Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Ultra Running and Rock Climbing

This morning when I got into work I went through my normal routine; check work email, check personal email, look for video updates from the youtube channels I subscribe to, etc. While doing so I saw that Salomon Running posted a new video of the team running a race in South Africa. It occurred to me at that moment how closely ultra running and climbing are physically and mentally.

I spent years as a rock climbing building my endurance for longer sport and trad routes. I would spend as much time on the rock as possible to develop that long-term muscle endurance that would allow me to sustain the physical strength to accomplish my goal of ascending whatever route I was on, without falling. When I transitioned to bouldering my focus changed to power endurance, being able to push very hard for a shorter period of time, yet maintaining the endurance to repeat my effort in case I failed to accomplish my goal.

Running is no different. I've now spent a few years building my endurance so that I can run long and strong. It has required me to train differently than other people might for a 5k or even a half marathon. I've spent hours on trails in the woods rolling over hills and mountains building my cardiovascular and leg strength, just to the point that I feel I can run much further without red-lining. Now that I've built up that strength my recent focus has been to build my power in climbing longer and steeper hills. I am trying to keep my weekly vertical gain to anywhere above 8000 feet. I'm hoping that the long term payoff is reduced racing and adventure time in more difficult races and trails, specifically the Wasatch 100 and adventure runs in Zion, the Grand Canyon, and Wind Rivers range.

Climbers used to be quite unique in their attitude towards traveling the world looking for new and exciting places to climb. They were and are often tagged as 'hippies' or 'transients' as they travel around in VW vans or trucks with shells and beds built up in the back. They travel the country and world in search of the newest areas, beautiful back country, and hardest routes or problems. In reality, many of those climbers are professionals who manage a challenging weekly work schedule and family life. It is simply their weekend outings that tag them as something different.
Many climbers also seem to be in search of that zen state; a near meditative oneness with their surroundings, fully focused on the combination of the physical moment and nature, all at once. It's a unique feeling that can't be found in many, if not most, other activities.

Ultra running seems to be making a similar trend as climbing. I'm reading more and more about runners heading out on pilgrimage to foreign lands in search of new adventures. Whether going to the Alps of Switzerland, Table Mountain in South Africa, or the Grand Canyon of Arizona, runners are leaving jobs and family behind - if even for a very short time - to find a new course, mountain, or back country bushwack that will stimulate their sense of adventure. And like climbers many are driving out to their new destination in vans and trucks with beds built up in the back. It is not uncommon to see this setup at the start of races or the trailheads of some of the nations more common back country hikes.
I actually find that I am even more closely linked with nature when I'm running than I was when climbing. Rarely these days do I take my iPod with me when I'm on the trails. Instead, I like to connect with the ground, the trees, and mountains that surround me. This feeling of zen is most prevalent when I'm running technical downhill trails since they require my complete focus. The moment I lose that focus I often catch a toe and find myself face-down in the dirt. It is during those moments when I'm absolutely in LOVE with what I'm doing because nothing else exists. I'm not bogged down by the stressed of work, money, family, or other pressures of 'normal life' - it's just me and the trail.

Ultimately, I run long distances out in the middle of nowhere because it is fun. But finding these links between two activities I love so much is eye-opening and cool. It's interesting to me to know that there is something innate that drives me to be passionate about two activities that, at face value, seem so drastically different. It's pretty cool, I think.


Scott Wesemann said...

I totally agree with you. There is nothing better than getting out into the wilderness and challenging yourself in the wild terrain whether that is on rock or on the trail.

Matt said...

Well said! Nothing like being out there enjoying nature all alone (and that seems to happen to me a lot because you're so far ahead of me). :)