April 28, 2019

Fear, Preparation and the Comfort Zone

Some of the more memorable quotes I've heard in a while have come from a young rock climber, Alex Honnold, who free soloed El Capitan. In his effort Honnold accomplished something no one else has even attempted, let alone completed. And for good reason - after all, isn't climbing a 3,000 foot vertical wall with no ropes or protective gear a bit of a death wish?

In an interview before he free soloed El Capitan, Honnold talks about risk, fear and constantly pushing himself beyond his own comfort zone. Here is Honnold in response to the question if he ever gets scared while climbing without a rope:
"When you experience hunger your body is giving you a signal that you need to consume food, but you set that aside and eat when it’s convenient. But with fear it’s fight or flight, your pulse quickens, your vision narrows, and you’re like, oh my god I’m feeling fear, oh my god, oh my god, and then it cascades out of control and you lose your ability to perform. So why can’t we set our fear aside like we can with hunger?"
Setting aside fear so that it doesn't hamper performance. Not as easy as it sounds. In a response to a question about the danger of climbing thousand foot vertical cliffs without a rope, he is reflective, sharing his view on the process of pushing his own comfort zone back, until the impossible becomes possible...
"My comfort zone is like a little bubble around me, and I’ve pushed it in different directions and made it bigger and bigger until these objectives that seemed totally crazy, eventually fall within the realm of the possible."
Just like Tommy Caldwell who free climbed El Capitan's Dawn Wall (with ropes used only for safety), Honnold approaches his trade with an obsessive approach to training and preparation. These guys spend weeks, months even years preparing for these major climbs. With so much at risk, I can't imagine any other way.

So what does this have to do with running ultras? Everything. Because if you push the comfort zone in enough directions, things fall within the realm of the possible...

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