I learnt a lot about stretching out of my ‘comfort’ zone during a week’s holiday walking in the Austrian Alps earlier this month. This photo shows me and a fellow walker concentrating on the next few steps up the steep mountain path. I remember trying to ignore the 3,000 foot drop to our side! At the tops of the mountains we were rewarded by stunning views of the mountain ranges and valleys below which made the physical and mental stretch worthwhile.
Friends will tell you that I love walking and I spend much of my free time hiking with friends in the beautiful Surrey Hills and beyond. All of these regular walks help to keep me fit and healthy and are usually well within my fitness level and ‘comfort’ zone. However, when I go on holiday I like to give myself more of a challenge and stretch myself further to see what I am capable of achieving.
Here are some of the insights I gained during the holiday about how to make the stretching easier:
Recognise how far you want to stretch yourself
Each day the walk leaders described the ‘easy’ and ‘hard’ walk options and asked us to choose the one we would like to do. The first walk of the holiday involved using chains to climb up a steep section of rock face followed by a walk along a narrow ridge with 3,000 feet drops either side. I was tempted but, having previously experienced vertigo in similar circumstances, I decided this walk was a step too far. I chose the ‘easy’ option and enjoyed the walk. When I later looked at the video my partner had taken of the harder section of the walk I was relieved to see that I had made the right decision.
Ensure you have the support you need to help you to succeed
We were fortunate to have two skilled and very experienced leaders to guide us on our walks. They kept a watchful eye to assess our fitness levels and the type of support and encouragement we each needed. Also, I am very aware of terrain that make me nervous, especially exposed footpaths. Therefore, I didn’t hesitate to ask one of my walking companions for a hand up or to stay close during challenging sections.
Set a steady pace
The leaders set a steady pace appropriate to the level of difficulty of each section of the walk. This was especially helpful up the steeper, narrower sections as it enabled us to keep together and give each other a helping hand and encouragement when needed.
Focus on the road ahead and not the pitfalls
When walking along the narrower, exposed footpaths keeping my attention on the leader rather than looking at the huge drop to my side helped me to focus on the way ahead and settle the butterflies in my stomach.
Take regular breaks to renew your energy
I have seen walkers race ahead up steep mountain paths on many occasions only to overtake them later as they struggle to catch their breath having stretched themselves too far. When you sweat, your body loses a huge amount of water as it tries to cool itself down. Just a brisk walk in warm weather, for example, can make you lose a pound of water as your body tries to resume its normal temperature. Therefore it was essential to take regular breaks to replace the water loss and eat snacks to replenish our energy levels.
Give your companions enough space to move freely
Walking behind someone who regularly thrust their walking poles back in my direction, I quickly learnt to leave enough space to enable him to move freely to suit his walking style and avoid injury or accidents.
Enjoy the journey
When I want to improve my fitness, I sometimes walk with a group who like to do long walks at a fast pace. The downside, is that if I stop to tie my bootlace or admire the beautiful views they carry on regardless as they get their sense of achievement by completing the walk as quickly as possible. By contrast I enjoy taking regular breaks to soak up the scenery and explore interesting places along the way. So it’s important to recognise which type of journey you enjoy the most to help you to choose your travelling companions.
Focus on the ‘peak’ experiences
When I was feeling tired on some of the steep ascents I brought to mind the photos I had seen of the stunning views from the top that had inspired me to book the holiday. These images gave me the energy boost, inspiration and motivation to complete and enjoy the journey.
If you would like to stretch out of your ‘comfort’ zone please get in touch to find out how I can help you on your journey. Christine Griffin – Executive Coach – firstname.lastname@example.org – +44 (0)7796 147127 – www.griffinity.co.uk