Running: From a Climber’s Perspective

Just like not everyone who climbs is a “climber,” not everyone who runs is a “runner,” and I’ll be the first to admit that I’m the former, not the latter! And while most people probably can guess that rock climbing is great exercise, it’s not all-inclusive, so for me, running has always played a smaller, but very consistent role, in filling in the “gaps” in my fitness regimen. I run three or four days a week outside, year round, generally not on the same days that I climb. I do not run far, nor do I run particularly fast – usually around three-and-a-half miles in 30 minutes or so. I like it because it’s the easiest and most efficient form of exercise I can do with a toddler around. Aside from the numerous general benefits that come from increased cardiovascular health, I’ve noticed that running offers a few climbing-related bonus effects that are helpful as well.

  1. HikeRELAXED APPROACHES: Admittedly, I’m not the fastest hiker in the world, but it’s nice to be able to carry on a conversation with your climbing partners on the way to the crag without sucking wind. If I REALLY wanted to make a difference in my SPEED, however, I’d probably get better results by throwing on a weighted pack or vest and doing rounds on the StairMaster.
  2. VISUALIZATION: One of the reasons I enjoy running is because it gives me a chance to zone out and let my mind wander. After processing through the day, my thoughts invariably lead to climbing, and whatever route is next on the chopping block. I think about specific crux sequences and try to remember my move for move beta. It might sound a little like mystical mumbo-jumbo, but I think visualizing success on a climb can provide a psychological advantage.
  3. PUSHING PAST YOUR COMFORT ZONES: At certain points during my run I step up my pace and sprint — especially if I’m nearing the end and realize I’m on pace to beat my previous record! Entering into that anaerobic sprint zone gives my body a chance to practice pushing past its comfort zone, which is not entirely unlike the feeling of pushing past a burning forearm pump on a redpoint run of a hard and sustained route. This is just my theory of course, but I think the more time spent above that comfort threshold, the more prepared you’ll be to push past it on the rock.
  4. WEIGHT CONTROL: If you find yourself struggling on overhanging climbs because you’re a little soft around the edges, running is a very efficient way to torch some calories. As for me personally, I’m not trying to lose weight, but my hubby has recently shed a few pounds (increased cardio as well as dietary changes) and is crushing just about everything he touches, so I can tell you from firsthand observation, this one works!

Cragmama Climbing

Again, running definitely has plenty of merit as a stand-alone sport, but picturing the tangible ways it helps me specifically as a climber is often more motivating than reading generalized statistics about how it makes my heart happy. (Although, that should be a major plus for everyone!) And speaking of motivation, here are five tips to help you get on the move…

  1. SMARTPHONE APPS: The MapMyFitness app for my iPhone is awesome. It records my distance, so I can run wherever my legs take me and still keep up with my “stats.” It records distance, average speed, and tells me my split times at half mile intervals. (It can also be used as a weight loss tool to estimate calories burned for running as well as numerous other activities.)
  2. MUSIC: I don’t like hearing myself breathing heavy (makes me think I’m tired…), so I like having music to drown out my wheezing. But most importantly, choosing songs at the right tempo can really put a spring in your step. I’ve got a couple of different playlists, mostly in the funk/hip hop/acid jazz genres, Cragmama Lacing-upbut I’m also a big fan of Pandora radio stations (except for the ads).
  3. NEW SHOES: The average life span for a running shoe is 300-400 miles, depending on running surface and body weight. If you can’t remember the last time you’ve replaced your kicks, now is probably the time! The hubby and I both got new shoes for Christmas, and I was able to immediately tell a difference in comfort and how my body felt during and after a run.
  4. FIND A FRIEND: It’s easier to make something a habit if you’ve got a friend that wants to do the same. You’ll (hopefully) be less likely to leave your friend hanging than you would yourself, not to mention that the time goes by faster when you have someone to huff and puff talk with.
  5. RECORD BOARD: We don’t write down all of our times, but our household keeps a running total of our personal bests on a whiteboard by the door to the garage. (We also have a “stroller division,” as a giant toddler easily adds four to five minutes on even my fastest of days!) Our family enjoys a little friendly competition, so it’s extremely motivating to get a glimpse of the current “time to beat” on your way out the door.

Remember, you don’t have to rattle off a 5k straight off the couch on day one. Your body will be much kinder to you in the long run (pun intended…) if you ease into it — run a little, walk a little, run some more, walk some more. Above all else, stay consistent, and eventually your new running program will be part of your weekly routine. And who knows — you may even find yourself jonesin’ to add one of those 26.2 bumper stickers on the back of your car… Or you might realize that you’re plenty happy enough just being a climber/mother/hiker/etc. that also happens to run. Either way you’ll be healthier and probably feel better about yourself.

What does everyone else do for cross training? Run, bike, swim — or all three? Is it something you’re passionate about, or something you do mostly for the health benefits? If it’s the latter, how do you stay motivated to get out the door when you don’t feel up for it?

Photo Credit: Manuela Eilert (photos 1, 2) and Steve Lineberry (photo 3).


March 09, 2013 at 8:17 am

Erica – I totally agree! running and climbing are an excellent combo. Well said.


March 10, 2013 at 7:39 am

I used to be a SUPer who dabbled in running but now it seems the latter has become my activity of choice given the ease of being able to simply put on a pair of shoes and out the door. (That and finding a Zozi deal for awesome run coaches.) Ultimately both activities compliment each other. One is more social (SUP) and the other is more of a solitary practice (running).

Using an iPhone app, such as Felt Tip’s Couch 2 5 K or Cyclemeter/Runmeter/Walkmeter (Abvio), is a great way to get and stay into running but the beauty of the Abvio apps are that you can log a variety of activity types—I’ve used Cyclemeter for running, cycling, and SUP.

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