On Fitness, Uncertainty, and the Mental Aspect of Mountain Climbing Training

Epiphany of the Day. Ready? GO!

Training for my Summit for Someone climb is hard.

Don't get me wrong, I knew it would be, and that's part of the appeal. All the hard work will be worth the reward: attempting to summit a beautiful mountain, helping under resourced teens experience the outdoors in a way that will transform their lives, and challenging myself in ways I've never challenged myself before. I was hesitant to write about my training barriers. They're not particularly unique, and it means I'd have to put my deep thoughts out on the internet! But then I read a post by Amy Christiansen of Expand Outdoors about how we define fitness, and something clicked.

What does "Fitness" Mean?

My definition of fitness has evolved with personal goals. It has to. As much as we'd all like to be this wonder woman, this wonder woman, and this wonder woman at the same time, it's unrealistic. When I was swimming in college, fitness meant being able to hold a certain pace for a certain time in the water. When I was training for a marathon in Alaska, it meant holding a certain pace for a certain time on land. Now, being fit means carrying a 40 pound pack over steep terrain and being able to walk the next day!

The bottom line - it's okay to change what you focus on, whether it be one pursuit or many. I don't have to focus on everything I've used to determine fitness in the past. I don't have to be able to climb 5.11, run a marathon, summit Rainier, and swim a sub 18-minute mile in one given time frame. It's been hard for me to accept that, but reading Amy's post really got me thinking about how our definition of fitness evolves.

The Challenge of Having a Plan

I'm a planner by nature, and according to WikiHow, the authority on how to do anything, planning is a crucial step to achieving your goals. So, by nature, I'm a winner! Right? Well, sometimes. Not having a perfect plan, or having the plan go awry, can be incredibly stressful to me. As much as I need a plan to follow, that plan can become my downfall if I'm not confident it'll achieve the desired outcome, or that I can complete it. There's no Wiki for that.

My goal is to be as "fit" as humanly possible for Rainier, both because a climb like this requires it, and because I don't want to be in pain the whole way up! This means matching my training plans with my definition of fitness for this particular event. I asked for advice from people who'd climbed the mountain before, and from people who knew what it took to succeed. I took a mountaineering class in the Adirondacks. I dusted off my copy of Mountaineering: Freedom of the Hills. I watched a great DVD, which helped me develop a 6-month training program that resides in a Google calendar, required workouts delineated in bright orange. Obsessive? A little much? Maybe.

So, for now, my definition of fitness is based around carrying heavy loads up big hills for a long time. And I have to accept that the plan I've got will (hopefully) get me there.

Enter - Uncertainty

Amy says"Fitness is personal. It’s about how you feel—from the inside out. When you’re at your ideal level of fitness, what do you feel? How do you walk in your body? What are you thinking?"

When I'm at my ideal level of fitness for whatever goal I'm pursuing, I feel invincible, I walk confidently, and think positively. Getting there can be difficult and require sacrifices. I knew I'd have trouble getting up before work to spend an hour in the gym (who doesn't?), and there would be mornings where I'd ignore the alarm. I knew searching for hikes near home with kind of elevation gain I needed to train would be nearly impossible; that once I found a hike, I'd probably have to loop it a few times to meet my training program's requirements. I knew it would be hard to find people to do the same hike three times in 90ยบ summer heat with me. I knew it would take a lot of willpower to avoid, or careful planning to include, building Center City Sips into my calendar.

Of the two parts of the training puzzle - the mental and the physical - I have a lot more trouble with the mental part. When I decide to shorten a hike because I've been rained on for hours, why can't I just push past the discomfort? When I create a separate workout calendar to serve as a constant reminder when I miss workouts, why does it seem I do it to punish myself? Why does reading that Melissa Arnot, one of my heroes, used a 50 pound weight vest and a 3,000' hill daily as Everest training, make me doubt my program? These thoughts are all incredibly self-defeating, and end up feeding a vicious cycle of self-doubt. I have a habit of talking myself out of things that could be incredibly beneficial, and doubting my ability.

In trying to figure out where these feelings come from, Amy's post caused a little light bulb to go off. That light bulb, if it had a voice, would've said, "You're being so critical of yourself because of the uncertainty. Because you're scared. Because you have absolutely no idea what my definition of fitness for Rainier should be."

Accepting Uncertainty and Moving Forward Anyway

I've had a lot of trouble accepting uncertainty for a long time, hence my innate need to plan everything. But with pursuits like mountaineering, backpacking, and climbing that are weather-dependent and full of all sorts of unforeseen challenges, it's impossible to be certain about anything. And I think that's why these pursuits, as much as I'll fight them internally, are so appealing to me. They force me to abandon what makes me feel comfortable. And as anxious as I might get, I know it's good for me, and I feel better than invincible if I can persevere.

Now, I'm sure there's more to it than this, and Freud would have a field day with me. I could spend the rest of my life writing posts themed around "confessions of an obsessive planner." But for now, I'll accept the light bulb as it is, shoulder my 40 pound pack, and climb on!

Do you struggle with defining fitness? Is it harder for you to train your brain or your body? We'd love to hear from you!


Katie said…
Well-written, Katie! I see you there, in those words...you'll get there, darlin'...I'm so proud of you for working so hard. -kb
Katie said…
Well-written, Katie! I see you there, in those words...you'll get there, darlin'...I'm so proud of you for working so hard. -kb
Elizabeth said…
Katie! I just ran across this post today, and I have a very similar super-planner personality. If things don't go according to plan, or plans change, I have a hard time being flexible. As a result, I deal with a lot of the same self-doubt that comes from uncertainty. Thanks so much for sharing this.
k8tlevy said…
Glad you enjoyed reading! I'm trying hard to be more flexible, but still having trouble shutting off the part of my personality that can't seem to go with the flow. But I know we'll both get better as time goes on!