I love being in the mountains. That combination of the physical, mental, and emotional pressures make me feel truly alive. To make the most of it, and to stay safe there, I want to be a mountain athlete. The buzz, strength, and determination I have developed in the mountains has turned into a true asset in the rest of my life both professionally and personally and, with this foundation, I believe I will be better prepared for life as a whole.
Inspiration from others
Earlier this year I met Simon Freeman, co-founder of Freestak, an amazing endurance sport marketing agency. We met as they were organising the Berghaus Trail Team and Sophie and I were lucky enough to be invited to the London tryouts. After moving to Chamonix, we stayed in touch and Simon and his wife (and business partner) Julie have been out a number of times for events. I love what these guys are doing – fully committing to an audacious mission to change how sports marketing is done – and they are nailing it.
When I first came across Simon’s twitter profile I was struck by his description: I run marathons. Everything else is a result of that. I instantly wanted to know more and, over several runs, coffees, and Skype chats, I finally feel I know what he means by this. The commitment to his training that has helped him inch towards his remarkable 2 hours 30 minutes marathon goal is the same commitment he applies to his work. The ability to keep pushing when his whole body is screaming stop is the same drive needed to face the hurdles running your own business relentlessly throws at you. And, the buzz at the end that makes you forget all the pain and go back for more is just as contagious when working with great clients as it is winning a race.
Using sport to motivate business is nothing new but nor have I really given it any proper thought in how that would actually be realised. Inspirational stories are great for an evening’s entertainment but what about inspiring you when it’s 6am and you need to get up for an early meeting? What about when you need to say no to that extra drink because what is coming up tomorrow is more important? Or even, when you are being hit back by clients time and time again and you need to get back on your feet just one more time?
Chamonix is full of amazing people and athletes, while having a drink with a few of our friends, one turned to me and said ‘Yeah, but Colin [a mutual friend] is a mountain athlete’. I hadn’t taken notice of the term before but it instantly resonated with me. This concept of mountain athlete encapsulated all of the skills and strengths I have been, and am continuing, to develop. When I talk about what I love about alpinism it is never just the technical difficulty, or the physical challenge, it is everything about the outdoors that gives me that buzz. It is that ability to be in these incredible environments and feel comfortable.
What is a Mountain Athlete
I believe there are many forms that a mountain athlete can take but here is just my interpretation, my aims, and my ideas. Fundamental to any athlete is strength; strong legs and body; a strong mind; a strong grounding in mountain skills and judgement; and, a strong passion for what you do. None of these are finite. There is no finish line and I will always be able to develop my strengths further. The key is being aware of where exactly you are with these strengths and then letting them inform your decisions, expectations, and aspirations.
The physical strength in a mountain athlete is obvious. For me I see this materialising in the ability to keep going when needed, to be able to dig deep into my legs and keep pushing up when my body is screaming stop, and to have that confidence in what my body is capable of. I want to benchmark my fitness against quantifiable goals like running or skinning up 1000m+ of vertical ascent, or being happy on the move for 10+ hours on an alpine route. By taking baby steps and testing myself bit by bit, I will develop the confidence around what I can and can’t do thus letting me work on achieving the can’ts.
The strength of mind, again, is common in all athletes but I believe a mountain athlete has an additional level to theirs. The strength to drive through difficult moments is crucial but up in the mountains you also have the impact of the commitment a mountain brings. Mistakes up there have much more serious repercussions than down on the flat and dealing with that added pressure effectively is pivotal to success in the mountains.
Experience is everything in the mountains, and the mountain sense one develops through time in the hills cannot be acquired any other way. This depth of knowledge, understanding, and experience builds a strength that provides confidence in your decision making, faith in yourself, and provides very necessary security and safety in extreme situations. This is what I work on every day I step foot on the mountain; looking around at conditions, getting second opinions from more experienced climbers, and learning to make my own decisions accurately.
The passion part, for me, is easy. I really feel like I come alive in the mountains. The smile that creeps across my face when I step out onto the hill is enough to shake any bad mood or funk I may might be in. Feeding this passion through growing in the other areas has allowed it grow beyond anything I would have imagined previously – I think every member of my family would have been surprised if I had told them 5 years ago that, by today, I would have moved to Chamonix to live the life I’m living.
This is not an exhaustive list, just the beginnings of my own thoughts on what is a mountain athlete, something that I want to explore further. But, I hear you ask, how does this apply to my professional life?
Everything else will come from that
Excluding the obvious, that I left a promising startup in London to pursue a more outdoor focused life, the impact of growing into a mountain athlete has provided many valuable lessons for life. The experiences and strengths I am developing are proving to be invaluable assets to, not just myself but, those around me who work with me. There are dozens of examples of how my experiences in the outdoors have influenced my decision making but there is one I just want to dip into here. If you can take my ramblings, maybe I’ll write more about these.
A clear crossover I have found has got to be risk and risk management. How I have applied the ways I assess the objective dangers on a climb to assessing business risk with my startup past. How I have assessed these dangers, accepted them, and then made the conscious decision to proceed anyway, aware of the consequences of my decision. Alex Honnold sums it up far better than I can in this amazing video on his perspective on risk where he splits it into risk and consequence, two distinct camps. Here he manages the risks he takes through his training and experience while accepting the consequences and putting them down.