Fight the Fear Factor!

A bit of a rant today, but hopefully one with a purpose. As I’ve mentioned in a couple of posts (such as here and here), I feel that Obstacle Course Racing can and should be a way to get past fears about what we’re capable of. We can really learn what we’re really capable of doing and do it. Fighting fear is a big part of what we do.

Beat Fear

Fear is only overcome by practice for both body and mind.

So when I hear people talk about how “crazy” we are to do things like this, it really irks me. Case in point: a friend of mine posted a picture of herself rock climbing on Facebook. It was an awesome picture – the climb wasn’t too hard, but it was a beautiful shot – blue skies, great scenery, etc. But to a person, everyone who had posted a comment was talking about how dangerous it was and how crazy she was for doing what she did – just climbing a rock. Not one person told her she was doing a good job, or how they were envious… it was all just fear.

I’ve mentioned before how I think much of this attitude comes from people not wanting to be reminded that they could be doing such stuff.  But here’s the thing: actions like this really aren’t that dangerous if you’re trained for them. You just have to put the faith in your body that it knows how to do such stuff. And then you start fighting fear.

Indian Mud Run Dragon's Back

The Dragon’s Back obstacle. It makes you face fears.

Fighting the Fear

Monday, I reviewed the Indian Mud Run and a bit about the “Dragon’s Back” obstacle. This was the one that you had to leap across an eight-foot gap and grab a bar and pull yourself up over it, twice. Picture of a similar obstacle is to the left.

Physically, this was not a difficult obstacle. Enough grip strength and jumping power and you were across, no big deal. Frankly, at six feet tall I probably could have just fallen forward and grabbed the bar with outstretched arms. But even though your body is capable of something, you sometimes need to get over the fear that’s been built up in you over time. An eight-foot gap, especially one that is twelve feet up in the air, is intimidating. There’s a reason we fear heights: we could fall. But when you’re trained for something and do it regularly, your fear is lessened because you know you can do it.

Training to get past Fear

For a person who’s trained for it, most physical feats really are just matters of technique and practice. Doing things like this often reduces the fear over time. Think of a monkey – there’s no fear as they swing from branch to branch, because it’s just how they move. Think of mountain goats, leaping from one-inch ledge to one-inch ledge up and down sheer cliffs. They just see those ledges as plenty of room to jump to, and they know they can do it.

One of the things that movement programs like MovNat does is to make us realize just how capable we are to do “physical feats.” That is, jumping from a log to another log and landing square, without falling. Or climbing trees. Crawling on the ground. Running barefoot or with minimalist shoes. These things are all “feats” that our ancestors wouldn’t have thought twice about doing, yet for us they’re scary. There’s a ton of misunderstanding about what humans can really do, and it’s mostly because of a lack of practice.

Don’t baby yourself

I know people who are afraid to run on sidewalks, because they “might trip.” That’s right – they’re afraid to run on a surface that was designed for easy human movement. They’ll yell at their kids not to run on the sidewalk because they “might get hurt.” So those kids grow up with a similar fear. And sure, a less-movement-savvy child might fall until he learns proper technique, but that’s just part of learning. And as those kids get older, they’ll get better at movement.

And that’s one of the reasons I love OCR so much. It’s an opportunity to regain that movement capability and lose the fear. You get over your fears by doing the things you fear. And that’s true not just in OCR or even physical endeavors, but throughout life.

In modern society, with all the safety built into it, we’re always going to run into people who let fear run their lives. It’s up to us to seek out things that cause us to feel fear and take them on. We can do it slowly, steadily, and incrementally, no doubt, and that’s the best way to do such stuff. We need to make our bodies capable so that our minds can accept our ability.

And let’s not accept the reactionary caterwauling of the fearful as we challenge ourselves. Let’s show them that people can and do take on these challenges regularly.