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Finding Fortitude: The True Test of Strength

Each day presents the opportunity to enhance your lifestyle in more ways than one. Meaning that, unless your main objective is to run a highly competitive marathon, triathlon, mud run, or fitness competition, you should perform a variety of types of activity as often as possible. Appreciating the human body and its enhancement is what I love to seek out and experiment with. But inside the movement and body health realm, I recommend trying a variety of practices to create a well-rounded approach to physical health. Yoga, unconventional training, running, swimming, movement culture, hiking, team sports, etc. all have positive components but that can be complemented with another activity that is strong where one lacks.

In my experience, trail and road running goes makes my body feel best when complimented with Kettlebell training, Yoga, Hiking, and Foundations core training.

However, over the last 3 years or so, my interest in trail running began to grow with pleasure. There is an unbelievable connection felt being in a primitive element; each step unique beneath your feet, absent from other distractions, focusing on the next few steps, hills, and the unpredictable terrain.

This is an excerpt from The Compact Fulfillment Guidebook about my first, ahem, “long distance” trail run 2 years ago. It was the first deep-digging run I had experienced, and it adjusted my perspective and passion to have more confidence and realize how to simply keep moving in the positive direction in the face of discomfort, and how the lesson learned applies to much more than a simple run in strengthening the mind.

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My focus was fading, breathing heavy, and fighting the urge for my legs to crumble underneath me. Battling dehydration, each step became more grueling than the last, with the finish nowhere in sight. Why am I doing this? What am I trying to prove? I feel like shit. I should just stop here.

FORTITUDE, NOUN; MENTAL AND EMOTIONAL STRENGTH IN FACING DIFFICULTY, ADVERSITY, DANGER, OR TEMPTATION COURAGEOUSLY

Aside from the physical demands of endurance over and through mountains, it is an extremely mental roller coaster where your body just wants to shut down repeatedly, only to keep on asking yourself “Is that all the effort I am truly able to give?”  Well early in September, I set out to make my longest trail run at the time of 8 miles; time for the test.

We were headed from a section of the Appalachian Trail beginning on Route 22 in Pawling to cross 2 valleys and reach ‘Nuclear Lake’ on Route 55, one of my absolute favorite stretches within miles of my home. The run began with a swirl of confidence and nervousness, and as the elevation got steeper, my legs became slowly heavier and heavier, pulling my focus to drift or wave. I kept checking my watch to slowly see our pace slowing as the climb became great, only to allow a tidal wave of thoughts enter my head.

I have to pick it up. I can do better. My chest feels so heavy. I should have been more prepared.  

A few times I had to drastically slow down because my toes kept clipping rocks, roots, and stumps (mostly, so I didn’t fall flat on my face), but I had to keep pushing. My friend is a more experienced and a stronger runner than I, so his lead set the bar for me to keep going and not let him pull too far ahead. Surpassing 1,200 feet of elevation gain, sweat pouring down my back, a burning sensation in my calves and hips, with my heart rate climbing beyond 185 bpm, my body was screaming to rest. About a mile further, we came to a point where the apex seemed so close, so we began scrambling up the rocks about 50 yards. With every move I made, my steadiness seemed to drop. I was losing confidence in my decision-making and strength to keep glued where I stood.

Halfway up I did exactly what you should never do; looked down and slightly lost composure.  Losing the ability to find a hand hold, turning my hips away from the wall, I panicked that my recovering shoulder wouldn’t be able to take on holding the weight of my body yet. I felt stranded. After a minute of saying “I can’t”, my ass found its way to the top for a much-needed a snack and mental break before the second leg of the trip.  After a light snack and refocus, the sails were set for the home stretch of the journey. This was a new route for both of us, so the expectations of what lied ahead were entirely a mystery. Thankfully, it was mostly downhill, but that demanded staying sharp and focused from all that sweet, sweet speed! 

The last thing you would want is to get caught in a 30 yard stretch of rocks and trees over the trail before you lost footing, because then you’re really in a bad spot; no cell service, having to hike your butt back to wherever you are headed. With each growing step breathing became heavier, and the sunlight and water were both becoming sparse. The tree cover was so dense that our eyes had to constantly re-adjust to the darkness we became engulfed in. It was only another half mile until we had to stop and break out the headlamps to complete the last leg of the journey.

Only 2 miles left. Empty the tank, let’s finish strong. Win this battle. You can rest later, do the work now.

Our pace had tremendously picked up at this point. It could have been the fact we knew the end was near, or that we wanted to put whatever ounce of fuel we had left on the trail to blaze to the finish. My body felt like a well-oiled machine, feeling the synchronization of my upper and lower limbs with my heavy breath.

Barreling over fallen trees and vaulting rocks, our eyes remained fixed on that clearing in the distance, not letting any obstacle stand in the way between conquering hills in the Hudson Valley for fun. Every step taken brought my inner voices reason to call it quits, shortly followed by vigor and a big breath.

Prior to this trip, by no means would I considered myself the most conditioned or the strongest. But I did not do as well as I originally thought I would have. Maybe it was some overconfidence? Unpreparedness? Whatever it may be, I learned that growth is exponential, the search for greatness is never ending. This goes for achieving levels of fitness, working on passionate relationships, flourishing professionally, and within our own conscious being.

Our minds are the most powerful tool we own, and in order to keep it working its best, we must exercise the ability to fight through discomfort, fatigue, doubt, and any reason you try to convince yourself it is ‘OK’ to quit. The ego can be our prime motivation as well as our greatest enemy. It is able to bring us a great deal of confidence and doubt; pleasure and pain; success and failure.

This trip was the perfect challenge for me to look deeper at my own self and was a nice reality check on my current fitness and mental status; there are going to be big highs, larger lows, and a large amount of steadiness and focus. The best way to get through it is to keep energy headed in the positive direction. Speed does not matter, and stressing about the end will only prolong its appearance; just keep heading in the right direction in the most effective way you can, as often as you can, and you will make it where you desire.

We all have our own weak spot, wherever it may fall. It can be a result of subtle insecurities holding us back from career success; Fears limiting our ability to explore challenge if we do not face them and grow around or with it. We all have a “something” that can pop in to obstruct our path from going smoothly and optimally; I recommend to take some time to explore within yourself and grab at what makes you feel most alive.

 

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