From high in the mountains, a lesson on resiliency during the age of the coronavirus

I’ve learned a lot from the mountains. A deep love for conservation, for starters. An appreciation of their scale and power, too. And in climbing them, I’ve picked up lessons in endurance, situational awareness and tolerance for risk.

But success in the peaks can be summed up in one word: resilience.

The toughness implied in that word is all-encompassing. A successful summit attempt (and that sometimes means turning back short of the top) is based on the resilience of your body, mind and spirit. If you come up short in these areas, the chances of failure — and potentially harm — rise dramatically.

Resilience is a word that’s been on my mind a lot lately. Before the Great Recession, my household income was at its peak. But there were areas of weakness that would be exposed when times got tough, and I learned a lot from that. “Never again,” I told myself, hoping to avoid the pitfalls that befell me when I lost my job and had to find work in a new town. As best as I could, I tried to figure out how to become more resilient when storms appear on the horizon.

And just like that, here we are. The arrival of COVID-19 brought a pandemic to our country, and with it came an immediate recession. We’re being told to stay home, work remotely and go out only for essential business. Nearly 17 million people are out of work. And millions more, like me, are losing income from furloughs or loss of customers. That doesn’t take into account the hundreds of thousands who have become sick with this nasty virus.

It reminded me of that word, and how important resilience is. I’ve thought about it a lot over the past year, and it’s come into sharp focus over the past month. Here’s how I see that term playing out now:

You need to be physically resilient. Like any disease, this new coronavirus is particularly cruel to those whose health is already compromised. I’m reminded of a poster that graced the wall of a gym I used to go to that had one short line written at the bottom: The stronger you are, the harder you are to kill. Physical fitness, a healthy diet and proper sleep are your weapons to defend against not only the virus, but also the stress that comes with it, and the economic hardships that have befallen us as a result. Find ways to be active. Walk, run, ride your bike, lift weights. Eat healthy foods, not just comfort foods that taste good, but aren’t nutritionally valuable. Get your sleep. These habits are what make athletes great, and they work well for the rest of us, too. Not only can you make your body more fit, but a good exercise routine will help work off stress. And remember that poster: If you’re stronger and fitter, you’ll be a better survivor.

You need to be mentally resilient. Mental toughness is critical when hard times arrive. Create in yourself a mindset that accepts that things aren’t ideal, then launch your efforts from there. In other words, you know that things suck, so what can you do about it? Train yourself to work with the facts and circumstances as they are, not what they used to be. If you’re facing some time off from your job, see if there are things you can learn that will expand your marketable knowledge and skills. Keep your mind active, working and thinking toward solutions to the problems you’re currently facing. A proactive, engaged mind will propel you toward making decisions on your terms rather than repeatedly reacting to — or knuckling under — new challenges. Give yourself some grace when you feel overwhelmed. But in so doing, stay the course and don’t stay too long in those moments of anxiety and sadness. Use the tools at your disposal the manage your mind and your emotions.

Build resilience in your finances. This is a tough one, because most of us are a paycheck or two away from disaster. Part of that is the reality of where wages are for middle class and lower-income workers. But also, some of that is our fault. Personal finance gurus like Dave Ramsey suggest having an emergency fund that’s equal to 6-9 months of income, and personally, I think that’s unrealistic for most people. But he has a point. Having an emergency fund to make up for lost income is critical. Pay down your debts as much as possible. And given where we’re at now, it’s high time to cut expenses. Take a hard look at all those monthly box subscription services, online streaming services and other expenses you have. Sort them out by “wants” and “needs,” and be honest about it. Build up the ability to be able to weather this storm or, if needed, be able to quickly pick up and move to where new job opportunities are. And when this downturn passes, keep up these new habits. Chances are, you can get by maintaining your old car, not using credit cards and ordering fewer things on Amazon instead of falling into old free-spending habits that weaken your financial position. And if at all possible, avoid dipping into retirement savings. Sometimes it’s impossible, but resist that as long as you can as it’s incredibly difficult to make those losses down the road.

Work on your spiritual resilience. In this case, you can find comfort and inner strength by embracing your faith. Find time to dive into those sacred texts and pray. Look for wisdom there to help you deal with the stresses, questions and anger that confronts you. These are often quiet, solitary times that will allow you to slow down, see things more clearly and inform the decisions you make and actions you take.

And even if you’re not a religious person, you can still apply “spiritual” practices that will make you inwardly stronger. Find time to be alone in a quiet setting, be still, breathe deep. Go on a long walk, ride or run. Maybe do some gardening. Or yoga. These activities have rhythmic, meditative or peaceful attributes that parallel what many religious people find when they pray and meditate on scriptures. Meditative practices tend to unclutter your mind and create inner peace.

I know that some of us are going to get trucked over the next several months. The Great Recession jacked me up for years, and frankly, I never fully recovered from the losses of that downturn. But I learned from it. My hope is that we can weather this and come out OK on the other side. We can’t control a lot of the bigger forces at work, but we can put on our own personal armor and steel ourselves for the challenges ahead. Truth is, we don’t have another option because giving in is no option at all.

And that brings me back to what I’ve learned on the mountain. The peaks can be beautiful, peaceful and energizing. But they can be scary, dangerous and even violent places, too. Getting to the top — or getting off the mountain safely — is often a combination of enjoyment, effort, fear and wisdom. The constant is it’s never easy. But another constant for those who have had success in the mountains is that they are resilient. And resiliency is a character trait from which we can all benefit now.

Bob Doucette

An appreciation of running: Five ways running has helped me

Ten years ago, I could never have imagined me doing this. So glad I have.

This week gave us Global Running Day. Or International Running Day. Or National Running day. Well, one of those three. I’m pretty sure all three had a hashtag or something, but in any case, it was a day for runners everywhere to say how much they loved it, take a post-run selfie and stick it on the ‘Gram.

I joined the crowd by tweeting/IG’ing a few old race photos, then going out for four hot, humid and hilly miles. Call me a sucker for a trend.

I also read some folks’ thoughts on the day — they varied from “well, every day is a run day” to “they’re just making up a day to sell more shoes” to the more typical “running has changed my life!” messages.

For me, every day is not a run day, and I didn’t buy any shoes or gear. But it did get me thinking about the past nine years, a span in which I picked the habit back up and stuck with it. And I asked myself, “Well, what has running done for me?”

Something to be said for being fit and having fun.

Obviously, I benefited in terms of fitness. Before I started running again, I kept in shape by lifting weights and playing basketball several times a week. I still lift, and I love basketball. But the latter is not something I can do long-term for much longer. It can be rough on the body. So I started running and found different kinds of fitness. Running helped me lose weight, improved my aerobic capacity and showed me new ways to get in shape. Here’s another fun nuance: Learning different kinds of running — long distance, shorter distance, and sprinting — put more tools in my fitness toolbox. I’ll take that!

A whole other level of toughness is needed if you’re going to run for hours at a time. (Clint Green photo)

Running made me mentally tougher. Competing in sports — team sports, combat sports or whatnot — can build mental tenacity. But running does it in a different way. For most of us (the non-elite runners), the competition is with ourselves. Training for a marathon demands toughness. Want to run a 5K as fast as you can? That race will test your will in ways you won’t expect. In either case, the training and the racing tested my limits. Discomfort hangs over you. So does pain. And the nagging voice in the back of your head that tells you to quit. Overcome those things and you will emerge a tougher person.

Running gets me outside, regardless of conditions. And it’s mostly been good.

Running got me outside more. I’m not a treadmill runner. I’ll do it if I have to, but most of the time I’m outside running the streets or kicking up dirt on the trails. Being outside on foot helped me get to know my community better. It got me into the woods, over the hills and into new places I’d never have seen in a gym, on a court or sitting on the couch. I’ve seen, heard and smelled things that will stick with me for as long as I have memory — the sweet scents of spring flowers, the cry of a bald eagle, the swoop of an owl bearing down on its prey. And so much more.

Just a few of the people I grew to know through running. Good folks, y’all.

I met some awesome people through running. One of the smartest things I did when I moved to a new town was joining a trail running group. I also got involved in a run group through my local YMCA. They greatly expanded the number of people I consider friends. One guy is the dean of Tulsa-area trail running. Another is a dude who went on a road trip with me to go backpacking and climbing a couple of peaks. I have two running friends doing big though-hikes — one on the Appalachian Trail, another on the Pacific Crest Trail. This new group of friends got me involved in preserving our local trail running hot spot, which in turn allowed me to befriend folks from other outdoor circles. Without running, I’d know none of these people and would have been poorer for it.

Here is one of the places I can work through the challenges life throws at me.

Running helps quiet my mind. Look, man. Everyone’s got problems. I don’t know anyone who’s lived such a charmed life that they can say they’ve never dealt with some sort of hardship or hurt. But there are events of loss, pain, anger and sadness that can pile up and overwhelm you. Especially if they pile up all at once. That’s where running came along at just the right time. The meditative rhythm of footfalls, the time spent unplugged, the miles in which you could empty your mind, pray, or otherwise work things out — that’s the stuff that helped me deal with difficult times. My life ain’t any harder than most of yours. But it sure would feel harder if not for the miles and hours I spent pounding pavement and devouring trail.

So that’s what went through my head this week, all prompted by that goofy little hashtag. What about you? Holler at me. How has running helped you?

Bob Doucette