The mentality of running for hunting fitness


Trail Kreitzer running
All photo credits: Trail Kreitzer

The winter months are full of trade shows and hunting expos, including the ATA Show, SHOT Show, SCI, Western Hunting and Conservation Expo and countless others. Just about every company that makes a hunting, fishing, or outdoor recreation-related product will be in attendance to showcase their new and advanced gear. Many of these new items will expand our hunting opportunities and help to make us more successful in the field. Gear is great and nobody loves new gadgets more than me, but there was one thing I changed that has exponentially increased my odds of actually filling my tags each fall. The one thing is running. Long distance running has had the biggest impact on my ability to increase my success in the woods. 

People feel the urge to run for a variety of reasons. For me, I started running in order to get in better shape, drop some pounds, and subsequently, be able to physically hunt harder. What I had not anticipated were the gains I made mentally. I began to develop the mental ability to overcome being really uncomfortable for extended periods of time and believe it or not, I actually started to look forward to the struggle. I felt less stressed and my overall outlook and attitude improved. These benefits translated directly into hunting. Hunting is hard, it puts us in positions where we are physically uncomfortable and in order to consistently succeed it takes patience, persistence, and positive thinking. Running will make you a better hunter both physically and mentally.

Getting started

First, do your research or visit a running specific store and get a pair of running shoes that are suited to your specific gait and body size. I cannot express how important this is for your continued success as a runner. Running shoes are built to support and cushion your foot while running.

Trail running shoes

The impact of each foot strike is three to five times your bodyweight (think about that for a minute). A running shoe is built specifically to absorb impact and promote a correct gait and will significantly decrease the probability of developing an injury. A great reference on selecting the right running shoe can be found here.

Planning - pick a time

If you have to make a snap judgment on whether or not you are going to go running, chances are you won’t. Make the decision to go for a run well in advance. Pick the days, times and routes that are going to work best for you and write them down. Post a schedule where you will see it several times a day so that you are aware of it and regularly reaffirm the days to go running.

Running gear laid out ahead of time

Lay all your running gear out the day before: your clothes, socks, shoes, watch, headlamp — whatever it is that you need to get dressed and go. If you run with an iPod or Mp3 player, charge it and put it with your other stuff. Do everything you can to eliminate any excuses that may delay you or prevent you from going. Once you have your running gear on, get out there and go. Your body will take over and your mind will be at ease if you can just get out the door. Your probability of developing a lasting running habit will also improve if you learn to associate running with reward. Immediately after you run, plan to reward yourself with something you enjoy. Take a hot shower, eat some fruit, or even better shoot your bow. Nothing is more rewarding than executing a perfect shot and watching your arrow center the X.

Continued below.

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Planning – motivation

You have to find a method to stay motivated. There are several ways to do it, and everyone will likely find what works best for them, but you should put some thought into it and plan accordingly. I like to set a long term goal first that is going to push me physically and mentally — something that challenges me to do something that I never thought I could or would do. After that, I set smaller goals that are going to help me reach that end goal. 

Running an ultra marathon

For example, the past several years I have participated on six man teams that have ran 24- hour, 200-mile-long relays. We each end up running three legs that total around 30 to 40 miles. Those are my end goals. In preparation, I register for and run half marathons throughout the year. 

Races keep me motivated for several reasons: 1) they have set dates and I have paid real money to run; 2) peer pressure: the guys I run with expect me to show up in shape and able to run; and 3) races are fun; there is an amazing positive energy associated with running races. There are also things you can do daily to help you stay motivated like running a new route, downloading a new song, or taking the dog out with you. Overall, just set some goals, plan, get a few of your hunting buddies on board to hold you accountable, and get going. 

Planning – frequency and pace

Many people get turned off to running by starting too quickly. A quick pace at a distance beyond what your current condition can handle will leave you miserable and vulnerable to injury. A beginning runner should aim for a minimum of three days of running per week with rest days scheduled in between. An athletic person who is in relatively good shape could start running three to four miles, or 30 minutes three days a week. 

Running on gravel road

If you are just starting out a good rule of thumb is to start with a 30 minute run/walk routine at a 2:1 ratio. Run comfortably for the amount of time you can, then walk half of that duration before starting the routine over again until you hit that 30 minute mark. Runs should be built on a somewhat comfortable pace. For most of your runs, pace should be slow enough so that you can carry on a conversation and be able to speak in complete sentences without completely gasping for air. Running at this pace may take some time to build up to, but by building an efficient running style, building muscle, processing oxygen and training your heart and lungs to become more efficient you are strengthening your body. 

Running for hunting success

Build up slowly. After you can run for 30 minutes three times a week consistently you can begin to increase the pace to one of your runs per week. Generally, it is recommended that you run consistently for three weeks before you add time or miles. After you have a good base, miles can be added on by an amount of about 10% of your total weekly miles. If you are running nine miles a week and feel good, during the fourth week you could run two three mile runs and one four mile run, increasing your total number of miles to ten. Or you could add on a fourth day and run a quick one mile or even a slow two miles. Increases in weekly mileage should be done for two weeks before making an additional increase. As you progress, you may find that you can do just a little more or need to do a little less. The key is to listen to your body and build accordingly.

Running medals

Over time you will find your running niche, whether it’s trying to win a 5k, finishing a half marathon, beating your best time, or even running an ultramarathon. For me, my current PR is a 1:32 half marathon and chasing that 1:30 is my white rabbit. The training involved puts me into great hunting shape for the fall.

Bryce Canyon half marathon medal

Below is a general idea of how many miles per week you should expect to be running to do well in a race at your desired goal distance.

5K - 20-25 miles/week
10K - 25-30 miles/week
Half marathon - 30-40 miles/week
Marathon - 30-50 miles/week

Also, this website includes a variety of half marathon and marathon training plans that I have used with good results.

Packing out the elk rack

Whatever level you decide to take running to, I promise that regular running at any level will change you. First and foremost, you will feel better. You will feel less stressed, more patient, physically more capable and ultimately, it will help make you a more successful hunter.


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