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Have you ever committed to something you weren’t sure you could do and then found yourself in the best shape of your life the week before that something happened?

Maybe you signed up for a triathlon, a marathon, an ultramarathon, a 24-hour mountain bike race, or you told everyone in your Facebook feed you were going to climb Mt. Rainier, or The Nose, or you got a bunch of friends to come spot you while you attempted the hardest boulder problem of your life, or decided you were going to try to climb 40 pitches for your 40th birthday, or some other foolish thing like that. The Thing.

And then shortly after that, you realized, Holy shit, now I have to do this. I call this Commitment Remorse. It’s like buyer’s remorse, but instead of having less money and something you’re not sure you want, you have to start training. Also, unlike buyer’s remorse, which tends to disappear in a day or two, Commitment Remorse lasts up until the day of The Thing.

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Deep down in your heart, you know that you are not ready for whatever The Thing is. You are a little too fat, or a little too weak, or haven’t run or biked or hiked that far in a really long time, or there’s dust on top of your fingerboard. You have sandbagged yourself. Thankfully, you have some time to get ready-or, if you don’t, as my friend Alan says, “People will arrive either rested or ready. And we’ll be rested.”

If you have time to train, it is as if someone has lit that proverbial fire under your ass, isn’t it? Two weeks ago, you didn’t have time to train, and now you make time. You stop binge-watching Netflix and instead drag your ass out to run laps, or get to the climbing gym, or whatever. You dig deep and eat vegetables. You dig even deeper and set your alarm clock for 5 a.m. so you can do the things that you hope will get you ready for The Thing.

Or, you wake up in the middle of the night and stare at the ceiling, wondering if you can do it, The Thing. Maybe you should just call it off, and bail. But people are counting on you. Or you spent a bunch of money on a registration fee, or on the gear to do The Thing. No, no, you can do it. You just need to keep training and eating right. Right? Maybe not. You roll over. Why can’t you sleep? Hell, if you can’t sleep, you might as well get up and do some cardio or pushups or lunges or something. So you do.

A few weeks or days before The Thing, you are looking pretty good, aren’t you? That stuff threatening to turn into a double chin is gone, you can see your hip bones a little bit, and wait-is that an ab? It is! You could not quite scrub laundry on that stomach, but there are signs of ab muscles. Four of them! What a change. How did this happen?

Terror, that’s how. Fear of failure at The Thing. Of sucking, and wasting everyone’s time and your money, and maybe some plane tickets. Why does Mt. Rainier, or your 5.12b project, or the triathlon, or ultra, work so much better than those other objectives like “lose some weight,” “get in shape for bikini season,” or “look good for my wedding”?

Because Mt. Rainier, unlike the disinterested glances of fellow beachgoers, unlike your own “I’ve-lost-a-couple-pounds-haven’t-I” inspections in the bathroom mirror, unlike your non-judgmental wedding guests, will crush you. So will the triathlon, or that boulder problem. These things do not care if you “got busy at work” and didn’t have time to train, or if you “tried to work out more,” and they will not, like your understanding friend, tell you that your half-ass gym attendance looks like it’s kind of paying off. The Thing will call your bullshit, and you know it.

You committed to The Thing because you know all of this is true, and it is the only way to trick yourself into getting fit. Sometime after it, there will be another Thing, and after that, another one. And in between those Things, there will be too much ice cream and/or beer and/or tacos and/or Netflix. Something has to motivate you to commit to the next one, right?

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Brendan Leonard is a contributing editor to Adventure Journal. Follow him at his blog, Semi-Rad.

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