Saturday, August 17, 2013

Running Talus: the lost art of boulder hopping

In the mid 70’s, legendary US climber Doug Robinson penned an essay for the Chouinard Equipment catalogue titled ‘Running Talus’. For those in the UK, this is basically running full tilt down a boulder field- leaping at speed from rock to rock. Robinson suggested that this was great training for the actual physical act of climbing and scrambling- developing balance and confidence. On the face of it, hurtling down a boulder field at full speed, leaping from van size boulder to fridge sized boulder to rucksack sized boulder to...well... you know what a classic boulder field looks like- seems like a recipe for disaster. 

The potential to seriously injure of even kill yourself through taking a purler from a large slippery jagged boulder doesn’t bear thinking about. But really, just how dangerous is it as an activity?

When I was younger, I prided myself on my balance and sure footedness when coming down a boulder field. Although I never ran full belt down such an expanse of rock-- inevitably I had a rucksack on my back- I could easily gain rapid momentum to the extent that I would look around at the bottom and see my cohorts gingerly picking their way down in the distance. As I’ve got older and well into middle age, I’ve definitely lost that natural ability. My balance has deteriorated; my body’s youthful suppleness has gone, leaving me much stiffer and awkward and of course, that confidence of youth has gone. I can still walk and bike long distances, climb and scramble but as for leaping around like a spring lamb...afraid not!

Getting back to Doug Robinson and his Running Talus. Not surprisingly perhaps for someone brought up in the sixties’ Californian hippy culture, Doug applied some Zen philosophy to the act of running talus. Describing how with practice, the mind and body harmonize the action of hurtling down boulder fields. Bestowing upon the participant an almost sublime state of consciousness. As the Talus runner gains momentum, his brain has already computed where the next foot fall will land before he/she has even touched down on the preceding move. The runner is in the air almost the moment their foot has landed.

In this scenario, there is almost no time to slip as there is no purchase-  just an explosion of movement. The foot becomes a coiled spring rather than just an anchor rooting the body to the earth. When running at speed down steep inclines like this, leaping from boulder to boulder, it almost becomes an act of flight rather than an act of earth bound movement. A top Talus Runner like Doug Robinson in his youth would probably spend more time in the air twixt boulders than touching down.
Thankfully, in the UK at least, the activity remains an obscure and little appreciated art; free from competition, commercial sponsorship and turgid ethical discussion. Can you imagine...  ‘The 2014 Red Bull National Boulder Running Championships at Cader Idris'!

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