Spoiler Alert: Every Misogi challenge is a personal challenge. But what exactly is the Misogi challenge? And, why should you consider planning one for yourself? First, I never want to should on anyone. however, I recently completed my own personal Misogi challenge for the year. So, I’ll tell you what I know about this practice, and why I did it. Then, I’ll share why it’s an important ritual to consider if you want to better yourself physically, mentally, and spiritually.
One modern notion of the Misogi challenge is best summarized by American Entrepreneur Jesse Itzler.
“Do something so hard 1 time a year, that has an impact on the other 364 days of the year.”– JESSE ITZLER
But the history of this Japanese ritual goes way back. And it’s meaning has evolved as Western culture has adapted it to our own lifestyle, fitness, and business goals.
About the Misogi Challenge
Shinto Monks practiced the traditional purification ceremony known as Misogi to cleanse the soul and shake the spirit. It was common to incorporate fasting or some sort of strenuous physical activity. The ancient ritual entailed taking a pilgrimage to a sacred waterfall. Participants stood beneath the falls and cleansed themselves by the cold waters. Often, standing under the water for extended periods pushed participants to their personal limits. The purpose was to become aware of and one with with the spirit within you.
More recently, Michael Easter popularized the Misogi challenge in his book, The Comfort Crisis. And, if you’ve been following along here you know that was one of the two books Rene read. These inspired our current Alaskan Winter adventure. Which brings me to my own personal Misogi challenge.
My Misogi Challenge
We’ve run a few marathons now. So, when I decided to do my own Misogi challenge I knew it was going to be some sort of long distance run in the snow. And, by snow I mean running on packed snow trails. This isn’t just running on roads in the cold. Though I did plenty of that while training. And, while the Willow Trail Committee does groom the trails, they do not always stay packed as well as one might want. As you will soon see.
I am sane enough to know that 26.2 miles is a bit far for that. For me at least. And, there aren’t exactly many organized marathons in Willow. Now that the Solstice marathon isn’t happening anymore, anyway. But Misogi isn’t about organized events. As I mentioned, it’s more personal than that. And, I’ll get into that. However, when we first arrived, before it even started snowing, I learned about the Sven Eriksson.
This annual 25K event occurs during the Willow Winter Carnival. So I made that my own personal Misogi Challenge. The trail committee did a great job grooming the entire 15.5 mile course. And the weather held out for a couple weeks, creating a nice hard surface to run on. So one morning before sunrise, I completed my Misogi. I ran the course, over the rivers and through the woods. The stars shined above as I left, and sun rose over the vast remote tundra an hour later. Those first few miles were scary. But I didn’t freeze to death. And, no moose stomped me. Exhausted, and feeling accomplished, I survived. All this matters when it comes to Misogi.
The Rules of the Misogi
1. The Ultimate Challenge: The first rule of any Misogi challenge is that it must be ultimately challenging. It should scare you, and must push your physical limits. I’d add that it should push your perceived limits. Because when it comes to ultra running or other extreme endurance sports physical training only gets you so far. Once you can run a certain distance, your body can go much farther. At some point, the challenge is all in the mind. However, I’ll also add that you must also know your own limits. Know when to say when, and adjust those limits if necessary. Because there is one more important rule.
2. You can’t die: Dying during your Misogi challenge is not allowed. In my mind, that is the only way you can fail. Because it means you pushed yourself too hard. Yet, I have never felt so alive than when putting myself in these situations where I might die.
Yes, the Misogi challenge is about pushing yourself to the limits. You push your body and your mind. That’s why they call it a challenge. Success is understanding and attaining those limits. It’s not killing yourself trying to reach them. As a result, that’s why when it came to the actual day of the organized event I backed out of my Misogi.
On the morning of the Sven Eriksson, it was -36º at the starting line. Knowing the course, I’m sure that plummeted to 45 below or colder on the frozen lakes or out by the river. I had already completed my personal challenge. I did not need to risk serious personal injury.
The third unwritten rule about Misogi, is that it’s extremely personal. You don’t announce it. You don’t brag about it on social media. At least not before you complete your challenge. The reasoning is that if you quit when nobody is watching, you’re much more likely to follow through on any public goals you make.
I made my Misogi all mine. It wasn’t about getting the patch. Though I am glad I got mine! The Sven organizers knew I had run the course. They knew I planned to do it again once it warmed up a bit. And, they agreed with my decision to not run that morning. In fact, the next day was forecast to be in the sub teens. It’s amazing what a difference 25º makes, when you’re talking about subzero temps.
However, the “warmer” weather also came with six inches of fresh powder. So much for those well groomed trails! When I took off the next morning it was a balmy -12º. However, the trails were gone. Fluffy snow covered my ankles as I ran, or did my best to run at least. I left prepared to do the whole course, but also ready to adjust my goal. There was nobody riding the course on their snow machines to check on people like there was the previous day. Trudging through the snow was more demanding than any run I’ve ever done. And then there were the moose.
Failure = Success
No, I didn’t stop to take photos. The Moose (plural) were far too close for comfort. And they will stomp you. With fresh tracks all over the trail through the woods, I suddenly approached one much closer than I cared to. Hiding behind a tree, I waited to be sure it was heading away before I proceeded along the trail. Still considering whether or not I’d continue on the complete course, the second moose clinched the decision. There was much more remote tundra ahead. And much less foot traffic. Human at least, nobody else was
stupid excited enough to be out running in this deep snow.
Turning back because of a moose later on could have doubled the distance. Then there was my pace. In this powder, I would have been out there about six hours. I completed my Misogi challenge a few weeks before in 3:29. So I decided to make this second challenge a 10K instead.
By pushing and realizing my limits, I was able to adjust them and be totally comfortable with that. Yeah, I could have done the whole course. I could have done it even in the freezing cold. And no, I probably wouldn’t have died. But there’s always that 50/50 chance when it comes to the Misogi Challenge. So, I failed, and that was a success in my book. As Samuel Beckett said about setting goals, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”