Overcoming Fear

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I felt extremely small and terrified to embark on something I had very little experience in. I looked down at the canyon and felt my knees tingle, like they wanted to buckle. The Grand Canyon is enormous and steep and I was about to hike my way down to the bottom with a pack on my back.

My idea of hiking consisted of trails around California that were shorter in distance and less strenuous which definitely did not involve carrying a 30 pound pack on my back. I had trained for the hike by running for endurance, conditioning for strength and hiking the trails around San Diego to work on elevation. However, I soon learned that my training did not compare to the demands of the Grand Canyon.

Everything was fine inside me until I faced the hike. The months leading up to it, I was excited and sure of myself and physical ability. But, when I saw the other hikers in their real gear, I realized that I looked like a novice in my borrowed pack and 1 water bottle. My feelings of inadequacy continued to grow inside me.

It is amazing how fear can permeate and almost paralyze.

The morning of the hike, I woke up with the sun afraid that I was going to fail and wanted to stop before it even began. I stopped at the gift shop to pick up another water bottle so I didn’t dehydrate and made a step closer to committing to the hike.

As we began hiking down the South Kaibob Trail, my fear was replaced by courage. The farther we hiked down into the canyon, the more diverse the terrain became and I found myself in awe of the beauty around me. I remember my first glimpse of the Colorado River after 4 hot hours of hiking switchbacks and felt wonder excitement at the sight of the canyon’s bottom.

The more I got out of my head, the more my fear dissipated.

After 5 hours, we made it to the bottom. My knees were shaking with fatigue, sweat had soaked my hat and shirt and then the sky opened up and rain started pouring down. It felt so refreshing on my tired and overheated body. I took off my pack and sat down on the shore of the Colorado River and waited for the rest of the group to arrive.

Nights at the bottom of the Canyon are peaceful and enveloped by stars. The lack of technology provided a detachment from everyday life and I was able to sit and think without distraction. For the first time in a very long time, I was completely in the moment and quite enjoyed it.

I realized that my fear was also in anticipation for something great. Pushing myself to the limits was both frightening and exciting. This realization changed my outlook for the hike back up the canyon.

Early the next morning, we began our trek up the Bright Angel Trail which is just over 9 miles and very steep. Each of us climbed at our own pace and I stopped several times to catch my breath as elevation began to affect my breathing. This was by far the more difficult of the 2 hikes.

My pack felt much heavier than on the hike down and by the time I reached the top, I was exhausted. I looked down and could not believe how far I had come and the fear that I once felt was transformed into courage. Sometimes the scariest treks can reap the most rewarding gifts.

Through this journey I learned that to transform fear I needed to:

  • Stay present:  When I allowed myself to think about things that could happen or judged myself based on limiting beliefs, fear took over. Taking a moment to just be and notice where I was and what I was doing in that moment allowed the anxiety to dissipate.
  • Breathe: I noticed I was holding my breath in fear. When I took a breath and brought myself back to the moment I was in, all of those fears lost their power. Breathing brings us back to the moment and slows down panicky thoughts.
  • Reframe the narrative: Fear is a liar!! By turning a negative thought into an empowering thought, I was able to motivate myself even during the hottest part of the day and steepest part of the hike. There was a point where I chanted “I can make it, I are strong” to myself while climbing back up the canyon.
  • Take action: Taking each step one by one helped me move forward and leave fear behind.

Whatever fears are occurring, take the time to reevaluate and reframe. Push past the discomfort and find the new found strength that is waiting to be gained. Before reaction creates waves of fear, find stillness and your breath. It is possible to move forward from the paralysis of fear and come out with a more limber mind, body and soul.

Great adventures always begin with anticipatory excitement, don’t let fear lie to your soul.

Running Past Self Doubt

race

“This is the last part, you can do. Give it all you’ve got!” My friend said as we ran towards the finish line. We were sprinting to the end; my heart racing, legs trembling, feet burning. “I can’t do this” I panted when I realized the final part of the race was on an incline. “Yes, you can! C’mon!” She encouraged once more. As I crossed the finish line I felt my body release the tension I had felt for the last few minutes of the race and then relax.

I had trained 12 weeks to run the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler in Washington DC. Signing up for the race was kind of a joke to me since I was informed it was based on a lottery and hard to get picked to participate. The joke turned into reality when 2 weeks later we were picked and I realized that I needed to learn how to run 10 miles. I had run previously but mainly short runs. The farthest I had gone was 5 miles on a treadmill with 3 walking breaks and that was a painful and sweaty ordeal. However, I was determined to run the full 10 and began training immediately.

During my training, I found myself with shin splints, foot pain and sore muscles. I rarely pushed myself that far physically and I could feel every milestone. I did not let the discomfort keep me from reaching my goal. I tracked my progress and could see results in speed and on my body. Running changed my body’s composition and I started to crave my runs. I felt myself becoming stronger physically and mentally.

One of the most important changes was I started to surround myself with other runners. My running friends were encouraging and helpful with advice and tips on training and gear. Mentally, I began seeing workouts, food and drink in a different light. I wanted to be successful in attaining my goal, but not obsessive. I worked on balance and meditated on the result.

The morning of the race, I woke up early and visualized myself crossing the finish line. As I walked to the race, I felt excited and happy that the day had finally arrived to prove to myself that I could run a race. The course was beautiful, the sun was shining and the air was crisp. We ran around the monuments, over the Potomac River with a cherry blossom canopy. At times, it felt like I was running through a story book.

I smiled and sang along to my playlist for most of the race. My friends who are faster runners sweetly ran along side me. It wasn’t until there was half a mile left when I felt my body and mind giving up. My friend’s encouragement and coaching really helped. I repeated the mantra “I am strong, I’ve got this” over and over in between her cheering. And shortly after the breakdown, I finished.

I think about muscles and how they have to tear and break down in order to grow. In the last few minutes of  the race, I broke down but that was because I was growing. Doing hard things helps us grow. I wanted to quit, but persisted. I felt ready to sign up for another race just minutes after thinking I couldn’t finish; that’s what pushing the limits can do.

This lesson is true in many areas of life. When faced with a hardship, whether physical, mental or spiritual, we are provided an opportunity to grow and overcome. Being surrounded by loving, encouraging people helps. What we think and how we talk to ourselves during the growth is the most important. Believing that you can achieve the goal is powerful, especially when giving up and doubt enters our minds.

What are you facing that seems impossible? How can you change the messages you are telling yourself about it? Transform your doubt into doing. Anything is possible when you put your mind to it. Overcome self doubt with accomplishment. You’d be surprised what can happen. Our minds and bodies are stronger than we think.