How to do 2015 like an athlete

Emily Harrington
Harrington climbing her hardest sport route, a 5.14b in Rifle, Colorado; photo by Andy Mann

If most of our New Year’s resolutions fall somewhere on the line graph between “eat better” and “call mom more often,” then Emily Harrington’s are off the charts.

“My idea is to complete four big goals,” the 28-year-old Squaw Valley, California, resident says. “Two are competitive, two to get me back to my roots.”

Those roots? One of the most prolific careers in rock climbing. Since being introduced to the sport at a local fair when she was just 10 years old, Harrington has racked up some serious credentials. She’s a five-time national champion and a two-time North American champion who’s placed on rock climbing podiums in World Cup events. In 2007, she became the second American woman to climb a 5.14b route. In May of 2012, she successfully summited Mount Everest. When she’s not climbing 2,500-foot rock walls in the most remote corners of the world, she’s speaking at high schools as an ambassador for Protect our Winters and teaching Nepali Sherpa climbing skills in the Himalayas.

Which brings us back to those goals—is it possible to top yourself when you’ve achieved some of the most revered accomplishments in your sport? Harrington certainly seems to think so.

“I want to climb a 5.14 sport route and make the finals at the National Championships again,” she says. “I would love to free climb El Cap in Yosemite, and in the fall, I want to climb an 8,000-meter mountain peak with no oxygen.”

Kind of makes that resolve to eat more kale feel a little weak, huh? It’s clear Harrington knows a thing or two about making—and reaching—lofty goals, so we tapped her for some advice for treating life like an athlete in 2015.

rock climbing
Harrington climbing in the Atlas Mountains, Morocco; photo by Kris Erickson

Assess your weaknesses

Harrington knows that to excel at the many disciplines of rock climbing, she has to first identify her weaknesses so she knows how to train with laser focus. “I’m not a pure power climbing; I’m not a boulderer,” she explains. “I’m not good at pulling myself off the ground and giving in 150 percent in three moves. I’m strong, but I’m not as strong as a lot of climbers, so I’m working on that.” Harrington’s plan includes tough rounds of strength training moves like pull-ups and push-ups in addition to her normal training plan.

Make fitness non-negotiable

While being a professional rock climber lends itself to daily workouts—after all, it’s how she makes a living—Harrington says she tries to incorporate fitness into her life even when it’s not convenient. “When I travel for work, I bring some equipment along with me,” she says. “I got to go heli-skiing in Alaska, which was a workout itself, but I brought my training system with me to do rock climbing training when I wasn’t skiing.” Harrington prefers portable tools, like her TRX bands, to stay fit year-round.

Don’t get diet crazed

“I’m not vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free,” Harrington says. “I eat bread and meat. I’m not afraid to have beer and eat pizza.” Instead of overhauling your diet, Harrington swears by the old adage of “everything in moderation,” which comes in handy when she travels to foreign places where there are limited culinary options. “When I travel, I don’t have a choice in what I eat sometimes,” she explains. “I just try to eat clean and healthy.”

lake tahoe
Harrington skiing Mt. Tallac, Lake Tahoe, California; photo by Ben Wheeler

Prepare for low points

Whether it’s pushing through the last pitch of a tough climb or logging the last excruciating mile of an expedition, Harrington knows that when she hits rock bottom, the only way to go from there is up. “When everything sucks and you feel terrible, you just have to realize that moment will pass,” she explains. “It’ll get better. At times like this, when conditions are brutal and I’m suffering, the fact that I’m here dealing with it means that I’m getting stronger. I remind myself that I’m privileged for the opportunity to suffer in the way that I do.”

Push your limits—but don’t ignore them

Harrington recently returned from a trip to Myanmar, which she calls the most difficult “anti-Everest” experience of her life. “There’s no support from sherpas,” she says. “We trekked 250 miles in the jungle to get to the border of Tibet to climb a peak only climbed once before. It proved to be the most difficult challenge, physically and mentally, and we failed.” Still, Harrington says the ordeal was a huge learning experience, a realization that she didn’t have the skills she knew she needed to continue to the mountain’s summit. “The challenge comes in mitigating the risk,” she says. “You have to know your skill set, and trust that you’re making the right call.”

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