The Sting and Fruits of Hard Work

Hard work is, well, hard

 Written last Friday. Edited to note my climbing went great this morning!

I did a poor job climbing this morning. I know now that I simply can't go two weeks without climbing and expect to maintain fitness. These are still baby muscles - arms, shoulders, and even fingers unused to the load of all my mass against gravity. It's not fair to my body to go so long without climbing.

And it's unfair to my poor fragile mind. Today I had to tackle embarrassingly easy 5.6 routes because once I got on the wall my mind played tricks with me. The sensation of air, of empty distance between my body and the ground - even in a secure harness - is unnerving, and coupled with my phobia - that irrational, gut-wrenching reaction to freeze and panic - is devastating. Just get up the wall. I don't care how you do it, just do it. And so it came that I cheated on a 5.6 route that I had once climbed effortlessly.

The sensation of air, of empty distance between my body and the ground - even in a secure harness - is unnerving, and coupled with my phobia - that irrational, gut-wrenching reaction to freeze and panic - is devastating.

It's frustrating to see such a loss in ability. For so much of life you assume once you learn a skill that you can maintain it - riding a bike, keeping your balance in bakasana (crow pose), juggling a soccer ball - but to see any gains you made in climbing so quickly and thoroughly annihilated? Yeah, it's crushing.

But it's a good reminder that you have to keep practicing, you have to keep working to maintain your precious growth and tackle those tougher routes you've been eyeing. You can't stop running if you want a PR in your next race and you can't stop climbing if you want to comfortably climb those 5.9 routes. Sure, sometimes it feels like a plateau, but you still have to work to maintain that plateau; oh how easy it is to fall off the edge!

In my defense, it was probably my eagerness to get back on the wall that was part of my downfall. I've been running hard the last few days, relishing my time off work and spending as much time as I can outside, exploring new trails and setting a new 5K PR (28:52!) and visualizing myself as a brick wall on defense in indoor soccer. Today my lungs are punishing me - honking and wheezing and choking against the chalk drifting in the air from hands clapping against plastic holds. On top of that I was early to the climbing gym and worked on stretching and kettlebells and pull-ups and one gnarly bouldering problem. ("Oh yeah, Tyler set that V0 route, and Tyler's V0s are never actually V0," the gym employee said to me as he wandered over to watch me boulder, thoroughly bored at the front desk with me as the sole patron of the gym at 6am. "Plus the incline, yeah, this is a really tough V0.")

It would be really easy to just quit climbing - to just throw my hands up and say, “I just don’t have the body type to be a climber!” or “I just don’t have the mental fortitude for it!” but I know all that would be a lie.

It would be really easy to just quit climbing - to just throw my hands up and say, "I just don't have the body type to be a climber!" or "I just don't have the mental fortitude for it!" but I know all that would be a lie. I've been through this with running and with soccer - skills I was okay at when I was a kid and then let rust through college, only to take them up again later with a bit of shock at the difficulty of relearning the skills. I certainly didn't have a "runner's body" (and to be quite honest, I still don't!) but at least I had a body and I could train it to chase one PR, and then another, and another. When I started playing soccer I had no power behind my kick and I was an idiot on the field, but with time and practice my shots got harder, my long balls went longer, and my finessed chips got more accurate. I got smarter on the pitch too - I remembered to watch the ball and the player's center of gravity when I played defense to fall for fewer fakes and I got smarter on and off the ball - making smarter passes and moving to space and being aware of positioning. And even though it's been five years since I started playing soccer again I still run around like a headless chicken and I still whiff the ball sometimes and I still fall for a stupid fake, but at least I'm still getting better, even if I'm fighting for every inch rising up from the plateau and I can see the miles I've come from when I first stepped back on the field.

So too will I learn and grow with climbing; I know this because I've done this before. I'll fight and struggle and some days it will be ugly, and some days it will be glorious, but that's okay, because on long road trips past brown, empty fields of spent cotton or tobacco or soy I'll have magazine articles that off a glimpse of my future:

We watched her struggle and finally succeed on a hard, painful boulder with an exposed, scary finish. She dug three thin fingers into a jagged pocket just two moves from the top, bending them hard at the second knuckle. With that hand secure, she shook out her other hand behind her back. Everyone stayed quiet as Kate took control of her breathing, pulling it down and pushing it out slowly while she hung there, the sharp tips of her toes dug in on small edges and her body hanging in between the three points like a hammock over a pile of pads and a steep slope...
— "Way Out at Hueco," by Ann Raber, Misadventures magazine, Summer 2016 issue

Bouldering at the famed Hueco Tanks may not ever be in my future, much like running the Boston Marathon may not be in my future, but in either case I won't know unless I try for these faraway, distant dreams.

Happy New Year's Resolutions! How are the resolutions going? Don't get frustrated, don't get discouraged. Remember, we all started somewhere - let this be a reminder and an inspiration that we all struggle together.


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