Monday, 27 January 2014

A Glorified Coffee Shop

Anyone who spends all of their spare time doing one activity will know the feeling of being at a loose end when, for whatever reason, you can't engage in that activity but haven't replaced it.

For me, that wasn't an issue in the early stages of recovering from breaking my leg- for the most part, I was taken down by painkillers, or asleep, or both. When I wasn't either of those, I was struggling to keep up with my degree, or occasionally finger-boarding.

I still find life pretty exhausting- some combination of growing bone, I assume, and not being used to walking around- because I'm certainly not doing as much as I was before. But today was the first day of term, post exams, I've no plans to fingerboard this week and I'm utterly dependent on someone to put a rope up for me- and then belay me- if I want to top rope. I was feeling pretty bored, so I went to my favourite bouldering centre.

Unfortunately, of course, if you can't boulder, then a bouldering wall is little more than a glorified coffee shop. You can drink coffee, socialise a bit... and that's it. And when the people you're socialising with are all climbing- or working- it doesn't take long before you find yourself standing sort of awkwardly in the no man's land that is "not-climbing-at-a-climbing-wall".

Fortunately for me, the bouldering wall in question does have an excellent coffee machine. Unfortunately, by their nature, climbing walls tend to be considerably less warm than coffee shops. This means you can't really have a read... or a snooze...

Looking at the wall, I couldn't help feeling frustrated by this middle stage of recovery. Here I was, able to walk into the centre, but not to use it for it's intended purpose. This was annoying because I knew full well that had I been able to boulder I would have enjoyed the setting. I could SEE specific routes that I would have enjoyed. Yet, though I can top rope, bouldering is out of the question until approximately May because (and my leg and brain are in agreement on this one) impact is not desirable. I suspect that even when my leg is happy with impact my brain will take some serious persuading.

Of course, come may, bouldering will be irrelevant. I realise that I broke my leg at a fairly appropriate time. By the time I am deemed fully recovered, it will be time for the route season. I'm unlikely to be confronted with a 'need' to boulder until almost a year after the accident. I see this as a nice margin for not rushing into bouldering.

On a similar vein to the irritation of not being able to boulder because of the falling aspect, I find that not being able to cycle (even though I would technically be able to use an exercise bike- in fact a fracture clinic doctor suggested it at about two months) is really annoying, because it's not the cycling that's a problem- it's the not being able to fall off. Obviously, you'd hope with cycling that you'd fall off less than 20 times an hour, but you still can't guarantee that you won't fall off at all.

They're minor complaints, when top roping is now possible, I realise. But I'm only human, and I can't help wanting what I haven't got.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Training for Climbing

Predictably, not much has happened over Christmas, climbing-wise. Things continue to heal, and pain is pretty much the current normal, but not worthy of much in the painkiller department.

After a couple of rubbish top-roping sessions, and a week of rubbish finger-boarding, I decided to re-evaluate. Top-roping had been going so badly because I was scared, and because I was getting upset when I got shut down by small left foot holds.

Finger-boarding had been going badly because as much as having a fingerboard set up at home is great, it's much harder to be motivated than training at a wall, and there are certain limitations to the "fingerboard climbing wall" meaning I was getting pretty tired.
I wanted a break, but not to stop altogether. And I needed to gain confidence on the wall. So the obvious conclusion was to replace training for climbing, with climbing for training, for a bit.

It wasn't immediately clear to me why I'd be scared top-roping. After all, I didn't get hurt on a rope, and I've never had problems with fear in any big way sport climbing (apart from when injured). But I think fundamentally, I'm terrified of hitting the wall, or banging the wall. And I'd been letting that get the better of me, climbing as statically as possible. Which is great for training, not so great for making it to the top of a route in one go.

Alistair made the mistake of asking me, after a particularly static climb, why I didn't "climb like you normally do". I think it just slipped out, and my first response was to swear at him. But although the obvious answer is that I don't have the physical ability I normally do (I don't know about strong people, but when I climb dynamically using power ALL that power comes from my legs thank you very much), he sort of had a point. It's not that simple, of course. I can't just flip a switch. But at the same time in order to climb normally, I have to let go a bit. I have to push outside my comfort zone and try things which feel uncomfortable- or they'll never feel normal.

Going outside my comfort zone isn't actually something I've got much experience in. Because I've never really felt scared of falling off with a trusted belayer, I've never really had to work at it. Of course, I'm not even dealing with leading yet, I'm still scared of top-roping. But with pushing comfort zones, it doesn't really matter how absolutely scary something is, so long as it's scarier than you'd like.

As regards getting shut down by moves, I think this comes down to remembering that learning how to climb with a weakest link that isn't everyone else's (fingers stronger than ankles...) can't always be about performance. But finger-boarding, on the other hand, is about clear gains and pushing performance, and I'd very much got into the finger-boarding mindset.

It's a great thing that recovery isn't binary. How would you stay motivated without the small improvements? But the problem with that is that you have to adjust to every stage in between initially broken and completely fixed. I have to accept that climbing and walking hurt, and that after climbing, walking hurts even more. But that since this seems largely to be as a result of muscular rebellion, and there's no long term detriment, that's just life.

Sometimes I get pretty bored of walking slowly and painfully. I can't imagine when climbing and walking will be normal. But most of the time you have to just get on with it, I suppose. So January is the month of climbing. In celebration of this, I've bought a month pass to the Foundry. This means going more than once a week is the goal. And I'm eternally thankful for Alistair's patient belaying when I can't belay him back.

I'm grateful that I could fingerboard at all, I suppose that's an advantage of going for a leg. And I'm grateful I can climb to the extent that I can. But I can't help being a little jealous of the August me, with her bouncy climbing and lack of fear.