No, I’m not talking about those hard things. Get your mind out of the gutter.
Take a look at this. An unfiltered glimpse of my Wednesday. And, there’s the peak we are headed for.
This is how my family (Ken, 2 kids), my brother and my 2 nephews spent a day this week. For years my nephews (now 13 and 16) have wanted to do a 14’ner (aka climb a 14,000+ foot peak). They don’t live in Colorado. In fact they live about as far away as you can get – in Dhaka, Bangladesh. We decided this was the summer we would attempt this feat. The challenge? Gray’s Peak = 14,270 feet.
It’s weird living in Colorado. Things get normalized. So many people climb 14,000 feet mountains (there are 52 of them) that it becomes almost “no big deal.” Just like so many people run 100 mile ultras and do lots of other crazy things. But, there is nothing “no big deal-ish” about climbing a mountain or running ultras. It takes perseverance, strength, guts and most of all patience.
Much like a marathon, it is something a small percentage of the population actually does. Because it is HARD people!
To give you some perspective, the round trip was just shy of 8 miles. But, guess how long it took us? 5 hours. That’s about a 45 minute mile. Like I said, patience.
I’m not here to tell you about the trail and how gorgeous (and extremely rocky and steep) it was. You can read a guide book about that. I’m hear to tell you about lessons learned on the trail. By me, by the kids.
As we started out in 35 degree weather when the sun was barely coming up, all was fine and dandy. It’s all fun and games at the beginning.
We climbed about 500 feet until we got just high enough that the sun warmed our faces and we stripped off our hats, gloves and coats. The first two miles we climbed, but it was not especially steep. All of that changed as we neared the base of the mountain. Everyone slowed down considerably. We took frequently breaks for water and to get our heart rates down. Climbing at altitude increases heart rate dramatically as you are oxygen challenged. It is also very easy to get dehydrated, so drinking lots was essential.
About a mile from the summit (which took over an hour to climb), the nephews plodded along, never complaining. After all, they were in the midst of realizing a dream they had talked about for the past 6 years.
My daughter, Emma (14), was starting to struggle. I had headed up to the summit with Sam, and given the switchbacks I could see exactly what was happening from afar. She was hiking with Ken and she was losing her confidence. I know that she is more than physically capable of this climb. But, her mind was getting the best of her. Just as your mind can outlast your body, your mind can also be your own worst enemy.
I worried she would refuse to keep going. it was just too hard. But, little by little, I saw Ken coaching her and they continued to press on. I could only imagine the conversations taken place
Emma: I can’t do it. I’m tired. I’m done. Let’s go back.
Ken: You are so close. Press on. I know you can do it. We are not stopping now.
Repeat, repeat, repeat
If you have kids and you have ever attempted to something like this (or any race) with them then you know what I’m taking about.
In the end, she made it to the summit. Instead of initially smiling and taking in the view, she fell into my arms and cried. I get it. When you do something tough and you are finally done, it is an outpouring of emotion and relief.
My brother and his boys
As I watched the kids challenge themselves, I thought about why we even want to do hard things. I mean, isn’t it so much easier to sit on our couches, a brewski in hand, chips at arm’s length and not even attempt to move out of our safety zones? Yes, maybe it’s easier, but it’s not better. Easy is not the point or the goal.
When we do hard things, when we are in the middle of a marathon and we hate life and wonder why we put ourselves through this suffer fest, we may wonder WHY, WHY? I’ll tell you why.
When we do hard things we come to believe in ourselves in a way that is different than how we felt before.
When we do hard things we gain a hard won confidence and the next time we know we can do harder things again.
When we do hard things we learn that when life throws us a major curve ball, we think back on the hard things we have done in the past and we know we can do hard things again. Not just physically demanding things, but life demanding things: losses, overcoming addictions, leaving a relationship that is not healthy, overcoming trauma.
When we do hard things we learn that we can rely on ourselves when maybe we can’t rely on others. Even if you have a posse of people cheering you along at mile 16 of a marathon, it still has to be you and only you who gets you to the finish line. That is self reliance.
Since I started running I have completely changed as a person. Yes, I like to be physically fit, but the change I speak of is much different and more profound than that. I have learned to view myself as a survivor and as someone who doesn’t give up. Someone who finds a way, always.
I so badly want my kids to know that feeling. I think we are on our way.