Year of Fears: Part 2, 3 and 4

I am not quite sure how it can be the middle of April already but that is what the calendar says!  Time to catch up on my 'Year of Fears' posts.  At the start of the year, I posted about a desire I had this year to start to get cozy with the icky, awkward and sometimes even scary things that I normally tend to avoid.  It all kicked off with a ridiculous ziplining adventure 200 feet above the jungles of Panama- you canwatch my gopro video of this exciting adventure here.  What else have I been getting cozy with this year?  Here is an update...

1.  January- Cross Country skiing carnage.   

Well, that didn't quite go as planned!  I decided to jump into the New Year with a new sport and a completely novel movement pattern and skill set for me...nordic skiing!  It's not that I was actually afraid of xcountry skiing ( I am NOW but more on that in a moment lol!) but rather, I wanted to jump into an activity that my body and brain knew absolutely nothing about.  I wanted to experience something really awkward, force my nervous system to create some new patterns, stretch my synapses, redefine my edges and experience a fresh perspective. friends have been working me over for years now trying to bring me to the 'mountain'!  I used to be a snowboarder but I traded in my board and boots for a mountain bike and my sneakers many years ago.  I love dirt.  Not a fan of the cold.  And I can't stand the drive then pay to play idea of the mountain after doing it on my board for so many years.  And was a stretching of the edges for me to hold hands with cross country skiing...but I was excited to learn some new skills and spend time with my friends in such a beautiful setting!

Day one went swell and the girls took me for a nice lesson in the flat green trails around the ponds/meadows.  I really enjoyed the awkwardness of it all!  I love the feeling of limbs and nerves being completely out of sync- you can literally feel your body learning by the minute.  Soon the patterns become more automatic, then they become smoother and more co-ordinated, then comes the speed and or strength and synergy.  I am a lifelong learner at heart, and I love the feeling of my brain and body working together to soak up knowledge.  Next time you feel frustrated, disappointed or annoyed that you aren't 'good enough at' something, try switching your perspective to see the opportunities that exist when you are at the beginning stages of a new skill!  It is a wonderful feeling to know you are on a path that will take you to new levels of competency!  Somewhere to go and a reason to keep on truckin ahead.  

Day two did not go so well.  My buddy confused my fitness and go get em attitude with some type of skill.  I didn't realize that there were Black Diamond nordic trails.  And I didn't yet know how to get out of the tracks.  So...I hucked myself headfirst into a snowbank to save myself from launching down the long hills of 'the Grind'...multiple times.  Crashing with all those poles and skiis (that do not self release) is one messy scene.  I decided to stay out of the death tracks and focussed my energy on learning how to snowplow on the skinny skis.   Just when I thought I was getting the hang of it, my skinny skis crossed and I went down like a sack of hammers, knee smashing on ski of other limb of course. Wind knocked out of me.  Cut up knee which later turned purple and ballooned. The end of my running season flashed before my eyes.   Up I got over and over again.  Only way out was through.  

Three months later and I am still recovering from the whiplash and my running plans have been, well, modified.  Whiplash is a bitch and it shows up all over the place, especially when you try and train for 100kms on top of it (and even if you don't).  I've still got some of the classic whiplash symptoms but it was the referred symptoms of metatarsalgia (9/10 pain in my foot) that forced me to pull the pin on the Gorge 100k in March.  I humped my way through the training, but the symptoms peaked during my taper period and so my body was just not ready to rock 100kms and 10,000 feet of elevation gain- when I couldn't even run for an hour without a completely numb foot.  In all honesty, I wasn't too fussed about not starting the Gorge 100k.  I was only planning to run it as a training run for the Western States 100miler- but, as the odds go, my name did not get pulled from the lottery hat for this years event, so there was no strong drive for me to take on the Gorge.  My 100k motivation has been wavering of late, and my heart is turning to other ultra running adventures including my new (and very exciting to me!) project to #explorethevispine.  And so it was an easy decision to pull out of the Gorge in the end.

I digress!  What did I learn from that experience with the skinny skiis?
1.  Don't trust your friends (HA!).  They think you are more capable than you are lol.
2.  Know your limit, stay within it.
3. Lessons are a worthwhile investment (next year I will be taking a few!)
4. I love feeling awkward!  I enjoy feeling my body learning and I am motivated by the challenge to improve and gain some level of skill in a new activity.
5. Your friends love to see you learning something new and they enjoy teaching you new skills.
6. Sharing knowledge may be the greatest gift of all.
7. Nordic trails have black diamond hills too! 

2.  February- Photo shoot Fears

When your photographer friend asks you to help her with a new project which requires you to pose for photos and allow said photos to be plastered on the internet but you are an introvert (yes, believe it or not)...what do you say?  My initial reaction was' Nooooooooooo!  Run away!  Awkward!  Uncomfortable!  Not your cup of tea!'  And so, I had to do it.  So, I held hands with Icky and Awkward and showed up to 'help' out my superstar photographer friend, the one and only,  Karen McKinnon with her project.  Karen was developing a new portfolio for'Fitness Shoot' images and wanted to try out some new ideas- I was glad that I could help and I knew that she would create and share only beautiful images.  She made me feel at ease right away and it was fun to 'play' with her and the camera.  She surprised me with the first image she shared from the shoot- as it was nothing like I had been expecting, based on how the session had gone.  She called the image : F I E R C E...

My thoughts at the time:
"It is not a word that I've ever used to describe myself.  But thanks to my friend and mentor, Karen McKinnon, it's starting to stick.  She managed to capture a bit of my inner bad ass with this image.  I feel grateful to have her words and this image to give me strength and courage on my Year of Fears journey.  Who knew one photo could hold so much power? Thank you, friend."

It was a great experience, of course!  All of these icky awkward things bring novel perspectives and emotions with them - and that in itself is worth trying something new. 

3.  March- Facing my Barking Dog Phobia

Ugh.  I knew this one had to be tackled this year and I was half excited and half terrified to get into it last month.  I grew up a blissful lover of dogs.  Absolutely zero fear.  Big hugs and big kisses to any canine that came my way.  No fear response at all.  Then, about 8 years ago I was charged by aggressive, barking dogs (while on my bike) multiple times in a one month period.  The final incident saw me trapped under my bike with "Cujo" (I swear that is what they were calling after it!) trying to eat me from above.  Something changed within me that summer.  A horrible conditioned response to barking dogs developed and it grew stronger and stronger with every additional interaction I had.  

It has gotten so bad that any barking dog of any size will trigger a severe fright response that has me frozen in absolute terror and unable to speak.  I find myself hiding behind my friends, begging them to help me, with no recollection of how I got there.  Even a freakin Chihuahua can set off the reaction.  No barking however, no problem at all and I feel absolutely no reaction although, I am acutely aware of the potential and extremely cautious when around new dogs.  The moment a dog barks and charges at me I loose all control of my response- which has become very Pavlovian, ironically.  It happens quite frequently in my life of riding and running most days of the week.  I avoid certain neighbourhoods because of potential interactions.  And my fear reaction can turn minor situations into full blown attacks because, well, dogs can literally smell your fear.   I am appalled at the lack of respect that so many dog owners have shown towards me in these situations over the years.  If I could get a dollar for every time I have heard "He never does that!", "He won't bite!"  and "He's friendly- he's just saying hi!", my piggy bank would be full. Put your damn dog on a leash if you can't take the time to train them, people.  Dogs are brilliant animals and have the potential to be remarkably obedient, calm and responsive. I have seen both sides of the spectrum and applaud the dog owners that invest the time to bring out the best in their pets.   

Eventually I got tired of defending myself, living in fear and feeling like a victim.  It finally dawned on me that these types of dog owners and subsequent interactions weren't going anywhere and I was going to have to come up with an alternate plan to deal with these encounters.  I was ready to fight back.  

I considered both hypnotherapy and hiring a dog trainer.  But I started by taking advice from my partner in crime, Brad, who is an experienced dog trainer himself.  I took my tools to the trail and the results have been life changing!  I found my voice!  Here are the steps that Brad suggested I take when I encounter aggressive dogs:

1.  Stop moving.  Get off your bike or stop running and face the dog.
2.  Make yourself as big as you can- pick up your bike or a large rock/stick etc.
3.  YELL.  Aaaaaaaaaarghhhhh!!!  Get out of here!  Anything.  Just yell loudly!  Do not put your hand out, bend down and be all passive!  Do not freeze and stay quiet!  
4.  This last step usually stops the dog in it's tracks and it either runs away or stays put!
5.  If the dog continues into your space or tries to bite you- defend yourself in any way you have to- kick, throw rocks, sticks etc.  Fight back.  

So far, I have had 3 intense opportunities (one just today!) to try out my new tools and I am so excited to say that they have worked!  I have broken the cycle of my conditioned response to 'freeze and go mute' and that in itself is the most liberating feeling for me.  I feel FREE!  And  I feel hopeful that I am on my way to moving past this crazy 8 year phobia that has taken up way too much of my energy in this life.  

So far this year, I have learned that getting cozy with your fears is not only an awesome way to experience new perspectives in this life...but that it can actually change your life for the better.  I am more inspired than ever to hold hands with icky, awkward and scary and I am actually looking forward to seeing what comes my way next!

I hope that by sharing my experiences with you, you may also consider getting intimate with your own fears.  Because really, our fears become our limits and we shouldn't let them determine where our edges rest.  WE should be in charge of that;).