Here’s an edited transcript of this installment of Amy’s Outdoor Diary. Listen to the episode on iTunes, Google Podcasts, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts.
What is the secret to making yourself do something challenging that you know will be rewarding, but takes extra effort?
That’s the question I’ve been contemplating after a week faced with these kinds of decisions. It’s that feeling of sitting on your couch, looking out the window at the rain, or the drive ahead, or the need to pack, or the desire to sleep in your own bed instead, or the thing you planned that is NOT the siren’s call of a night on the couch with Netflix — and deciding to do the thing that takes effort instead of the thing that doesn’t.
I’m going to give three examples of things I did NOT want to do this week. It was SO rainy this week, friend. I mean we had those days where you get out of bed, and you hear the rain. And you start your day, and there is pouring rain. And all day long for every single second the rain just streams from the sky. RAIN. And in all of this rain, I had a training run scheduled — 50 minutes. And still, it rained.
Of course it wasn’t a WARM rain. No, no. It was Alaska August rain, which is to say somewhere around 50 degrees. Just that exact temperature that rain gets in your bones. Not dance in the rain, rain. Just wet, cold, soggy rain.
As the afternoon wore on and the rain did not stop, I realized that I was going to need to do that run whether I wanted to or not. Now, in my garage is a little used treadmill. Actually, it’s somewhat regularly used in the winter when the roads are covered in ice and snow and running at a certain speed or consistency simply isn’t possible thanks to the road conditions. But in the summer it just gathers dust, as it should. And so I found myself thinking about dusting it off for this particular August run so that I could avoid running in the rain.
I got out my shoes. I got out my clothes. I got dressed. I looked at the treadmill. I thought about the TV show I would watch to muddle through a boring treadmill run in my garage. I looked outside. I thought about how I would be wishing for 50 and raining come December’s boring treadmill runs. And I said to myself “Amy, stop being a wuss. And go for a run outside.”
And guess what? It wasn’t just not terrible, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself. It was more than fine. I was glad I did it. Of course I was.
Another thing it’s very hard to do in days of constant rain is to imagine that it is NOT raining and that the weather might actually mirror the forecast somewhere not that far away. I mean it’s so, SO wet. And here we are packing to go a few hours south to a place that is regularly VERY wet when it is dry where I live, to spend the weekend outside. Sounds like a mistake. In short, I did not want to go.
But approximately a million years ago – aka in early 2020 – I had entered the lottery for an iconic Alaska trail run race that had subsequently been canceled. Against all odds — and I mean that, because I had entered this lottery several times and never gotten in — I actually made it into the race. And because 2020, my entrance had been deferred to this year, right now.
The Lost Lake race is 16ish miles over a truly incredible trail. You wind up over 11 ish miles and 2,700 feet through this incredible fairy-forest to a set of high alpine lakes, one of which is Lost Lake. If you’re me you make not-funny jokes about how you have found the lake, and then you run down five-ish miles. But if the weather is very bad – and it often is – you are cold and wet. People break bones on this race when the weather is bad, because it is a very technical trail which can turn into a whole lot of mud and very wet rocks. Sounds fun, right? And a perfect reason to sit at my window and think – behold all of this rain. Is it REALLY supposed to be sunny there? Sounds unlikely.
I did not want to go. But we had made many plans to make this happen —a friend to house sit, reservations at a campsite, the works. And so we packed and we went.
And SHOCKER. The weather was sunny and, while also extremely windy, perfect for racing. I found a friend at the start line and we ran almost the whole thing together. I said out loud multiple times: THIS IS SO FUN!!! And it was. I am so, SO glad I did it. Of course I was.
Dovetailing into that, a final example. You know I write out what I’m going to tell you before I say it, and I’m writing this from a picnic table in a forest service campsite at the Trail River campground between Moose Pass and Seward Alaska. It’s a bright, sunny, warm morning with the slightest breeze. The sun is on my shoulder, my family is all around me. There’s a campfire going and it smells like a mix of campfire smoke and, oddly, coconut cream pie the last of which was tossed onto the fire just to see what would happen. I am, of course, wearing The Pants, so I’m deliciously warm.
And I’m sitting here writing out what I’m going to stay to you, because as I was sitting by my campfire sipping coffee from a green camping mug and reading an Elizabeth Gilbert novel — City of Girls, if you must know — it dawned on me that I had not wanted to be HERE either. We had planned to camp, so we did. But standing in the extreme wind in Seward yesterday after the race I thought “maybe we’ll go home.” And I remembered all that rain and that sleeping in my own bed on the weekend really is amazing.
But as I sat there this morning, and after I walked down the gravel road from the bathroom, and while I ate my breakfast and sipped my coffee, and even now as I hear a magpie squawking in a tree, I am filled with a sense that this is exactly where I’m supposed to be, exactly where I belong in this moment, and that every effort to get here was entirely and totally worth it.
Back to my original point: being here is worth it. Running in the rain was worth it. Making the effort to go to the race was wonderfully worth it. But getting to those moments took overcoming the desire to NOT do them at all. It took deciding to do the thing that I dreaded when there were so many other things I wanted to do instead. And every day is full of those decisions — and of course I don’t always choose to face the thing that sounds terrible and take the risk. I frequently choose to stay home instead of going out. I have yet to go winter camping because I think I’ll be cold and no thanks, sounds bad.
So here’s the question: how the heck do you get yourself to the place where you don’t pause and almost not go out in the rain? How do you take yourself from regularly sitting on the fence of go or don’t go and instead just sit in the category of “bring it on?” Is this a personality thing? Is it a practice makes perfect thing? Is it building a muscle for risk? Is it meditation and mind over matter? Will it always just seem like a hard decision?
I don’t have a perfect answer for this, which is why I’m asking the question. I suspect, however, that addressing this tendency to NOT do the thing is a matter of awareness first and foremost. Because if we are AWARE that we are likely to stay home and shun the thing just because it might be hard, or it might be unpleasant, then we can also be aware that we are even facing the choice. And then we can be aware that when we hit that decision point, the thing that sounds the most comfortable might be the thing we should definitely not do, choosing instead to take the risk.
You can see some pictures from my spectacular trail run and our camping weekend — but not the rain run, because rain runs are bad for iPhones — on @humansoutside on Facebook and Instagram. And I, as always, want to see your photos of hard outside time too. Tag them with #humansoutside365. Until next time, I’ll see you out there.