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Pole Position

By Lisa Jhung

"We are quite well equipped to travel on two legs," says Ian Adamson, arguably the winningest man in adventure racing. "However, adventure sports do add significant stresses to our lower limbs, especially when we carry heavy packs on our backs. Poles can be of great assistance and even a necessity to finishing a long race."

The decision over whether or not to use trekking poles during a particular section of an adventure race can be troublesome. Carrying a pair of poles adds extra weight, and their odd shape, even when collapsed, can be a nuisance. Poles sticking out of your pack can catch on undergrowth and just be a real pain in the butt.

But the benefits of poles can often outweigh the hassle, especially on long trekking sections a couple of days into a race. Having two more points of contact on the ground relieves stress from your legs, feet, knees and ankles. Using poles can help prevent an injury to your lower half, and if you do start to feel pain during a race, the poles become simulated crutches and can make all the difference in the world.

Another benefit to poles is that, as mountain goats prove repeatedly, having four legs on the ground aids in stability and even power. Technical scree slopes, steep, mud or rock covered terrain -- it's all easier to negotiate, both uphill and down, when you have two more points on the ground.

A few key points to consider when making your decision might include how long the section is (both in distance and anticipated time), how steep the terrain might be and how tired you are. Also, even though poles are rarely needed in short races (24 hours or less), you should take them to every race because you'll never know when they might come in handy.

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