It started in early recovery–a group of friends with a common goal to cut weight and get in better shape chose to hike Cowles Mountain regularly. In the beginning we all walked, and my being much younger, not to mention restless, wanted to walk faster. I started hiking ahead and going to the top by myself first, and then back down to them and hiking back up with the group. I enjoyed the speedy movement, still do, and I started running at local parks and beaches. I struggled with moderation, and I refused to set a rational pace, but over a sharp painful learning curve my body adjusted to the new physical activity.
One day, out of curiosity, I decided I was going to attempt running Cowles Mountain. It was tedious, and required a force of will to persist to the top without stopping, but I made it and made it fast. With so much extra time, I decided to spend some time exploring the summit and I found another trail. The trail looked much less traveled, so I started running down that one. I bit off more than I could chew, and turned back just before the grade gaining the Pyles Peak summit proper.
That day I linked Cowles Mountain to just shy of Pyles Peak, doubling the distance of the standard Cowles Mountain hike, and still managed to hike a 3rd of the way down the trail to before linking with my friends and hiking back to the top. It was the beginning of a defining time in my life. Cowles Mountain had been a big deal to me, and having ran to the summit opened my eyes to the potential I had to do great things. When I pushed on into the unknown towards Pyles Peak that morning it characterized something else; that success is not about a destination, but instead about progression and growth. By years end I was running Cowles Mountain 2-3 nights a week, and I had expanded my sight onto bigger mountains, into unexplored territory.
But then I got scared and stagnant, I made a routine and plateau’d on Cowles Mountain for quite some time, and it was fitting because at the time I was plateau’d in life. My life was dominated by fear and I accommodated that fear with routine. Routine is good, especially if you’re looking for settle. But as I’ve noted, I’m restless, and settling is likely not in the cards for me. Angst stirred within the deepest reaches of my soul, and I constantly fought to contain the strife brewing within. Eventually, I lost the battle, as so many of us who’ve tried to restrict who we are have learned. The result was destructive, painful, and liberating. Everything fell apart as I unraveled, and the only place I had left to vent my frustrations was in the mountains alone, and this time I was far too disheveled to walk it off.
It was about 3 years ago now, as I became obsessed with climbing, that I started running Cowles-Pyles 3-5 nights a week. I often did it in the dark, and often without a headlamp. Something that had been monumental, and took everything that I could muster to complete had become nothing more than a training objective. My mind opened to the potential I had to tack grand obstacles by downgrading there grandiosity. Where once Tahquitz peak was a life goal, and climbing it in a day a momentous task, I started driving up there alone and climbing it up to 7 times in a single day free solo. Where Mission Gorge had once been a place where I would go with friends and set 7 top ropes in 8 hours, it became home to my circuit, where I’d race through 28 pitches (albeit short pitches) in 2 hours.
My ambition could not be contained, and I refused to be limited by size and doubt. I still do. There is a way forward, and it’s hidden in risk. We take chances, and we learn to embrace failure. Sometimes we surprise ourselves with how well we underestimate our potential, sometimes we set a baseline and identify our weaknesses and what to work on next, and sometimes we get our asses humbly kicked. Whether it’s life goals, career oriented, or physical gains we target, we must seek out each experience regularly. The first to nourish ourselves from constant defeat and enjoy activity, the second to humbly identify realistic potential, and the third to stay right sized about unrealistic perceptions of ourselves.
Don’t settle, because you can far exceed your greatest accomplishments to date by simply keeping your eyes on the horizon, putting one fut in front of the other, and creatively devising solutions to the stumbling blocks that detain you from progress in whatever goals you set in life. Progress is not a destination, but instead an experience, and it certainly has nothing to do with perfection. So, if you accomplished that monumental task once, why not do it again, but a little faster, and then again, but faster, until you can go out and do it off the couch?
You wanna know how to run a 4 minute mile? Run a 6 minute mile and whittle your way down from there.