As her marriage ended, Amy McCulloch began to wonder what her future might look like.
“The path I thought I was going to take just disappeared,” said the 36-year-old author of the book ‘Breathless’ who lives in London, TODAY. “I was really lost and just realized I had two choices.
One was to curl up in my duvet and wallow – which was a very tempting proposition – or I could try to do something good for my body while I worked on this big change.
“While the marriage lasted about a year, she had been with her ex-husband for about a decade. As she began to reimagine her life, she Googled ‘longest walks’ and came across the Kerry Way, “the longest marked trail in Ireland”. The next day, she landed in Dublin and began her adventure. At the time, she had no idea that it was only the beginning of years of adventures.
“It was quite ambitious. It was a 250 kilometer (155 mile) walk, which I did for two weeks,” she said. “You just walked along this trail which was very clearly marked but also really took you off the beaten track and to some amazingly beautiful places in Ireland all along the coast.”
A physical feat became a lesson in mental resilience
As she watched the landscape transform from “lush green fields” to mountains to jagged coastlines, she felt better able to deal with her emotions.
“My body was physically exhausted, which allowed me to sleep,” McCulloch explained. “It also allowed me to be more present in myself, which I really needed at that time.”
Instead of wondering what was next or combing through the details of her divorce, she noticed she was transforming in unexpected ways.
“It was physically tough, but I also enjoyed what was happening to my soul,” she said. “I also thought that the type of person I was was going to be the person who was going to get married and have a family and that was going to be my future. And so I realized that if that wasn’t going to be true, it maybe there were other things that weren’t true either.
She remembers a trip she took with her ex-husband to Machu Picchu. She remembers “huffing and huffing” at the site, feeling bad because it was something a lot of tourists were doing. As she struggled, she watched her husband walk in front of her.
“He was tired of waiting for me and I just realized I never really wanted to feel that again and so what Ireland did when I was walking there… I realized I was more capable,” she said. “I didn’t go out and become like this super fit person, but I decided to incorporate walking into my daily life.”
Just walking and then jogging around her neighborhood has helped her get stronger and fitter. A few months later, she embarks on another hike in the mountains of Nepal.
“I went to Nepal and did the Annapurna circuit which is one of the really classic trails and that’s when I found out that I handle high altitudes really well” , she said. “It’s a lot about your mental resilience and your mental toughness to keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep going even when you feel like you’ve reached your limit.”
Applying this mentality to life meant that McCulloch could tackle all sorts of extreme physical feats and cope with the stresses of everyday life. She climbed Mount Toubkal, the highest mountain in North Africa, with a man she met on a date.
“Honestly, I just had such a magical experience and that’s when I started calling it summit fever,” she said.
She then climbed Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the Americas. His guide was leading an expedition to Manaslu, the eighth highest peak in the world, and asked if she wanted to join his team. He was trying to climb the 14 highest mountains in the world.
“I knew it was a chance to see history made,” McCulloch said. “So I agreed to join him and that’s how I ended up in Manaslu.”
That man who took her to North Africa, Chris, became her new husband in January 2022. During the pandemic, McCulloch set out to explore her neighborhood with the same zeal she did in foreign lands.
“There really isn’t a lot of countryside here, but there are a lot of parks, which are really beautiful and I discovered some amazing places,” she said.
When the lockdown was lifted, she wondered what she could do now and she signed up for the Marathon de Sables, an ultramarathon in the Sahara desert that lasts six days and covers around 156 miles.
“(It’s) this ultramarathon across the desert, again kind of an extreme jump to do, but what really appeals to me is the chance to go to an incredible environment that I couldn’t experience otherwise,” she said. . “Also the fact that almost everyone who does it says it’s not necessarily how good a runner you are, but how much mental toughness you have to keep going day after day, mile after mile. “
She needed that strength when she walked through a sandstorm, looking at a compass to try to orient herself.
“About 15% of runners dropped out of the race because they struggled during the storm or other elements,” she said. “But it was magical because you’re in the Sahara desert and there were times when I was completely alone.”
Being alone with her thoughts as she navigates difficult terrain keeps her from being stuck in her head.
“You have to be really present in the moment in order to be aware of the risks around you,” she said. “You are left with only your own thoughts and your own progress, your own next step.”
She believes anyone can learn from their experiences, even without climbing mountains or crossing the desert.
“I never thought I would be able to do any of these things that I’ve done for the past few years,” she said. “Everyone started by putting one foot in front of the other.”
This article originally appeared on Today.com.