Frank Zappa once said that “the mind is like a parachute: it only works when it is open”. Frank Zappa said a lot of things, including “my guitar wants to kill your mamma”, but this time he was actually on to something (rather than just on something). Runners and hikers could learn a lot from one another if they unpacked their parachutes and opened their minds. Let’s jump in…
There’s often not a lot of mixing between strong runners and hikers. As a result, knowledge-sharing between them is minimal, but there is so much they could teach each another. Like a teacher with a blender, I’ll have a go mixing and sharing it here.
What can hikers and backpackers learn?
The biggest thing hikers could learn from runners (or indeed pretty much any sports people) is how to train.
There is an amazing number of hikers who sit on their backside for six months and then wonder why attempting a 20 miles walk is difficult. Everything you do in every hour is training for something, and sitting at a desk (as I am now) is good training for sitting at a desk. Do you think Mo Farrar could hack 8 hours sitting in an office every day? No: his eyes would hurt, his back would ache, and his feet would twitch for a run. He just hasn’t been training for it.
Runners are generally pretty good at training. If they want to run fast or far then they put the miles in, day after day. With a sometimes staggering monotony, half-decent runners might clock up fifteen hours or more of training a week. Over time this makes a serious difference to performance. Can you imagine trying to run a marathon having not been for a run beyond three miles? It would hurt. Now why would you try to do a massive hill walk having only walked to and from the car for the past six months? Your legs would scream like stuck pigs and your lungs burn like BBQ’d sausages. The pig: what a versatile animal.
The best form of training for any sport is doing that sport (a Training Law – specificity), and this is where runners tend to have an advantage over hikers, as they can run pretty-much anywhere, but if you live in central London training to hike up a mountain might be difficult. However, if you break down what hiking is, it’s not hard to do some basic training even when nowhere near a hill:
- Hiking requires strong legs and feet.
- Hiking requires a body able to carry a rucksack.
- Hiking requires a strong cardiovascular system, particularly for going uphill.
- Hiking requires endurance.
These are all very easily trained no matter where you are. Here’s some ideas:
- Walk everywhere you can. Walking is the best training for the muscles used in walking.
- Carry a heavy rucksack (eg. your shopping) occasionally. Go up stairs or a hill with it.
- Do something regularly that gets you extremely out of breath. It doesn’t matter if it’s running, cycling, ball sports, or in the gym, this is the thing that guarantees you’ll have another gear to go into when going uphill.
- Do whole days of exercise. That’ll train the endurance.
It’s hardly rocket science, but it does amaze me how people who do no training are absolutely smashed when they leave their desks and then attempt a long two-day backpacking route or route with serious ascent on it. Think of those runners going round the park – they’re training with a purpose, and you should be too.
What can runners learn?
I think the thing runners can learn most from hikers is perspective. A keen runner who gets an injury can usually be found face-down in a gutter having drunk themselves into a stupor, a total loss of what to do with themselves as their ITB niggles them or their Achilles aches. I’ve definitely been in that position myself – thinking that I’m not 100 % for running and therefore I might as well be paraplegic.
Most people cannot hike up mountains every evening or weekend. As a result, hikers are used to getting their fix only occasionally. They might spend ages planning trips or working out logistics, but their actual numbers of days out is likely to be a lot less than a runner’s. That means they have a lot of time to do other stuff, and this gives them a bit of perspective. An injury that stops you running is an absolute nightmare: shin splints, Achilles tendinitis, IT band problem, ‘runner’s knee’… they are all horrible. However, unless you’ve really run yourself into the ground you are likely to still be able to function at 100% for normal life tasks and many other sports. Unless you’re a professional athlete, being unable to run for a few weeks – even a couple of months – isn’t all that bad.
Hikers can’t get out at any possible opportunity, so when you are fit and able to run any time you like, see that as a privilege. That’s what a hiker would do.