Often when running is discussed as training for mountaineering, a few persistent myths and factoids are thrown out. They're unhelpful to anyone trying to make good choices about training and as with so many areas of life, bad information shouts down good, so I'm going to try to redress the balance a little. You can make up your own mind as to whether running as a form of training for alpinism is right for you or not.
This is not intended to be entirely scientific, but it's based on good science where it needs to be and years of experience as a runner and coach. If you want to delve further into the science, consider this a starting point for your research with some suggestions on what to check out next. It's also not aimed at runners, it's about making running work for you as part of your overall programme of training for the mountains.
• The most frequently trotted out myth when running comes up for discussion is that "ruNning wrEcks yor KnEes!". Every time I've seen this claim, I've posted a link to a study which clearly shows the long-term knee health of runners to be superior to the general population. There have been numerous studies showing that and the medical science behind it is well understood. Some of the studies have been massive, surveying 100,000 runners and non-runners, so far they have all shown that running does not "wreck your knees" or your other joints and it can often improve overall joint health, as well as the other health benefits. I've also asked the posters claiming running was the problem to provide similar counter-evidence; not once has the request been met. Running does have injury potential, just as any sport or training method does. In fact, the benefit of any training comes from putting the body under stress and recovering, a process that by necessity skirts the risk of injury, but that injury potential can be minimised with a few good habits and some understanding of how athletes often create the conditions of injury themselves, then blame the activity.
• Get the right footwear. Often people recommend shoes with lots of cushioning, especially ones with a high stack height, or they recommend minimalist shoes. Neither one is very likely to be a worthwhile recommendation and either one could get you hurt. More cushioning causes instability that can be injurious, particularly when you're starting out. You want a natural stride, not one you have to alter to match the shoe. Similarly, minimalist shoes are hard on the feet, calves and ankles of new runners, so don't go for them. If you want to go that route eventually, remember that barefoot running is a technique you learn, not a product you buy and your running musculature should be developed enough to accommodate the change. Recommendations for a brand that suited someone else are also hit and miss, our feet and gait are all different, you're looking for a shoe that suits you.
To get started, go to a running shop, try on a few shoes from brands you recognise that sit in the middle ground for price and cushioning, and when you slip your foot into one that just feels right, buy that one. By the time you need to change your shoes, you'll know more about what you're looking for. If a physio or experienced coach has told you that you over- or under-pronate, research shoes for that (but in reality, you probably don't, a lot of what's written about those in running is guff).
• The simplicity of running fools many people into thinking they can start with absolutely no preparation, often after years of inactivity. They can't. Before you run, make sure you're as healthy and injury free as possible, then start slowly and very, very gradually, add no more than 10% per week. See a physio or other appropriate medical professional to address any existing injuries, you can't "run it off". It often happens that people retire from other sports because of age or injury, get itchy feet a few years later and take up running, without accounting for the age or injury. There's no reason either should stop anyone running, if they pay those things the right attention and don't carry them into running. The pattern of a late start is common in alpinism, probably because of the cost and because a grown family leaves more time for expedition.
• Do some strength and mobility work for a few weeks before you start running. Yoga, Pilates, swimming, cycling or spinning, brisk walking, circuit training or similar classes, all get you moving and strengthen you up a bit. Concentrate in particular on getting your glutes firing, because in running, your arse is your engine. I'd recommend a book called Quick Strength for Runners, or if you want to learn online, Redefining Strength on Facebook is excellent. Keep up the core, mobility and running strength work even as your running improves.
• Learn to run. It looks a simple activity and it really is, but go out with bad technique and you'll come back with injuries, exhaustion and a lot of wasted time, during the run and in the weeks after when you can't train. Too many would-be runners overstride and bring on injury, slow it down to start with, keep your stride reigned in and feet low. If you have access to a coach, get them to look at you and make some suggestions. Above all, slow down, it will both keep you at the intensity you need and make running less likely to injure you.
• Hydrate and fuel properly, before and after. If you're running for more than an hour or in particularly warm or cold conditions, consider taking liquid and fuel in during the run. Not only will it make the run more productive and enjoyable, but you'll lessen your chances of injuring yourself too. The link between them is not so apparent so it's a trap many fledgling runners fall into, but they absolutely go hand-in-hand.
• Warm up. This seems rather obvious, but among runners in particular there's a habit of just running and gutting out the first stiff, breathless, painful mile. It's a bad habit. A few mobility drills, get your glutes and hamstrings firing, raise your HR and let it settle again, then start the watch and hit the road, that way you'll reduce injury risk and you won't waste the first mile. The others will come a bit easier too. Stretching is a personal choice, but I can't recommend it and you might want to research the benefit v risk studies of stretching before a run. A dynamic set of mobility drills that goes nowhere near the end of your range of motion will benefit you far more.
• The first mile is a liar. Even if you do everything to prepare properly, you can still find your HR off the scale and everything hurting. At that point, lots of people decide running is crap, or they're crap at it, so they give up. Unless it's an actual injury, give it the first mile/10 minutes, then decide if you need to stop or you're good to go. If the run doesn't injure you, stick with it for a few more workouts, then decide.
• Ignore the speed. Don't be guided by pace, either during the run or when looking back at it. You're training to be faster in the mountains, there's little linkage between being a very fast runner and a fast-moving mountaineer. In the context we're talking, the running is a method of training and no more than that. Judge your workouts by other measures, such as nose-breathing, perceived scale of exertion or heart rate, not pace.
• Don't see running as the only training. It might form the majority your workouts depending in the time you have, your preferences, other goals like races, wanting to run with friends or whatever, but it won't do on its own, you'll need muscular endurance training, strength work, technical training and core work among other things, so keep considering where running (or any other form of training) fits into the overall balance of your training and goals.
• Many see trail running as somehow superior to road, but there's no right answer except to say that whichever gets you out to do safe, productive mileage most often is best. Trail offers improvements in balance and a more comprehensive range of motion, but the conditions that create that also create potential for injury, such as rolling your ankle. Road has more impact, but your body is well designed to adjust to that, we evolved on hard plains. Do both, find which works for you. You can also vary routes, add more hills, mix the surfaces, run to a scramble and run back after and generally mix up the running while you incorporate it into other training.
• Keep a log of all your training and note everything that arises from the running, good and bad. If injuries or stagnation slow your progress, or if you let the balance of workouts slide too much in any one direction, your log should show you that and help you diagnose the reasons behind it.
• Enjoy it! Many new runners see it as a chore, or don't start because they have some bias against it, but that's a self-harming approach, limiting approach to your training. Instead of saying "I *have* to run", try "I *get* to run". On the rare occasions feel like skipping a run with no good reason, I remind myself what I'm doing for and off I go. Works every time.
Hopefully you have some ideas for getting started if you're not already doing it, fitting running into your overall training regime and making it work for you. Much of the above also applies to other forms of aerobic exercise like skiing, hiking, cycling etc and they all have their value, but a simple and time efficient training method where you put one foot in front of the other in a similar way to how you'll climb a mountain and you can get a solid workout in an hour shouldn't be ignored or discarded.