Recently, I was asked a question that I hadn’t thought about in a long time. It seems strange that as someone who spends as much time in the mountains as I do I hadn’t really thought about it before:
How do you train?
Truth is, I don’t. So how can I call myself athletic if I’m not at the gym pumping weights, on a jumprope, using complicated machines, paying a monthly fee, or grunting for life with every breath? Because after a year of big climbs, intense hikes, and spending every moment that I can on the trail, I’ve come to realize that there’s no such thing as training. You’re either climbing or you’re hiking, spending a part of the day outside, or you’re not. When I think of the word “activity” the root of the word is right there: “active” and for me, that’s all I really need.
For a climber, I have a slim body. I don’t feel like I was ever given the physiology that ensures I’d be given a muscular form, and as much as I’ve tried to work on that over the years, lifting, and grunting, and high protein diets just have never worked for me. Yet, on a hike, or on the wall, when I’m stretching out for the next hold, or I’m counting the steps towards the next bend in the trail, none of it matters. I’ve come to realize that you can’t prepare to be outside, you just have to be there.
Does this mean that I’m not putting any preparation into my work at all? Absolutely not. In 2012 when I was getting ready to go to Rainier, I wanted to concentrate on dynamic and ever-changing work outs, not just repetitively lifting a weight or pushing a machine. For arm strength I was climbing at the gym obsessively while for endurance, I ran trails, rode a bike through the Everglades, or ran the boardwalk on Miami Beach (I still like to say I was the only one in my group who trained for the mountain without climbing an actual mountain). When I got to Seattle last year, yes, I did start my first six months in a gym which did actually give me some sort of base to work off of. However the more that we were walking in the hills or pushing through pitches, that whole dynamic seemed to change, and I realized that I was always stronger than I actually believed myself to be.
This past winter, I joined the Seattle Bouldering Project, not as a means to gain strength or endurance, but simply to work and hone the technique that I’d be using for the rest of the season. Once it was clear that the weather was improving and we’d be getting outside soon, I cancelled my membership so that I could concentrate more on the other aspects of my life, namely writing, and be outdoors as much as possible.
Recently I’ve started trail running. What I find so liberating is the road is uneven, the trails are mostly empty, and the view is always spectacular. What I’ve come to learn is that even getting outside for a few moments, whether it’s hiking with a friend after work, or running a trail just before lunch, has as much “training potential” as spending an hour in the gym.
So in essence, I consider myself an athlete because I constantly engage in the type of activities which push my strength and endurance to its absolute limit. Despite this, I don’t believe in a “training” philosophy for spending time outside. There’s no such thing as preparing for the mountains, it’s just important to be out in the middle of it.