Written by Clare Holdcroft - http://www.mountainsinmind.com

Let me explain a little bit more about the meaning of my title above. By pole, I mean trekking pole, I’m not referring to a nationality of Europeans who have a red and white flag!

Etiquette according to the Oxford dictionary is described as:

The customary code of polite behaviour in society or among members of a particular profession or group. Noun.

Synonyms: protocol, polite behaviour, good manners, manners, acceptable behaviour, accepted behaviour, proper behaviour, code of behaviour, rules of conduct/behaviour.

The word etiquette originates from the French language (so we stole it!), which I thought was apt as my recent experience of using poles relates to the running of The North Face UTMB CCC race in France.

The use of trekking poles is a phenomena that has taken the ultra trail running community in Europe by storm. Their usage in the UK, however,  is still a little frowned upon by some runners. Nonetheless, the popularity of using ‘cheat sticks’ as they are sometimes referred to, is on the increase, particularly on the longer ultra races in the mountainous regions.

The CCC race was the first time that I’d used trekking poles in a race. I bought a pair of the lightweight Mountain King Trail Blaze poles in a lovely girly magenta colour perfectly co-ordinating with my trainers! I must admit I was sceptical at first about using poles but with some of the huge ascents in the CCC, they really did prove their worth.

During the race, I saw poles used in a variety of ways along the course of the route so from my own empirical findings, I thought I’d put together my own lighthearted account of the variety of methods, techniques and styles that were displayed:

Stick man

The Skier. Leans slightly forward and uses the poles to launch themselves forward pushing both poles out in tandem behind themselves.

The Flicker. The runner flicks their poles out wildly behind them therefore you have to maintain at least a three foot gap otherwise you’ll be inadvertently poked or prodded.

The Nordic Walker. A sensible and efficient approach, which many runners fail to remember during the course of a race. The poles are tucked in close at the runner’s sides and used effectively to propel the runner forward as they move along.


The Elbows Out. This runner thinks they own the path and they stick their elbows and their poles out at the sides to form a triangular shape taking up the whole width of the path ready to trip you up.


The Jabber. The runner carries the poles at an angle across their body or horizontal to the floor then with a swift motion catch or jab other runners in the kidneys or thigh as you try to overtake. I have a nice bruise on my leg as a result of this one!

The Irritator. This runner is multi-tasking, maybe faffing in their rucksack or with an item of clothing with the poles dangling from their wrists whilst letting the poles flail around, again ready to catch your ankles or to trip you up.

The Tapper. The runners that really feel the need to use the poles on any tarmac sections of the course so that they make an irritating metallic tapping noice.

Running man 1The Underarm Approach. Runners who carry their poles under their arm like an umbrella and have no spacial awareness around themselves so that they swipe everybody in their mist as they turn around. An alternative to this is the runner who carries them in their hand at the same angle.

Of course, I’m not guilty of any of these apart from the Nordic walker approach (yeah right!) …but seriously, please let’s be sensible and safe when using your poles, guys. Have an awareness of others around you, practice your technique and it will save many a frustration from your fellow runners around you.