“You Ain’t So Bad”, Mountains.

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In college I volunteered for a program (Strong Survivors) that provides personal training and personalized work out plans for cancer survivors and care givers. At the end of the 12 week program awards are distributed to the participants. Some awards are serious… some are not so serious. For example, the “You Ain’t So Bad” award is given to the most bad ass participant of the group who always wanted a harder work out. This award pays a nod to a fight in Rocky III where Rocky Balboa says “You ain’t so bad, you ain’t so bad, you ain’t nothin’.” to his opponent.

I not only want to have the resilience of the recipients of the “You Ain’t So Bad” award winners, but the drive that all of the Strong Survivors’ participants have.

I want to be able to look back at the Appalachian Trail and say, You ain’t so bad.”


For this blog post I will be taking information from the article “Developing Mental Toughness: From Research to Practice” by Lee Crust and Peter Clough published in the Journal of Sport Psychology in Action. 

As discussed in Appalachian Trials, the psychological aspects of  long distance hiking are just as important as the physical aspects. So, how does one “prepare” to psychologically tackle mountain after mountain? By developing mental toughness, that’s how.


The 4C’s Model of Mental Toughness

Control – The ability to handle lots of things at once and remain influential rather than controlled

  • Developmental strategy: train with distractions.

Challenge– Being able to perceive potential threats as opportunities for personal growth and thriving in constantly changing environments

  • Developmental strategy: create new challenges in training (break from the familiar routine)

Commitment– Being deeply involved with pursuing goals and striving to achieve them despite difficulties

  • Developmental strategy: goal-setting and goal-achievement.

Confidence– The ability to maintain self-belief in spite of setbacks and not to be intimidated by opponents

  • Developmental strategy: imagine facing and coming through difficult situations



Hiking 2,189 miles can be a daunting and somewhat discouraging goal at times. Short-term weekly or daily goals can act as stepping stones, therefore helping to keep discouragement at bay. A study by Crust, Nesti, and Bond in 2010 found that long distance walkers were better able to cope when their ultimate goal was broken down, and they focused more on completing a short section of the walk at a time. This helped the walkers avoid feeling overwhelmed.

Social-Support Networks

Support is an important component of a successful thru hike. People who provide support could include parents, other hikers, or former thru hikers who can help “share experiences,  alleviate concerns, and foster reappraisal of the meaning and relevance of experiences.” Support should not be in excess to avoid dependence, but used in times of need to break through a slump.

It is important to have a social-support network that will remind you that ups and downs are a natural part of the journey and that setbacks can often provide the catalyst for increased determination and commitment.

If you can hike 5 days straight in rain, who’s to say you can’t do it again?  After overcoming obstacles, self-efficacy will increase, as will your hiking confidence.

Encouraging Reflection

While having positive experiences is important, research shows that the road to optimal performance is not smooth. The popular quote “A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor” has a lot of validity to it.  Lessons learned following set backs, can help be a set up for future success.  Reflection upon past performances can help in gaining perspective, logical analysis, and a better understanding of cause and effect. Identify your emotional weaknesses/triggers, and work on them.


If you have any prepared tactics for when you’re feeling emotionally worn out on the trail please comment below 🙂

Good luck to all of us 2016ers! Keep moving forward.




Lee Crust & Peter J. Clough (2011): Developing Mental Toughness: From Research
to Practice, Journal of Sport Psychology in Action, 2:1, 21-32


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Comments 1

  • Greg (Just Greg) : Jan 30th

    Hi Emily,

    I just subscribed to your post and am also from Nowhere, Illinois (Marion). I thru-hiked the AT NOBO last year (2015) starting March 30 on Springer and ending August 13 on Katahdin. I knew that the trip would be awesome and it turned out being even better than I thought! The beauty you will see is overwhelming. You will experience great kindness and generosity from the people you meet. I did this alone but out there, I was never alone. Plants, wildlife, mountains, green tunnel – all just blatant beauty.

    It’s tough, no question about it. You will be tested pretty much every day. You’re right to think about the mental aspect. There will be challenges – pain, injuries, constant climbs and descents, bad weather, unappetizing food (just makes one appreciate good food more!), rocks, roots, mud, more pain. You simply need to be of the frame of mind that it’s all part of the experience and just learn to roll with it. The trail can knock you down but can uplift you, again, if you have the right frame of mind. For me, it was kind of like an emotional roller coaster. You’re never certain that you will make it until the very end. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it!

    I would love to talk to you before you go. I miss the trail and envy you – totally stoked about following your blog!

    Good luck!
    Greg Johns


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