Posts Tagged ‘climbing’

Yesterday I watched a video on my iPhone. Nothing unusual there (except it was the first time I had done it) and it had a profound impact on me. So much so, that I found myself wiping away a tear from my eye whilst trying to not let anyone see… after all I was standing on a platform packed with commuters at 8am in east London. Then later I read an email from a friend and fellow athlete and something he wrote really resonated with me. And then I watched another video this evening and something in that tied all the thoughts from the first movie and the email together… so here goes.

The most important thing we can do for ourselves is decide what we want as far as work-life balance is concerned and then make that a reality. Oh and I believe that at the moment I have it wrong.

Here is the first video I watched, whilst waiting for a train to take me to another day of relentless and probably pointless grind doing something that I am well paid for, but which ultimately I do not get any joy from. It is a TED talk by a chap called Nigel Marsh.

I think the reason the video affected me so deeply was because everything Nigel Marsh says is so blindingly obvious. I went cold when he said that if we do not design the life we want for ourselves then someone else will and we might not like their idea of balance – and moreover that if that ‘someone’ is a company it will be to our detriment. I realised that I spend almost all my time worrying about, thinking about, resenting or trying to be passionate about doing things for other people that I don’t really care about. And what makes it worse is that in theory I work 4 days a week – at least that is what I am paid for.

Then I got an email from my friend Neil. Neil and I used to work together and we had a shared passion for endurance sport. Neil is a triathlete, but I won’t hold that against him. In a corporate environment I was delighted to meet someone else who was as passionate as me about endurance sport. Sadly we no longer work together but occasionally exchange emails and in his last message Neil told me that he had negotiated a couple of days a week working from home to avoid what I imagine is at least an hour commute to work each way, every day. He wrote that this would have a very positive impact on his ability to train and bring him closer to his dream of a podium place in the World Triathlon Championships. A bold ambition but I have no doubt that he will succeed. Why do I think that? Because of his dedication – physical dedication, mental dedication and the the fact that he is taking responsibility in his life for creating the opportunity to make his dream come true. Those three together make for a very, very powerful combination.

And tonight, while my fiancée was out having dinner with a friend, I found an Alex Honnold video on a Chinese version of YouTube where this incredible climber was free soloing the face of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, California. A truly amazing feat. But what struck me more during the video was the lighthearted comments that Alex made about living in a van and not having a girlfriend. His dedication means that he is prepared to live with minimal comfort in pursuit of his dream. He knows that meeting a girl is unlikely when ‘home’ is a shelf in the back of a Transit sized van full of unwashed clothes and a ton of climbing gear. But Alex is prepared to forgo the comforts that he could have (not to mention the career and earnings he could have if he had a ‘normal’ life) in order to dedicate himself to his passion.

So what does all this mean to me? Well I think it is all pretty obvious really. Fairly soon (although I hope not too soon) I will be lowered into the ground. And on that day I would like to think that I will have had a good and interesting and useful life and that people will have something to say about me that is not that I worked hard or that I was a responsible person or some other bullshit banality. I would like people to remember me for being the best runner I could be. For giving triathlon and climbing and hiking and cycling and many, many other things a go. For pushing myself to test myself and do more and be better. Because more than anything I believe more passionately than I can explain in words, that (to paraphrase Nigel Marsh) life is not a game of ‘who the fuck has the most money when they die’… so live on friends and follow your dreams.


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My girlfriend and I share a lot of passions, especially for the outdoors. We both love running (lucky, that!) and hiking and cycling. There are also things that we don’t share a passion for – she loves raw tomatoes (eurgh!) and I love outdoor swimming, for example. We also share a passion for climbing albeit that we are both very new to the sport. When I was asked what I would like for my last birthday by my parents I think I surprised them somewhat by asking for climbing lessons at the local climbing wall. My girlfriend organised it all and six months ago I went on a three session course which Mum and Dad paid for. My girlfriend came along – after all I needed someone to belay me, right?!

This morning we went to our local climbing wall together to register (we have just moved to a new area in east London) and to do some climbing. I had a really fantastic time; great fun, great atmosphere, many many walls to climb and it was also tougher than I remembered it being.

Why am I writing about this in a blog about running? Well, apart from the fact that it is my blog and I’ll write whatever I like, climbing is a something that I am drawn to do for very different reasons than the reason I love running, but perhaps they have a similar root.

In my last post I wrote about Matthew Syed’s book, Bounce, and the impact it has had on me. In the book Syed writes about skill based activities as well as endurance sport and discusses the 10,000 hour rule which theorises that if one dedicates oneself to something for 10,000 hours of purposeful practice, then one is almost certain to become very, very good at it. This well documented phenomenon is one of the mainstays of Syed’s argument that talent is a myth. There is no such thing as natural ability (or talent) only hard work and dedication… 10,000 hours of it in fact.

Running, I believe, is not an activity that can have the 10,000 hours rule applied to it – put simply, running is not a skill-based activity and therefore the rules governing why some people excel and others don’t are slightly different (although not that different – it still boils down to putting in the hard work).

However climbing is not like running. Certainly climbing is an activity that benefits from fitness and strength. But there is a skill element (and a psychological element that I shall come on to in a moment) that running doesn’t really have. Today at the wall I watched men and women climbing who were doing amazing climbs. Undoubtedly they were all fit and strong – they looked in great shape (maybe too great for my comfort!) but that wasn’t the whole story. They also all had really good technique and that made a massive difference.

So that is in large part why I am really excited about climbing – it has all the physical challenge that I love but in addition there is a technique aspect that I don’t get from running. There are also psychological aspects to climbing that really appeal to me.

I believe – and I have written this many times in this blog and said it countless times since my conversion from couch potato – that we are all capable of so much more than we think we are. People often say to me that they could never run a marathon themselves. This is utter crap. Everyone can run a marathon – most people choose not to put in the effort, dedicate the time, endure the discomfort and make the sacrifices necessary to train to run a marathon, but that is not the same thing. The human form is an amazing piece of equipment capable of quite extraordinary things – it is almost always a decision on the part of the owner of the body to quit (or not start at all). And therein lies something that really appeals to me about climbing; it is a bit scary and quite hard work. Today I found myself letting go of the handholds half way up a climb to be lowered to the ground by my girlfriend who was belaying me from below, because I “couldn’t hang on any longer”. This is as much crap as when people say they could never run a marathon. I guarantee that had I not been roped up and instead was hanging on a rock face where letting go would have meant falling to my death I would have found the tiny bit more strength required to hang on and indeed climb up. It is a question of motivation and determination.

So today I have reacquainted myself with climbing and I loved it. I loved the physical challenge – my arms and hands still feel like they belong to someone else! – the intellectual challenge of figuring out where to put my left foot next and which hold to reach for and – perhaps most of all – the psychological challenge of overcoming fear and ignoring the pain in my fingers and the desire to let go. There is such an elemental side to climbing and such a perfectly balanced set of challenges that I know climbing will not be a passing fad for me… unlike the chap selling a climbing chalk bag and a pair of climbing shoes on ebay, with the words “ANOTHER ONE OF MY GIRLFRIENDS FADS” in the description – you have to wonder!

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