As I mature in my endurance practice I root deeper into the idea that mine is less one of seeking to achieve and more one of learning to listen. ‘Epic’ means nothing to me and, instead, my increasingly powerful and resilient body seeks feats of subtlety, participates in events shrouded in lonesome mystery, and my turning legs beat out ephemeral half-answers to questions that will continue to drive me for decades more. As I become stronger, I become more ferocious and, paradoxically, more interested in the small things, the unremarkable experience of living my life in the forest.
The spring season floods us with more energy and ideas than we know what to do with so I put together this brief guide to ground your mountain endurance practice.
Patience: As water eventually cracks granite (melting/freezing or barreling through) this driven athlete has realized the ultimate power of patience as an endurobeast. Patience is not akin to passive waiting but is, instead, the soul sister of tenacity. Patience has a quality of quiet knowing and the humbleness to put in the work again and again.
Acceptance: This winter I trained my literal ass off for a specific desert running project only for inclement weather and trail washouts to make the run impossible. The day I was supposed to do the run into which I’d put so much work I blithely pointed my car at a different trailhead and had a fulfilling run anyway. Why? Because if I wanted to always complete the objective I want to complete, I’d be a triathlete. The mountains are a dynamic being with whom to collaborate and I’ve learned to accept defeat, joy, and being broken with equal gratitude.
Audacity: The natural extension from the previous is the quality of having the self-awareness and confidence to dream (and train) big, bigger, biggest, even beyond what any existing paradigm suggests is possible. Never been done before? No problem. Your family/friends/partner/coach doesn’t think it is possible/prudent/safe? Who gives a shit; do it anyway and create your own paradigm.
Self-knowledge: As I weave this guide to athletic maturity I see how connected and interdependent each of these qualities is. Audacity is dangerous to the athlete if it is not grounded in an accurate self-assessment of skill, personal capacity, health, and preparation. Exercising self-knowledge allows the athlete to tailor their practice to their weaknesses and their performances to their strengths.
Injury- and illness-proof: The athletes I admire are not the ones who accomplish their goals through brute force, leaving them at risk of illness or injury as a result. The athletes I admire have learned their ‘tells’, knowing and respecting their needs for rest, understanding humbly when to back off a climb or away from a slope. These athletes are seldom, if ever, injured; they do not drive themselves into overtraining.
Support: As an endurance athlete, it is your responsibility to be secure enough in your own practice to support others’ practices. This goes for those who excel where you struggle or for those who simply can’t keep up with you. The strongest climbers, skiers, and runners I know don’t critique my performance and my ideas, they are my biggest supporters and cheerleaders. Be that secure bitch who wholeheartedly encourages your fellow athlete.
Creative isolation: While the athletic community as a whole seems bent on this idea of ‘sharing is caring’ or ‘to go long go together’ or ‘the more the merrier’, I find my most genius, rapturous, unhinged athletic/spiritual feats happen in total creative isolation. I choose not to have many, if any at all, athletes in my circle of friends. I choose not to read climbing or running literature. I don’t pay attention to how other coaches coach. I simply attune myself, scrub my powers of perception clean, and lead from my soul. The purest creative acts arise from isolation, not by being diluted by others’ accomplishments or under their influence.
Discernment: Some of the best creative advice I’ve received over the years is this: “Your diamonds are not for everyone”. Not everyone you encounter on your athletic or personal path is deserving of or equipped to understand your gnostic, wandering endurance practice. You are under no obligation whatsoever to share your projects, your training sessions, and your reflections with anyone––ever.
Sensitivity: The ability of the athlete to accomplish their macro-level task (completing the climb, run, or descent) with facility is a useful one and certainly core to the very idea of athleticism. However, accomplishing the task but lacking subtle awareness of one’s surroundings, inner state, health, and connection with the more-than-human leaves the accomplishment hollow, devoid of meaning and impact on the athlete. Instead of fretting about what pausing to observe a bear munch berries will do to your Strava rank, understand these serendipitous encounters to be not ancillary but central to your athletic maturity. In the microcosm lies the truth of these experiences.