Thursday’s on this blog are dedicated to research, reflection, and taking action. In this post, I talk with one of my badass roommates about how she approaches those really hard moments in her endurance activities—climbing, ultra running, and thru hiking. Then, I apply her tips to challenges in my daily life.
I just finished grading the last papers I will likely ever grade. This 5-week, 3-credit course turned into the most painful endurance haul of my life. Two days before the course start date, the English Department laid me off and then rehired me as one-time “temp.” Losing my Senior Lecturer contract meant a DNF, as we call it in racing, for my life in academia. I never, ever DNF, which is probably why I didn’t have the skills to cope.
Fear of a vacant finish line loomed over my head as I graded my students’ papers, all of which thoughtfully addressed important current events. Be a robot, I told myself, give them feedback and then get out. Don’t think too hard. Don’t let yourself connect.
This was my way of avoiding a meltdown. At the end of the course, no new classes or new students were waiting for me. No goal of a PhD to work toward (taking courses was part of my benefits). No Climate Con symposium to organize. No difficult students to meet with (they were always my favorite).
When I finally reached the end, I was surprised to find plenty of cream and butter, along with motivation to press reset and then press forward.
At the finish line, my roommate was eating ice cream.
When I looked up from posting grades, the finish line didn’t look too bad. At the kitchen table, eating ice cream out of a gallon-sized carton (one of those Tillamook flavors riddled with chunks of chocolate), sat one of my roommates. Flour, butter, sugar, and a recipe for blueberry and cream scones sprawled on the counter in front of me. Rest day, I thought. Fueled by dairy. I know how to do this.
Neha, the roommate digging into the ice cream, is a small woman who kicks a lot of ass at climbing hard (like, really hard), ultra running, and thru hiking. In between licks of scone batter (raw eggs, I know, oh well), I asked her how she goes about pushing through grueling endurance efforts. The Twilight Zone is what she calls those hard moments. Her approach, which she applies to climbing, running, and thru hiking, is simple, methodical, and sounds really soothing. For three months, I’d been craving the strategies she listed, but neglrcted even the simplest ones: check in with body, evaluate options, commit, break up what’s left into manageable chunks.
Neha Khurana’s Strategies For Pushing Through Hard Climbs and Long Endurance Efforts
- Check-in with body: am I hungry and thirsty? Cold? How can I take care of myself in this moment?
- Evaluate options; Can I safely keep going? What other choices do I have?
- Commit to continuing: How will I handle future I want to quit moments? As long as it remains safe, I will remain firm in my decision to continue
- Break the route or race into manageable pieces: where do I need to get next? What will I do when I get there? Will I eat? Put on a layer? Take a short rest?
In Patagonia this winter, my climbing partner and I ran out of food on a 28 Pitch route. We checked in with each other and made a plan piece by piece, talking out what we would do to get to the next pitch and what we would do there.Neha Khurana—climber, ultra runner, through hiker, and artist
I wish I’d started this conversation with Neha a few months ago. My approach is similar for pushing through hard races and training efforts, but the casual way she talks about it—while mining for chunks of chocolate—connects the dots for me: these endurance strategies also work for navigating chaos and challenges in daily life. The magic of these strategies is they increase focus on the present and tune out overwhelming thoughts.
Endurance Strategies for Daily Life Challenges
- Take care of your body
- Prioritize tasks by weighing necessity with values
- Revise goals if necessary
- Commit to the future
- Break tasks into manageable chunks
In April and May, at the height of Zoom conferencing with 125 students, fear of the future loomed in the background, and I never once checked in with my body. I was chronically dehydrated, and I knew it. Drink water? Why bother with anything but coffee, there is nothing to look forward to right now except Zoom conferences. The more I failed at following through with my interval workouts, the less I cared about how my body was doing. Sleep, exercise, and healthy food went out the window. From time to time, I did try one endurance strategy: breaking my to-do list into manageable pieces. But the pieces were always too big for how crappy I felt. I kept failing to get to the next spot, and the rain cloud of gloom stayed over my head.
Today’s Tasks, Broken into Manageable Pieces
The rain cloud in my life has lifted for now. Last weekend, I pushed through it on a relaxing, agenda-free bikepacking trip. In previous posts, I wrote about how I worked to feel happy on the trip and also how the trip was a catalyst for feeling good again. Now, it’s time to take Neha’s endurance strategies seriously and apply them to daily tasks—such as job hunting and house projects. I’ll also be taking the strategies with me as I head out on really, really long bike rides.
Moving Forward, One Task at a Time
Make an espresso while the scones cool. Eat the scones, drink the coffee, visualize new beginnings, prepare for the endurance effort ahead.