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Accepting Fears

Fear. It is quickly evident in rock climbing when fear holds back the climbers ability. Their leg shakes. They double check their last gear placement. They "shake out" and assess the situation. They call out to the belayer to "watch them." On rare occasions you'll catch them singing, praying, or making loud breathing noises that would rival any yoga room.

Then, one of two things happen: either they accept the fear and glide upwards; or they fight it, sometimes flailing sometimes still making up to the top, but full of effort and strain. It becomes a battle instead of a dance.

There's a reason that fear is one of the hottest topics in climbing. It's what makes the toughest climbers the most bada$$. Accepting fear makes them excel. Once the fear is addressed and accepted, it enables the climber to live entirely in the moment, the most beautiful and freeing feeling... a feeling so beautiful it encourages untalented climbers, like myself, to enjoy free soloing easy routes just for a taste of it.

Arno Ilger wrote a famed climbing book, "The Rock Warrior's Way," and it's sequel (the more climbing specific) "Espresso Lessons." These books detail how to assess and accept fear while climbing. His lessons are applicable not only to the limitations fear can place on climbing, but to the limitations fear can place on running and life.

First, he suggests the need to assess the risks. How can you accept your fear if you don't even know what it is, or to what extent, or where exactly it lies? Just how risky is it? We need to assess the benefits, what are they are, why are they desirable, and just how much do they offer? Then the final question- for you (or for me!) do the benefits outweigh the risks? If so, you can move forward with acceptance.

There's more of course. There's the big plan to fufill what you're working towards, the mini-steps, and the re-assessments along the way. There's the distractions to keep the mind from dwelling on the fear and instead to force it into the movement and moment of progression. In essence, it's a very meditative attempt to focus solely on the current moment, a moment where fear does not exist.

Yes, this is all very "my aura is yellow." But limiting fears are real. What fears exactly? Here's some of mine. I'll share them, even though I don't really want to.... it'll help me address, accept, and move on.
I run this trail, so does he! YIKES!
There's the fear of disappointing others by not living up to their expectations. (Maybe y'all will realize I'm actually slow). The fear of disappointing myself because I know I can do better. (Maybe I'll realize I'm actually slow). There's also the fear that, who knows, maybe I'm excellent? (Maybe I'm not slow?!) In Marianne Williamson's words: "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.' We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?"

There's also physical fears. I am afraid of mountain lions and rapists. All who run with me know when I trail run alone (especially in the dark) I carry both a knife and pepper spray with the intention of using them if I need to. I have yet to decide that if carrying these things is accepting and moving forward, or if I need to "surrend" to the mountain and run unarmed. But in the big city, at night... yep, I carry them. I'll go with this as moving forward.

I am afraid of being sick. I'm not hypochondriac. I hate being sick and I'd rather not be, but when I AM, I get scared because I don't like to be weak. I don't like anyone to see, or know. When I had hypermesis in my early pregnancies, I didn't want anyone to be able see. I remember my mother-in-law offering to come over during the days I was home and be there for me. I snobbishly told my husband, "What's she going to do, hold the throw up bowl for me? No thanks." I later watched her care for a sister-in-law with the same illness, and friendships that were hatched along the way, and felt guilty for my inability to let her see my weakness.
In a roundabout way, I am afraid of girls. I had a few girls do mean things in middle school and high school, but at that point I was such an emotional depressed train wreck that I didn't pay attention to much of it anyways. In college, I remember. I remember getting locked out of my apartment with nasty notes left by my roommates to embarrass me in front of my dates. I remember my roommates eating my groceries I purchased with my hard-earned money, or worse eating meals/cookies I prepared for others, despite when hid it in the darkest of cupboards. I am afraid to return to the days where all the girls go silent when I enter a room. (I must say, in my last 7 years of life I've been welcomed/ accepted/ befriended by more women than I'd ever expect! I am so grateful to them, and am trying to reroute my fears and focus on this.) ...But I am slow in forming relationships with other women, afraid of being hurt again.

With running, I am afraid it's all not worth all the time and effort. I think I have this fear from some dumb vacuum cleaner line I heard when I was 15. It was some quote about when you're dead do you think people will remember that your car was always vacuumed or that you blah blah blahed (I don't have the best memory). Moral of it: are you spending your time on what matters? Ultra runners are crazy with the amount of time and effort spent on the trails. They're out running with the flu, asthma, sinus infections, broken bones. Running at 4am, 11pm, 2am. Running with broken headlamps, in the rain, lost for hours... and laughing about it. If you ask a runner why they run they might be startled a little bit, like you just poked them. What, you want a reason for my insanity? Usually they'll come up with some lame "I run because it's a part of me" "I don't know who I am without running" sort of answer.

NEVER try taking a "jumping" photo a few hours after running an ultra.
If you can't tell if I'm laughing or crying-- yes, to both.
In all reality, this is one of the fears I've come the furthest towards acceptance with. Why I run varies greatly. It can be as simple as I accidentally ate 11 cookies and now I need the calories off. It can be because I was/solved/might be in a marital dispute and I need to cool off and vent it out so I think clearly. Maybe I'm running because I downloaded a new podcast. Or because I want to explore. Sometimes I run just for the pure joy and peace it brings me. The fear that all this time spent in the mountains not being "worth it" gets diminished a little bit more every time I walk out that door.

These are some of the things I'm afraid of. But guess what, I'm not afraid to admit it! If I'm committed to something, it's because I know what I'm in for, and I accept it.

What fears do (or don't!) hold you back?


  1. The fear of realizing who I really am resonates with me. Great post Jenn... you are brave for admitting you fears, and a great inspirational writer at that. Keep it up! I very much enjoy your posts, and am making my own changes as well... even though my body says "no". It is hard to be patient, but I am glad someone else gets freaked out in the dark... not just me. This post is ver timely for me as well since I am constantly saying that I am too afraid to run in the dark. Kudos!

  2. My biggest fear is of disappointing others . . . and myself. I constantly fear that family and friends have certain expectations of me and that if I don't try harder than I currently am I won't get the results I was expected to get (not just about running). Someone told me I'd go top 10 at Wasatch last year. I didn't and that person hasn't reached out to me since. Likely, he hasn't reached out because he is busy and has his own life to think about. But I'm haunted constantly with the fear that he is disappointed in me and my results. It's the single biggest reason I've chosen to return to Wasatch this year.
    And I run in the mountains because if I don't I get super moody and grumpy. But I don't know why. I used to be the same way with climbing.
    I like your writing.

  3. Jenn, you are an amazing example of never knowing what's going on in other people's lives (y'know, so don't compare yourself...)
    Ever since I met you, I have been impressed, inspired, blown away by who you are, and the amazing things you do.
    Here's the thing: if all you ever did was rock climb, or run (not even ultra run), or co-found a festival, you would still be amazing. I didn't know ANY of that about you when I met you (at IMF in the cabin) I was still impressed by you because of your smile and your genuine care.
    Who you are is inherent and divine, and that will never be diminished by being a slow runner, or running fewer miles, or whether or not you carry a knife when you run. You have a big heart, and you take action according to the things that stir your soul.
    You are amazing. Thank you so much for sharing yourself and your wisdom.


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