How the Mountains Changed my Soul

What motivates you to work-out? What does it mean to have an active lifestyle? Why and how does someone stay committed to a healthy lifestyle through all of life’s ups and downs? These are questions that I have thought about from time to time in general, but not necessarily for me specifically. For me, the reasons that I work-out have changed over the years. I remember being a very young girl, about seven or eight-years-old, and critically looking at myself in the mirror, noticing every “flaw” and piece of fat. It was around that time that I realized my “need” to work-out and even restrict food. I remember days of making deals with myself to not eat and “reward” myself the next day with some peaches. These habits lasted throughout my adolescence and moved into my teenage years. I was always mindful about my body. Pinching extra skin or fat was a normal routine. Then I started to run. Running at this point was purely to eliminate anxiety around calorie consumption but unbeknownst to me, it also gave me something else: it began to pave the way to serenity.

When I entered college and my anxiety level was at an all time high I began to run five times a week. It wasn’t out of self-care, to clear my head, or even to lessen my anxiety in general, it was just out of an unsettling fear of weight gain and body image. This lasted for two years in college until I took an outdoor class and discovered my unbelievable desire for the mountains. Almost immediately I began climbing, and over the years with climbing came camping, thru-hiking, and eventually ultra-running. Therefore, due to the outdoors, the last 12 years have changed the reason that I maintain a fitness lifestyle; it now has almost nothing to do with body image and everything to do with self-care.

This change is something that has happened over time, so slowly in fact, that the change in motivation has rarely even occurred to me. Actually, the reason that I even thought about this motivation is related to my current pregnancy. I have graciously been told to be kind to myself, to give myself a break, and to not expect too much of myself physically during this special time. While I agree with all of these sentiments I also don’t see how these views (aside from maybe the last) are different than what I’ve been doing for the past 12 years.

My motivation to maintain an active, healthy lifestyle stems from a desire to be kind to myself. It comes from an innate need to feed my soul and not focus on the appearance of my body. This motivation exists because the mountains, the outdoors, and the struggle of endurance sports have changed me. I no longer run because of a fear of what I may look like in a bikini if I don’t, I no longer lift weights for compliments I may receive on my physical appearance, I no longer say negative things towards myself (you’re so fat, etc.) when I don’t work-out, and I no longer push myself to do what I often times don’t feel like doing out of the worry of what my butt may look like in a pair of jeans. I work-out because it feeds my soul, I climb mountains because desire and fear are a beautiful combination, and I spend three weeks in the mountains without a shower because it gives my mind clarity. Ultimately, I do my best to maintain this lifestyle even when it is hard and even when I am tired, because it helps make my inside, not my outside, more beautiful.

Now I would be lying if I said that the outside doesn’t matter at all…of course it does. I am human. It is nice to like the way that I look. However, I will also tell you that there was a time in my life that I could have had the “perfect” body, but could always find a million negative things to say about it. Presently when I think about what motivates me to get off of the couch, it has little to do with the pie I may have eaten earlier in the day, and much to do with the incredible challenges that have changed me. For example, I think about when I completed my first marathon and crossed hand in hand with my friend Jill; I think about the agonizing pain my mind and body went through crossing the finish line of my first 100-miler; I think about being the last person out of the water after a 2.5 mile swim for an Ironman; and I think about finishing the 13th pitch of a climb up Mt. Whitney where the scene was so beautiful I burst into tears. What does this tell me? This tells me that my vision of myself and my life have changed. My physical experiences in the outdoors have helped heal my soul and now, amazingly, my motivation to do what I do is no longer a burden but an amazing gift.

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