Friday, August 31, 2012

Minimalist running

The appeal of mountain running is its simplicity. Basic running kit is all that is needed to get started and the endeavor appeals to a frugal mindset attempting to maximize experience over cost. It's possible to spend a lot of money on fancy technical gear...and I have some...but it isn't essential, and unlike other pursuits like cycling, where the expense is more evident and the technology more advantageous, it is remarkably accessible to all. When first moving to Boulder, CO my realtor pointed out that it is a "badge of honor" for many people to own a cycle that is more expensive than their car!!

As I reflect on the individuals I have got to know over the years who share this passion for mountain running, frugality seems to have been a common thread. A very good friend of thirty years ago accompanied me on a camping trip to the Gogarth peninsula on Anglesey, Wales - a trip we planned (or so I thought) meticulously. I would bring the tent, the food, the stove, the water, the climbing gear, and he would bring himself and the toilet roll. It wasn't an exactly even split but I wanted to be sure we had what we needed and this guaranteed it. Except the bit about the toilet roll.

We pitched the tent on the windy headland and sorted out stoves and gear and the point came when I needed the toilet roll.

"Did you remember to bring the toilet roll?"


"Where is it?"

     "I have it here in my pocket."

"You have a six day supply of toilet roll in your pocket?"

I was a little suspicious. His pocket showed no signs of having even one roll present, the necessary bulk not visible, and I had this picture in my mind of several toilet rolls in a bag somewhere. He shifted his position in the tent to reach inside his pocket. He had his back to me and I couldn't see enough to satisfy my obvious curiosity.

     "Here you go."

He handed me a single, perforated sheet of toilet paper. It was pink, if I remember correctly. I looked down at the limp and crumpled square.

"Is that it?"

     "Well, how much more do you need?"

The discussion was going in the wrong direction and I couldn't verbalize the technical intricacies of the situation.

"How much toilet roll did you bring?"

     "I brought twelve sheets."

"You brought twelve sheets?"

     "Yes. One each per day. I have them all here."

He unfurled his grubby fingers revealing 11 pink squares identical to the one he had given to me.

"I can't manage on one sheet each day."

This unreasonable comment of mine provoked three responses in quick succession.

     "You're not one of those 'toilet roll pullers' are you who needs half a roll for each wipe?" Quickly followed by...

     "Do you have a bowel problem and need to 'go' more than once a day?" His top lip curled a little in disgust at the thought. And then the frugal coup de grace...

     "Do you realize how expensive toilet roll is?"

I had no response. Seeing me perplexed he offered some consolation and assurance...

     "Look, it's not a single's two-ply." I had to think about that for a moment. Followed by...

     "You could always use both sides."

He was clearly affronted by my profligacy and lack of appreciation of his contribution. I wanted to question him about toothpaste but thought better of it.

I got in the car and made the short trip into Holyhead to correct this egregious error and returned with a "six pack" of the "soft and velvet" variety - a pack with a big puppy on the side.

He turned up his nose...

     "Now you are just showing off."

Other mountain ventures with friends have brought similar challenges, but these have had less to do with financial frugality than with the need to travel light and minimize weight - the "minimalist" approach is the popular description today. Competing in many mountain marathons in the UK, these two day events required careful planning and serious consideration to the weight being carried. Competing in pairs, runners have to bring all equipment, including tent, food and stove, as well as all clothing, across a challenging high mountain course.

I competed in this event over many years and knew the regimen. Sitting down with my running partner a few days before leaving for the event we planned out our food. We used a scientific approach by calculating calorific content against likely energy expenditure and then carefully weighed or counted out various foods that we would carry, before splitting up the load between our two back packs. Our evening meal at the high overnight camp would be a vegetable chili with red beans. We calculated 18 red beans per person. I admired our precision.

After an exhausting first day of difficult running and navigation in high winds and driving rain we hastily cooked our evening meal in a storm battered tent. It was at this point that we realized that 18 beans per person might have made scientific sense, but did little to assuage the current psychology of hunger and cold. At what cost would doubling the bean count have been? Never was I more disappointed at such precise planning.

My light weight approach has continued to this day, although I do prefer the selection of very good quality gear. Typically, in summer I run wearing a light technical tee, a pair of light shorts and my mountain shoes. I might carry a lightweight rain top depending on distance and altitude. I always carry a minimal first aid kit and a handful of dried fruit and nuts. I don't always carry water if the distance is less that 10 miles. In the fall and winter I bulk up the clothing and exchange a long-sleeve top and full length bottoms and a heavier grade rain jacket.

The focus is on having enough to be safe, but erring on the "light/minimalist" side. I never want to get to the point where concern for what I have to carry determines route choice, or where I can't take the route I want to because of how much stuff I would need to bring. Keeping the balance on the right side is a major attraction of high mountain running.

No comments:

Post a Comment