with outcomes from post summer training.

    Steve, I’m 25 and will let you know how the summer goes 😉


    debourgknecht1 on #8483

    What about going for a good training session at the climbing gym in the morning and a 2 hours run in the afternoon? Would that be counter-productive?

    endreeve on #39107

    Hi, guys!

    I am in a similar situation to that of Andy Traylor. I’ve been climbing very actively for approximately 12 years. Started running more actively about 1,5 years ago, after some years of very sporadic running. Pretty much started to run because I was bored on my rest days from climbing, and needed an excuse to get outside. I’ve been curious to learn more about how the running affects my climbing, as I enjoy to do both, and would like to progress in both.

    This year I’m hoping to improve my running for the Sydney half-marathon (hoping to run it in approximately 1,5 hours), whilst simultaneously doing a lot of hard bouldering training for a bouldering trip coming up one month after the half-marathon. As the two sports are extremely different, I feel like I can easily go for a long run shortly after a hard bouldering session. I can see a potential advantage of this: By doing both, my general fitness level will be higher than elsewise, which might offer certain synergies (?). Also, I have the time to get enough sessions in for both running and bouldering, so the running does not cause me to miss climbing sessions. The only constraint I can see is the recovery time, which is likely to be prolonged by putting running on top of the climbing, thereby making progression more difficult.

    Thoughts on this? Is there anything that dictates that combining the two should be an impossible task? As of now, I am able to make quality training out of both my running and climbing sessions.


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