How I Learned to Stop Complaining and Love the Mountain Climber

I hate this,” I repeated. The first time I’d said it I thought I’d hissed under my breath, but the instructor heard me. She asked me to share my insight with the whole class. So I did. Loudly.

I was in a high-intensity interval training class (“HIIT” for short). In HIIT, you’re asked to do something difficult for say, 30 seconds, followed by something tortuous for say, 30 seconds. Repeat for 30 minutes. I was on minute 17, and I wanted to hurl my dumbbell across the floor. Or just hurl.

I’d put down a deposit on a Machu Picchu trek a few months earlier. My original plan was to take the train up, but then I decided I’d do the classic four-day hike. It’s not an easy trek and I’d never been hiking before, so this clearly made a lot of sense.

I started training. I focused on my butt and calves and lungs in anticipation of the ascent into the Peruvian mountain range. Treadmill work, lifting, and various aerobic classes rounded out my workout landscape.

And a lot of it was unpleasant. I hated the way my lungs wanted to escape by way of my mouth, and how my ass regularly informed me it was on fire. But I kept it up, and met with a trainer every week to check in and readjust my workouts as needed. One of her favorite things to assign me was my most dreaded: The mountain climber.

I disliked it because it combined aerobic activity with butt work, and it rendered me breathless almost instantly. I was panting my way through yet another round of them when I repeated my mantra, “I hate these.”

The trainer sighed. “Keri. If you’re hiking Machu Picchu, you need these. They’ll help you get up the mountain. They’re called ‘mountain climbers’ for God’s sake. Now get up that mountain.”

And right then, I begrudgingly changed my attitude and stopped maligning the poor, innocent mountain climbers. Okay fine, I didn’t love them, but I appreciated them. After all, they were going to get me up the mountain.

Since that session, I’ve tried to look at things I purport to hate, and ask myself: Do I hate this because it does harm, or do I hate it because it’s uncomfortable? If it’s the former, I dispense with it. But the latter gets more consideration. If it makes me uncomfortable, I probably need it.  

A few weeks ago I found myself at Machu Picchu, at the spot where everyone takes the photo that will eventually become their Match.com profile picture. The trek was hard. Really hard. But I did it, due in no small part to those mountain climbers, HIIT classes, and the constant smack-down from a diminutive but fierce trainer. 

No matter what goal you have in mind, there’s a tortuous and necessary task designed specifically for that goal. You have a choice: Hate on it, don’t do it, and fail; or embrace the discomfort, do it, and have a better chance of succeeding.  

Now. Get up that mountain.