Climbing Mountains Travel in Thailand And Learning How To Push Past Limits

I had done the same race, which is up in Lake Tahoe in Northern California, exactly one year before. At that time, I thought I had prepared for it. I was in good shape, running a few times a week and was able to do 20 pull-ups in a row, but then it hit me – 13.1 miles/21km of trails straight up (and down) a mountain was no joke. It was the same distance as a half marathon but instead of being flat it was up a mountain normally used for skiing. There were also 24 obstacles designed by British Special Forces; ranging from walls to climb, tunnels to crawl through, ice cold lakes to swim across and ropes to climb. I quickly realized what I had signed up for and told my teammates (the NorCal Ninjas) to go ahead without me. I was still determined to finish but I knew I had to do it at my own pace. I kept pushing forward.

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There was a group all in red t-shirts with their family names printed on their back who were going at the same pace as me and they basically adopted me into their group. As we hiked, ran and crawled our way though the obstacles it seemed like every time I started losing hope I’d see a girl that I recognized. She was a girl with a turtle shell backpack and the slogan, “Slow but steady wins the race .” She became both my motivation and my pace keeper, even though we had never spoken only exchanged smiles. As the last two miles approached I was completely gassed and my tank was empty. I told my newly adopted family to go on without me, and to look for me at the beer tent. They offered to stay – an entire team I had just met that day felt compassionate enough to stay with me – but I sent them on their way and told them I’d meet them at the finish line. I was completely out of it by the time the finish line neared. My original plan was to finish the race in a good time, do the 18 pull-ups required to win an Army T-Shirt, and enjoy a few beers. Instead, I found myself crawling to the finish line where I forced down a (free) Myoplex protein shake, tried to enjoy my (free) Dos Esquis beer, and ended up sucking down bottles of water and wandering around like a zombie feeling like I should go home and die.

I had completed my first ‘Tough Mudder’, though, along with my good friends Hanley Chan, Nat and his friend Ryan. It was a humbling experience that, at that time, I thought I would never ever do again; however, that week, with Elin, we were driving to Running Springs, CA from San Diego so I could do it all over again, this time with my cousin Jacob. Elin and I spent one last night together in a small motel near where I would be competing the next day. When she kissed me in the morning and wished me good luck, I had no idea that would also be our farewell. We had been fighting all week and both knew being stuck in a car together for the next 6 weeks would be a nightmare. She cut her trip short and went back to Sweden. I guess Nic was right, and I have to thank him for his advice, or else I would have been the one flying home early from Australia. My friend Nat and cousin Jacob showed up bright and early at the motel that next morning after trying to scare me by calling from the parking lot saying that they had just woken up and were still two hours away. I said good bye to Elin, and we prepared for the battle in front of us. To my surprise the second time around was much easier; I definitely trained harder for this one and was in much better shape but it was also shorter, at only ten miles instead of twelve. In preparation I had been hiking a lot the past few months, ending in a massive climb up the highest peak in South East Asia, Mt. Kinabalu in Borneo.

From Thailand, it’s a manageable flight to jump from Bangkok to Kota Kinabalu through Singapore. The reason why I include Borneo in this my blog about Thailand is because, to me, it’s all South East Asia and once you’re here you might as well explore a bit further. Borneo was truly an amazing place and climbing Mt. Kinabalu was by far the most difficult thing I’ve ever done in my life. I remember once, seeing a poster at Phuket Top Team saying: “For once in your life, train with the will to die . ” I never really knew what that meant until the second day of the climb, up to 4,095m/13,435ft. I thought I knew how to push to my limit – I had been in four Muay Thai fights by then, and had trained to exhaustion countless times – but seeing the peak of the mountain in the distance was my new hell. I had promised myself I’d reach that summit – no matter what.

We were racing to make it by sunrise, which is why we left at 3am to start. The day’s trek started in pitch-black with nothing more than our headlamps to light our way and, as we slowly hiked towards the peak, I could see the sun start to peek over the top. I desperately wanted to push through the last kilometer or so, but I had nothing left. My muscles had given out long ago and were demanding more oxygen than the high altitude would give – my lungs felt like they were shriveled down to the size of a pea. I decided then and there that making it to the top was worth dying for, which was a thought that had never previously occurred to me about anything. Statistically, very few people have died on Mt. Kinabalu compared to Mt. Everest, but at that moment – in the freezing cold, walking on slippery granite and pulling myself up on a top rope – I sincerely felt there was a chance my heart would give out at any moment and, you know, I was okay with it. I thought about my life: what I’ve accomplished, places I’ve been and I figured I had done more than the average person would in 70 years. I was at peace with whatever may have happened.

It was then I stopped looking up at the summit. My only goal was to take three steps at a time, allowing myself to rest and catch my breath at each interval. I had eaten all my ‘Snickers’ chocolate bars, which I had been using for quick energy, and the only thing left was heart and desire. This experience has truly made me a better person – and improved my training in Muay Thai and MMA – now knowing how much further we can physically push ourselves than we imagine. I didn’t allow myself to look up to the finish anymore so, during my rest breaks, I would look back at where I had just come from. It was surprising, even those three steps at a time was enough to make it a generous distance that I had previously thought impossible. Also, seeing the people behind me struggling just as much gave me comfort, knowing I wasn’t the only one. It reminds me I once heard a quote along the lines of, “Compare yourself with people who have less than you, rather than those who have more.” There will always be people more fit, naturally athletic, younger or stronger. Yes, it’s good to aim to be better but, at the same time, we often forget about all of the people that struggle just as hard as we do. With perseverance, I somehow made it to the top of the world.

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