"What you are afraid to do is a clear indication of the next thing you need to do.."
Truth be told, I just googled: "quotes about fear and athletics" and this is one of the quotes that came up. I picked it because it was more general and applicable to all areas of life... certainly not just for running, and not just for athletics either.....
Do the thing you are afraid of: It's a common thing that you hear in motivational speeches, or read in books meant to inspire... but many of them can be taken out of context and miss the mark a bit. Let me tell you about an experience I had this past week while Hiking in Colorado.
As you all know, I've been coming back carefully, and fearfully, from injury. It's going well, but... man, I'm not out of the woods. Not even close. but I'm still determined to live my life as fully as I can! My husband and I won a trip from the Date Night In a Box subscription, so we went to Colorado to explore the High Country! My parents have a house in the White Mountains, so I'm no stranger to hiking. Actually, the hiking in the Whites is significantly more technical than anything I experienced in my short time in Colorado... but when we were planning out our hike, I didn't know what to expect of the altitude and the trails so we had a Goal, and then we had a GOAL. Thunderstorms were in the forecast, so when my husband told me the bigger goal was a 10k round trip, he worried that would be a stretch for my calf since we'd have to hike much faster. "Will you stop trying to decide what I can and can't do because of my calf?" I was tired of it. It's bad enough I'm terrified of re-injuring it, I don't need him to chime in too. Every single activity I do starts with intense fear but as I'm doing it it goes away little by little. That's the idea from all those fear quotes... isn't it? I wont let fear stop me in my tracks! We are getting the GOAL-goal! .
So the first goal was to make it to Lower Crystal Lake, the second goal (GOAL-goal) was to make it to Upper Crystal Lake. As we got going I learned the hiking was fucking easy. It was like walking on a mildly rocky and grassy path. No crazy granite or slabs of rocks, or roots and trees to climb and bob and weave around like at home. This was just... walking up a mountain. And because you were pretty much always above treeline, you could see the path from miles away. I wanted to run, but my husband wouldn't let me because of my calf. He was most likely right on this, so it was a good call (but secretly I know he was struggling with some altitude sickness... but I'll let my calf be the reason we didn't run, I didn't want to tamper with any egos on our romantic getaway!). We bumped into a group of 3 other hikers that were staying in a cabin partway up the mountain. A couple older than us with their college aged son who looked determined to drag the two on a good hike. We asked for them to take a picture of us and then went past them until they were nearly out of sight. We were making good time even without running.
We got to Lower Crystal Lake and it was very obvious we were going to keep going, and we didn't want to take a break because the storms were predicted to start in a few hours. There were no markings for the trails, so we took a left around the Lower Lake instead of a Right and ended up hiking in the wrong direction for about a mile out and then back again. The reason we missed the correct trail is because there was a river you needed to cross draining from the lower lake, so we missed the path on the other side of the river.. when we hiked up, we could see it, so at least that was helpful! We got back down to lower lake and Many groups we had passed on the way were gathered there to eat including the group of three that had taken our picture earlier. We stopped to chat a bit, told them where were headed. Forging the river was pretty easy. There were rocks stacked up that people have placed to help with crossing that were just a few inches below the surface, so you didn't get too wet. We proceeded quickly, we had a goal and with our detour, we were behind schedule.
We continued on. This is where the hike got so so breathtaking! In more ways than one! Matt was starting to actually feel dizzy from the altitude if he didn't take deep breaths (over 12,000ft). I still mostly felt fine but was taken back by the scenery. I kept stopping Matt to take pictures. He's sometimes so goal driven that he doesn't even see anything around him. He gets that tunnel vision that is hard to break through... so I tried not to bother him too much with the photos and just quietly took them of him while we hiked. Occasionally I got him to stop for a picture together or for one of me.
We started getting to patches of snow. The Snow was the coolest part of the view to me. The contrast of the green and the white with the blue sky made my landscape painting heart flutter. Who would have though snow in July could bring such joy? ha! We crossed a few pretty flat sections of snow, and then a less flat section that I walked below and Matt walked through. We disagreed on the safer way to cross this section but both were inconsequential as you were just going to fall down a hill onto the switchback path below. Then we came to a section at a much steeper angle and no way around. We had to go through it. I thought nothing of it at first... afterall, this was the easiest hike I've ever been on and it's just snow. We are New Englanders! We understand snow! I quickly assessed the safety and saw that if you slipped on the snow you'd slide pretty far down the mountain, but it would be harmless sledding into a patch of grass. We began crossing and I realized I did not like it, not at all. We had to lean into the mountain and use our hands for support. We had no poles, no spikes, and no gloves. It is July but snow is snow! That shit is cold! It also forced us to be looking down... which made me suddenly light headed at 12,700ft. and fear crept in so the light headedness was hard to get control over. So now I'm dizzy on a giant slab of slippery snow... great. I continued because what else do you do. Sooner I'm off the better! We both made it across okay and kept walking. I said "If we have to cross another patch that big, I don't think I can do it." The trail had been switch backing so although I could see snow ahead, I hoped the trail would turn before that... but nope... We followed the trail right up to the snows edge and I sat down.
Matt and I weighed pros and cons. I love my husband dearly, but at the age of 3 he almost died. He was in a serious accident and as a result he had surgeries that put him under anesthesia for the longest amount of time a child of that age had been at that point in time and had the highest childhood blood transfusion at that point in time (1985) and is probably a subject in a textbook somewhere because of the innovation to give him the best quality of life (Thank God for brilliant doctors in brilliant Hospitals. “Boston, you’re my home!”) He had surgery after surgery after surgery nearly spending all of that year in the hospital... Not my story to tell, so I’ll spare details, but not exactly a normal childhood. I think having a near death experience brought upon this invincibility complex that he presents and I'm always trying to figure out when it's serving him and when it's hurting him and when I let him fall and when I reach out my hand if he’ll ever receive it... On top of that, the accident he was part of left him, by most peoples standards (but not ours), handicapped. As a child he was always feeling this overarching need to prove himself. He's not like that most of the time anymore because he's matured and life is humbling... but I'm sitting on the edge of the snow not sure which one of us is being ridiculous.... I lived a fairly cushy life. I went to a private school that kicked out the mean and scary kids that made you feel threatened or bullied. I never needed to deal with peer pressure in difficult situations, because it was t often there. I never had to prove myself because I only did things that I was really fricken good at. If I wasn't good at it I just didn't do it. I'm not a quitter by any means, but I leaned on my talent in one area to keep me from trying anything else. Since we're on the topic of slippery snow, I dated a snowboarder once, and I'm not sure if I was afraid of snowboarding or afraid to suck at snowboarding... but I never did it. I told all the "boarders" in our friend group that I didn't want to risk injury with running... which was true.... but I still used my sport to keep me from doing something I was either afraid to get hurt doing or afraid to be embarrassed doing.
Protecting myself one way or another...
So, Which one of us sitting on the edge of the snow crossing was crazy?
Both of us are prideful and both of us are goal driven, and both of us are pretty driven by ego... but I often feel like I have to overcompensate in the safety side of things to make up for the fact that he's willing to do anything at any cost. But the whole hike I already felt like my calf was holding us back, talk about tampering with ego! I had looked at the next two snow crossings, and the result of falling was much more detrimental. If we slipped, it could be serious. "Well, don't slip. It's just walking across a snowy hill, if the rocks weren't on the bottom you wouldn't think you couldn't cross this"... He was right. It wasn't that hard... but I felt unprepared. I played the ultimate card and said "I promised Raea we'd come back, and I'm not risking the lifelong trauma if something happens to us." and that was it. He agreed. We turned around.
We started hiking back and crossed that first section of snow, it was harder the second time because now I was frazzled. I started verbally justifying my fear. I was mad at myself and disappointed that I wussed out. I let fear win I told myself. But it just didn't feel right. I felt Matt's disappointment too, which weighed on me. "I just think It will be so pretty up there, you will love it and be so happy you made it"... Ugh, shit, is he right? We kept hiking down. Coming in the opposite direction of us was the group we had seen earlier and a bunch of other people mixed in. Some of them without backpacks or anything... Just out for a totally casual hike! Like, isn't this hard? I mean, am I the only chicken around here!!!?? ... I watched everyone cross the snow from a distance. Ugh, Bruised ego! I asked Matt if we could go back, and now he was like "no no no, you made the decision, you're probably right, and besides we wont make it back with the storms now" We went to lower lake to eat and then get off the mountain before he storm. Ugh. I was hurtin on the inside. My soul. I felt horrible! I was surrounded by the most beautiful scenery I've ever seen in person but I was being swallowed by self ridicule and negative self talk. On the inside I was burning, but on the outside I just kept repeating and rephrasing something about learning to appreciate the journey not the destination, What I might possibly post on instagram to make me look like less of a weak ass quitter! fuck that. I couldn't get out of my head...
As we were eating I was snapping out of it a bit. A little food always helps. The winds were picking up intensely and I looked up to the snow to see if anyone was heading back and sure enough there were two people crossing the section I stopped on. they were so far away (ants!) the only reason we could see at all was because of the contrast with the snow... so I didn't recognize which group was coming back. I looked down to open a cliff bar and looked back up and... someone was sliding every which way down the mountain approaching some gnarly rocks. My heart was pounding but shortly after I saw that whoever it was was able to slow themselves down and gain control before getting to the rock section. I watched their hiking partner keep going. No one seemed panicked. I looked at my husband and felt a sigh of relief. See. ... My intuition was right! I didn't want to say anything though because a giant weight had been lifted off of me because someone else nearly got hurt!
Another couple at lower lake came over to us to ask if we heard yelling for help. I explained that someone had fallen but they seemed in control. The couple had binoculars and asked if I could see them to make sure. When I looked I recognized the hikers "Shit, Matt. They were a group of 3... There are only 2 of them!" There was another snow pass that I didn't watch anyone cross, but if you fell off that one you were in trouble like... Need helicopter trouble. The couple with the binoculars also had a radio so Matt and I decided we'd run back to meet up with the two we could spot, and make sure that everyone was okay. We wondered if one strategically slipped down the snow to try to help someone else. It was just too far away to see. Long story less long, everyone was okay. The third hiker turned back earlier and we just were too busy eating to notice. Phew! We learned the Upper Lake was iced over and you couldn't really see anything.... Just snow and ice... (been there , seen that)... and we also learned that falling from that snow pass was very dangerous. The woman broke both her poles attempting to keep herself from hitting rocks and was really shaken up. We took a quick selfie and huge cracks of thunder started roaring so we headed for tree line. At this point Matt and I had a much longer hike down so we bid farewell and started running while they didn't have much further to go. We also learned they had a radio, so felt comfortable leaving them in our dust. Off we went. We ran about 3 more miles to the car and jumped in just before the rain started. PHEW! The woman had thanked us for coming back to help, like we had saved her or something... but really I should have been thanking her, because she really saved the rest of our trip. I could let go of my self judgement. I was right, My fear was justifiable, Take that Ralph Waldo Emerson! What you are afraid of is not an indicator of what you should do next! ... Unless you are talking about preparedness....
Fear is not your enemy. Fear is useful. Fear is essential. Fear is something that tells you when you might be in trouble. It is up to you to figure out which fear to honor and which fear to push through, but stop giving fear a bad reputation. Never ignore fear, it is always communicating with you. If you are afraid of something work harder at the thing you are afraid of, prepare more for the thing you are afraid of... but don't do the thing you are afraid of blindly thinking that that is the solution. The thing you fear may indicate what you should do next but it itself is not necessarily the you should do next. If you are afraid of running a 100 mile race, you don't just go out and run one! You will fail! It's not the act of doing the thing you're afraid of that eliminates fear. It's the act of preparing for the thing you're afraid of so that you can succeed at the thing you're afraid of that eliminates fear. I sat on the edge of that snow and said to Matt "I'm not afraid, we can do it, It's just stupid. We have no poles, we have no gloves, we have no spikes and no radio and it's supposed to start storming... we can do it, but we aren't prepared so it's stupid". So here's my little quote for you (a quick google search says no one said it so poetically yet):
"To Eliminate Fear, you MUST PREPARE"
And all that stuff about it being about the journey and not the destination... that's all true too. The preparing part is part of the journey, of course. So how this applies to running? Well... for me... I continue to prepare as much as I can for what I'm attempting to do, the next run, the next mile, the next step. The fear is keeping me in check... Making sure I don't skip... making sure that I leave no stone unturned, making sure I don't take any short cuts..... Raise your hand if you've had an injury and to fix it you started some PT or strength training... then you started running again and doing strength training at the same time... but then running was going fine and you needed more time for more miles so you dropped the strength training and just ran... and then you got injured again and you wondered how the hell it happened. (Whoa! Shit! Look at all them hands!!!) . My hand is up. Why'd we all stop doing the strength training, people? Why'd we stop foam rolling? Why'd we drop the little things?!... Oh, is it because we stopped being afraid?... Yeah... That's right.
Fear is not the enemy. It's your friend. Honor it
And if you ever find yourself standing at the edge of your metaphorical snowfield, if you're not prepared, there's nothing wrong with turning back. You can not fail if you do not quit. Turning back to prepare is not quitting.
Welcome to my blog! I've been blogging for a long time on various platforms. My intention has never been to reach the masses, but rather to give myself a chance to reflect and journal. I feel it at least challenges me to be somewhat coherent, however you can expect ramblings and grammatical incorrectness here!
I've recently been diagnosed with CECS and fPAES and had it treated with BOTOX of all things... So I suspect to see more and more people looking for answers with that in the future and hope to continue blogging so there will be easy to access follow-ups as that was helpful for me.
NOTE: Apologies that some of the pictures incorrectly load sometimes. I try to keep up with the glitches, but can't always! Hope it doesn't impact the blog experience for all the PAES visitors.