Think that running a hike sounds awful? It could actually be easier and a whole lot more fun than you think…
Running is an athletic challenge. It’s an activity that humans evolved to do that frees our minds and connects us to the natural world, but it certainly isn’t effortless. Sooner or later our hearts max out, we lose our breath and our legs start to give in… I get it, for many people, running is a chore. And while people should feel proud for simply getting out there, the expectation to endlessly record our efforts is rammed down our throats (think GPS watches, fitbits, strava). Running isn’t recreation anymore, it’s verging on achievement oriented masochism. Thankfully, fastpacking has removed so much of this fun-sucking expectation for us.
- Finding enjoyment in running. Fastpacking isn’t a race. There is no pressure and there are very few “goals” (other than basic ones like “keep yourself alive”). We quickly realised on the West Highland Way that the pressure of meeting targets only brought a negative atmosphere. On what we expected to be an easy day from Inverarnan, winding our way north on a featureless old military road, relaxing at the local pub in Bridge of Orchy by 2pm turned into a challenging day of stony rubble – a difficult and grinding surface to run smoothly on.
We didn’t know what lay ahead or what the trail could have thrown at us, tracking our distance and time against arbitrary goals was completely uncalled for.
We just needed a map, an idea of when the sun went down and then let all the unnecessary expectation of “being fast” melt away. Translation: walking sometimes is ok… in fact there was a lot of walking.
2. The beauty of going ultralight. We jumped straight into our Scottish adventure with little training, naively hoping that our high-heat training in Singapore would translate into above average fitness once we reached the cool highland climate. Even so, we were in better shape to run the West Highland Way than the walkers who were hauling 15 to 25kg packs (many of whom begrudgingly forked out for a bag drop service after 2 days).
Despite the perceived greater effort of running we found that our muscles recovered faster, our backs didn’t hurt and we could still walk upright when we reached Fort William.
In hindsight it was actually much easier than previous hikes we have been on.
3. Going fast to go slow. While fastpacking certainly involves a hell of a lot of running, it often gave us a lot of time. Because of the isolated towns that both the West Highland Way and the Skye Trail go through, often we had no choice but to go the same distance as walkers. After sidetracks, photo stops or simply lazy late starts, we’d end up at the same point each day.
It was our own version of slow travel (a similar ethos to the slow food movement where travellers use prolonged stays in a location to enrich their travel experience) where we could take in the culture, food and vibe of each town.
4. Getting the boring bits over and done with. Yes there are boring bits. As the Skye Trail is a collection of pre-existing trails instead of an officially built route, there were a few sections of road stretching as long as 10km (stage 4 from Portree through to Sligachan) which we at least halved the duration by running. Also, it is common on through-hikes for sections that just seem like junk (e.g. view-less bush to circumnavigate a lake). I know we should all be taking in every part of the trail for its own unique characteristics and enjoying the privilege of being out in nature, but sometimes you just want to get back to the exciting bits.
5. Removing restrictions, not imposing challenges.
We aren’t here to push the limits of going further, faster or more extreme, we are running because we love it.
We had an adventurous and amazing 43km day running along the Trotternish Ridge on the Skye Trail, something we’d never attempt if we were hiking. With 10 peaks to traverse, 2260m of ascent and countless vistas to take in, it was simply too long and too hard for us to try to walk. Taking less stuff in an ultralight setup allows us the freedom to go at the speed we want (fast or slow) rather than be (literally) weighed down by bag.
Fastpack Journal is an adventure travel blog of two runners embarking on a unique and ambitious project to “fastpack” some of the world’s best through-hikes.