by Khaled Allen
Picture credit Julia Baykova on Flickr
My most impressive physical accomplishment involved me carrying an aluminum canoe over razor-sharp rocks submerged in knee-deep water, during a thunderstorm, while thick underbrush dragged me to my knees. It was one of the best days of my life, largely because it ended with a warm campfire and a full belly, but I was lucky to have been well prepared for it. For the month leading up to that camping trip, I had been doing all my usual CrossFit workouts outdoors, running on grassy mounds, lifting logs and rocks instead of balanced bars, and doing pullups on tree limbs. I was used to awkward, slippery, and uncomfortable. Some of my camping partners were totally stuck. Their gym workouts hadn’t prepared them for this, though they could probably lift more than me.
If the only races you’ve ever run have been on paved roads, you’ll be in for a surprise when you first step off the beaten, graded, and well-maintained path. Road runners transitioning to trail running always find that it’s the little things that throw them off: the unsure footing, the twists and turns, the constant elevation changes. They can handle the running itself, but when you have to get past all sorts of other things to even get to the running, you may find yourself stranded.
In reality, our bodies were designed to work in unstable, unpredictable conditions. Primitive fitness is based on using all possible movement patterns, in random and unpredictable environments and is based on what our hunter-gatherer ancestors did every day. It pays to keep in mind that we only have to use our own strength and speed when we lack modern conveniences in the first place. The only times you’ll have to rely on your own physical abilities to get work done are also the times you won’t be indoors, near the comforts of civilization. You wouldn’t have to carry your injured friend if you were near a road with a car, for example.