Earlier this year I spent seven weeks in the United States and whilst I didn’t set the world alight with 8C ticks I did notice improvement in my own personal climbing. Over the period I managed 36 climbs of V10 and harder including a rare (ish) repeat of Li, a short power based problem established by bouldering legend Frederic Nicole in 1997. At the time I was reasonably happy with my trip, the weather didn’t always play ball and yet I made the most of what we had. I braved -10° Celsius and, in contrast, sweated it out in the baking desert heat to achieve a tick that a week later I would probably have forgotten. So why do we do it? Is it all worth it?
The answer of course is YES! I love it, thrive off it and am constantly amazed by what our bodies and minds are capable of when we really dig deep and push that bit further than normal.
It has taken me nearly two months to write this blog. I didn’t want to write an ego filled “I did this or I did that”. Instead I wanted to write something reflective and thought provoking and to be honest I didn’t have a clue what that might be! Then a few weeks ago it dawned on me that what I had experienced in the States, and more specifically in Hueco, was progression. Something I think all athletes and especially climbers find hard to measure and yet it is so important in order to continue with our fight to improve and to find the motivation to aid this fight.
The Oxford dictionary defines progression as-
‘A movement or development toward a destination or a more advanced state, especially gradually or in stages.’
It is something that everyone loves to see and feel whatever their hobby or passion and in most of these pursuits it is what keeps us working hard and striving forward in the hope of improving and pushing our personal limits.
What I want to explore is how we view this progression of ourselves, what markers do we place to keep us on the straight and narrow and how does this progression aid our motivation and development for the future.
It was five years since I had been in Hueco, five years since I had dislocated my shoulder and five years worth of training, personal growth, development and maturation. It was here that my progression became clear and this experience has driven me forward and motivated my training, climbing and life decisions since.
So what did I experience in Hueco Tanks that is so radically different to going on other trips? Well, in short, just how much better I had become over the five years. Holds that, previously, I hadn’t been able to use felt big, moves that I hadn’t been able to conceive felt easy and foot holds seemed ten a penny; there obviously weren’t anymore but I could use more of what was available. Now I hear you say that of course after five years I should be better, I should find things easier than before, and I fully agree. The key however was experiencing this in such an obvious and validating way. If I visit a crag five times a year, every year then obvious gains and progression are hard to monitor but this gap of five years really demonstrated to me that I had improved and that all the hard work I put in is worthwhile.
Progression is something that, like many, I constantly question. Is all the training and hard work paying off? Am I doing the right thing for me? Well the answer seemed to be yes and that is very comforting indeed. This doesn’t mean that I have a formula of how to improve and I must always stick to this, in fact I have changed my training so much over the past five years that pinning down what actually works and doesn’t work is very hard. The answer to this improvement lies in that last sentence in the word ‘changed’. By constantly changing my training, increasing the intensity, working on new areas of strength, skill and technique I have been shocking my body into adapting to newer, higher levels. The question here is whether I can continue with these changes by finding ways to shock the system and not let my body grow stagnant?
So where has this realisation of progression taken me and where will it take me in the future? The most important part of this realisation is the perception of my own climbing and the belief I now have in myself. I have always tended to be very positive about others climbing and their potential but that does not translate to my own performance. I have a fairly negative image of my climbing and am constantly disappointed with my efforts and performance when on the rock and especially in competition. If I am truly honest, I stopped competing because I couldn’t hack the disappointment of not excelling and the way it affected my self-image. I felt that I could control this more in an outdoor environment and to an extent I can but there are still moments, more often than I care to admit, where everything builds up and I explode! The realisation of this progression has boosted my self-confidence. I no longer look at climbs and get intimidated, instead I believe I am strong enough, believe I am good enough and this belief serves as a powerful ally when performing at your limit. However this belief is not infallible, I still get angry, frustrated and disappointed but I can now rationalise these feelings and use them as fuel to improve. And yes I still I have bad days, everyone does, and yes I still moan about these days but I know that it is all just a cycle. The good days wouldn’t feel half as good as they do without the bad ones, after all the struggle makes the success all the sweeter.
As for the future part of the question, the answer is I am not sure. What I do know is that I am enjoying my climbing and therefore my life, because the two are inexplicably linked, much more. Hopefully the future will involve pushing my limits much further, testing my abilities on the hardest and most quality lines around the world and even coming off on top sometimes!
I suppose in summation of the last five years and indeed this piece of writing, I would say that hard work pays off. I have trained hard, put in the time and battled both mentally and physically. This effort has paid off with a realisation of my progression and with this realisation my performance has improved but more importantly my self-image and belief of what I can achieve has increased. I guess it shows however much training we do we all know that the battle is won, or lost, in the head.