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Transitioning From Hiking to Running

BY Hal Higdon

Despite what I suspect is an extremely high level of fitness, your muscles are probably out of tune, at least when it comes to running.

Have a question about running? You’re in the right place. Every Tuesday, world-renowned coach, author and athlete Hal Higdon posts and answers athlete questions here. You can submit your question by joining the discussions on Hal Higdon’s Virtual Training Bulletin Boards.


I have used your programs in the past for the half marathon and sprint-distance triathlons, but have not run much lately since my most recent goal was climbing Mount Whitney. For six months my focus was hiking-related training. Now that I’m back to ground level, I wonder what you could suggest that would help me drop my 5-K time from 32 minutes to 30 minutes or less.


What a marvelous accomplishment: climbing a mountain. Because I just Googled the information, I can tell everybody that Mount Whitney is 14,505 feet high, tallest in the 48 states, although Denali in Alaska is higher at 20,310 feet. I particularly like the fact that you didn’t merely just climb the mountain, you trained to climb the mountain. You gave Mount Whitney the respect it deserved.

Given that attitude, you should achieve equal success on the flat. My first word of advice is: Don’t be in a hurry. Don’t be in a rush to run a bunch of fast 5-Ks or races at any distance. Despite what I suspect is an extremely high level of fitness, your muscles are probably out of tune, at least when it comes to running. If you train too hard too soon, you risk injury until you discover again your runner’s body. Thus, spend the next few months doing what might be called “base training.” Run like a beginner. Relatively short distances. Relatively low speed. Listen to your body. Just go out and enjoy. After a while, try a test 5-K to see where you are. You might wonder, “Why am I suddenly so slow?” Or you may surprise yourself and find that 30 minutes was too easy a goal. Could go either way, so don’t get your hopes up.

With your base rebuilt, now it is time for some serious training. I offer 5-K training programs at three levels: Novice, Intermediate and Advanced. All of them are eight weeks long. Start at the first level for your base training. Novice 5-K consists mostly of easy running, the longest run being 3 miles. Next, make the move to Intermediate 5-K, which includes some speedwork once a week. The final jump would be to Advanced 5-K with speedwork twice a week and also more miles, if you’re up to that level commitment. And even though your main goal is the 5-K, a shift in between to a longer-distance race (a half marathon, if not a full marathon) might offer a change of pace and provide some endurance to go with your speed.

This training should keep you occupied for some time. I envy you your next voyage.

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About Hal Higdon

Hal Higdon is a Contributing Editor for ‘Runner’s World‘ and author of 34 books, including the best-selling ‘Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide’. He ran eight times in the Olympic Trials and won four world masters championships. Higdon estimates that over a quarter of a million runners have finished marathons using his training programs, and he also offers additional interactive programs at all distances through TrainingPeaks. Hal uses TrainingPeaks to power his interactive marathon and half marathon training plans — check out more of Hal Higdon’s training plans on his website.