I remember sitting around bored in my buddy’ Don’s studio on a cold winter morning in Chicago many years ago. We pretty much had nothing to do. It was miserable outside. The wind was blowing very hard and the city had a few feet of snow covering her grounds. The roads had been largely cleared of snow and cars were able to move about the streets, but getting around certain places on foot was really for the hardcore and the stupid. Mounds of snow from snowplows impeded foot traffic.
We got restless, as we usually did when we got together, and looked at each other with that ‘What the H—- do we do now?” look on our faces. Don was a great training partner; 7 years my junior, short, muscular and strong. I used to hate trying to catch up with him on our mountain runs, because he could power up hillsides. My own measure of success was knowing he could never beat me in flat full-out distance. We were very competitive and fed off the other’s energy. 23 years after meeting him, we still talk about fitness, and our passion for working out.
I said to him, “It’s so cold we should go for a run!” I half-heartedly meant it. He shouted back “Yeah man! That would be cool!” I think he half-heartedly meant it. After going back and forth shouting, “Yeah!” Yeah!” “Yeahhh!” We got so pumped up and decided to do it. Two obnoxious guys psyching each other up. We got up and peeled out the door and at the last-minute decided to wear only our shorts, socks and shoes as protective gear. Bare-chested was cool. We would pay the price.
Commit to an Action
Getting started was the hardest part of the run but we committed to an action. We tore down N. Sheridan Road and towards Lakeshore Park Drive. The wind cut at our faces and I felt the chill on my nose and hands. We decided to go as far as we could. We would head towards the Navy Pier, circle around and then return. We carried no money for a hot drink or a cab ride back in case we experienced failure. In our dumb minds, failure wasn’t an option and we were doing something cool. I wasn’t a spring chicken anymore. I did plenty of snow runs but never distance and without cold-weather protection. The pain in my chest, face and fingers was becoming apparent. My fingers were becoming very stiff and I could feel sharp, prickly pain all over the skin of my chest and face.
Choose Your Attitude
Loads of drivers honked their horns or gave us the thumbs up sign. An occasional driver would shout out his window and say something like, “Hey dumb*&%&! Put some clothes on!” But that only motivated us more. Several runners were out too, dressed in caps, mufflers, gloves, leg warmers and heavy jackets. We received odd looks, smiles, laughter and a few thumbs up. Some people heckled us and flipped us the bird. Thanks Chicago!
We hopped, high-footing one shoe after the other, in areas where the snow came up above our knees. Don cut around the edge of frozen Lake Michigan and I followed behind. Our feet were wet and cold. For a short minute, the sun was our saving grace. It got a bit warmer and the wind died down at times but I couldn’t feel any sensation in my hands, chest or face now. Moving my lips was difficult. My drool froze and my mouth was puckered slightly open. I’m sure Don felt the same but we pressed on. My chest color now was light-purple from frost nip and I couldn’t easily open or close my hands. We were too far out to turn back. I didn’t want to.
We’d circled around the Navy Pier, past staring tourists and hit our loop point. I was catching up quick to Don. Near the lake he took a good, running 15 foot leap off a stone wall, gave a Tarzan shout, landed flat-footed while dropping into a shoulder-roll on a snow bank and got up. He took off running and never looked back at me. I was stunned.
Visualize Success and Don’t Panic
I got to the edge and looked down. It was far. Don knew the terrain because Chicago was his stomping grounds but I didn’t. My thought was, “With my luck I’m going to break my ankles landing in rocks and stones.” Don didn’t look back. His shape shrank into the distance. My heart sank. I stepped back a good distance, sprinted and took a strong plunge off the side, trying to land exactly where he landed. I yawped, hit the ground, completed my crappy ninja-roll and stood up happy. No broken bones. 20 plus miles more and we would be home. I was sick for weeks with the flu.
Over the years, we’ve done many longer runs; gotten pinned in the mountains on a 50 mile run during a storm, ran out of water during a speedy 60 mile mountain run through the Saratoga Gap (we did 30 miles and had to stop because he developed heat stress. I had to run to the car and drive it to his location. We were far from help), and we once lost our map. This run had its own challenges and was very fun. I was with my best mate. The conditions were horrible, our protection was limited, we had no immediate resources on hand but the challenge helped us further realize how tight we were. Tonight, after writing this article I called Don. We laughed out loud. In 3 days he was headed to Arizona to continue training for a major event.
Do Something Difficult
Doing difficult things makes you a stronger person. It means intentionally taking an action toward something you know will not be easy and yet the end result will be increased confidence. You’ll have the self-knowledge that you can do the things you say you can do. When people are thrust into a survival situation one of the biggest problems they’ll have is how to cope mentally with the situation. Psychologists agree there will be a lot of conflicting emotions to deal with.
I don’t always feel like doing the things I need to do such as work, clean, or exercise. Thankfully I’m married to a wife who is a nutritionist and fitness instructor and keeps me healthy. She encourages me to work out and stay disciplined to achieve our goals. I do not train like I used to but I maintain a level that keeps me from being ill and worn out. Many studies show that it’s not the physically strong or those with the best equipment who make it through a disaster. Those who survive are ready to handle the unexpected and are willing to adapt to changing situations. They choose to be optimistic, don’t panic, and dig deep for inner strength by finding the important things worth fighting for; family, country, God, whatever it is…have a purpose.
You can’t choose your situation but you can choose your attitude to it. You cannot choose whether you are going to be kidnapped or in a terrorist attack. One way to get an attitude shift is by training your mind just as you train your body, incrementally. And you do this by doing difficult things. Get out of your comfort zone. This way when disaster strikes you’ll be more prepared mentally to handle it.You’ll have an easier time not panicking, staying upbeat and less likely to mentally flag.
- Commit to an Action.Take a sober look at the situation. Make a checklist of your equipment, location, distance to the nearest help, weather etc.Make a decision. Don’t wait around procrastinating.
- Choose Your Attitude. Don’t waste energy worrying. Choosing to stay optimistic is a skill you can develop. Every time you do something difficult you build confidence. And every time you build a well-honed survival skill you build confidence.
- Visualize Success. Imagine some of the difficult things you did before and how good it felt to do complete it. Imagine the steps you took to finish that task and this can prevent you from panicking.
- Don’t Panic. Panicking can cause you to do irrational things. Not being calm can worsen your situation. Getting out of panicking is taking steps to assess the situation logically. Are you alive? Yes. Do you have food? Yes. Are you bleeding? Go through a checklist and realize that as long as you’re breathing there’s hope.
- Keep Doing Difficult Things. Keep finding ways to challenge yourself. Learn knew survival skills by reading books and then practicing to see if they work. Take classes offered in your area. There are running clubs, shooting clubs, martial arts clubs where you can pair up with a mentor and learn how to improve your skills. Surround yourself with people who are willing to do difficult things.
- Lastly, have fun. But know, one day everything you know may be used for a serious moment in your life.
Some Semi-Difficult things to Do:
- Rappelling for the first time from a high distance, especially if you are afraid of heights.
- Sitting for hours without moving in the brush. Patience can drive a person crazy.
- Long distance hiking with a heavy pack and see if you can keep up with seasoned people.
- Carrying a heavy stone or log on your shoulder while traveling over hills a good distance.
- Boxing someone stronger and faster than you.
- Parachuting or Skydiving for the first time.
- Fasting for a week while exercising. Go below your needed caloric intake.
- Eat foods that you are not used to, either raw or cooked (insects, fish, snails etc.) that give you a gag reflex.
- Run rapids in a canoe.
- Asking someone for help.
Give those things a try. Hang around people who are motivated, positive and encouraging. You will go far.
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