the head and the arms

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.

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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.

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