What a Grueling Mountain Climb Taught Me About Life

Each pedal stroke is a gift, a challenge, and an achievement.

-Russell Hunter, Ironman

The ascent had lasted a grueling 30 minutes with no sign of the summit in sight. Legs burning, heart pounding I was beginning to debate how much further I could go.

I checked my watch – I was travelling at a snail’s pace of 10km/h, my heart rate had been sitting at 170 bpm for the last 100 meters, and I knew I had several kilometers to go.

I tightened my clench on the handle bar, tried to ignore the cramping sensation in both quads with every drive and dug in for a few more meters.

10 seconds later I was reliving the dark conversation and the voice pounding in my ears telling me to just pull a quick U-turn and end the madness.

Who would know if you gave up here?

You’ve gotten half way, that’s a good accomplishment – why don’t you give yourself a break?

I dug deeper – this time popping out of my saddle to transfer the lactic acid pooling in my legs from one muscle to the other.

10 seconds later I was back at the wall.

Then – from out of nowhere it hit me.

Out of a deep crevasse in my mind a 15 year old lesson from one of my high school basketball coaches was sounding like an alarm in my head.


This sentence seems completely abstract and unquantifiable until you are stuck on a 5-8% gradient hill with only way to go and only one thing to – slowly, painfully – get you to the top.

A Simple Lesson

The actual words my basketball coach shared that day were:



He explained to me that every time I dribbled the basketball I was giving myself the opportunity to get a little bit better.

A crazy idea to think of in isolation – but when applied to the 10,000 hours that made up my basketball career you can start to see the point.

I took two key learnings away from that enlightening lesson:


There are countless days where the decision not to accept the challenge in front of us, the next dribble or pedal stroke, is vastly easier.

  • to not prepare for the next meeting you have
  • to not be fully present in a conversation
  • to not pick up your baby or child and spend 30 minutes of quality time with them
  • to not take one more pedal en route to summitting the mountain

These decisions, almost always, are small in nature – microscopic to the point where we would never notice the impact of choosing one way or another in isolation.

But it is in the accumulation of these small actions, the ‘dribbles and pedal strokes’, where greatness is slowly fostered.


In Crossfit, the difference between a decent repetition and a great rep can be easily overlooked, skipped, and ignored. But over time the athlete who chooses to make the very most out of every rep will far surpass the athlete who ignores this decision despite performing an identical amount of work.

It may seem like a stretch, but I see the same behaviour play out in the corporate professional world everyday.

We all have meetings, conversations, and relationships that make up a large majority of our work – be it in time or in importance – or both. The nature in which we approach these ‘reps’ – sometimes hundreds weekly – is monumental in our long term journey through life.

In all of these hundreds of small decisions we have a choice to make every rep, dribble, or conversation count. To do it to the very best of our abilities. Or to do it half assed.

The choice, every time, is ours.

And if you don’t believe me – well, I look forward to passing you on the theoretical mountain of life as the result of each small decision compounds and snowballs on itself.


I was shaking and exhausted by the time I made it to the top.

A part of me felt broken. A bigger part felt liberated and more alive than ever.

I had conquered the hill.

More importantly I had conquered my mind – one pedal at a time.

This article also appears on tyrellmara.com and is published here with the permission of the author