As Larry plunged backwards head first down a steep icy slope, I watched nervously hoping he could stop. Flipping over quickly and orienting himself properly uphill, he plunged his ice axe into the snow.
He laughed and said, “I’ll try that again, cleaner this time.”
I giggled nervously and said, “You want me to do that? On purpose?”
He smiled and told me, “Yes, you need to be able to do this under any circumstance in order to not die on the mountain, and to save your partner if he falls into a crevasse.”
Um, shit just got real.
In mountaineering, “self-arrest” is the ability to stop yourself from sliding down a slope, or to stop yourself from getting pulled into a crevasse if someone on your rope team falls into it. To be able to save yourself directly affects your ability to save your partner and/or members of your team.
As we practiced fall after fall on the packed snow that morning, my thoughts turned philosophical to life on flat land.
Three years ago, I was not good at self arrest.
When I started training for Selection I was full on in beast mode. I rucked more than 15 miles every time I put my pack on with no less than 55#, did 5-7 gym workouts a week, and generally over trained.
Going into my first GORUCK Selection I had acquired plantar fasciitis, a strained rotator cuff, and was at a precarious point in my relationship with my now ex. Selection was the only thing I thought about. I read articles and watched videos about it every free moment I had. Constantly, I brought it up in conversations. I dreamt, lived, and breathed the event. I had a vague sense that I was not healthy, and that my relationship was suffering, but I didn’t care. Selection was really the only thing that mattered.
I was tumbling headfirst down a slippery slope without even trying to stop myself.
Then I failed Selection.
I was crushed.
Going back to training after failing Selection the first time was easy. This time I would train harder! I immediately signed up for the next one. I put in more miles, did longer workouts, and generally ramped up the volume, more than I had the previous training year. At one point I fasted for a week then did the PT test after not having eaten for five days. I annihilated that test, in starvation mode no less.
Looking back I cringe.
I went from quickly sliding down a steep slope to careening; I wasn’t even aware that I was tumbling out of control.
Before that second attempt at Selection, life wasn’t rad. That training year I had re-injured my shoulder, broken a toe, strained a groin, aggravated my plantar fasciitis, tweaked my back, pulled a tendon in my hand, and the relationship I was in had come to an end. The month before Selection I had lost ten pounds and dropped below 10% body fat. I was a wreck, but told myself I was ready for the event.
Then I failed it. Again.
But this time I wasn’t crushed; I was relieved.
At some point, my fall lost momentum and I came to the realization that if I didn’t help myself, I would never be happy, let alone finish Selection.
After Selection attempt #2, I decided things had to change if I wanted to go for a third try and complete the event. So, I didn’t sign up for Selection right away. I decided to not even think about it for a while. Instead of getting right back to high volume and private coaching, I joined CrossFit group classes (for the first time in 5 years) at my gym. I had fun being part of a community and not having a training goal.
In September I did an endurance race with friends and completely enjoyed it.
October came and I spent most of it outside, camping, hiking (with no weight!) and rock climbing with my love Larry.
November arrived. Larry and I traveled, ate whatever food we wanted, climbed, went to movies, and laughed.
My body was healing; I didn’t wake up sore every morning. Nothing was injured.
December came and I felt healthy. I threw my ruck on (this time with some weight) and dashed into the hills. After I had walked a few miles, I decided it was time to commit to Selection again. This time I felt in my heart that I was ready; that I would train in a different way and remain grounded and healthy.
Things went smoothly for a few months, then in March I severely sprained my ankle on a training run.
10 weeks later, I went on my first run since the sprain. It was May.
Though the sprain was a major setback, it gave me time to work on a piece that I had been missing throughout years of high volume and insane workouts. I started to look inside and work on my mental game.
These days I am focusing on nutrition, breathing, and thought processes. I’m learning how to brace properly with my core, to eat food when I’m hungry, and to tell myself what I know will become reality. Don’t get me wrong, hard physical work has not fallen by the wayside, but life balance has become more important.
In slowing myself down, not over training, and listening to my body, I feel the strongest I have ever been. The strength is not physical, however; it is in my head. There is a belief in myself that only I could build by taking some focus off of the physical (thanks to a sprained ankle), and placing it on balancing life and training.
Yesterday I woke up and thought, “I’m ready for Selection.”
The funny thing is that I’ve said that hundreds of times before and didn’t believe it. But this time…this time it resonated in my head, body, and heart.
This time, it is true.