My family and I just got back from a glorious 10 day holiday in Colorado. Anticipating the adventure, I made a lot of plans for family time, but also was giddy with the excitement of testing my athleticism in the mountains, going on lots of hikes, and doing all those “outdoorsy” things I always want to do, but never quite get the time or opportunity for in New York City. Our plane landed, and during the car ride to my sister-in-law’s house I was busy googling and mapping hikes, chattering to my husband about what our plans would be, he being the reluctant participant, hoping I would find some friends to hike with so that he could play golf. I had a headache, but I brushed it off, thinking it was just stress from the long travel day. We had an early family dinner, I avoided my usual glass of wine, and we were in bed by 10pm. 6 hours later, I woke up feeling like my head was in a vice, and I couldn’t run to the bathroom fast enough. 4 hours of back and forth bathroom to bed runs, I texted my sister in law in New York. “You need to get to the ER.”, she said, “You have Altitude sickness.”. Ugh. 5 hours later, after oxygen, an IV pack, and Zofran, I was back at the house…in bed, staring miserably at the 2 oxygen machines next to me that the doctor had sent home. My oxygen tested at an 87 when they discharged me, and normal levels are 92 or higher. I was not going to let this stop me! I had things to do! Mountains to climb! I remained hooked up to the machines all through the night, and when I woke in the morning, I felt like a new woman. Lacing up my running shoes my husband said, “don’t you think you should take it easy?” “I feel great”, I replied, “just going for a short one”. Little did I know how very short it would be… at a slow pace of probably a 5.0 on a treadmill, I was winded after about 5 minutes. Dejected, I felt a complete failure. I had been training a lot before I left - why was this happening? I was supposed to go on a hike with some girlfriends in a couple of days, what if I couldn’t keep up? I couldn’t even run on a flat surface, how was I going to hike up a mountain another 2,500 feet? What kind of fitness would I be able to accomplish over the next 9 days if I couldn’t even maintain a leisurely jog?! I stopped myself right there. I was 8,000 feet higher than my usual elevation, and my body for whatever reason, wasn’t having it. I needed to listen to it, I literally had no choice.
I started to think about what the Universe was trying to tell me. This situation was reminding me of how in fitness, (as in life), one’s Ego can really get in the way of growth. If I was going to enjoy and explore this vacation, I was going to need to set aside my own Ego, and allow myself to be vulnerable. I may not be the fastest person going up the mountain, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me from trying, and from having a great experience. Instead of trying to overcome, I was going to breathe into it, and allow the situation instead to exist as is. Easier said than done. I was the person used to being ahead of the curve in my classes back home. It gave me a certain degree of comfort that by now, I knew pretty much what to expect, and I knew what my body had to do to get the most out of that hour. While I certainly wasn’t a professional, I felt really good about the efforts I put in, and proud of what I could do in class. I was now officially out of my element. Just breathing was a chore, not to mention the task at hand of climbing straight up and out into the great wide open. There were so many unknowns, along with the possibility that I might have to simply turn around and go back down alone.
How many times do we get this same situation in our day to day fitness life where we are presented with the challenge of trying something new? It’s so easy to just stay in our comfort zone. It is so easy to just keep doing the same things we always do, that we are good at, that we may get praised or called out for in class, and not try that new thing. And why should we try that new thing? For starters, it’s an unknown, and we just aren’t sure we will get the same return from of it. I know that I will burn around 600-800 calories on average in my usual class. If I take something I’m not familiar with, what if my performance isn’t up to par, and my output is a fraction of what it usually would be? I don’t want to waste my time. This could be the biggest mistake we make. A few months ago, a dear friend invited me to try a very popular dance-based fitness class that she loves and takes about 4-5 times a week. She’s incredibly fit and I love to dance so I decided to give it a try. She booked a semi-private class with her favorite instructor and I was literally the person with two left feet. I realized that dance parties in my apartment with my twin 6 year olds are a lot different than keeping up with “uber-trainer to the stars” as she J-Los her way through 50 minutes of hard core cardio. I became really frustrated as I knew that if I was able to do the moves she was doing, I would really be working my core and legs and butt in a wonderful way, but because I probably accomplished 25% of what she was demonstrating, I felt like I left 75% on the table when I left. Sigh. “This is why I should not deviate from my usual”, I thought. Even though my friend couldn’t have been more encouraging of my efforts, I felt like I had failed…until the next morning when I literally couldn’t move my legs. Success! I was sore in muscles I never even knew I had and remembered those moves that we had done and knew that even though I didn’t do it perfectly, I did do it well enough to make some progress!
Getting back to Colorado, I ended up going on a hike every day on vacation. And with each day, I became stronger and stronger. I learned more about what my strengths and my weaknesses were. I discovered that my glutes and legs were strong, allowing me to push off and upwards powerfully in the ascent. But I needed to stabilize more with my core on the way down, relying too much on my legs, and therefore having sore knees and back the next day. I wasn’t the fastest person on these hikes. But I held my own, and I finished every single one. What I may have lacked in confidence or Ego, I gained tremendously in satisfaction of a job well done. On one of the first hikes, I went with a group of girls from New York, most of whom I did not know well. We ended up getting caught in a surprise thunderstorm at the very top of the mountain, with no shelter in sight. Picked up by an older cowboy gentleman (think Jack Palance) and his labrador retriever, he gave us a lift back down the very slippery and muddy mountain in his warm truck, old fashioned country music playing on on his radio, while we all laughed about our little adventure.
Sometimes, it’s not always about the numbers on the treadmill or on the weights. Sometimes, you can’t quantify what the results or achievements will be, or the progress you will make. For real and interesting growth both as a person, and in fitness, you have to be willing to step out side your comfort zone. Re-read that last sentence, because that is the number one thing I learned on this family vacation. It’s fine and wonderful to be able to master different routines and programs. But it’s another level of learning, self-discovery, and growth, to be able to put yourself in the entirely vulnerable position of being inexperienced, a novice, a beginner. Think about it - it’s all upside from there! The amount you stand to gain and learn by starting something new is tremendous. It’s an exhilarating concept. One laced with risk and challenge to be sure, but the only way to know what you’re capable of, is to keep testing, keep trying, and to avoid complacency. On the way home on the plane, I vowed to myself that I would keep this up, keep being open to trying new things in fitness (and in life!). There can only be gains from here. And at a minimum, it will give me a lot of great stories to share with you all! Thank you, Colorado. Thank you, new hiking friends…and thank you, Jack Palance.