Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Clip by Clip

While reading about ways to deal with fear in climbing, I read something about how we don't expect to keep strength gains if we only train once a month, so we shouldn't expect to keep mental gains if we only train very occasionally.

On the face of it, this seems obvious: most of us in the UK boulder in the colder months and only get out our ropes each summer. Usually, there's a transition phase where different people feel varying levels of fear before returning to last year's level of confidence. In the same way that a 6a climber will need to train more to climb a 7a than a 6c climber, a very scared person will need to train more to climb fluently on lead than someone who is simply a little rusty.

But how can you combine fear training with training training without the two impacting each other? And where do you start?

I guess fundamentally you need to work towards the thing you'll actually be doing. For me, that's currently sport climbing on british limestone. For that to be ok, you need to be happy first leading (probably indoors), then happy standing on slippery limestone, then happy leading between the (occasionally quite spaced) bolts.

I found that the best time to start training my head indoors was warming up. Though initially I was skeptical about the value of fall training by letting go, I think it helps to normalise the feeling of falling. Although it's very artificial, jumping of big holds above a bolt on an overhang indoors is a quick and relatively safe way to learn to fall and I found that I wasn't really able to try on harder routes because I wasn't ready for unexpected falls.

When endurance training on routes I found that I preferred top-roping as I hated the pressure of trying to achieve PBs whilst also being brave: I much preferred to separate the two achievements. So I would do some fall training and then train as normal. Once I'd gained some confidence, the training actually motivated me to push my fear boundaries, but in the early days I wasn't ready to tackle the fear.

I also started doing some outdoor sessions that were focussed entirely on fear. The goal was simply to try, above a bolt. The day was a success if I reached the desired point on the climb and nearly fell off, or if I fell off. Though it felt like a big jump in difficulty, I resorted to the old favourite - jumping off slightly above the clip, then higher.

I have a long way to go with the outdoor leading, but I'm really amazed that I've made it to the point where I'm enjoying climbing outdoors. I'd kind of given up on getting back to where I was but I don't think I could ever have dreamed of getting this far. After breaking my leg I trained out of obstinancy, and because I call myself a climber, and then as physical recovery progressed I realised I didn't really have any goals any more. I didn't know what I was training for and I didn't really want to climb anything in particular.

For a long time I wasn't sure I would ever get my desire to climb back. And at that point my motivation to train started to slip too... because what's the point if you don't really like climbing? The fear I felt on the rock overcame any enjoyment. But a couple of months ago, after weeks of head training that didn't really seem to be progressing, everything fell into place. It was one of those rare but glorious moments when you see all of your efforts come to light: I felt so much more confident and happy while climbing.

Now leg pain has ceased to be a limiting factor in my climbing, and fear is becoming much less of one. It seemed appropriate to change the name of this blog accordingly: thus I removed the "a recovery". The result seems worryingly egotistical and yet I rather like it.  It is almost two years since I wrote the first post in an injury blog and it's only really now that I feel like I have started to overcome said injury. As with any significant climbing injury (or sports injury) it has massively changed my perspective on climbing, and my motivations. However, overall, I think they have changed for the better. I'm no less motivated but perhaps more forgiving of myself. I'm no less brave but I'm definitely less rash. And I'm no less psyched, but I think I'm more passionate for the fight.

Two years ago, I would have said "Of course I'll get back there!"

One year ago I thought "I'll never get back to where I was, and I'll never really enjoy climbing again".

Now, I'm not there - but I'm happy to be here instead :)

The limestone is calling!

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