Monday, January 23, 2012

Mental fortitude

During the first hundred steps of the Incline, Makiah and Moonli bound by us. Happy to be outside and off leash, their smiles unmistakeable. We can talk at first, the effort nor the altitude taking its toll. Plus the first section is mellow, only a 35 degree pitch. The steeper sections are to come. We know it, the dogs know it, but that doesn't keep them from running ahead, sniffing scents and chasing chipmunks.

Two guys pass us, despite our steady unrelenting pace. We in turn pass a few people and as the pitch steepens, my inner demons surface.  Makiah is panting, the big steps for us giant leaps for her.

That's when the discipline comes out: the grit, the determination to continue even with heavy breathing and throbbing legs. I visualize climbing in a hilly road race, feel the pain to keep pressure on the pedals, continue on despite my body telling my brain to stop. This time there are no power meters to distract me - nothing to impede my upward progression. Nothing to track forward movement, kilojoules burnt, numbers to examine and trends to plot. The only promise this hike has is a great view at the top. Oh, and the priceless practice of mental fortitude.  

As a lifelong athlete, it's easy to take for granted a higher tolerance for pain. Training in zones where discomfort becomes the norm and extreme fatigue a steady companion, day in and day out. But at some point you adapt to that discomfort, it becomes easy just by repetitive visitation. In a way you plateau, getting used to pain. And it makes it hard to push beyond comfortable pain. But you must. This is what can separate you from winning or losing: who can withstand pain longer on a given day.

I'm sure this sounds insane to some - why would you willingly put yourself in pain? For me, it's for the love of sport. The love of triumph, to overcome obstacles both physical and mental. To see what your body and mind can endure and survive. It is a satisfaction and journey that calls to me constantly. It's the feeling of being alive when I get to the top of the Incline, take a deep breath and soaking in the view.

And it's the promise of the Taste of Jerusalem Cafe's kick ass hummus in Manitou after hiking down the Barr trail....

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