Question Your Limits
Question Your Limits…And Then Test Them
5 Reasons To Keep Challenging Yourself
“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” – T.S. Eliot
Over the past two weeks I’ve had the opportunity to participate in some pretty epic adventures…which got me thinking about the concept of limits. By definition, a limit is a point or level beyond which something does not or may not extend or pass. In today’s society, most people don’t think about pushing themselves to their limits, let alone questioning what their true limits are. Instead, we try to make ourselves as comfortable as possible with material items, or we attempt to lose ourselves in the digital noise that now inundates our daily lives. Thankfully, I was able to remove myself from society for a bit and explore and contemplate what it means to test our limits. This exploration took place over the course of two different experiences. The first was an event I concocted with a few other members of our Team RWB Bend Chapter called the Six Peaks Sufferfest, and the second was a 200-mile race in Washington where I was pacing and crewing a friend.
Here is some additional context surrounding these two events:
• Six Peaks Sufferfest: The Six Peaks Sufferfest was a ‘fun’ modification of the Central Oregon Six Pack of Peaks Challenge created by Jeff Hester. Instead of attempting to climb six peaks over the course of a few months, we thought we would try to bag all six in less than 24 hours. This adventure would consist of over 40 miles of hiking/running, approximately 15k feet of ascent/descent, and about 4.5 hours of driving through the Cascades from peak to peak. Let’s just say that this idea was not well thought out, and the planning may have involved a couple of IPAs, but at the end of the day it just sounded epic…and was worthy of us taking a trip on the pain train to test ourselves. In total, seven of us started this event…six people with intentions of tackling all of the peaks. In the end, two of us summited all six peaks, one member did five peaks and missed the 6th by about 1,000 feet due to some altitude issues, and the remaining three encountered some physical/mental challenges that sidelined them after the first and third peaks. Regardless of how far our team members ultimately made it, I think it’s safe to say that we all learned something from the experience, as I will further qualify below.
• Bigfoot 200: The Bigfoot 200-miler is actually a 206.5-mile race in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Washington that covers all sorts of terrain from volcanoes (Mount St. Helens) to old growth forests. It absolutely oozes Pacific Northwest from the terrain itself to the weather we encountered. I came upon this opportunity through Team RWB’s Founder, Mike Erwin. He connected me to Chris Guerra who was looking to tackle this epic challenge. Since I’m currently in training for the Tahoe 200-miler in September, I thought this would be a great opportunity to pace and crew another dude who was willing to put himself through a human grinder for four days. When it was all said and done, Chris finished the race in ~ 86 hours. That’s 206 miles, with over 42k feet of climbing (and descent), on gnarly terrain…in less than four days. I had the privilege of pacing Chris for 75 miles of the race and I have mad respect for him and anyone else that toes the line at one of these events. Rick Alexander was his other pacer and also knocked out ~ 75 miles with Chris. Rick just recorded a podcast about the race and was able to capture Chris’ post-race thoughts, along with those of his wife and crew chief, Kylie.
So, what did I learn from scrambling hundreds of miles over the mountains and through the forests of the Pacific Northwest? Simply stated, there is great value in pushing yourself, and here are five reasons why.
The personal growth achieved through truly challenging yourself is hands down the most important reason to continue testing your limits. And I’m not talking about challenges that you know you can easily accomplish. I’m talking about challenges the make you say, “Good Lord, what have I signed up to do?” If your challenges don’t create a mini panic attack, you are probably underclubbing. For some folks this may mean getting off the couch and running or rucking their first 5k. For others, this could mean running for days in the mountains. The actual challenge doesn’t matter. What matters most is that you are willing to pursue something that will test you physically, mentally, and emotionally. These types of challenges force you to peel back layers of yourself that you never knew existed, while exposing other parts that you frankly don’t want to address. And therein lies the magic. In those moments, you reveal parts of yourself that are good, bad and ugly…and you can’t run away from these revelations. During the Six Peaks Sufferfest I witnessed one teammate deal with some physical issues that would have provided an easy reason to quit the adventure. Instead, he persevered and rallied back to finish the remaining peaks even though he wasn’t physically in a good place. During the Bigfoot 200, I literally watched Chris ‘grow’ in real-time over the course of three days. Instead of crumbling due to the inevitable physical decay in an event like this, he was actually reconfirming his ‘why’ as he got closer and closer to his preconceived limits. Trust me, you will find truth in challenge and strength in adversity, but you have to be willing to explore the unknown. “He knows not his own strength who hath not met adversity.” – William Samuel Johnson
Misery loves company, and there is no better way to build bonds than to suffer together. I knew most of the people that participated in the Six Peaks Sufferfest, but I didn’t really ‘know’ them. That changes when you are up for 30+ hours and struggling in thin air to summit yet another peak. People begin to drop their guards and share things they normally would not under normal circumstances. It just happens. I am an introvert. I will never be the first person to raise my hand and say, “Let’s having a sharing circle.” But put me in a situation where I’m struggling alongside another individual for hours or days, and I will share all of my stories…and my demons. I didn’t know Chris Guerra before the Bigfoot 200. He spent a few days with my family before we headed to the race in Washington, but our relationship was still somewhat superficial. Fast forward to three days into the race, and that all changed. Now, I feel like I’ve known Chris since my childhood and I would be comfortable sharing things with him that seemed unfathomable just 10 days ago. Challenging situations can forge bonds more quickly than you ever thought possible. Test your limits with an individual and you may just develop a lifelong brotherhood.
I absolutely LOVE the crazy and hilarious things that happen when you start toying with your limits. I don’t know if there is any science behind it, but for some reason, whenever you push your mind and body to places it hasn’t been, you become…dumb. This, in turn, makes you pretty damn funny and quite entertaining for all of the individuals involved. My favorite example from the Six Peaks Sufferfest took place about 9 hours into the event as we were starting the ascent of our third and highest peak (South Sister) around 3:00 AM. A few of us were looking at the mountain and noticed some headlamps making their way up the final push to the summit. As this was taking place, one of our team members (Jerry) walked up to us and started looking directly above himself into the sky. After a few seconds, he said something like, “Wow, I can’t believe how many headlamps are up there.” To which we all replied, “Jerry, those aren’t headlamps…those are stars.” Without pause, Jerry responded with, “Thank God, because I was hoping the mountain wasn’t that big.” I still can’t stop laughing when I think about this. Jerry wasn’t trying to be funny. He was just in his own world and that was priceless. Fast forward to 170 miles into the Bigfoot 200 and Chris had just woken up from a 60-minute nap. It was only the 3rd time he had slept in three days for a total of about three hours. As we tried to get him ready to tackle the next leg, he was struggling to communicate something to Kylie, Rick and myself. We could tell he had something important to share, but he just couldn’t find the words. We watched closely as his tired eyes scattered around searching for a lost word/phrase, while at the same time his hands started to make awkward twisting motions. We said, “Chris, how can we help?” He stumbled on his words, “I…I…I need. I need…” We all responded, “Chris, what do you need?” After a few moments he blurted out, “I need you to squeeze my calves.” Laughing hysterically, we realized Chris needed his calves ‘massaged’ but he just couldn’t think of the word. He was intoxicated from pushing his limits. He could barely communicate…and damn, was that funny. You couple this moment with the hallucinations we were experiencing, and I haven’t laughed that hard in years. My face hurt for days after Bigfoot from laughing so much.
Ordinary people doing extraordinary things is inspiring. It’s that simple. You may not realize it at the time, but when you push yourself to accomplish a goal that many may deem crazy, impossible, or unlikely, it inspires and motivates them more than you will ever know. And more importantly, how you handle yourself while you are in the depths of the challenge speaks volumes to others. The way that Chris handled himself during the Bigfoot 200 was just plain inspiring. As the hours and miles came and went, and Chris continued to breakdown, I noticed three behaviors that Chris was continuously exhibiting. He was being patient, present and positive. I could write an entire blog post on this one topic, but I will spare you. What’s important to take away from this is that you have the ability to choose how you want to behave when you come face to face with your limits. Many people who challenge their limits and push themselves into uncomfortable places are unable to control their emotions. It’s easy to get emotional, overwhelmed, angry, sad, anxious, etc. But you don’t have to let that be the default behavior. Chris showed me firsthand what right looks like during the most challenging of situations. And here’s the kicker. This is not something that just inspired me to want to be a better runner. Chris inspired me to want to be a better person, and to try to always live my life being positive, patient and present. Thanks, brother.
5. Just Because
Sometimes in life you just have to say, “screw it” and try something new. I don’t want to find myself on my deathbed realizing I had never really lived. I don’t want to ‘exist’ in this world…I want to ‘experience’ this world. And to truly experience life, you have to be willing to put yourself out there with an understanding that you may not succeed, and you may suffer…and that’s okay. Take Roosevelt’s words to heart, “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming.” Like I stated earlier, it only took a couple of IPAs before we decided to tackle six peaks in under 24 hours. BOOM!
This was meant to be a short blog. I failed miserably. I can’t stress how strongly I feel about people challenging themselves and one another to become better versions of themselves. After I left the Army, I was ‘existing’ and not truly ‘experiencing’ life. Getting connected to Team RWB and the ultrarunning community opened my eyes to a whole new world. A world full of challenges and growth…adversity and truth.
I leave you with one final quote.