A Mountainous Achievement: Jason Hardrath #92

Warwick Fairfax

November 16, 2021

Jason Hardrath has spent his fair share of time in what he calls “the pain cave.” That’s where he developed the skills and perseverance to compete as an elite triathlete – and also where he found himself when a rollover accident that ejected him from the car left his body broken, ending his dream of winning an IRONMAN title. But the crash didn’t steal Jason’s goals – it only changed them. He poured his athletic prowess and passion into mountain climbing, a sport he could pursue at a championship level even with the toll his injuries had taken on his body. And he’s wound up making history in the sport by setting a record you won’t believe in a way that’s even more unbelievable.

Highlights

  • The challenges of growing up with ADHD (3:19)
  • Discovering that moving his body helped him focus his mind, and fuel athletic achievement (5:46)
  • Piling up the achievements — including biking across the country after college (12:22)
  • How ADHD has been “kind of a superpower” (14:55)
  • Making a name for himself as a triathelete (16:40)
  • All he went through mentally prepared him for his crucible (19:17)
  • The car accident that became his biggest crucible (23:27)
  • How self-recrimination after the accident plagued him (27:17)
  • Channeling his athletic passion into mountain climbing (29:59)
  • Conquering Bulger’s list exponentially faster than anyone else had (35:41)
  • Jason’s key principles for moving beyond crucibles (38:48)
  • His message of hope to those struggling with crucibles (41:53)

Transcript

Warwick F:

Welcome to Beyond the Crucible. I’m Warwick Fairfax, the founder of Crucible Leadership.

Jason H:

To become a decent endurance athlete, you spend a lot of hours suffering. You put yourself into the pain cave to build that strength later. You’re willing to endure pain now for benefit later. That’s the fundamental premise. It’s like I’ll endure extra effort now because I’ll be able to do something amazing tomorrow. I will do today what others won’t do so that I can do tomorrow what others can’t do. And that had become a part of my process. I just came to understand this is how the world works. And I think that, that’s really fundamental when you’re navigating the hardships life throws at you, because it’s really easy when you’re already in pain to want to back off anything that causes more pain, that makes it worse. But oftentimes what you have to do is lean in more to the practices that, yeah, they’re going to suck in the moment, maybe they’re going to add more suffering, but you trust in that process that this is the way we get better in the end.

Gary S:

We’ve all heard the old aphorism, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. If Beyond the Crucible had a bumper sticker, in fact, that might be what we’d print on it. Hi, I’m Gary Schneeberger, co-host of the show. This week’s guest, Jason Hardrath, has spent his fair share of time in what you just heard him describe, as the pain cave. That’s where he developed the skills and perseverance to compete as an elite triathlete. And it’s also where he found himself when a rollover accident left his body broken and ended his dream of winning an Ironman title. But the car crash didn’t steal Jason’s goals, it only changed them. He poured his athletic prowess and passion into mountain climbing, a sport he could pursue at a championship level, even with the toll his injuries had taken on his body. He’s wound up making history in the sport by setting a record you won’t believe in a way that’s even more unbelievable.

Warwick F:

Well, Jason, thank you so much for being here. I think of my book, Crucible Leadership: Embrace Your Trials to Lead a Life of Significance, that could be Jason Hardrath’s story. I mean that you live what we talk about. It’s just mind blowing and we’ll get to the accident here in a moment. And as we mentioned, you’re an elementary school teacher at Bonanza Elementary School. I love the name. I imagine most of your students have never heard of the TV series from the 60s or wherever it is.

Jason H:

No, they haven’t. Well, at some point, it gets brought up. If you grow up in a place called Bonanza, you’re bound to hear, oh, like the TV show?

Warwick F:

Yeah, and they go, what?

Jason H:

Yeah, no, it’s a fun school to be a part of.

Warwick F:

I can imagine. So I’m sure you’ve loved spending time with the kids. So before we get to the defining moment in 2015, your accident, I’d love to just hear a bit about how you grew up. And obviously you grew up with a certain, I guess, condition ADHD, is that the term? And that’s not always diagnosed as early as it can be. So just talking about growing up as a kid, what was your family like? What was life in school like? So give us the backstage pass, if you will, on Jason Hardrath and growing up.

Jason H:

Absolutely. So yeah. ADHD, the term gets tossed around a lot now. And a lot of people these days with modern technology, cell phones and how they’re programmed to steal our attention, they struggle with directing their attention. But this was back before cell phones were, especially in kids hands common. And I was legitimately tested where in the test I ended up testing with a 37 second attention span. And that’s how long it took for my mind to completely lose what it was focused on as a child. So you can imagine a kid that was tough to direct, difficult to parent, difficult to teach, because easily distractible, but also I had an impulsive side to it as well, where if my brain thought up an idea, before the prefrontal cortex could analyze it and go, “Ooh, that’s a bad idea,” I would act on it.

Jason H:

And so messed up relationships, got a bad rap at school, all these different things, because I would do something that to everybody else was obviously something a person shouldn’t do, but to me, I would have that realization the moment after I’d already done it. So grew up with this chip on my shoulder, just struggling. And with a deep understanding that movement was really necessary if I was going to succeed at all, got very much in touch with moving my own body and the difference it made in the function of my mind. And eventually that became a path as you read in my bio, that became a path to have some success, to have some wins in life, by pursuing increasingly difficult goals in this physical realm. It was a place I could succeed, I could build. It even was a part of my identity, especially through the middle school years, something I could lean on where it’s like, “Well, yeah, but I’m good at this.”

Jason H:

And so yeah, I grew up in a small town. Grew up with it being normal to go in the outdoors. And I was in an egg town. So normally it was like you go outdoors to hunt, you go outdoors to ride a motorcycle. But then later on, it became a meshing of the two worlds where it’s like I’d fallen in love with moving my body and pursuing these big, audacious physical goals. And I knew that the outdoors were a normal place for human beings to spend time. And so it became a natural place where it’s like, “Well, let’s express the two together.”

Warwick F:

So how old were you when you were diagnosed with ADHD?

Jason H:

Oh goodness! Still in elementary school, probably fourth or fifth grade.

Warwick F:

So I imagine you had supportive parents that tried to help you figure stuff out and how does this all work? And if you’re not something that your kids are, like if your parents weren’t like that, it’s probably not the easiest thing in the world to know how to help, because it’s hard to understand what’s not you?

Jason H:

No, absolutely. I have to shout out to my mom. If it wasn’t for her truly being a dedicated mom who was all in on supporting me, during elementary school, she showed up to support me at school probably more days than she didn’t, getting calls from teachers that I was struggling or misbehaving or getting distracted. She would show up to make sure I got the work done. I think back to those years, if she didn’t bother to do that, all of the success that’s contingent on education that I’ve had, I probably wouldn’t have had, because I would have been too far behind. Even though I’m a fairly intelligent person, I just would have been so far behind that passing high school instead of being rather easy would have been difficult.

Jason H:

So yeah, huge shout out to her being as supportive as she was through those formative years. And yeah, no, my dad on the other hand, he definitely struggled. He grew up in an abusive household growing up with a stepfather that was super abusive. And so anytime you’ve grown up that way, that’s locked inside you. And so he really struggled to deal with a kid that would do impulsive things and couldn’t learn from mistakes very quickly and would repeat things. I can recall these times where I was scared, where he came close to being physical with me. And I can remember we had one of those bouts where I did something wrong and he got really angry and he had knocked me down and then he just stopped and turned and walked off. And then from then I noticed he would take my brother out to go do stuff, but not take me. He would leave me with mom.

Jason H:

And I totally understand he was doing it, because he didn’t want to become his stepfather now. But as a kid in the moment, that’s a lot to try to sort through why doesn’t dad like me. And yeah, that became a fuel and a part of this athletic identity as well, because that was something he reconnected with me through as I advanced through middle school and high school. And so that catharsis embeds it even deeper, because, oh, this is something that I’m able to… My dad cares again. Yeah. I guess this sets the stage for 2015 being all the more significant in it’s a crucible moment for me, because all of this is wired in.

Gary S:

Good foreshadowing.

Warwick F:

Yeah, that makes sense. And in terms of relationships, I could easily see that Jason Hardrath was a young boy, a young man who could be misunderstood. It’s one thing ADHD, but then to not understand you’re not a mean bad kid, just because of what you had, there was this impulse with being very difficult to stop doing what you’re thinking. And so if you understand, it’s easier to give grace and understanding, but if you don’t understand it, which how many people do, I imagine other kids, other friends were like, “What’s wrong with this guy? Doesn’t he care? Why is he doing those dumb things that may be hurtful?” So I got to believe it was hard to have friends that really got who you really were and fully understood the real Jason Hardrath.

Jason H:

It was very difficult to feel seen. I would say the track that was on repeat for my entire childhood was this track of doing something and realizing how much I’d messed up in that split second before anyone even had time to react. For example, one of my earliest memories of this type of behavior is I was in kindergarten at Sunday school and the teacher was passing out scissors. And I had up until that point only really seen scissors used for haircuts, when my mom would give me a haircut. So literally the teacher sets the scissors on my desk and as they hit my desk, this isn’t like wait and try to get away with it, this is the moment the scissors leave the teacher’s hands. She’s still standing there looking right at me. My hands grabbed the scissors, cut the hair of the girl in front of me, just boom, bang, boom.

Jason H:

And as everything goes in slow motion, and so as her hair is falling, I’m like, “This girl is going to hate me, I’ve messed up her hair. Her parents are going to hate me because they’re going to have to pay for her to get a new haircut. My parents are going to get told. They’re going to be furious because this is really embarrassment.” I was smart enough to be like this has effects, but it was right after I had cut the hair. And so, of course, all of this, I’m beating myself up like why did I mess this up again? But then everyone else joins in. So it’s always this moment of I’m already down on myself and now everyone else is too. And that was the track on repeat.

Warwick F:

The hard thing for people that understand is clinically, technically in a sense, it’s not your fault, because it’s… At least it feels like it’s not your fault, because how can you stop something that you’re not able to stop? It’ll happen so quickly. It sounds too glib to say that it feels… That feels like close to accurate. It’s certainly not as much fault as people think it is. I guess that’s certainly an accurate way of putting it. So let’s move on here a little bit, because you’ve got a lot of fascinating beats to your stories. So I think we mentioned you broke the six minute mile in middle school, you biked across the country. So just briefly talk about that from Atlantic to Pacific. So what happened there?

Gary S:

Of course, a dumb thing, right?

Jason H:

So I’d obviously fallen in love with running and the goal setting mindset. And so advanced running in high school and the goal to make varsity and then the goal to go to state and then make it onto a college team. And then as I’m in college, I decided to do a mini triathlon, an off-road triathlon, but I’m like, “Well, if I’m going to buy a mountain bike, I’ll buy a road bike as well,” because financially responsible decisions when you’re going into debt as a student. And so I get on a road bike for the first time and literally no joke. The moment I hit 20 miles an hour on my very first road bike ride, this idea hits me like a brick out of the sky, “I should bike across the country, this is amazing.” And it just sticks.

Jason H:

You laugh it off like, “Oh, what a silly thing to think on your first ride,” but then it just sticks in there for the remainder of my college experience percolates. And finally, as I’m getting near graduating, I’m like, “I’m about to start the rest of my life, who knows if I’ll be able to make time?” And one of my greatest fears at that moment was waking up 30 years later and wondering what the hell I’d done with my life. So I’m like, “I have to do this now, otherwise I’m going to become that guy that wakes up and doesn’t know what he did with his life.” And yeah, so right after I graduated, I started a bike trip with a couple of friends from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean. We raised money for a child center to be built in Guatemala over the course of the ride. We raised about $7,000 for that, which was awesome.

Warwick F:

So tell us again where you started and where you finished?

Jason H:

Started in Ocean Shores, Washington, and finished right across the Hudson from New York, New York.

Warwick F:

Okay. Wow, that’s amazing. One of the things I think it’d be helpful for the listeners to understand is obviously it’s not fun I’m sure having ADHD, but there’s a lot of us, certainly me, I think very carefully before I do anything. I double think and triple think and quadruple think. And because I have pretty high perseverance, once I decide to do something, it will happen. But just doing something new, oh my gosh, I am very unimpulsive, extremely not impulsive. I don’t know if that’s right or wrong, but in a sense, none of this sounds weird to use the gift word, but because you are impulsive, you do things that most of us would be too fearful or we would think through it so much we talk ourselves out of our dreams, if you will. You don’t talk yourself out of your dreams, you don’t talk yourself out of your bold adventure, you just go for it.

Warwick F:

And so as the years have gone on, do you look back and say, “Well, I don’t know that I’d choose to exactly be like this and having the challenges I do?” But there’s a good side to it, if you will, because I’m not afraid to just try anything. And sometimes that can be good, like going across the country. Do you get what I’m going with that deal?

Jason H:

Absolutely. No. And I think that is a bit of a superpower of my type of cognition is I can handle chaos very well, because mentally I live in it every day, all the time. I’m constantly like everything’s chaotic inside and disordered. And my ideas bounce around and connect in weird ways. And so I’m able to step into situations where most people would be like, “Whoa, this is way too many logistics or what if this goes wrong or that goes wrong?” I’ve literally landed on flights to foreign countries to climb mountains and not had reservations for where I was going to spend that night. Like just flown into a country I’ve never been in where I don’t speak the language and just been totally comfortable that it’s like, “Yeah, okay, I’ll figure it out.” That comes fairly natural to me to be able to just be in the moment and solve problems on my feet, so to speak.

Warwick F:

That’s another superpower, to be comfortable in crisis, to be comfortable in chaos and trust yourself enough to know I’ve been there, done that, I’ll figure it out. Having a plan is fine, but there can be so much over-planning you never do anything. And then chaos will hit you whether you want to or not, whether it’s COVID or whatever. There’s a lot of things that are unexpected in life and you have the superpower to deal with the unexpected, which again, that’s a blessing in some ways. It’s crazy.

Jason H:

Absolutely.

Warwick F:

So it’s quite a few superpowers here. So I’m not being facetious. It’s amazing. So let’s talk about 2013 on also up to 2015. You really got into triathlons and maybe the pinnacle was qualifying for Kona, which I understand is the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii. Probably a lot of people have seen it on TV. So how’d you get into triathlons, because obviously you started running and love the outdoors, but what shifted you to triathlons being a huge love for you?

Jason H:

The journey for me, as I reflect back on it has always been this process of finding the next highest iteration, the next big challenge, and to just constantly pursue self improvement through that process of pursuing challenge. And so naturally, I’d pursued all these things and running. I transitioned up to running marathon distance, and then I biked across the country. So I ended up having a fabulous time biking and I was quite good at it. Got strong at it quite quickly. I was like, “Well, shoot, I run and I bike and triathlons are run, bike and swim.” So I signed up for a full Ironman, because that’s what you do when you decide you’re going to do a triathlon, you go right into full Iron distance.

Warwick F:

And just remind those of us who may not know, what’s the full Ironman thing? What are the distances of each of the three legs?

Jason H:

2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and a full 26.2 mile marathon run back to back to back.

Warwick F:

For most of us mortals, that feels kind of insane, but wow.

Jason H:

It is kind of insane. But I signed up for this thing and dropped my $600 entry fee. Again, responsible decisions when you’re a young student in debt. And I couldn’t swim more than three lengths of a pool. So it was like, I’ll figure it out. I signed up. I had six months. It’s like I will teach myself to swim, I’ll ask everybody I know, make friends with people at the pool and ask what drills they do and I’ll teach myself how to swim. It’s just going to happen. I want to do this thing. And so yeah, I signed up for a full Iron distance and really could hardly swim when I did.

Warwick F:

It’s just remarkable. Most people don’t do that, but just because of the way you’re wired, you will take courageous decisions and accomplish things that others only dream of. So yeah, there’s probably a book in there is you may not be wired the way I am, but even if you’re not, there are some things you can learn from me. So that’d be an awesome book.

Gary S:

I know where the conversation is going to go here. It’s going to switch in a bit to your big crucible experience. And I want the listener to be able to focus on what we’ve talked about so far, what Jason’s gone over so far. You said something really interesting in the last bit, Jason, that your life became about finding that next challenge, finding that next thing that you could conquer. And you didn’t have to have a roadmap to it or an outline for it, you just went and you did it. That is an important thing to have when you talk about your ADHD in some ways being a superpower, not a super problem. The ability to look at a crucible as a superpower in some sense as something that you can learn from.

Gary S:

All of these things seem to have been churning so that when your crucible hit, you were prepared, not necessarily for the crucible, but you were prepared to tackle the next thing you needed to tackle to get beyond it. Is that a fair thing to say that all the things that you went through, maybe didn’t prepare you for the details of your crucible, but it did prepare you mentally and emotionally for it?

Jason H:

Absolutely. It makes me think about the process of becoming an athlete, especially with… Well, any kind of athlete. I should be fair across the board even handed. But to become a decent endurance athlete, you spend a lot of hours suffering. You put yourself into the pain cave to build that strength later, you’re willing to endure pain now for benefit later. That’s the fundamental premise. It’s like I’ll endure extra effort now because I’ll be able to do something amazing tomorrow. I will do today what others won’t do so that I can do tomorrow what others can’t do. And that had become a part of my process. I just came to understand this is how the world works. And I think that, that’s really fundamental when you’re navigating the hardships life throws at you, because it’s really easy when you’re already in pain to want to back off anything that causes more pain that makes it worse.

Jason H:

But oftentimes what you have to do is lean in more to the practices that, yeah, they’re going to suck in the moment, maybe they’re going to add more suffering, but you trust in that process that this is the way we get better in the end. And that’s something you have to do constantly as an athlete. And I think it was a huge mental and physical preparation for facing my crucible.

Gary S:

Ironically Warwick’s book, its original working title was suck in the moment.

Warwick F:

Yeah, could have been. But yeah, that’s pretty funny. I want to comment on what you just said before we get to 2015. What you said is just so profound is that to get better at anything, there’ll be times in which preparation… It’s often not easy to do something different. I’ve had a book that’s came out a couple of weeks ago and so as part of that, you have to go on a speaking tour. Well, I’m by nature a more reserved person. I’d rather ask questions like we’re doing here, then get up on a stage and speak. It’s not at all in my comfort zone, but I realized if I want to get my message out, it’s all about helping people, giving people hope. I got to do it.

Warwick F:

So over time with some training and people that know how to create a great speech and a great team and friends like Gary, you practice and you work on it, you try different things, you get from adequate to competent to maybe actually almost to the level you can say somewhat good. But there’s pain and practice saying, “Boy, I’m awful at it.” I used to say, “I’m the world’s worst speaker, I suck at this.” Well, I’m not the world’s worst anymore. There’s at least a few that are worse. Few that suck more. But if I sat back there and said, “I’m not going to do it because I’ll be ridiculed,” well, then you’ve got to lean into the pain, trust the process, follow the steps. Everybody has those examples. So it’s so true.

Warwick F:

So let me get to 2015, because that was really one of the defining moments. So talk about 2015 and the car accident. And so what were you doing leading up to that? I think you’re trying to get from point A to point B. I think I read an article you were pretty rushed and a little frenzied. So just talk about that day.

Jason H:

Absolutely. So yeah, I was in the throes of Ironman training. And what I’d done is I’d qualified for the 270.3. So half Ironman World Championships. And I hadn’t put together a good race at the full Iron distance yet. But all through 2014 had a really strong year. Came into 2015 in a place I’d never been that early in the year, just breakthroughs with my training. And I’d taken on some responsibilities at work as a coach and then also as a representative at the district office level for my school with the superintendent. And the other coach didn’t show up that day. And so I was stressed out and then practice ran long because I was trying to coach all the different athletes, track and field. So I was trying to coach all these different subsets of the sport all by myself. And so practice ran a little long and I’m like, “Oh, I’m going to be late to a meeting with the superintendent in my district.” And I was still a pretty young teacher. So that was a really big deal in my head like, “Oh no.”

Jason H:

So I was just super stressed out. But I think it’s important also to paint this part of the picture. Literally the Sunday of that week, I went for 140 mile bike ride and got off the bike and went for, I think it was a seven or eight mile run and it felt like I hadn’t done anything, just felt super strong and casual. Just that feeling of those seldom moments in life where you just almost feel invincible, like I can do so much and I’m not getting tired. And then on a Tuesday, went out my car window in a rollover accident. Was ejected from the vehicle. Should have died. One of my doctors said that if I was just a typical 40 year old male, I don’t know why he chose 40, but in what he said, he said, “If you were a typical 40 year old male, you probably would have suffocated on the side of the road. So it’s good you are in good shape.”

Jason H:

But yeah, I ended up breaking nine ribs, collapsing a lung, broke my shoulder in two places and completely shredded the ACL and LCL of my right knee. And so yeah, went from the invincibility of being able to ride a bike 140 miles and get off and go for a run and then just feel casual and hang out the rest of the day to not being able to get my own drink of water. And that was a pretty life altering thing. And on top of that, when you think about it, if I’m training that much, putting in these 30 hour training weeks on top of my job, all of my friendships were built around people I biked with, people I swam with, people I ran with. I had no casual friends, they were all active friends. And so at the same time, I lose my primary identity, my primary coping mechanism, because when I would get angry, I would go for a run or a bike ride. My primary coping mechanism for life and access to my social network all in a snap.

Warwick F:

Wow. Obviously when you go through something like this, you’re in recovery, and by definition in recovery, you’re probably laid up, which is for you probably your worst nightmare, because you want to do stuff, but certainly in that moment you’re physically capable of doing hardly anything. It probably felt like being in a straight jacket in a dark room, a dark dank cold, whatever the image is, it must have been almost a virtual nightmare. It’s like let’s design a nightmare for Jason Hardrath. That was probably pretty close to perfection. That was probably just awful being strapped there.

Jason H:

It was very close to worst case scenario for sure.

Warwick F:

And one of the challenges when you’re in that situation, you can’t help think. Your mind probably goes pretty fast, faster than most of us. And it’s racing with all these thoughts. I think I read that you didn’t have a seatbelt on, you were trying to plug in your headphones to listen to some music. And did you go through all of these recrimination thoughts from why did I not have my seatbelt on? Why was I reaching for those headphones too? If that coach had only turned up, I would have been be able to finish sooner and I wouldn’t have had to drive like a crazy man to get to the superintendent thing. And oh, by the way, why did I care so much about what he thought? If I was 10 minutes late, it probably would’ve been better. And it did all those thoughts run through some self recrimination others, because as humans, we’re human wanting to blame others like the coach? And did all those thoughts go through your head?

Jason H:

I don’t think there’s any way that they couldn’t. I wish I could say I was perfect in how I handled it. But there were definitely a huge amount of doubts that ran through my mind like this is it, it’s all over, everything I’ve built and worked towards and dreamed of, it could all be out the window now. And in fact, one of the first doctors I had when I brought up my passion for mooving and my passion for triathlon and running, it was like, “Oh, you’ll probably just have to let that part of your life go,” and then walks out of the room.

Jason H:

So I had to face a lot of these difficulties. And yeah, it’s really easy to want to point blame elsewhere. But on the other hand I also had enough self awareness and as a teacher, I literally do teach, I taught students of mine like usually it’s not one thing that just goes catastrophically wrong that messes us up, it’s always a series of small overlooked things. Like if I’d had my seatbelt on, I would have been back at work the next day, I would have been fine. Like you mentioned, if I hadn’t been reaching for the headphones, if I hadn’t been rushing, if the other coach had shown up, all these different things that were factors and it was just the perfect storm.

Jason H:

And I have to acknowledge that I fell prey to one of the very things I try to teach others not to. It’s really easy to just get caught staring into your own glaring ineptitudes like, oh, I suck at this, I suck at that, and never actually go do anything. And I do think that I’m a person that I’ve made this decision in life that once an idea reaches a place that it’s like, yeah, that’s possible, it’s like, okay, go for it. Not, oh, well, now I better plan out all the details. It’s possible, I have the necessary skills, it’s unlikely that I’ll die because I was an idiot, go for it. That’s the equation in my head.

Warwick F:

So let’s shift to mountain climbing. So you suffered all these broken bones, ACL, LCL. I think from what I’ve read you couldn’t lock your knee, which is necessary to be able to run. But there’s something about climbing mountains and uphill, it’s just easier for your knee. So that sounds all very logical actually, but in terms of, okay, what’s the next step? Okay, well, I can go up. Going up is not as painful, so fine. I’ll just keep going up until I run out of room and mountains, eventually, unfortunately, even Everest ends. But so talk about how you shifted to mountain climbing. And that’s not your identity obviously, as you alluded to, but it’s your passion. Talk about that shift, because that must have been freeing. Okay. Maybe I can’t do triathlons, but there’s something physical I do, because I have to move. If I don’t move, I won’t be a happy camper. So how did that all happen shifting to mountain climbing?

Jason H:

Absolutely. So you’ve done your research. Yeah, I’m a physical educator. So I had to understand biomechanics as a portion of that learning to become a PE teacher. And I was aware that when you run in order to run efficiently, you have this moment where your knee locks out to basically be able to pull that stored energy and the giant rubber band that is our Achilles tendon. That’s what makes us efficient runners. That’s what gives all humans the ability to move with the efficiency we do. And I couldn’t do that anymore. So I could hobble limp after four or five months. I could hobble limp my way down the road painfully, but it would feel like a hard effort and I would move at half the speed I used to be able to run. And that was de-motivating right, and also difficult to do and hard on the rest of my body to be in a constant limp.

Jason H:

But I realized, okay, I can walk up and down steep hills. And when we think about how we walk up or down something that’s really steep, we tend to keep our knees bent. And so I didn’t need to have that access to a completely straight knee. And so it was like, okay, well I’ll just hike the local hill and then started going up some of the mountains around. And then that led to wanting to go up the bigger more difficult mountains in my area. And pretty soon I’m tackling peaks and series and I’m running into peaks that have technical summit pinnacles. And so I’m like, “Okay, well I’m a rock climber now.”

Jason H:

And I think this comes around to something you said about taking up speaking, which is not natural to you. I’d been an endurance athlete who intentionally let my upper body atrophy to save weight, and suddenly I’m taking up rock climbing. And I’m literally the worst person in the gym. Plus I’ve got a bum knee. So I have limited use of one of my legs and I have weak upper body. So I’m literally the worst person in the gym. And it makes me think of this quote that I’ve seen float around, be brave enough to suck at something new. And I had to embrace it. And I’m lucky because I’m a PE teacher and I get to teach kindergarten kids. I think they teach me as much as I teach them. You hand a kindergarten kid a basketball, they’ll miss 1,000 shots and be no less excited to take the next one.

Warwick F:

They don’t have fear. At least it seems like we come out of the gate somewhat fearless. And then over time we get to be fearful. Some of my kids, I’ve got one extrovert, two little bit more introverted, but in elementary school they were different. It’s like, what happens? Where do they learn fear? And they’re not fearful, don’t misunderstand me, but you get what you’ve seen in your kids.

Jason H:

It’s our development of self awareness. So self awareness is a great tool to have to be aware of ourselves and our strengths and our weaknesses. It’s powerful. It helps shape us. But the downside is hand in hand with it comes self judgment, and we get quicker and quicker at judging stuff the older and older we get, where we get finally to a point as adults where we’ll try something once for five minutes and go, “No, not for me.” It’s like, “What?” I always think about this when people tell me they tried running and they went out and ran for two weeks, I’m physiologically, it takes two years for your body to adapt to the stresses of running if you haven’t done it properly. You haven’t truly tried running until you’ve stuck with it for a certain amount of time and your body can adapt enough. You go, “Oh, wait, I actually can do this quite well.”

Jason H:

And the same is true with the rock climbing. I had to abide sucking, being the worst one, and I had to push those thoughts of self judgment away and just embrace the play. Another tool I learned from my kindergartners, just embrace the process of playing regardless of how good I am at it. And then over time, I can remember the first day someone came up to me after I climbed a route at the gym and was like, “Hey, could you teach me how to do this?” And I’m like, “Wait, I’ve arrived, someone actually thinks I’m good at this.” And that was a cool moment, but it takes time and we have to be able to abide some tough feelings in order to reach that place where finally we’re like, “Okay, I’ve done something with this.”

Gary S:

I have to jump in for a couple of reasons. One, the name of this podcast originally was abide sucking.

Warwick F:

Yeah.

Gary S:

So you’ve got both the book originally and the podcast. This is the time in the show normally when I would say, the captain’s turned on the fasten seatbelt signs, we have to land the plane pretty soon. But because we have a school teacher with us and because he is at school as we’re talking and he has to go back to class, I’m going to do this instead.

Warwick F:

I want to get to Bulgers list, because that’s one of the most recent things you’ve done, which is really the epitome of just leaning into mountain climbing, doing something that initially you felt like you sucked at, because not enough upper body strength. So talk about what Bulgers list is and you’ve completed it like a couple of months ago. So talk about that whole deal.

Jason H:

Absolutely. So yeah, I guess to make a quick transition here, over a couple of years of rehabbing and doing all the exercises and letting the knee heal, running started to come back to me. I’m still not as fast as I used to be, but I was able to start combining the two. So I was able to start, go out and climb a mountain, run on a trail to another mountain and climb a second mountain in the same day. So I was able to have these big days out just with blending two things that I loved. And then I discovered these fastest known time records, fastestknowntime.com. For people who want to check it out, you can see all sorts of awesome routes and cool things people are doing. And I was like, “Well, this is what I’m already doing, this is what I already love, I might as well run a stopwatch and see if I can break some records while I’m doing it.”

Jason H:

And started taking these things off one after the other. Decided, you know what? As silly as it sounds, I should go for 100 of these records. As humans, we’re drawn to these big silly, big round numbers. And so made this decision I’m going to be the first person to do 100 of these. And so I start moving toward this goal over time. And eventually people ask, “Well, what are you going to do for number one 100?” Your 100th record, what is it going to be? It’s going to be something unique, something big. And I came across this Washington Bulgers list, which is a list of the 100 tallest peaks in the State of Washington. And I’m like, “Oh, 100 peaks for the 100 FKT?” Something poetic about that and also ridiculous.

Warwick F:

And FKT is fastest… What was that?

Jason H:

Fastest Known Time.

Warwick F:

Got it. Okay. Awesome.

Jason H:

So I decided, again, it was like, okay, this thing is really big, it’s not like peak lists in some other states where there are trail heads and trails and everything’s easy to access. Washington is a temperate rainforest. The North Cascades are some of the most brutal terrain in the 48 states. There’s deep back country bushwhacking, route finding, orienteering and fifth class rock climbing and glacier travel with crevasses. So it was this full package experience being a teacher, a cumulative exam, if you will, of everything I’d pursued up till that point. And once I started doing the planning and realized it was possible, I was like, “This is what I have to do.” Like I said, that equation in my head, once the pencil hit the paper and it made sense, it’s like, yeah, no, I’m going for it. And managed to do it in 50 days, 23 hours and 43 minutes.

Warwick F:

And that was way quicker than whatever the last time was. What was the previous time?

Jason H:

It was 410 days.

Warwick F:

Yeah. It’s like over a year. That’s stunning. So as we bring it to a close, you’ve got some key principles. What are some of the principles that you’ve learned? I know from what I understand, one is celebrate each moment. So just talk about… Because you work with elementary school kids about helping them understand physical activity and mindset. So you are pouring into the next generation, future leaders, future folks in our society, and you speak at different places. Talk about some of these principles. So what do you mean by celebrate each moment?

Jason H:

So, one thing I had to do as I was in the throes, the deep beginnings, the darkness of my crucible is I had to let go of the living in the shadow of my prior self. Right. I couldn’t. We already struggled comparing ourselves to others and that’s something we work to overcome to be like, “No, it’s not worth it to just compare myself to others. There’s no joy there.” And I had to do that with myself, because it would have cut my own motivation to constantly be like, “Well, I’m not able to do this like I used to, I’m not able to do that like I used to.” So instead I still to this day, refer to anything I did prior to the accident as my former life. It creates this mental clean cut where it’s like, okay, I can go back to focusing on the process.

Jason H:

And part of focusing on the process is whenever we start into something, we naturally celebrate each small win, each bit of progress we see. It’s easy to lose that over time, because you start to expect, oh, I should be able to run 10 miles or, oh, I should be able to run a business, I should be able to write a book. And so you don’t celebrate those little breakthroughs anymore. You just assume them. And so what I had to do is go back in my mind to like, oh, this is as far as I’ve ever bent my knee, this is as far as I’ve ever walked without pain, this is the most weight I’ve lifted, this is like noticing those things that I used to take for granted and celebrating them and being stoked at each little bit of gain, because it’s always our process that takes us wherever we want to be in life. And I think that’s easy to lose track of.

Warwick F:

So good. How about two and three? So two is noticing progress instead of noticing far you are from where you used to be. So talk about the whole noticing progress part. What is that principle?

Jason H:

Basically, I’ve wrapped it in with how I described the last one, is just seeing how you’re moving toward what you want instead of seeing the gap left to get where you want.

Warwick F:

Got it. Okay. Yeah. Seeing how far you’ve come, not how far you’ve got to go. Makes so much sense. And I think you’ve just talked about the third one, don’t compare yourself to others or who you were before. So there’s so much wisdom, because sometimes we can be held back about what we could have accomplished at a younger age or before an accident. We either wallow in the past or spend too much time daydreaming about what might happen in 20 years time, which who knows? Nobody can predict their paths or life. And instead of just focusing on the moment and what’s the next step. So as we wrap up here and obviously you are investing in the next generation, what’s a message of hope, because we’re all about how do you stop your worst day defining you? How do you find a light at the end of the tunnel? How do you find pain amidst the crucible purpose out of pain?

Warwick F:

Some people have talked about what they’ve gone through physical tragedies as a blessing or a gift, which I find hard to understand. I’ve heard more than one person say that. So what’s your overall message to both young people and people in general about what you’ve been through and what you’ve learned?

Jason H:

For me, it comes down to it’s that believing in the process and understanding that’s all you ever own. What’s the old quote? You can love your labor, but not the fruits of your labor. You’re never promised anything. In the snap of fingers, like I said, it can all be gone. And so continuing to be in love with your process, be in love with the little intermediate goals, be in love with the steps you can take to move forward. And then on top of that, I always remind myself, and I tell my students this as well, you’re always preparing for opportunities you can’t see yet.

Jason H:

Did I know I was going to break the record and end up in mountaineering history for climbing the 100 tallest peaks in Washington? No, I didn’t even know such a thing existed. When I started down this path. I had no clue that I would end up doing this. But because I followed my process and I pursued one goal after another and I continued moving forward and finding things that made me feel alive, eventually I landed in a place where that next thing was something that rocked people’s world. And it was an amazing experience for me at the same time.

Gary S:

So before we let you go, Jason, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give you the chance to let listeners know how they can find out more about you and your exciting adventures.

Jason H:

Absolutely. I have a website, jasonhardrath.com. I’m on Instagram and Facebook, pretty easy to find in those two places. And actually a super fun thing, a film crew followed me around for some of these records and for some of the peaks of this 100 peak Bulgers effort. And so the trailer’s been released to a documentary that’s going to be released in February. I’ll make sure that you guys have that for the show notes. So yeah, people can connect with me all those ways and hear a bit more of my story and see some of the visuals on these things I talked about. It’ll make your palm sweat.

Gary S:

Well, thank you listeners for spending this time with us at Beyond the Crucible. And until the next time, we’re together. Remember that your crucible experiences, we know they’re painful, we know they’re traumatic, we know they can take a long time to get through, but we hope you have heard in this episode, in this conversation with Jason, that your crucible experiences don’t have to be the end of the story. In fact, they can be the beginning of a brand new story, and that story can be the best story yet, because where it leads as you learn the lessons of your crucible and move forward is to a life of significance.

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