I dabbled in strength training throughout my prep for Yeti. It wasn’t anything too intense, mostly bodyweight workouts to help alleviate my shin splints. However, when it seemed that I was taking winter off (I ran occasionally between October and January, but not on a regular basis), I decided it was time to get a little more serious about strengthening the rest of my body.
I am not a gym person. I find gyms intimidating and I have no idea how to use any of the equipment. I don’t know how to lift weights safely, and even if I did, I wouldn’t know what kind of exercises I needed to do. So when I decided I needed to start pushing my strength a little more, I knew it was going to have to be through another sport. Enter climbing.
I’ve always wanted to get into climbing. I think it requires the same kind of personality that ultra running does–restlessness, a little bit of self-loathing, and a desire to push your body and mind beyond what’s comfortable. I started bouldering at my local gym and was hooked. I loved the mental aspect, and the strength necessary to send. It’s damn fun and hard and forces me to make a lot of quick decisions.
Besides the fact that I am working on getting stronger physically (and climbing has jump started that), climbing is working my mental toughness. Not only do I have to climb the same problems over and over, analyzing what went wrong and trying my best to remedy it, but I have to often face fear and decide whether or not to push beyond it. This happens sometimes at the gym: I get relatively high up on a problem, realize my next move is a big one, and I have to make the decision of either trusting my body or down climbing. For a while, I was listening to that fear instinct. I’d either down climb or let go. I met “am I going to do this?” with “absolutely not.”
One of my coworkers invited me to go climbing outside with her. We spent a beautiful day at Rocktown in Georgia, climbing and enjoying the unseasonable warmth. I successfully sent a few problems, and watched in amazement at how graceful and brave she was on the rock. We found a V6 called Guillotine, and she wanted to try it. Directly next to it was an arête with a huge iron band running through it, called Medieval. Guillotine was a massive high ball–according to the guide book, almost 24 feet. She worked and worked at it sometimes getting frightened by the height, but always trying.
When she wasn’t on the wall, I was working on Medieval. The crux of Medieval was a tough mantel near the top of the boulder, high off the ground and at an angle. I finally reached it, and before the big move, I panicked. My feet didn’t feel steady at all. “Uh…you guys down there?” I called to my spotters. “We got you!” My coworker’s friend yelled back. I heard them shuffling the crash pads on the ground, moving them to where they thought I’d fall, if I did. I reached the moment where I had to make a decision. Make the move and risk falling almost twenty feet, or give up and try to down climb. I decided to make the move. I planted my hands on the cold rock and pushed myself up as hard as I could, topping out. My friends cheered and I yelled. It felt good to conquer my fear. It felt good to be stronger.
I think that having experiences like that, while also making me physically stronger, are building my mental endurance. I am being reminded of the strength that I have, and of how far I can push myself when I try. It makes me want more with my running and it makes me want more with my climbing. I am not the strongest or the fastest, but I can certainly be stronger and faster than I am now.