Suffering in athleticism is different from other forms of suffering. And suffering in the
mountains is different still. There is no escape except one’s own power and volition.
But being okay with suffering is not innate. It is certainly a learned skill. Those who play sports learn early on that suffering is part of success. I learned this later in life. When I started working out I thought it would get easier– turns out, it doesn’t. It’s
still difficult, but you can push yourself harder, further, faster than before. My most shocking revelation wasn’t that it continued to be hard, but that struggling with burning muscles and side cramps and hunger and blisters is okay. My health, my goals, my safety is all worth my suffering in the moment, because this is how I grow.
It is February in Colorado. At 5 AM the sky is clear and the wind biting and cold. Without the sweeping light of my head lamp I can’t see my feet to get my ski boots on.
When I was 8 years old I told my dad I wanted to play soccer. He said, unequivocally, that soccer was for sissies. And so I continued the family tradition of Saturday morning bowling as the only ‘sport’ I ever took part in. (P.S. Dear Dad, If soccer is for sissies, what does that make bowlers?)
In high school I considered playing field hockey, but between my almost full time job and doing my best as a surrogate parent for my younger sister, I couldn’t really find the time.
After high school I gained the requisite freshmen fifteen, and then some. Soon college was over and I was living in an apartment that shared a parking lot with Wendy’s and working 60 hours a week fueled by coffee with extra cream and sugar. Suddenly, I found myself an overweight twenty something who had never spent an ounce of energy on athletics.
Fast forward to Memorial Day 2009, I realized how out of shape I was. Torn between family obligation and fun, I spent Saturday eating hamburgers in my sister’s backyard before driving to meet friends to camp for the remainder of the holiday weekend in New Hampshire. Our goal was to hike Mt. Washington, the state’s highest peak and famous for its extreme weather.
My weight had crept up insidiously, as weight often does, and in my mind, I equated my own fitness with that of my camping compatriots. I was so, so wrong. I did get up the
mountain, but it took all god damn day and I as I leaned into the wind on the summit, the sun kissed the horizon. As I had no idea what I was doing, I was grossly under prepared for hiking down in the impending darkness. Luckily, and unbeknownst to me when I started this hike, there is a ridiculously expensive shuttle that will ferry weary hikers back to the parking lot. I knew they had the upper hand, but I paid the dang guy anyway and got in the van.
Embarrassed, ashamed, feeling very out of shape but not yet realizing just how far from in shape I was, I figured I should probably do something to keep up with my friends.
So I joined a gym and started riding a stationary bike. I had no idea how to diet or how much to work out or how much muscles could hurt and still be okay. That effort failed. Or more accurately, I failed. Read More