So, for Oslrsieres Champex Chamonix (OCC @ UTMB) I borrowed a pair of Black Diamond Distance Carbon Poles from Pau Bartoló. Pau tried to discourage me from using them, as he didn't think they were necessary for OCC, but he was more than happy for me to borrow them. Despite having never used poles before I decided I would take them. I planned to hold off using them on the first two climbs and save them for the final two climbs. The first >20% section greeted us on the first climb, so out came the poles, and they stayed out.
There is definitely an art to using the poles, and I don't think I quite have it, though I was extremely grateful for the extra bit of 'oomph' on the climbs coming from my upper body.
I didn't use them on the downhill, preferring to hold them both in one hand. I could have collapsed them down, though I was happy descending, even on rough terrain whilst holding them. Dylan Bowman made the comment post race that he wished he had used them more on the downhills, which wasn't something that I had considered.
What is the logic behind using poles? From a technical perspective the poles allow you to be in a more upright stance when going up the climbs. This allows for greater lung capacity compared with the alternative hunched forward marching. The upright body position allows for greater recruitment of the glutes and hamstrings rather than overloading the quadriceps in a hunched forward march. You can use your less than muscular runners arms to give you some assistance.
How does all this relate to events in NZ and Australia. With the advent of Skyrunning, there are certainly more events emerging where poles might be an option. For me, the Northburn Ultra-Marathon, Cromwell, NZ is the only event that springs to mind with enough climbing of a steep enough gradient to warrant it (I would love to know your suggestions of other events where they would be of use).
So in summary, I think when racing in the Alps (or similar) poles are absolutely of huge benefit. For events in NZ / AUS, I would suggest that relative to the event you are focusing on, you work out what is a comfortable gradient for you to run (fresh and fatigued). If this matches the event then I don't think they are beneficial, if not then they are possibly an option worth exploring.
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