Build Confidence and Motivation for Your Walking Holiday

By Sarah Rowell

Can I do that?

It is a question that most, if not all, of us have asked ourselves when contemplating a new challenge, whether at work, with family or for leisure. It is a question that anyone who exercises with seriousness will be familiar with:

“Can I do a walk that rough/long/many days/hilly/exposed?”

These are questions that many readers of this blog will have asked themselves, and it is a question that I am asking myself right now, having committed to trying to climb the Matterhorn later this year. It is also a question that every elite sportsperson faces in their never-ending quest to be better and to do what has never been done before.


On its own and without help, your ‘can I do that?’ can feel daunting, scary and even unachievable. By breaking the task down into its constituent parts, not only can it add a degree of perspective but it can also highlight where the most effort is needed to ensure success. That’s why elite sport uses a model often called ‘what it takes to win (WITTW)’ to help athletes, if not to totally remove the uncertainty from what they are aiming for, then at least to reduce it significantly, so that ‘can I do that?’ increasingly becomes ‘I can do that’.

The principle behind WITTW is one which can be used by anyone facing a similar question, and it is what I will explore further in the rest of this article, using my own ‘can I do that?’ as a working example.

The premise behind WITTW is simple;  by breaking down what you are trying to achieve into the core components that you need to have in place to succeed, you can then work on each of these individually in training/as you prepare for your challenge, making sure you have the requisite level of skill or knowledge in that particular area. As a result, when you come to attempt your ‘goal’ you do so with the confidence that you have the complete skill set needed to succeed.

Let’s look at climbing the Matterhorn as a working example. A summary WITTW model would show that to succeed you need to prepare in the following areas: physical fitness, mental strength, nutrition and hydration, route knowledge, quality guide, climbing ability, comfort with exposure, altitude acclimatisation, the right kit and equipment and how to use it, comfort with weather and trust in your climbing team.


Taking these one by one and applying them to myself:

      • Physical fitness – I am an endurance athlete of 30 years training, who continues to exercise and is comfortable being physically active for 12 hours plus at a time, which is what I will need to succeed. So without being complacent, I need to keep my current level of fitness, but fitness is not what is most likely to hinder my chances of
      • Mental strength – plenty of mountain marathons and long events in the hills and mountains have tested my mental strength, including when tired. I feel I know my weaknesses or negative trigger points, as will my climbing partner who can then help me stay on track if I wobble (and vice versa, although given my partner’s mental strength, this is unlikely to happen!)
      • Nutrition and hydration – again experience of long days being physically active and at altitude means know what I will be happy to eat and drink on the day.
      • Route knowledge – we will use a guide for the ascent, so choosing the right guide is key here, and while I can and will study maps and watch some videos, it is not an area I will directly worry about.
      • Quality guide – however making sure that we have a quality guide is, and it is one where we have been doing our research, as well as of course getting personal recommendations.
      • Climbing ability – I think I am ok here, but a two-day specific training course in April will provide more objective feedback and advice as to whether I need further training and practice.
      • Comfort with exposure – Probably the area where I have the most uncertainty regarding my ability to cope. I love scrambling and via Ferratas, and have not been phased by big drops. But I have never done anything quite like this before. Again the two days in April are key to finding out whether I have what it takes and how much more training is required.
      • Altitude acclimatisation – I have been higher before and been fine, plus we plan a pre-acclimatisation week prior to the event, so not something I am too worried about.
      • Kit and equipment – Poor or wrong kit and equipment not only reduces the potential enjoyment of something like this, but can directly lead to failure. It is also an area which should be totally controllable. I have pretty decent kit as a matter of course but will be upgrading my footwear for the trip as a minimum, and depending on how the training events go, maybe more.
      • Use of equipment – I definitely need some serious brushing up of skills here, as it is some time since I roped up and used an ice axe in danger – April again is the first touch point, with further training pre-climb planned as a minimum.
      • Weather – not something we can control unfortunately, we have planned to go in the better weather window, but poor weather may stop us even attempting the climb.
      • Trust in your climbing team – having trust in your partners is massive. I am planning on doing this with my regular mountain marathon partner, so we are used to being with each other when cold, wet tired and under some stress, so the trust is there.

Having created my WITTW list and then considered and planned around each area, it gives me confidence (not however arrogance) that I have a goal which is not easy but should be achievable. I have a plan which will ensure that I tick all the right boxes around what is needed to succeed.

Hopefully I have also outlined a process that is simple in its concept, but done diligently, effective in its outcome and application, which can be used by anyone contemplating their own ‘can I do that?’

Originally published 20/02/17

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