Setting a new fitness goal can be equal parts motivating and daunting. No one knows this better than professional mountain climber Melissa Arnot, whose own achievements would strike most people as totally beyond reach. After all, Arnot has summited Mt. Everest six times, and the last time she did, she set a world record as the first woman to successfully climb the mountain without using supplemental oxygen. Arnot's own experiences setting and smashing goals make her a wellspring of great advice on how to do just that — whether your athletic aspiration is to take on the world's highest peak or simply to make it through your first half-marathon.
- Set a Series of Mini Goals: Arnot didn't just wake up one day and decide to climb Mt. Everest. She started climbing at age 19, became a professional guide in 2004, and made her first successful Everest expedition in 2008. "You might think, 'Oh, I could never climb Everest,'" the 32-year-old says. "The truth is, I'm sitting next to the beach in Hawaii right now, and I couldn't either from right here!" Arnot says her entire career has been about working toward big feats in small increments. "You have to hike to base camp before you climb to camp one. You have to get to camp one before you get to camp two. That is metaphorical and actual." So, if you're training for a half-marathon, it's vital to set a series of small, attainable goals to keep you motivated and progressing in the lead-up to the big run.
- Realise You Can't Do It Alone: Arnot is obviously tough and independent, but as a mountaineer, it's virtually impossible to set world records and summit big mountains solo. That was also the case on her most recent Everest trek. "I have always been an independent person and set on doing things my own way, but to be able to be successful with this goal I had to accept help," she says. "I accepted the help of my climbing partner, who is my boyfriend, and accepting help is what led to my success. And that's not a point of weakness, it's a point of strength." Enlist people in your life to support you in your goal, whether it's by joining you for that before-work running session or making you a healthy, fuel-focused dinner when it's their turn in the kitchen.
- Be Prepared to Fail: It's easy to let a setback or stumble in your training derail your entire plan . . . or simply use it as an excuse to let yourself off the hook. That's why, Arnot says, the secret is to actually expect failure. "I have achieved way fewer goals than I have failed at," she says. "And I've failed at way more things than I've tried to do. It sounds slightly cliche, but it's very true that the summit is for the ego, and the journey is for the soul." In other words, if you plan to run into roadblocks, you'll be way more likely to keep on trucking past them instead of just giving up.
- Set a Personal Mantra: Find a saying or quote that helps drive you to keep going during the toughest moments. "It's so silly and so simple, but whenever my good friend Amy and I are doing something challenging together, we always say to each other: 'You got this,'" Arnot says. "I find myself saying that to myself all the time. I'll just whisper it to myself."
- Learn Your Limits and Honour Them: Arnot says one of the greatest advantages of working toward any fitness goal is getting to know your body better. "That's one of the great gifts about any sort of athletics, is that you start to be able to have a conversation with your body," she says. "It starts to tell you things that you can listen to, and you start to know your voice: 'That little tweak to my knee is not just discomfort, that's actually pain and there's a problem there.'" This is why, despite her death-defying climbs, Arnot operates "extremely conservatively" with her health and well-being in mind. "[On mountains] I can't push myself to my full limit because I'll die," she says. "In general, I don't know what my true limits are, because I don't ever experience those in the mountains. I stay as far away from them as I can." Sure, your own attempt to finally nail crow pose or crush a new benchpress weight may not be as life-or-death as the situations Arnot encounters. But keeping your long-term health and safety in mind should always be your top priority, no matter what physical feat you're trying to pull off.
"You have to hike to base camp before you climb to camp one. You have to get to camp one before you get to camp two. That is metaphorical and actual."