Some of you would probably be surprised to find out that when I was hiking and running on Vermont’s Long Trail two years ago, there were definitely a few times when I was scared. None of those times had to do with darkness, or wildlife, but rather, it was every time I was on a summit of one of the four 4,000ft peaks on the Long Trail. These aren’t even super exposed peaks, and I’m not even *that* scared of heights (and for everyone from Colorado who climbs 12-14k peaks and doesn’t understand the scariness that can be had here, just trust me!). But something about being up high on a mountaintop like that hits me with a ton of bricks how small I am in the grand scheme of the world, how powerful nature is, and how easily it could overpower me.
So it probably seems a little backwards that the next challenge I took on involved climbing 46 peaks above 4,000 feet in some of the most rugged terrain possible, huh?
Yeah, it seems backwards to me too, don’t worry.
But for whatever reason, the intrigue of this challenge was bigger than my worry. The nagging in my head of “I think I could do that pretty well” was bigger than the part that said “4,000 ft peaks are scary!”
So over the last two years, I’ve had to do some things — some impromptu and unplanned, others very calculated — to help me find my courage. Along the way, this gave me a mental edge that I think helps me to not only be brave, but to also dig deep, be resilient and find my competitive drive when needed.
*Practice. It sounds so simple right? But it’s actually really easy to train hard and still avoid things that scare you! For me, this meant really seeking out technical terrain, and getting out there in all the elements. It meant a lot of time solo in the woods, and even some solo time bushwhacking! I had to practice being uncomfortable in terrain, staying calm, and moving through it. This also meant a lot of planning. I’d get my plan from my coach, Hillary Biscay, and then I’d have time carved out to go through it day by day - how could I execute the plan while also being in terrain at times to stretch my limits? Had I left this to the last minute at times, it would have easily not happened.
*The best you can do is the best you can do. I have learned through a life of sport, that sports are never going to love you back, or give back to you what you give to them. Because of that, I have learned to see my life as an athlete less through a lens of success and failure determined by the outcome of what I am competing in, but rather in the measure of: am I doing my best? If I am, then I’m winning, even if that means I lose the game/race/competition. This comes into play when facing my fears too. The best I can do might never be bombing down the scary rocky descent. The best I can do might be a slow crawl-butt slide combination. But if that’s the best I can do? Then I’m going to be darn proud of that and call it a win, simply for doing my best.
*Embracing competition. I admit - when I first agreed to “race” Sarah Keyes for the women’s FKT, I was anxious and nervous and all of the uncertainties were playing out in my head. But when push comes to shove, I love competition. I love that it can draw out of me every ounce of effort that I can muster. And I knew that this competition would help fuel my drive to get out of my comfort zone and push my limits. It’s scary to think about losing, but it’s also scary to think about never stepping outside my comfort zone. Sarah was the most enthusiastic person I could have had as a partner in crime to take a competition of this sort, so I was determined to embrace it!
*Finding your mantra. We all have them - those words we repeat to ourselves to talk us through the challenging times. For whatever reason, when I started spending more time in the mountains, whenever I’d face a particularly challenging section and my brain would start to question - is it safe? Can I do this? - I’d also find myself thinking of the popular phrase “Eddie Would Go” and repeating that to myself to encourage my steps forward. If you have never heard of the legendary surfer Eddie Aikau, I really encourage you research him a bit. For whatever reason, his story and the mantra that has come from his legacy always reminds me that I can do it, I can be brave, I can surf that wave (okay, climb that mountain). And Eddie’s story includes him doing it all with a smile, which reminds me to tap into why I do all of this in the first place: to have some fun!
*The Why. This adventure had a much more meaningful “why” component than I have ever had before in a race or adventure. Before I had even hit the trailhead to start, I had raised over $5,000 for the Paden Institute & Retreat for Writers of Color - a cottage on Lake Champlain that sponsors writers of color to spend time writing in the Adirondacks. In a few short days we raised that money, and when I was delivering the exciting news to Dr. Alice Paden Green, she giggled with surprise: “And you haven’t even run yet!”
She was right! I hadn’t even run yet. Knowing that I had already made an impact on the world around me before I even toed the line? It was awesome, but it was also an awesome responsibility to uphold my end of the bargain! But that was a good thing. It was also a powerful feeling to realize that there are heroes like Dr. Green out there fighting for social justice in the ways that they know how, and maybe, that the way I know best - running and hiking - could have meaning too. To team up on a project like this carried me through the toughest miles out there in the heart of the Adirondack Wilderness.
So, there is no foolproof method to facing your fears, finding your courage, and being able to chase big dreams that are on the table. Or, I certainly haven't found it yet. But I hope I have given you some insight into how this hike - what started as “hey, maybe I could set a record” -- turned into an adventure for growth and finding my courage!