On a recent trip to New Zealand I learnt something about running that surprised me. It’s not that I didn’t know the theory behind this realisation, it was just that I didn’t actually really believe it because I had no first hand experience with it. What I learnt was that to be able to run, you need to run. Stay with me.
I’m sure you’re probably sitting there thinking what on earth is Jenna going on about now, but hang in there because I do think this is a very important concept for those of you like me, that think that you should get points for any sort of exercise you do. Evidently, when it comes to running you get very few points for exercises that are not actually running.
I feel like I should point out that while in New Zealand I wasn’t hanging around like a couch potato eating all the chocolate and drinking all the beer, and that I was in fact doing all the hiking and bush whacking that I could. Actually if I’m being honest, a lot of chocolate did make its into my belly but that is beside the point. What I’m trying to say is that I did a lot of hiking and thought that even though I wasn’t doing any running, I was still doing my legs a favour by keeping them moving and the joints ticking over. What I didn’t realise was that whilst yes it was obviously a good thing to keep active, I wasn’t actually helping my running much at all, and much to my disbelief was actually making the return to training a little harder.
Even though I can clearly and concisely state the definition of osmosis due to grade 10 biology (as well as every other science class I ever took), I don’t claim to be an expert on the systems within the human body, or the biomechanics of what makes the body tick. In my mind, if I did lots of hiking I’d be building strong legs, improving my cardiovascular health, and developing all those teeny tiny stabilising muscles that don’t do a lot when running on the road or treadmill. Whilst my theory wasn’t wrong, I was missing one crucial element and that was that hiking is not running.
Upon my return to running when I got home, I felt like an elephant trying to run in quick sand. The fluidity and comfort to which I had become accustomed to had momentarily abandoned me and I was left feeling a little deflated. Before the sympathetic and encouraging comments start though, I should probably point out that I’m well aware this is only temporary and that I’ll be back trundling along with the grace of a sloth in no time. My exact words to Andy were ‘that I felt like a golfer who had lost their swing’, and that’s exactly what it felt like. All the hiking and huffing and puffing that I had done in New Zealand didn’t count for a whole lot when it came to running on a flat bit of road. I found myself stopping every now and again to look down at my legs, and forward to where I supposed to be going, and down and my legs again, all the while thinking ‘what the heck is going on and would you please just move!’. It was like I was back on the streets of Japan trying find a pharmacy using only hand signals – something was getting lost in translation.
I should of known what Andy’s response would be, and sure enough his straight down the line, matter of fact reply of ‘you get good at what you train and hiking makes you a better hiker’ was exactly what I got. I understand that being a good swimmer doesn’t make you a good runner, in much the same way that being a good runner doesn’t make you a good cyclist, unless of course you are one of those I-can-do-all triathletes who make the rest of us look like lazy underachievers (that was a joke guys), but it never occurred to me that hiking would be so different to running. I mean aren’t they practically the same thing?
Turns out they’re not, and I’d do well to remember that in the future for the next time I decided to take a hiking holiday and put running on hold. Running isn’t hiking, and hiking is no substitute for running. They are both complementary to each other and are very different yet essential skills to have, but they are not one in the same. I know some of you are thinking ‘well duh Jenna’, but to me it wasn’t so clear and I felt it important to share this with others who may be a little unaware that even though you’re on holidays and keeping active, it is still important to actually run.
Thankfully though all was not lost, as even though I have what some would call a really, really long road run ahead of me in 2018, the interim is filled with trail races which as luck would have it require me to do a lot of hiking. I’m sure that saying about clouds and silver linings would be appropriate here. While I may have felt like a fish out of water trying to run after only a few weeks off, I did gain a lot from all the hiking, and I realised that my fitness has come a long way since I started training for the simple fact that I can climb a hill without nearly dying now (#winning). So whilst I learnt a lot from my little holiday in New Zealand, the most practical thing was that in order to run, you must run; because to run is to run.