Mountain Mindfulness

I had no intention of sharing this story – it feels personal and not relevant, even worse, potentially ‘braggy’. Last fall, when my dear colleague and friend, Jennifer Coleman heard me talk with excitement and wonder about a recent big day I had in the mountains, she planted the seed that I could share my experience with others in the context of mindfulness. At the time, my response was a quick and definitive, “no thank you”. But I value her perspective, gentle prodding and guidance. So, my hope is that in these extraordinary times, sharing this provides a bit of an escape, maybe a smile, and a reminder to be present no matter what’s going on around us.

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I completed my biggest single-day mountain adventure last September – a race called Whistler Alpine Meadows that covers 117+ km of mountain trails with over 12,000 metres of elevation change. It took me 28 hours and 3 minutes. It’s a memory I hold dear and lately I’ve been reflecting on how energized, in the moment and aware I was.

At the 82km mark, coming into the last aid station where I would see my crew, I was heading into uncharted territory – it was around 9:30pm, 17 1/2 hours from the start, I’d never run through the night before let alone by myself on a big mountain, and there was a storm coming in.

I couldn’t have felt more alive. (see pic above – photo credit Matt White)

When I shared my experience with Jennifer, she commented about finding mindfulness on the mountain. This was interesting to me – I’d never thought about my mountain time as ‘mindfulness’. But when I look at what I wrote in my journal in the days right afterwards, I see the thread of being very present and aware.

“Vivid images and snapshots jump out – Cheakamus lake shining through when the clouds lifted, spectacular views and contrasts in Singing Pass, coming in to Base 2 aid station single-mindedly focused on turning straight up the mountain, feeling so much care and encouragement from my incredible crew (Katie, Wendy + Matt), seeing the pride and love in Jeff’s eyes as he sent me off into the dark, rainy night alone, breathing so hard I needed to stop with my head on my poles in the relentlessness of the climbs, watching mice scurrying off the trail as my light approached and frogs freezing in place on the trail (as I avoided stepping on them and laughed at my own version of ‘frogger’), noticing the bitter, wet wind whipping my face but being warm and safe in my gear, having blood dripping off my finger catching me by surprise as I didn’t even feel the cut, wondering “what the hell?!?” when my headlamp started blinking just 3 hours after putting new batteries in, turning my headlamp off in the vastness of Blackcomb peak just to feel the space, feeling the adrenaline and strength of being in the mountains at night by myself, squinting through the storming rain and pea soup visibility coming off of Blackcomb, sliding on slick trail that wouldn’t end in the longest 15km in recorded history, working so damned hard. Feeling strong and happy”.

I smile at these memories. They are a part of me that I keep close to my heart – magic moments can be hard fought and rare. These days, I’m longing for more mountain time, but I’m also practicing being in the moment and mindful in new ways. Adrenaline is a great drug. And so is stillness.

#mountains #mindfulness #WAM #Whistler #Blackcomb #frogger #leadershipmatters

Mountain Photo Credit: Kevin Ray