After a period of severe illness in 2008 I had to truly go back to square one and build up my fitness and strength from absolute zero. It was a formidable, unforgiving challenge.
But I learnt that all-important lesson from it - that the only thing harder than keeping up momentum, is getting back momentum once you've lost it.
I went for my first up-hill run for about 3 weeks today, and I could feel a definite (though small) decrease from my pre-Christmas fitness levels. I am strict about maintaining my fitness, but I suspect all but the most dedicated will have felt a similar effect after the festive period.
Everyone's motivations vary when it comes to fitness, so I thought I'd share some more of my thoughts when it comes to my own.
I made a very conscious decision a while back to no longer associate fitness with times, numbers, statistics, weight or calories. Many people (the majority?) prefer to measure their fitness in these ways, understandably as it is a precise way of charting progress and setting goals.
For me now, a high level of fitness has simply become an essential ingredient of my two main hobbies - i.e I keep myself fit for another purpose other than just fitness for its own sake and benefits.
More and more I'm becoming aware of the complicated psychology behind climbing solo in the mountains. Being very fit is an obvious prerequisite to regular climbing, but especially in winter, I'm becoming increasingly aware that the challenge is often only about 10% physical when it comes to soloing.
I put in a big effort during the autumn to be as fit as possible for the start of december. The physical demands of regular winter climbing can be pretty extreme, but it wasn't that so much I was doing it for. My ambitions for this winter are higher than they had been last year, and you always need to feel progress before taking on the next step up.
Regular up-hill running, upper-body strength improvements and triple figures of hill miles during the summer hasn't just meant that I am fitter than last winter, but that I know that I am fitter. That's has been the catalyst for a bolder outlook and more success this winter.
Knowing that you have improved makes distances seem less, slopes less steep, obstacles less severe. Even if the next challenge you face is your biggest yet, the confidence gained from preparation is to me always more important than the preparation itself.
Your mind must always be in the right place when you are going solo. Hopefully my confidence when it comes to photography will improve soon as well - here's hoping 2012 is a good year!