The Head Game

Training for endurance events is hard. As I train for the Pacific Crest Trail, there are many days where “I don’t wanna” is my mantra. It is hard to get out of bed early and put on a 30+ pound pack and wander around in the woods in the rain or take on another round of stairs. Sweet, delicious first world problems, I know.

What is much harder, however, is the mental training. Gaaaaaaah!!! It burns us, precious.


Endurance events, for me, are almost entirely about my headspace. There will be a roller coaster of emotions — that is a given — and my enjoyment is in direct correlation with how I deal with the anguish. In order to prep for months of extreme highs and lows on the trail, I’m attempting mental training for the first time ever. What does that mean? I’m asking myself the same thing.

To start it off with a bang, I’m seven days into a 21-day “no complaining” challenge. I put the quotations there, not because I’ve become inspired by the “Blog” of “Unnecessary” Quotation Marks (prepare yourself for waves of anger/joy [angoy? janger?]), but because I am a complainer, just as my mother was before me, and her mother was before her. This isn’t an insult, we all know this is true, and my mom was the one who “suggested” I do the challenge (she is right in the middle of it too — even as she keeps texting me to tell me about the things she’s not complaining about).

This is the hardest challenge of them all, for a complainer like me. Avry, as asked, is trying to help me stay the course. After the first five minutes of callouts on day one, we had to institute a codeword for complaining: asparagus. (Play the Portlandia “Cacao” skit in your mind here.)

What is harder than catching myself complaining is stopping myself from complaining about how hard not complaining is. Even noises count! Blarggg!

As you might guess, from the entire paragraphs above of me complaining, it’s not going too well. But it’s the thought that counts, right guys? (Crickets.)

Anyway, the second part of this whole mental training attempt is meditation. I love walking and cycling and any other steady movement for just this reason. There are usually a few magical moments while in motion where my mind shuts the heck up. Those tiny fragments of peace from the constant stream of idiocy that is my brain is a blessing that I seek out. I’m hoping for many more of them on this trip.

To set myself up for success, I am turning to Oprah. No, I am not going on her show or winning a car (don’t you think I would have led with that?!?). I am doing her 21-day mediation experience. She has been teaming up with Deepak Chopra to offer 20-minute guided mediations for the past few years. It’s the only way I’ve found to keep myself still for that long (but wait, I just really have to check my bank account balance and add three more things to my to do list). Oprah starts it off with some nice words of wisdom before Deepak comes in and slams you into serenity.

I wish. I’m on day five and I’m actually am not quite sure what is happening, as I catch about 30-35% of the mediation every day. But still, some calming exercises are better than no calming exercises — or so I’m told.

And last, but not least, on my list of mental training is a simple concept: love. Deepak asked me on day one, when I actually was paying attention, of the 21 days to think of a goal to succeed at — and it couldn’t be an external goal. I picked love. Love of nature, love of coffee, love of my family and friends, love of that guy peeing on the sidewalk. And guess what? This simple idea is actually working.

For the last few days, as I’ve walked through my life, getting annoyed and impatient and adding and deleting things from my never-ending list of things I must do right now, that little word keeps popping up in my mind. Yesterday, as I was walking to get the car to hike, weaving around slow walkers (and not punching them in the back of the head, as is my immediate impulse after my upbringing in NYC), feeling sorry for myself that I couldn’t decide what to eat, and lugging an enormous pack filled with gallons of water along with me, I started in on the love:

I love you, girl holding that bottle.

And you, car without the turn signal.

I love you, girl — wait, that’s the same girl with the bottle — I guess I still love you.

And you adorable, sweet, cuddly puppy.

I love you, person walking with that squeezable lump of squish.

And you, person sleeping under a tarp.

I love you, Dusty’s memory.

It was delicious. I was filled up with love and my eyes started watering (ugh… this allowing in of emotions and constant watering of eyes gets annoying!). If I can’t stop complaining about complaining when I’m complaining or spinning off into another dimension of stress when I’m suppose to be de-stressing (or whatever you are suppose to do when meditating! Gah!), I sure as heck can love stuff.

So watch out — I might be sending you love waves when the weight of it all starts descending upon me and I am feeling like Gollum again.

We Must Starve