Posts Tagged ‘outdoors’

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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Yesterday, as I was being discharged from the fracture clinic, after the consultant told me that my wrist has officially mended (yes!), she asked me about whether I was back into training and what my plans were for the coming months – she was probably wondering if and when she’d see me again with another injury! I told her about my plans and she told me that her husband is planning to swim the Channel this year. Brilliant!

She said that last year he swam the Channel as part of a three man relay team and she had hoped that the experience of climbing into the water at 2am in a gale would have put him off, but apparently not. This little anecdote, along with the movie that the Swiss and I saw at the Banff mountain film festival on Thursday night – Solo- lost at sea – has made me think about the role of wives and girlfriends (WAGs) or indeed husbands and boyfriends (HABs?) of people who feel the need to push themselves to the limit. I know that I am lucky to be with someone who has the same attitude about testing her limits and loving the outdoors, but no matter whether one is with a supportive, understanding, co-nutter or not, if you kill yourself by overstepping your abilities or through sheer bad luck, they are still alone. Nevertheless, almost every adventurer, explorer or extreme athlete I have heard of has had a ‘better half’ either waiting patiently (or impatiently – it seems to make no difference) at home for them to get back from a training session, or standing on the side of a wind-swept race course in the pouring rain or fiddling nervously with their phone while waiting to hear whether they will watch their beloved take the limelight or instead be giving interviews about their dearly departed husband/wife. And this devotion is not limited to those at the extremes of exploration and endurance sport – every marathon runner’s partner can tell you about the early Sunday morning alarms, the grouchy injury moods, the voracious appetite, the piles of stinking kit… so spare a thought if you are a runner, triathlete, mountaineer, explorer for him or her indoors. They’ve got your back, but you should make sure your obsession doesn’t take over completely. Now I’d better be off – I’ve got to get up early for a race tomorrow!

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