Willpower Workout: The Summit Challenge

Willpower Workout #36-40: The Summit Challenge

October 14, 2020

We have reached the final week of the Explore Your Limits Campaign. In keeping with the theme of the Campaign, we are ending these 40 days of willpower workouts with the most intense challenge yet.

As we have discussed throughout this campaign, willpower is needed when motivation is in short supply. In willpower workout #8, we explained that there are 3 main sources of motivation: autonomy, competence, and belonging.

This final set of workouts is intended to deprive you of the second core motivator: competence. We want to attempt a challenge that we don’t think we’re capable of completing successfully.

Day 36-40 Willpower Workout:

  1. Think of something that feels impossible or nearly impossible for you to do, but that is humanly possible (i.e., other humans have done it or something similar). If you need ideas, send us an email telling us a little bit about yourself.
  2. Make sure it is something you could attempt in about 1-4 weeks’ time. If it requires a few weeks of training/preparation, that is fine, but it shouldn’t require more than a month of training. Remember: the point of this workout is to feel like you won’t be able to do it.
  3. Set a date for when you’ll complete the challenge you have set in steps 1 and 2.
  4. Ideally, tell others that you are going to do it to increase your commitment level.
  5. Prepare for the challenge over the next week(s).
  6. When the date comes, attempt it. We use the word “attempt” purposefully. You may not accomplish your objective. That’s ok. The point is to try something you are not sure you can do.

When I, Matt, first announced the Explore Your Limits Challenge almost 40 days ago on August 21, I told you I was going to finish the challenge with a Summit Challenge. The Summit Challenge I chose was running 50 miles in 12 hours through a nearby national park.In the 2 months preceding this announcement, I ran just 14 times for a total of 32.8 miles. The average distance I ran was 2.3 miles. The longest distance was 7.9 miles. This certainly would not count as training for a 50-mile run. For reference, in the first week of a 24-week training program, they recommend you run a total of 34 miles – more than I ran in the 2 months leading up to the challenge announcement.Most training programs for 50-mile runs are at least 16 weeks long. And most people who attempt 50-mile runs have completed multiple marathons (26.2 miles) previously. I had only 8 weeks to prepare. The longest distance I had run ever in my life was 13.1 miles and I had only done that once. The Summit Challenge might already seem impossible, but 3 components make it even more difficult:

  1. The route I chose for the Summit Challenge begins at an elevation of 6,471 feet or 1.2 miles above sea-level. The route reaches its highest point at 7,905 feet. It’s harder to breathe at high altitudes, making it harder to run. For context, football players at Denver’s mile-high stadium often access extra oxygen on the sidelines.
  2. The total elevation gain for the whole route is 6,864 feet (1.3 miles). For context, the total elevation gain of the Boston Marathon – which is considered one of the most difficult marathons – is 1,064 ft.
  3. The final added challenge was self-inflicted. I didn’t really start training diligently for the Summit Challenge until September 23, a mere 4 weeks before the date of the challenge. In the 4 weeks between August 21st and September 23rd, I ran just 4 times for a total of 24.5 miles. (A large part of this was due to the wild fire-induced bad air quality. I did ride a stationary bike 16 times during this stretch typically for 30-60 minutes).

Have I lost motivation to attempt the Summit Challenge over the last few weeks? Many times. I have had to engage my willpower all too frequently over the last 3 weeks to prepare for a feat of physical stamina I have significant doubts I’m capable of completing. And that is the point.

Will I successfully complete the Summit Challenge: 50 miles in 12 hours? I’m not sure, but I am going to attempt it on Saturday, October 24th. (For those keeping track, I originally said I would attempt it on October 17th, but I ended up deciding to push it out one more week to give myself some extra time to train.)

*Disclaimer: I’m not recommending that you follow my lead exactly. Be creative in coming up with your own Summit Challenge. And please consult those who know you well, including possibly your physician, before attempting anything that could lead to significant physical or psychological harm. And should you attempt a Summit Challenge of your own, please take all appropriate precautions.

One last note: You don’t have to run 50 miles for your Summit Challenge. The point isn’t that you pick something challenging for humanity, but that you pick something challenging for you.

Evaluating Your Workout:

I will report back after the 24th to let you know how it goes and to provide some guidance on how to evaluate your own Summit Challenge.

Willpower Workout in Action:

I will create a compilation video of my experience attempting my Summit Challenge and post it to our YouTube channel when complete.

This is day 36-40 of a 40-day journey to explore your limits. If you’d like to receive a daily email with the willpower workout of the day, you can sign up here to start at Day 1 with the first workout:

Past Workouts: