Monday, November 15, 2010

GoApe Course & “The Incorporation of Fear into Training”

After the Survival of the Fittest race in Edinburgh Daniel and I decided to head to the local GoApe course to make the day even more epic try pack as much physical activity into the day as possible. After a communications foul-up and a long hike through the local fields of Linlithlow (a small town about 40 min from Edinburgh) we managed to find the park. Since Daniel works at one of the sister parks in England he was able to get us in for free, which was pretty nice since it normally would have been pretty far out of my “adventure budget”.

Introducing Daniel.  Here he's demonstrating one of the more advanced techniques of the GoApe course.
 The park itself was relatively new, and according to Daniel it had a number of obstacles that weren’t featured in the other GoApe courses around the UK. Designed and built by a French company, the course was made up of 5 different “sites”, each of which included an initial ladder climb up into the trees, and then a series of passages between the tree tops before a zip line brought us back to ground level. While the first site was a training site to get familiarized with the safety equipment, and therefore it wasn’t more than 5 or 6 feet off the ground at any point, the others were all at least 20-30 ft up in the air the entire time, with some going even higher. Each of the passages between the tree tops was different, including ladders, hanging logs, tubes, tightropes, dangling ropes, and suspended platforms; even a giant Tarzan-style swing that dropped us about 10ft before swinging us into a cargo net suspended 20ft above the ground.

One of the "passages".  No, I'm not levitating.
 Just to be clear- I’m not normally wild about heights, something that seems to have fluctuated a bit with my parkour training the past few months (walking along the edge of something high up is ok, but the moment it comes to do a precision jump or something really technical I start to get nervous and jumpy). With that in mind I was a bit apprehensive at the beginning of the course especially as I began to climb up the very basic ladder to the first crossing. I soon found that I was totally comfortable with the heights, and I actually enjoyed the adrenaline rush of looking down at the forest floor every now and again. While part of this may be due to the fact that I was still on an emotional high from the race, I strongly suspect that this sense of comfort and security was due to the intense safety measures that were in place. We were attached to the system at all times by one or safety lines at all time and the few times that I got slightly uncomfortable were when the wind picked up in particularly high area and the trees started to sway a little bit, or that moment just before I would take the step off the edge of the platform onto the zip line. The most intense fear came with the Tarzan swing, which included a brief bit of free falling after I stepped off the platform and before the rope pulled me into the arc. The mental strength needed to force myself to make that first step was definitely similar to the feeling that I’ve had before some of the larger jumps that I’ve done with parkour.

Post Tarzan Swing impact.

Daniel coming down one of the zip lines.
Just kinda hanging out on the way down.

One of the locals that we saw on our cross-country hike to get to GoApe.
 I had a fair amount of time for personal reflection on the 10-hour bus ride back to London later that night and the GoApe experience gave me a new perspective on things that I had been brooding on recently, in particular the incorporation of fear into my training. This is a subject that came up during training sessions a number of times during the previous weeks, especially as I began asking some of the more experienced practionners about what I needed to do to continue improving. The technical training of parkour can only take you so far in the sport, and there is a point at which the mental aspect becomes just as important, if not more important, than the physical one. After 5 months of hard training I have reached a point where I am physically capable of most of the basic movements of parkour. However, I often find that my physical abilities are limited by my mental strength and it is only now that I have begun to specifically train this aspect of the sport.

While I may be able to perform a movement at ground level, where the possibility of bodily harm is minimal, the moment that it comes to do the same movements at a higher height, or in an environment where the danger is elevated, it becomes an entirely different story. The obstacle that looks doable when standing at ground level takes on a different size and shape when you actually set up to tackle it. There is a moment of hesitation and fear, so strong that you can almost taste it as it rises inside you in the moments just before you go, and it’s this point that often determines whether or not you will make it, especially if it is towards the limit of your physical capabilities. If you embrace the fear, acknowledge it, accept it, and overcome it, than as long as you have the physical ability to do it, it is very likely that you will succeed. If you feel the fear, and refuse to overcome it, or are unable to do so, you start off the attempt already handicapped, and most often you will pull up short, or won’t put 100% effort into it, both leading to the same end result, although second one can have more dire consequences if the obstacle includes a more dangerous element.

While the GoApe course marked the first deliberate attempt to start working on my ability to overcome this fear (I had resolved to start working on this the day before I left for Edinburgh), it has since become something that I try to incorporate into every training session. I have found that it gets gradually easier with each successful attempt, but I’ve also found that a failure to confront and overcome the fear can set me back an entire day or week’s worth of progress. While this encourages me to face this fear and continue to work on it, I’m curious as to how this will work out in the long run, as given my competitive nature, I can see myself refusing to back down from a challenge that I set for myself despite the fact that it may be beyond my capabilities at the time. That said, my approach to parkour has been relatively analytical and reserved, so I don’t think that this will pose any dangers to my personal well-being.

The camera couldn't decide whether to focus on me claiming this small Scottish hill for America or the awesome view beyond said hill.

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