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March 2018 Issue
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On pace, puff and competitive tramping

Fast or slow, we each have our own tramping style and philosophy - just don’t make it a competition
Slow and steady wins the race

After a lot of tramping recently, and a lot of thinking while tramping, I realised I’ve developed a philosophy of tramping.

Say what? It’s just one foot in front of the other, isn’t it? Well yes, and it’s not like you can get it wrong. But I realised I’d developed a way of tramping (and a way of thinking about it).

The crux of my philosophy is that slow and steady wins the race. I tell myself this to make myself feel better about being a bit slow and unfit. But it’s true: setting a pace that I can sustain all day means I’m more likely to make a good time overall. I find I need fewer sit-down-pack-off breaks and also fewer catch-my-breath-feel-like-I’m-going-to-die breaks. I don’t exhaust myself, so I don’t need to take the time to recover. And I get to womble along and think things through and come up with new ideas for Wilderness columns.

I discovered how my philosophy differed to that of others when I walked an easy 10km track with a friend who doesn’t tramp often but has recently begun trail running. Starting off, I went for my usual long slow warm-up (my philosophy says this helps prevent injuries), while she immediately charged off like a bull at a red flag. Not five minutes in, I had to call out to her to wait up and confess that if we did the walk at that pace, I wouldn’t be in a happy state.

We did the rest of the track at a moderate pace and took one small snack break over three hours and still managed to enjoy the scenery. Later, my friend felt the need to go for a run or to the gym in addition to the tramp: “I didn’t get a workout today”. It turns out she didn’t want to do the walk for scenery or enjoyment, but for fitness and weight loss – and didn’t care what the track looked like or what there would be to discover. She wanted to sweat, to feel exhausted, to tick the fitness box for the day.

We had a fundamental philosophical difference; I don’t tramp to get a workout or to get to the end of the tramp feeling exhausted. I like to have the energy to live well through the rest of my day.

In practical terms, there’s a sensible reason not to go so fast. A moderate pace helps you avoid overheating and sweating profusely through your clothes, which sparks your body’s cooling mechanism which can leave you feeling cold.

Leaving Waihohonu Hut in appalling weather on a Tongariro Northern Circuit trip, I tried to convince a couple of companions that a slow start would see us right all the way back to Whakapapa Village. One of them was feeling cold at the hut, so he put on every piece of clothing he had with him, and another was a marathon runner, so he wanted to get back as quickly as possible. They went with their own tramping philosophies and shot out the door, but within half an hour the over-clothed guy had sweated through and was starting to freeze (and had nothing left to put on). Meanwhile, the marathon runner ran out of puff halfway to Whakapapa. It turns out running a marathon without a pack is very different to tramping up and down hills with a pack. It was an unsustainable pace for all of us.

On another occasion, I tramped to Hot Water Beach at Tarawera with a group of eight. A friend and his partner joined us for their first time tramping and he clearly wanted to prove that “this tramping gig” was really easy. He embarked on a competitive mission to beat us to the campsite (is it a competition if your competitors don’t know it’s a competition?) and was the first to get there. “Haha, the person who doesn’t tramp beat all of you regular trampers,” he crowed. OK, he ‘won’.

The next day, he was incredibly sore but also loathe to admit it. Still keen to beat us all and show us up, he made quick strides to get ahead early on. Just like the marathon runner, he also ran out of puff and was gradually overtaken by everyone else. We waited in the car park for him and smiled a little internally as he ate humble pie.

If I want competitive tramping, I’ll start geocaching. Or trail racing. For me, tramping isn’t competitive. It’s not about the speed; it’s about enjoyment.