While this article is about hiking I think it is very applicable for many runners (including yours truly) as well! Whenever the author writes "hiker" just replace it with runner! - Matt Anderson
Summer is the time for traveling into the forest to hike, but for many of us, taking on a hike can be emotionally and physically challenging.
The REI commercials never show someone like me conquering a mountain, yet still, I hike. As I read Wild by Cheryl Strayed, a story all about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, I got jealous of her body's ability to function in a way mine couldn't.
The truth is, between my asthma, stomach, and immune issues, something like the Pacific Crest Trail is probably always going to be out of my ability. But I was letting the fact that one of the longest, hardest hikes in America was out of my reach keep me from tackling the hills near my house.
I saw the biggest mountains and knew I couldn't make it to the top, and for years I let that keep me from trying even the smallest hill. My friends would take off hiking and invite me, but even though I longed for the woods I'd never go with them, afraid I'd hold them back. Finally, I had to say $#@! it, I'm going hiking! Little by little, I gained my confidence and now I hike at least twice a month, everything from steep, rocky mountains to flat, lazy trails.
It wasn't easy, transitioning from someone who looked at hikers with jealousy to someone who hiked consistently, but with a little patience and a lot of self-love I've learned to trust my body's ability and know my own limits - two very important skills to have in all of life.
Here are some of the tips I've learned from hiking over the years. I hope they help you gain your footing. I'm always looking for more, so if you're a hiker, please share your own tips!
Here are my top hiking tips for those of us that don't look like the REI commercials:
1. Give up your preconceptions of what makes a hiker.
Hiking is not a race reserved for only the top athletes. Hiking is a universal sport anyone who wants to connect with themselves and nature can do, no matter what your body size or ability. There are even wheelchair accessible hiking trails!
Practice will never make perfect in hiking, every trail is new, every day different. There is no perfect hiker, so let the idea of being a svelte machine easily traversing the toughest terrain go.
I've got a secret for you: all hikers are awkward and uncomfortable while hiking. That's kind of the point. Hiking takes you out of your normal comfort zone and into nature, where things are weird and different and that's what makes them unique and special.
Embrace the difficulty! Go into a hike knowing you can take as many breaks as you want. In fact, the breaks I take to catch my breath allow me to pause and see the scenery more than those who never have to stop! I used to feel self-conscious hiking with my super athletic ex, but she actually liked that my slower pace allowed her to slow down and appreciate the hike more.
2. Hike often.
The best way to get confident doing something is to do it over and over again. You'll never be fully comfortable hiking - mostly because hiking is all about stepping out of your comfort zone, in a good way - but you'll start to trust that you won't fall off a cliff, be eaten by a bear, or sprain your ankle. It'll get easier, you'll get more comfortable, and you'll learn to love the moments of triumph when you stop to catch your breath at the top of a mountain and are greeted by a breathtaking view.
3. Choose the path you're on and take it one step at a time.
That's how babies learn to walk, and they fall down a lot too. This might mean treating yourself like a baby for a while, choosing the easiest paths, until they feel easy, until you feel ready for a challenge. Just like the rest of life, some days you can handle a long, uphill battle, and other days you need to rest on the couch. Pick a good local hiking book for beginners and choose some easy paths at first. As you get more confident, you can build up to your local Mt. Everest, but never feel like you have to conquer a mountain to be a hiker. Simply strolling along a short, flat forest trail may be all you need to feel reconnected with nature.
4. Get the right gear.
Going out and buying all of the most expensive hiking gear will not guarantee a happier hike. But there are some essentials that are worth investing in, especially as you start to hike more.
In the hiking world, there is the famous "10 Essentials" list that you should have with you at all times. That list is a bit outdated, so REI came up with this more modern one:
Navigation (map and compass)
Sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen)
Insulation (extra clothing)
First-aid supplies (especially an antiseptic cream)
Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candles)
Repair kit and tools
Nutrition (extra food)
Hydration (extra water)
Emergency shelter (space blankets are perfect for this and sound cool)
A comfortable, supportive pair of shoes (I added this one)