Ross Taylor on why running and climbing are a match made in heaven.
When I run I often think about climbing. When I am climbing I never think about running. There is something about this dichotomy that makes running and climbing perfectly complementary – the yin and yang of exercise.
When I run my mind is like the washing machine that noisily bangs away in the laundry, constantly rotating with the dirty smalls of my day, thoughts roiling around in a chaotic jumble: how much this hurts, what work do I have on next?, what the fuck am I going to feed the kids tonight?, how much further do I have to run?, have I called so and so? Sometimes my thoughts float off into long flights of reverie, dreaming about holidays I want to take, stories I’ve just read or routes I want to climb, articles I am in the midst of writing, before, inevitably, the pain of running drags me back to the trail.
When I climb I only think about climbing. I am working out where the next gear goes, what the next hold is like, how big the fall will be from here. In the background there’s no cogitating on life stuff. I can forget work, the fact that I am a husband, a father. There’s no dirty washing rotating, no background anxiety, no nameless dread circling. It’s a thinking with no room for the extraneous. Climbing is pure escapism.
But equally, when I climb I have no ideas, I solve no problems.
Running is a great way to think. It’s not structured thinking. When you run your mind drifts. Thoughts riff from the benign and everyday to the grand and sometimes fantastical, but often they fall to earth in the land of the real. When I’ve hit a dead end writing I will go out and run, listen to music, end up not listening to music, my mind roaming the landscape of my imagination and then, suddenly, serendipitously – almost without fail – an idea will pop up, a pathway around my dead end.
But more than just ways of thinking/not-thinking, I love running and climbing for their physicality. I love moving across the rock, following the narrow thread of a trail; the warp and weft of geography guides both forms.
Running and climbing are both wonderful ways to explore the world. Wherever I’ve climbed, I’ve run, and I remember both with equal clarity. The boulders of Fontainebleau are as vivid to me as the fields and trails I traversed on foot, jogging past ancient chateaus, through quiet villages, fallow fields and once, in the Forest, some surprised people dressed in leather bondage gear shooting a porno.
Climbing has always guided my travel, taking me to places I otherwise wouldn’t have visited, and equally running in these climbing places takes exploration to a new level. On rest days in the Frankenjura I would run straight up hill from Gasthof Eichler, the legendary climber’s campground, running off the excessive amount of kasser kuchen (cheesecake) I was eating by grinding up the hill to Sorg, a small village that always sounded to me like a Dr Who villain. Then I would run through the carefully tended forests on trails, passing grassy fields with deer hides, past houses with elaborately ordered wood piles, on and down to Obertrubach, the village where Wolfgang Gullich is buried, returning with salty bretzels and sonnenblumenbrot from the bakery. There is an intimacy to exploring the landscape by foot, just as there is to knowing the holds on your project, the sharp divot in the crux crimp, the welcome friction of the finishing jug.
Recently a friend shared on Facebook an article from Outside called ‘Your Running Rorschach Test’, I read it and was amused that trail runners – my favourite form of running – were adjudged escapists. Maybe there is something to this.
After a day’s climbing in the Grampians I will sometimes run up Mt Rosea at sunset. Chugging up through the trees, the shadows growing longer and the sun breaking through the clouds and lighting up Bundaleer, despite my ragged breath and tired legs I feel the beauty of it all as a mixture of awe and exhilaration. In these moments running is closer to climbing, where the trail is everything, and the minutiae of life drops away.
Running across the crest of Rosea, just before the summit, the cliff drops away into the dark valley and vivid green ridges opposite rise up from the shadows below. Looking out from here I can see many of the cliffs and ranges that I have spent the last 30 plus years of my life running and climbing, and I know that I will keep on doing this thinking/not-thinking until my knees are clapped out and my already battered fingers are arthritic claws.