Tuesday, 26 February 2008

On top of my game…

Warning: Egocentric rambling ahead (well, this IS a blog…)

I had a realisation the other day:

I have now been fighting fit and climbing well continuously for the last 2 years.

That, I think, is quite thought-provoking. I looked in my logbook and saw that it was early February 2006 that I started properly getting back into grit climbing after many months off with a broken foot. Later in the month I had a decent trip to Barcelona….then some increasingly good days on grit….then a good trip to Pembroke with The King….then “that” weekend in North Wales where my climbing dreams started coming true. Since the start of 2006 I’ve had some low points, periods of bad motivation, periods of atrocious weather, times out due to minor injuries - but they’ve all been pauses in the flow of climbing, rather than stops. Even last year, being hampered in spring by a shoulder injury and in summer by the monsoons, as soon as the shoulder healed and the weather cleared, I got out, got fit, and climbed well.

It’s generally regarded, particularly in a highly intensive (physically and mentally) activity such as climbing, that maintaining a high level of performance over a long period of time is unlikely to happen (the mind and body need respite). I’m making no great claims about my performance, only that it is good FOR ME. But the point is, it’s still good now…

(Even recently, I’ve felt my strongest indoors on bouldering and routes, I’ve onsighted my hardest sport climbs outdoors, climbed my hardest boulder problem, and recently climbed my first grit trad routes since November - it took a few goes to get back into it, and I didn’t push myself that much, but I managed to climb with confidence on some routes and tackle fine challenges on others, and kept learning more throughout - not bad!!)

…even 2 years on. If this isn’t “supposed to happen”, then maybe there are explanations.

Firstly, the enforced mini-breaks I’ve taken might have let mind and body recover for a renewed assault. This need for respite is something I’ve become aware of, and thus I make sure I don’t push things at inappropriate times and thus get jaded or too wrapped up in climbing.

But, secondly, more interestingly, maybe this isn’t some straining, pushing, performance peak. Maybe this is my NATURAL level. A level that suits my climbing, my abilities, my desire. And to be honest, that’s what it felt like, that’s why I was striving to climb how I climb now - because I felt I could, I felt it was the right level for me to reach and be inspired by. And sure, it was a long, bloody battle to get there, but what I felt in 2006 was more like “I am climbing as my true self” rather than “I am on top of my game”.

Less of a “peaking”, and more of a “maturing”?

What happens from here, I don’t know. I’m quite happy not knowing. I’m still as psyched, yet less pressured. Maybe I will climb harder or climb better (not the same thing, of course!!). Maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll improve more in different areas, maybe I won’t. Maybe something with go cataclysmically wrong and I will climb very little. Maybe I’ll improve a lot by devious, circuitous methods. Maybe I’ll just plod along doing the climbing I enjoy.

Right at the moment, I have a bit of a tweak in my elbow. I’m being careful - it’s not too bad and doesn’t seem to affect climbing too much - but I’ve been taking it easy, sticking to outdoor routes where possible and avoiding the physical strains of indoor bouldering. So not, right now, 100% fighting fit, BUT it’s okay, and I’ll get past it, and just see where things go…

Monday, 4 February 2008

A blog challenge!

From JIMBO’s blog (link on Rockfax blog page):

I have been continuing on my regime to return as a fully functioning climber, back at the grades that I was once achieving some years ago. I have been reading around and from sources such as Training for Climbing and from my own profession it is clear that target setting is the first stage to realising your goals. However, to coin a teaching term (possibly borrowed from American corporate bullsh*t) they need to be SMART. Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-bound. For example; I will do 1 one-armed pull up by Easter with my left and right arms. This hits all the criteria for me from this model, being specific in the exercise that I will perform (could be a route or a grade), measurable in that I must do 1 on each arm, it is attainable as I have done them before, realistic in that I am not far off it now and the time frame is long enough to achieve it and time bound in that I must do it by Easter. Having looked at Fiend’s blog it is clear that some of his targets fall short in one or more of these ideas and may lead to many left unfulfilled.

Would I be right in guessing this is Jimbo Kimber, beefy Portland guru from a few years back??

I’m somewhat entertained that a serious climber read my blog and thought enough to mention it (although a comment on my blog would have been useful). He may or may not have a point about my goals - although I do think my goals are in a different genre to some peoples - and since I quite like an online climbing discussion challenge, I’ll try to justify my goals in that context:

1. Climb the remaining routes E2-4 in the Lleyn section of North Wales Rock.
5. Climb at a few of the inspiring places that I didn’t manage to visit in 2007, specifically: Baggy Point, Nesscliffe, mid-Wales, Pembroke, and a bit of grit.

These two are more specific goals and do fit into the SMART criteria
S - Yes, specific places and specific routes (I have lists, but little desire to post them here).
M - Yes, whether I visit those places and do those routes.
A - Yes, subject to weather and partners.
R - Yes, all of the are accessible and routes are realistic targets.
T - Yes, have made them goals for this year in particular (although Lleyn would be up to the next bird ban). I can’t have specific deadlines set because it depends on: weather, opportunity, people to climb with, bird bans, and other factors.

2. Go on a climbing holiday to Scandinavian granite and/or German/Czech sandstone.
6. Climb more in Scotland.
7. Go on a climbing trip to Ireland if weather allows.

These three are all general destinations are the SMART criteria is not applicable to them. As above they are subject to weather, opportunity, etc etc, but more specifically to having the right people to go with. I will try to find the right people to go with, and to be able to go at the right times, but these trips are too external-factor-dependent to be more “SMART”.

3. Join with more climbing and bouldering trips abroad.
4. Climb more with my friends, old and new, and join in their climbing plans.

These two are climbing….scene? I guess….desires, and again the SMART criteria is not applicable to them. They simply depend on what other people are doing when, who is available, who wants me along. I’ve spent a couple of years being focused on my own specific desires, to good effect, now I am happier to join in with other peoples’ plans, in the knowledge that there’s bound to be something I’ll want to climb and enjoy doing.

8. Push myself more in bouldering and deep water soloing in different venues.

This one, perhaps is a bone of contention - it is performance / challenge / progression desire, and as such could be considered SMART suitable. But…
S - not really, no particular problems, no particular routes, nor locations.
M - not really (although a vague hint to boulder the next grade up).
A - yes definitely. I’m sure I can climb a bit harder.
R - yes definitely, ditto.
T - this year??

Maybe this should be SMART?? Maybe I should be saying: Boulder V-whatever on grit by April and onsight 3 E-whatevers at Portland between July and October.

The thing is, it boils down to my initial impression: I have a different genre of goals. Although a few are specific routes and specific challenges, most of them are exploratory venue-based goals: Get away with some mates to somewhere new and find inspiring stuff to do there (these might well be unfulfilled but that’s the nature of climbing trips!!). And the progression goals?? Well, I’ve spent the last decade focusing on progression and the last two years succeeding in it. I’ll always want to progress but at the moment I’m happy to do so in a “see how it goes” way. The point of that is not about being vague, it’s about being relaxed and being confident in my groundwork of climbing that I can tackle what challenges I feel like without having to be quite so obsessed over Specific (etc etc) details. And - it’s worth noting - I still train for general challenges, I still push myself in what’s relevant, work what I need to and work my weaknesses, but again I do that in a “looser” way. It doesn’t mean I’m pulling any less hard though!!


Last weekend I did my hardest graded boulder problem ever. I hadn’t had it as a specific goal, I hadn’t used it as a measurement, I didn’t know for sure if it was attainable or realistic, and I set no time-limits on it. I’d just seen the line a couple of years ago, it inspired me, I thought I might be able to do it, and I did (it was piss, took a few goes and I could have possibly flashed it if I’d used the best starting hand-hold). Was a great problem BTW.