Why I Hate Running but Care for Hiking

I hate running.

A couple years ago, I tried to follow the regiment set out in Cool Running to go from a couch potato to a decent runner. I was committed enough to wake up at a god-awful hour of five in the morning to do a thrice weekly run for about six weeks before I called it quits. Putting aside the fact that I proved the falsehood that stamina is built by consistently doing the exercise for an extended period of time, there was not a single moment during that cumulative eighteen hours that I found exhilarating.  I have a friend who goes all over the United States to run in marathons, and I really don’t see the point of spending the time and money to get out of breath.

It’s not like I’m a complete couch potato, though.  After all, I find a lot of pleasure in hiking. It’s an activity I like enough to make it my last vacation in the United States (to the Blue Ridge Mountains out in Gatlinberg, Tennessee) or a hastily-planned day trip during an unexpected week off in Tokyo (to the Takao mountain).

As my colleague pointed out, though, hiking involves going from A to B, only to ultimately return to A, and he didn’t see much point of climbing to get to B in the first place.

When he put it that way, it got me thinking about why I think hiking so different from running.

I suppose hiking is less physically strenuous, but the reality is that I’m so out of shape, there’s very little difference in the level of work involved between when I run and when I hike. My running consists of only a little more than a power walk with an occasional jog; as for hiking, after 15 minutes of going up the hill that is Mount Takao, I started asking myself why I thought it was a good idea to sacrifice sleep over the experience.  Since I hike for a couple hours and only “run” for half an hour at most, I’d say that the physical strain I go through is equally minimal (although no less tiring) in both activities.

Some people like to hike because it provides an opportunity to sulk in mother nature, but I really can’t say I care for it that much.  Since my goal in hiking is to get to the summit as quickly as possible, I’m completely oblivious to the flowers, the leaves and the life forms as I go up the mountain. Nor do I enjoy the sounds of the forest, whether they be the woodpecker pecking or leaves gusting in the wind, because I’m always listening to my iPod.  There’s something I find really discomforting about silence.  Sure, I enjoy the  view from the summit or the majestic waterfall at the end of the trail, but 10 minutes is all I need or want to take them all in. Besides, by the time I get to the summit, I’m much more interested in the lunch than the view.

As I thought more about it, I realized that the answer as to why I prefer hiking over running lies in my shallow narcissism.  Hiking allows me to experience a sense of superiority that running never does. As my one month trial showed, I wouldn’t be able to run half a mile even if there was a bulldog chasing me, much less for my self-fulfillment. And that means I won’t be able to point to one of those medals or certificates that they give out for those who complete a marathon and say, “I did that.”

Hiking, though, is something I can complete, even if relatively rigorous.  Take, for example, the Chymnee Top in the Blue Ridge Mountains, in which the view from the summit is reserved for the privileged few who are able to conquer a death-inducing rock-climbing that looks like this from below:

Death Trap                    Death Trap                    Death Trap

I know I said that I don’t really care for the view from the summit, but after a two-hour hike and this, I admit I found great satisfaction in the scenery from the top, like these:

View from Summit

                   View from Summit                    View from Summit

I confess, though, that I almost didn’t make it. Half way up the death trap, I sat on the rocks, sipping on water, contemplating the following:  should I continue the climb to the summit or live to tell about my trip half way up?   When I looked down and saw a kid, at most in college, trying to convince his younger sister that they’d seen enough and should call it quits, I was about to go fully on board with the idea.  Then I looked up and saw a middle-aged man climbing down, followed by a kid who was at most 8 years old.  Watching the father help his son take each step down, it didn’t take much leap of faith to say that if the kid can go up and come down, then I certainly can at least go up.

Yes, I needed to be inspired by a child who can barely read to finish the Chimney Top, but the point of this story is not that I almost quit.  The morale, rather, is that I did finish, have amazing pictures to show for it, and I feel a great sense of accomplishment by posting the pictures and writing about it on a blog.

I can’t do this with running.

And that’s why I hate running.


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