07 April 2015

Fritz Tips? (Tip #3) Staying Healthy

I've been getting a lot of inquiries to write about finger strengthening tips and injury prevention. I've been lucky enough to slip through my career so far without having any detrimental injuries. Of course I can't speak medically, but I can definitely write about what I do to stay healthy/recoup, and hopefully that helps!

1. Cut back on booze. Alcohol dehydrates tendons, and leaves them vulnerable and more susceptible to injury. Also, increase water intake. Even if you think you're getting enough, try to drink more. 

2. Invest in a massager... A finger massager, a forearm massager, a foam roller, etc. I have all of the above, and they work wonders.

3. Water water water. And food.  Did I say drink more water? Something that's more of a recent additions to my current training habits is diet. We need food to live. Ceasing intake of food leads to muscle deterioration and, like with too much alcohol, tendons become weak and susceptible to injury. The changes I've made have been nutritional. I still eat a TON of food, but before I was all about Coca-Cola, Taco Bell, and In-N-Out. While I still enjoy indulging in these delicious things, it's in far more moderation. I've kicked it up with the veggies and proteins, and toned it down a little with carbs. My favorites are salmon and asparagus, tuna and zucchini, and for grains it's brown rice or quinoa. When I do find myself suddenly in the In-N-Out drive-thru line having no recollection of how I got up there, I'll get my #2 animal style wrapped in lettuce instead of on a bun.

4. Muscle Work and Support. Whether you think it's a placebo effect or not, I'm a big fan of kinesiology tape. The Pro-Tec kinesiology tape is my favorite, and even if I feel just the start of a minor muscle tweak, I tape. It reinforces the muscles at their insertion and origin points, and leads me to feel more confident in yarding on 'em. I also massage on a regular basis. After long approaches, it's a foam roller, and for the glutes and hammies, or I'll lay on a massage ball, like the Orb.

5. Stretch. Yoga is something I do not excel at. Actually if I'm being completely honest, I absolutely suck at yoga. I've been trying to do more of it, because as one of the tallest girls in the competitive climbing game, I find myself stuck in scrunchy positions pretty often, and the need to be more flexible is imperative. If I can't make it to 8:30am yoga with Liberty because it's too early for me, I'll sit on the floor and stretch while I watch The Walking Dead at night. Evening stretching is a good winding down process for me, with the stress of watching zombies and gore, I feel it really evens things out.

6. Strengthen. To be honest, my hangboard workout is more about strengthening to prevent injury than it is strengthening to send. I pulled a tendon in 2012 and the road to recovery was frustrating. Learning a new hangboard routine that wasn't about isolating fingers, but about strengthening them as a whole, was a big discovery for me. Now it's an almost-daily part of my life. I never do less than three fingers at a time, whether it's front three, or back three, and I do multiple different positions and hold depth. I train open-handed and bent fingers (not full crimp with thumb on top), and it has helped me significantly.

7. Recover. I rest A LOT. Some people may think I'm lazy, but obviously I know what I'm doing... haha. Seriously, though, if we push our bodies six days a week and only take one "active" rest day, it leaves us no chance for our muscles to rebuild. Climbing and working out break the myofascia in the muscles down, and if they're not given proper time to reconnect and heal, they can never get stronger. Also, even if you're skeptical of jumping on the Gnarly band-whey-gon, that stuff works wonders for my recovery. A big ole chocolate whey shake after a brutal workout and the next day I don't feel like I got hit by a train.

That's about all I have for you guys as far as my personal injury prevention/recovery goes. As always--totally feel free to write if you have questions! Seriously, though, do it. I have all the answers.

02 April 2015

Tokyo Ramblings

I mean, I spent most of my time in Japan climbing. Indoor, outdoor. This is but a tiny blurb from my time over there. It was an interesting time, climbing-wise. I'd been to Japan before, and absolutely loved it. This time I had the surprise pleasure of seeing an old friend, Yumi, from my first trip in 2008. This trip I was climbing with The Legend Yuji Hirayama, Akiyo Noguchi, Sachi Amma, Alex Megos, and Toru Nakajima.

Climbing in Japan with Akiyo has given me the opportunity to get to know her as a person, and not as a competitor I only see occasionally at World Cups. We went training together and climbing outside together, and it hasn't felt the least bit competitive, as it sometimes, even often does with other [professional] female climbers. (Not just professional... But this is an entirely different topic.)

My perception of Akiyo is that she doesn't want to beat me personally; she isn't trying to be "the best." Obviously in competitions, that's a different story. But here, I honestly don't think she could care less about me even being around. (From a climbing standpoint. It was awesome spending time together as normal humans!)

Akiyo truly just wants to get to the top. Of everything. When she pulls on, she's a machine; effective, focused, calculated. Her efforts are inspiring, she tries harder than almost anyone I've ever seen. If she falls, I can tell she's already focused on her next attempt, at trying even harder. Which is insane, because I was sure she'd just expunged every ounce of effort she had...

That's personally what I find the most impressive. That someone can constantly be giving 110%. Sometimes I honestly think it's something I might be incapable of. Trying hard every single move, every single attempt? That sounds exhausting, and more in the mental sense than the physical. Magical things happen when I try hard, like this year's ABS Nationals for example. But truthfully, my climbing style has never called for all-out effort. I'm flowy, and dynamic, and I choose climbs that cater to that style. I pick moves that don't always call for a lot of tension, because I know it's a weakness. Basically I'm not that strong, but the act of climbing is easy for me; it always has been. And trying hard is hard. The more I climb outside, the more I realize how important body tension is. It takes a multitude of effort to make the body work like that when it isn't used to it. And mine really isn't used to it.

This year I've agreed to compete at Toronto and Vail again, and climbing and training with Akiyo and Megos over my two weeks in Japan has inspired me. They make me want to work hard. Akiyo was flashing things I was projecting, cruising things I couldn't get off the ground of. I'm not sure if it was circumstantial; jet lag, off week, etc. Or if she's currently exceptionally fit. I question how I was ever competitive with Akiyo physically; how I've ever been able to beat her. She's a beast! Albeit the entire time I was in Japan I felt tired, and eventually spent my final week battling a cold, even on an on day, I don't know that I could keep up. I obviously have my work cut out for me this spring if I want to hang with the World Cup big dawgs.

The climbing over there was a bit hard to get used to. Yuji's The North Face Cup was fun, and the problems varied between physically burly, and having technically finesse. I apparently totally underestimated the strength of the women's field over here and didn't even make finals, which was a bit disappointing. By "a bit" I mean quite. I tried to try hard. I wanted to put on a good show and really didn't want to let Yuji down, but especially I know these things happen. After the event we went on a "Rock Tour" and even the outside climbing felt a bit strange to me. Maybe climbing solely on sandstone for the last year left me completely worthless on having to deal with granite. That shit is slippery. And sharp!

Yes, I found the climbing in Japan difficult, and the grades stiffer than an appropriate metaphor. (Retrospectively, I think I had a similar experience on rock in 2008 as well.) I had a hard time convincing my body to engage, and, truth be told, the hardest thing I did the entire trip was approximately V7, while Akiyo was climbing everything in her path, including this rad little V12 in only four goes. She wanted to climb and project things with me and I felt bad and ashamed that I physically couldn't work on the same climbs as her. We did end up eventually climbing this fun little riverside V6 together, so that was cool. She was super positive and motivating, and it was nice to have a boulder to ourselves with such a big crew on the Rock Tour.

I can't help but imagine the things that must have been going through her mind watching me struggle on V8's, hell even V5's. "This chick won World Cups and climbed The Mandala??" Yes, Akiyo, I swear! I think I'm good at rock climbing..? Didn't I just do The Swoop? Why does this always seem to happen to me more than everyone else? Am I sounding whiney enough yet? Newsflash: rock climbing is hard. Sometimes it just is, and we don't know why. As I mentioned before, it's always been a natural thing for me, and not being the best is quite the blow to the ego. It's only the last few years I've found I've really needed to step up my game. This trip to Japan was another eye-opener to me, to just that fact. I am definitely not complacent with mediocre.

08 March 2015

No Ragrets

I just found this little gem of a journal entry in my phone from January 23rd. Oldie but goodie?

"I recently watched this funny movie called "We Are The Millers." There's a scene in which a baby thug gets punched out by Jennifer Aniston, but not before being questioned about his chest tattoo: NO RAGRETS.
"No regrets? None? Not even a letter?"

Anyway, you ever have those moments? The palm-to-forehead, how-did-I-ever-get-this-far-in-life ones? Yeah, me either. Peasants...

If you were thinking this was going to be some super deep "live life to the fullest" post, I'm sorry. This is about the epic four hour journey from Las Vegas to Bishop. And if you're thinking that there's no way a teeny tiny little four hour road trip could ever be epic, think again! I'm about to prove you wrong.

This drive is usually a piece of cake. I've probably done it thirty times; it's brainless. Sometimes I'm brainless. This time for some reason, I neglected to gas up in Beatty, Nevada, the halfway point. Which would have been fine, were I not towing the trailer...

Turning onto highway 266 we had roughly 95 miles of gas left in range, and 85 to Bishop. Which again, would have been aside from the (adorable) twelve-foot ball and chain I was dragging up winding mountain passes. The strategy was neutral on the downhills and low RPM's on the up. But then, a miracle! 'Next gas 58 miles.' I could crush that, even with the extra weight.

Except 58 miles came and went, and we saw nothing but Joshua trees. Twenty-seven more miles to the Shell in Big Pine, and my range read twenty. Still manageable, I thought, as we crawled up to a 7,300 foot summit at 15 miles per hour, guzzling away, blasting 90's pop songs and singing along for a half-assed distraction that honestly wasn't really working. That boiling hot stress knot you get in your upper shoulder area was making a screaming appearance.

Time came to make a decision with 13 reading on the range and 26 miles to go. When Effie said, "May the odds be ever in your favor," in The Hunger Games she obviously never had to tow a 1200 pound trailer uphill twice as far as the gas tank would allow. My odds sucked.

I sit here now, writing this as my car thirstily gulps regular unleaded. My trailer sits on the side of the road 26 miles back on Highway 266.

We coasted down into Big Pine in neutral for the last seven miles, with the range at zero. It's 10pm, and I have to drive half an hour back the way I came from, collect my home away from home, and then carry on up to Bishop. And I feel like a f***ing idiot. It's experiences like this that make up our life stories, right..?

Let me slap an "AJ Tip" to the end of this: When you have the opportunity to get gas right before driving off into no man's land--GET IT."

02 March 2015

The Swoop Project

Wow. What a crazy process. No wonder Woods and Beal named the Grandpa Peabody Proj "The Process." That's exactly what it is.

I was initially dragged down there to try a classic V5 to the right called "Tiger Lily." When I say dragged, I mean almost literally; it takes a lot to convince me to climb something of moderate difficulty. And I hate classics...

Tiger Lily, V5

(Kidding.) Tiger Lily is awesome! So awesome I had to do it twice. We'd heard from Southern Nevada Guidebook author, Tom Moulin that the arete left of Tiger Lily hadn't been climbed, and while taking a peek at that impossible-looking thing, I noticed that there were very obvious, perfect holds, spaced perfectly apart, on the black and orange striped face left of the arete. It looked stunning immediately; an obvious line, albeit the landing would be horrifying. The entire boulder sits up on this pedestal, and the landing zone for the Swoop Project was right where the pedestal ended and droped off, while also featuring an giant obtusely-shaped boulder (sharp end up, of course) smack in the middle of the drop off.

The line was dubbed the Swoop Project for multiple reasons, the first being that the crux was a sort-of 'arm pogo' dynamic jump move off a left hand crimp to a slopey rail. I would drop my right arm, and violently swing it upwards trying to gain a little extra momentum on take-off.

Reason number two, was that every time I went out of town (which was a lot over the last few weeks) my friend Seth would text me and tell me he was going to go swoop my project if I didn't hurry up and come home.

Of course I have a list as long as a grocery receipt of potential names for new climbs, but I'm so particular, I want a name to fit perfectly with a boulder, especially if it's a decent line. (If you know me personally, you know I'm particular about much more than just this...) As soon as it became known as "The Swoop Project" it was basically over. After I did it, I tried thinking about calling it something else, even saying names out loud. Ultimately I just kept referring to it as The Swoop, and so did everyone else, so the name just stuck. Now I'm pretty fond of it.

As I mentioned above, t's a really interesting process doing a first ascent. I've said before, Critically Acclaimed was spoon fed to me, and I have the utmost appreciation for that. But this was different; it was so personal. I've been joking that I 'raised it from an egg,' but that's exactly how it feels! It was like I created art. Or something. I created something. It's all very hard to explain, and fills me with overwhelming pride, and biased feelings, haha.

I felt an immediate connection to this line. It grabbed me and inspired me right away, regardless of presumed difficulty. I was driven by it; every time I would leave town, I couldn't stop thinking about returning to Vegas, trudging back down into that canyon, and trying again.

I had no idea how hard this thing was going to be. All I thought when I saw it was, "wow, I bet that goes!" I wanted to do it even if it ended up being V5; in the most cliche'd meaning possible, it just looked cool. I'm still not sure how difficult it actually is. I've been trying to compare it to other similar climbs in the area, taking into consideration the amount it took me to climb them and The Swoop comparatively, and taking into account size and style.

Photo: Max Moore

This problem is going to feel significantly harder if: you're short, not dynamic, not strong on crimps, contact strength is a weakness, etc.
It will feel significantly easier if: you're taller, good at jumping, have strong fingers, and especially all of the above.
Would this warrant downgrading? Probably not. I'm trying to consider the general climbing population, and base the grade off the average, not the select with the aforementioned advantages, who probably don't even know what V10 feels like anymore. Besides, this is just a suggestion.

The thing about doing something first, is that even if it to turns out to be easy, you really have no idea at first if it's even possible. No one has done it before you. You're the pioneer, the person who makes it possible. That's a crazy feeling. I can't even imagine how Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin felt.

Every failed attempt I was thinking, "Man, does it go?? I have no idea!" As soon as someone has done it, you know it can be done, but until that point it's all a mystery. And to be the person who unlocks it, the person who says, "Yes, this IS possible." That's awesome.

Photo: David Beaver

11 November 2014

AJ Tip #2

Is it time for another AJ Tip? I have yet to come up with a cleverer name... Trendy Tips. Top Notch Tips. Terrific Tips! (I'm biased.) ...I'm open for suggestions. Please!

Anyway, I've had another random thought I'd like to share with the class. This one benefits not only the lives and ankles of everyone reading this, but also me if I happen to make your acquaintance out at the boulders.

I am that super anal control-freak that will walk up to a boulder, no matter who's on it or whose gear is underneath it, and start rearranging crash pads. Yup. And guess what--you'll have to deal with it. Because if I'm going to climb on something, I want there to be as little risk of injury as possible. Um... Shouldn't we all feel that way???

I can't count the times I've walked up to a climb in horror, totally shocked that anyone is even still standing by the looks of the pad placements. Foam just thrown down randomly, gaps, holes, uneven surfaces. Why, people?? Why risk cutting your road trip short because you rolled your ankle on the edge of a mat?

For the love of your ankles, here is my method to making a baller landing.

1. Be a perfectionist. Even if your buddies have to wait an extra 45 seconds before they can jump on their proj, they'll thank you later. Or they won't, but your conscience will be clear.

2. Close all the gaps. Connect all the edges. Creating a solid landing zone is like putting a really big puzzle together. Find the best way all that your pieces fit while covering the most ground.

3. Invest in a seam sealer. Slider, Bubbler, whatever they call it, get one. A thing flat piece of foam to lay over the cracks that eat and spit out broken ankles.

4. Have an even surface. If you have enough foam to build a two-layer landing, RAD. If not, try to keep the surface as flat and even as possible. This could mean keeping a folded pad underneath an opened pad if there's a ledge, drop off, or bulging rock in the way. Also if your base covers a large area, but you have a larger pad for a second layer, put it right in the prospected fall zone. Try to avoid having a double-layered edge at all costs.

5. Constantly Re-Evaluate. The job is never over. Each time someone falls, things shift and move around, especially if you're on a hill. Keep pushing the pads together to close the gaps, rearrange your seam sealers, hide the buckles because those hurt to land on, too.

There you have it. I just saved all your ankles, and hundreds of dollars in hospital bills, and months of rehab. Go and be safe!!

05 September 2014

AJ Tips! #1

I'm starting a thing! It's called "AJ Tips." But I'll probably change the name to something a little more creative, but for right now bear with the dumb name.

"AJ Tips/Other Cooler Name" will feature a random helpful climbing tip at random inconsistent times, whenever I think of a good one! Their purpose is to be helpful and insightful to new climbers, and experienced climbers trying to break out of a plateau. It'll be a smorgasbord of info. You'll just want to eat it up.

My first "AJ Tip" is one that I've been sitting on for months, saying over and over to people in person, and trying to think of a way to get this absolutely crucial info out there, and then holy crap! I remembered I have a blog.

So here it is:


You're never going to learn to 'trust your rubber' or pull with your toes if your shoes are so stiff you can't even feel what you're standing on.

Even if the dude at the RockShop is trying to sell you stiff shoes, PLEASE listen to me, seriously!! I have been doing this for almost twenty years... You do NOT need that support right now! You NEED to be able to feel your footholds!

Eventually if you graduate to hard slabs or long multi-pitch routes stiff shoes will come in handy, fo-sho.

But if you're a brand new boulderer or sport climber or a kiddo, soft shoes are key. I've literally given my softer shoes away to new climbers who were climbing in bricks and struggling with footwork. They saw a difference immediately.

Now that you're figuratively wealthy with all this knowledge, a good, affordable soft shoe to start in is the Evolv Addict, just 99 bucks. But this isn't an advertisement, seriously, just get into some soft shoes.

Photo from the Instagram of young Sara Griffith

13 August 2014

Why Psicocomp is the Best Competitive Climbing Event in North America

1. My Friends Are There! Did I say "friends"? I meant the most badass pro climbers in the game today, all in one place. Heck yes it's a good time!

 Epic Climber Girl Selfie!

Photo by Christine Bailey Speed

2. The Robes. We look like boxers walking up to the ring! Or in this case the wall. It unifies us and makes us feel like ballers. It's great to have something warm, dry, and easy to put on right after climbing out of the pool.

Emily Harrington watches while staying toasty warm. Photo by Susanica Tam.

3. The Hot Tub. Need I explain? Ok, fine. Climbing 5.13 is hard by itself. We get winded, then fall or jump into a cold pool, and have to swim in climbing shoes--which is NOT easy--to the side of the pool, and crawl out into the cool mountain air. Is there anything better than dipping into a hot tub to catch your breath? Nope.

Photo Scott Hallenberg

An Angie Payne original

4. The Venue. Outdoor arena, easy viewing, with stadium and hill-side seating. Thousands of spectators can pack into this place, and even the people way back on top of the hill can see the action. It's perfect.

Photos by Alton Richardson for Climbing Mag

Adrian Ballinger of Alpenglow Expeditions

 5. Format. Head-to-Head, bracket format. Just like middle school basketball. You lose you're out. While I got knocked out due to this format, it's comprehensible to the non-climber. It's fast-paced. As a competitive climber even I think watching climbing is boring. Two climbers racing head-to-head up a tall, powerful, dynamic route and falling into a pool? Now that's exciting! Great recap video from Park City TV here! --> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A_S2AqaJP1A&app=desktop

Scott Hallenberg Photo

6. Extreme Factor. Hello, see above. We fall 50 feet into a POOL.

Jake Bodkin Photo

7. Images.

Beau Kahler Photography from last year's event. Still the best Psicocomp image to date.

8. The Livestream. Couldn't make it to the event? Thanks to Louder Than Eleven you can watch it live online! Made it to the event but got thirsty and went out to the beer tent? No worries, there are TVs in the Sponsor Village showing the live footage.

Photo Aicacia Young

9. Meet the Pros/Poster Signings. Every kid's dream is to meet Chris Sharma. Every dude's dream is to meet Sasha DiGiulian. For an hour before the event you can get a poster from your favorite athletes and snap a pic with them before they get soggy.

10. The Wall is Open to the Public. That didn't look hard to you? Go try it yourself. $20 bucks.

Andrew Commander taking one for the citizens of Park City.

11. The Event Raised Over $10,000 for the Kuhmbu Climbing Center. Bet you didn't know that.

And there you have it, folks. Why I think the Psicocomp is the best climbing showcase event in North America.

27 July 2014

The Ever-Overly Discussed Topic of Grades

Since the dawn of time, grades in climbing have always been a hot topic, and that, I expect, will never change. In your personal assessment of ability, they’re a great way to scale where you’re at and where you want to be. It’s always exciting to reach or exceed a certain benchmark, and feel accomplished.

I cannot express how intensely I feel that, although they are completely necessary, grades in climbing should be more personal. I most certainly am not saying that they shouldn’t hold as much weight as they do, because obviously they’re important in the growth of not only the sport, but the climber themselves, and seeing progression in any one climber in our sport is motivating.

But we take grades too seriously. I’m just as guilty as the next person. My desire is that we look at them a little more subjectively.

In this situation, for example, I’m thinking specifically of a great line in Red Rocks called Lethal Design.

I climbed Lethal Design back in 2012, and was awarded the coveted "first female ascent." Being that it was a relatively new climb when I did it, although it had been established for a while it didn’t seem to get much traffic, perhaps a consensus on the grade hadn’t yet been established. Since then a handful of girls and women have done it, and there have been murmurs of “soft” and “downgrade.”  Seeing that it got a bunch of traffic this past fall and winter, and expecting it will see even more traffic this coming fall and winter, I’d like to point out my thoughts on this climb specifically, while hopefully simultaneously covering most climbs in general.

The grade of a climb, in my opinion, is what you think it should be, based on your previous climbing experiences and style, your specific strengths and weaknesses. (If you're a great crimper, you will excel on crimp lines. That doesn't mean that they are "easier.") Although there is frequently a standard grade that goes along with any given climb, someone’s opinion on that grade could vary drastically. I still whole-heartedly agree that climbs need a consensus grade, but to what strict extent? I don’t agree with the trend of one person suggesting a downgrade, and everyone else immediately following suit, even, and especially, those who had previously done the climb and taken the initial grade it was given. “Oh, yes, it must be soft now, given that so-and-so thinks so.” Could it not be that people are just getting stronger?? Climbing is growing and the more people who participate the more mutant Chris and Daniels we’re going to have. Twenty years ago nobody could fathom 5.15a, and now look we’re up to 5.15c!!! And V16? Fred Nicole would have laughed in your face if you’d proposed such a preposterous number. Open your eyes. Climbs aren’t getting easier. We are getting stronger! Remember when V12 was the new V10? Well V14 is the new V12. For guys AND girls it seems.

I only implore everyone to be honest with themselves on what they think in their heart the grade of a climb could be. Whether it’s “soft,” “standard,” or “hard.” Or downgraded or upgraded. I’m also curious as to when upgrading became so shameful? There have been quite a few climbs I would've liked to upgrade, only to have been "guilted," so-to-speak, into conforming to the downgrading craze, for fear of being publicly scrutinized. It's happened before, trust me. 

Anyway, back to Lethal. My long-standing stance on grades in general has been that I don't understand them. I've often said that if I had to wipe the numbers clean my "hardest" sends (Clear Blue Skies V12, A Maze of Death V12) would no longer be at the top. But again--this is about Lethal. Like I said, this climb couldn’t have been more my style, so naturally I did it a little faster than other ascents around difficulty. Now foreigners have done it, dudes have flashed it, and like clockwork, the murmur of The Downgrade commences. I believe that this instance purely comes down to style. Perhaps, since the holds are thin and the line is crimpy, it is indeed suited for female hands. That doesn’t mean that the movements aren’t difficult or make the line itself easier. Just style-dependent.

Take, for another example, Lethal’s sister line on the boulder, Book of Nightmares, just thirty-odd feet to the right, to date, the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Thuggy and powerful, but also finicky and technical, this climb to me couldn’t be more V12. Yet quite a few logged ascents online call it “soft” or V11. Get ready for the big reveal: These comments mean absolutely NOTHING to me. I no longer bow to the downgrading kings. Book of Nightmares is the hardest thing I’ve ever climbed and to me it’s the difficulty of V12. Lethal Design is the hardest thing someone else has ever climbed, and to them it’s V12. While on the same difficulty plane, they could not be more different. (This could all be solved by over-complicating the grading scale by adding styles into the mix; Crimpy V12, Compression V12, Roof V12, Dyno V12, etc., but who wants to deal with all of that?!)

Anyway, all I’m saying is that next time you feel like following the cool-kid crowd by jumping on the downgrading bandwagon, consider what you truly think the grade of that climb really is, based on your style and experiences, not just because everyone else is doing it. Also think about if it’s really that important to take it from a “V12a” to a "V11d." Because to someone, that line could be the hardest thing they’ve ever done, and they could have worked their ass off for it.

Lethal Design in Red Rock Canyon. Photo by Ben Spannuth.

29 June 2014

Just Another Post About Fear

I know this isn't an original topic. It's actually a very popular one, having been written about before, numerous times. Emily Harrington and Shauna Coxsey have both tackled it, as did Steph Davis. Now I'm giving it a shot. Bear with me in the beginning here, I'm just making a comparison.

Every time Fritz moves in her bed in the middle of the night I bolt upright, heart racing, reaching for the baseball bat, or the pepper spray, recent purchases of course, thinking that someone has broken in--again.

It's gripping and controlling. As soon as the sun goes down the inside of my apartment is lit up like a Christmas tree, but still I don't sleep through the night. They did it once, they could do it again, so easily. All it takes is a fire extinguisher through the window and they can walk through my house as they please.

I can't move out; I signed a lease. But what happens if they come again? Would I hide? Where, under my bed? Please. Fritz barks like a damn rabid raccoon at the most subtle of sounds, she'd give us away in a heartbeat. Nope, I've decided to stay and defend my home. It's events like this that make you realize your fight or flight tendencies. In this circumstance it looks like fight.

Why is it not the same for sport climbing??

I'm up on my second climb of the day, still in the "warming up" process, and I'm getting a little pumped. Do I take? Or make another move, proverbial fingers crossed the next hold is good enough and my foot doesn't slip. What if the next hold sucks? What if my foot slips? I could fall weird, get my leg stuck behind the rope, twist around and hit my back or my head, or slam into the rock and break both my ankles. Nope, not gonna risk it--TAKE.

I'm so hesitant, overthinking every move that seems just a little "sketchy," moving slow and overly-cautious, clenching my eyes and waiting for the worst. Any move where I need to be even a little dynamic, or can't have my feet directly under me, my confidence vanishes without warning, thoughts of falling in the worst way possible uncontrollably flashing through my head. I'm climbing sloppily, over gripping, my feet are slipping, until complete panic sets in. I can't control my breathing, I'm too pumped to clip, and I have it in my head that falling just isn't an option. Quickdraws become my favorite clipping jugs. Relieved that I'm "no longer in danger" but frustrated with myself for letting fear hold me back, yet again. I've climbed V10 highball boulders for Pete's sake, why am I taking on 5.12a??

Not only did I 'take' in the middle of this route, I couldn't even finish it. I left my draws, got lowered and didn't climb for the rest of the day.

I'm afraid of falling. Obviously.

I'm not worried I'll hit the ground, that's not it. I hit the ground bouldering pretty often, actually 100% of the time. So what is it?? What is paralyzing me and holding me back so drastically?

I posed this question on my Facebook page and received some insightful and entertaining replies. I know I shouldn't be surprised, but it felt great to know that I was definitely not alone. A lot of the feedback stated that the fear comes and goes, there are good days and bad days, and a few practice whips will put me right back in the game. I decided to post some of my favorites below.

Mike I think it has something to do with gravity

Landen once a rope is attached to me, I look like I have Parkinson's.

Andrea DiGiulian I'm afraid of Sasha falling all the time!!

Claire Yes falling is SCARY!!!! Take a small amount of Xanax you'll be fine

Sean Everytime i tie in it's like Ive forgotten how to climb.

Alton I have MAJOR issues with as well. And yet we can highball comfortably in Bishop? Whats our deal?!

Michael dive into something that requires you to think more about the moves than anything else. that's where fall consequences take a back seat. get psyched on something and it'll dissipate.

John Yes. The fear can swell up and make your legs Elvis, make you hold your breath. That weakens your strength, turns out not just your lungs need oxygen. The mental struggle is what all climbers have. Whether it's a climber on a 5/8 to a climber on a 5/15, to help control your fear. You can train your body and make it stronger than you have ever been. The fear can still grab you and turn you mushy. Calmness in the face of adversity, is a great asset. Self confidence is a asset. You need to have a swagger. Eventually you can will yourself past it. Trust the skill of your belayer. Trust the gear. Try not to think about the bolts in the rock. My Coach John Myrick would say, do you need a straw? Why. So you can suck it up.

Brent I once hated falling!Pumped as shit and chicken winging like crazy just to hang on and not fall. Machine gun "takes" (take take take take take!!!) one foot above my last clip. Lol
Now days, mostly laughter with a huge sigh of relief follows. Oh yea, and a smile! It's only bc we lose sight of the moment and start think about the future. Which you have no control over. We "expect" something. The best and least scary ones come when an unexpected foot blows or a hold breaks. Nothing you can "control" there. Silly boulder-ers. Climb to the top, slap the chains, and "WHIP IT, WHIP IT GOOD"!
Oh and trust your knot before you leave the ground! Derrr.

Mary I was terrified for a really long time, but that's because I would stop and overthink a certain move and wouldn't continue if I thought I would fall. It got to a point where I wouldn't lead a 5.7 when I consistently could toprope 11+. It definitely is a mental issue that you can't let control you.

Justin It happened to me so much when I started sport climbing. Something that helped me was to get on stuff that was harder than I could really climb. You know you're gunna fall and you just work on when and how. If it's falling at the crux it just helps cause I'll fall over and over again and gradually you are a little more confident in falling. You got this, the hard part for you will be finding routes outside your grade. ;)

Jennifer It's not the fear of falling it's the mistrust between you and your equipment. Or plummeting to your death. I just experienced an Alex Honnold moment, as I like to call it, last weekend. My boyfriend told me to sing to myself. So I did! I started singing Miley Cyrus We can Do What We Want To because it was a running joke with my friends while we were all on Alaskan adventure. I was able to calm my nerves and climb my first 5.9 and come 6ft from completing my first 5.10b. It was amazing!

Colin Alex - This same thing is happening to me. The weird thing is that I used to be able push myself until I fell. It scared me to fall of course but it wasn't a huge deal. Now suddenly, for what reason I don't know, I've dropped two grades off my norm this year and have bailed off several climbs I normally would try and push through because I'm terrified that I'm going to fall. Please share any insight you come across. And thank you for sharing your fears for the rest of us to see we're not the only ones.

Savannah Yes. We are afraid of the consequences from falling, at least that's what I am afraid of. I often fear that something will happen like my leg getting stuck behind the rope or I slam into the wall, etc. I don't think I fear falling... I just fear what could happen if it were to go wrong. Fear of the unknown is such a bitch... It affects all aspects of my life! I guess it's one of those things you have to learn to just let go of... Know that whatever happens happens for a reason.

As you can see, I got some pretty funny ones, and am grateful for the helpful ones. So many people validated my fears and offered advice. I was also gaining more insights into my own head by reading the explanations of others. Honestly, I've been so lucky to have never taken a really bad fall. My fear was purely mental, and my hesitant climbing was making everything worse. Second guessing my capabilities could cause an even more dangerous fall.

I figured I'd try again. I went back up to the crag. I was so determined not to be afraid. My plan was to practice falling and feign confidence; which is usually my advice to pretty much everyone who asks: act like a badass. Even if you don't feel like one, fake it. Eventually if you fake it long enough you'll start to believe it.

I warmed up on a climb in the 5.11 range, got about six clips up, made a few more moves, and pressed away from the wall. I fell about a whopping four feet. Pulled back on, went a few moves higher this time, and same thing--another mellow, soft little fall. I did this four or five times, each time I climbed a little higher and fell a little further. I was starting to feel pretty good about it.

Then I got on that same 12a that I 'took' on. I feigned my confidence the entire way up that thing, punching through the moves, not even thinking twice about what might happen if I pitched off, and I soon found myself clipping the chains.

Time to test this theory on something harder! I chose an exposed arete with an overhanging crux and a tenuous finish. I made my way up to the crux and went for it, with gusto, falling multiple times, and not little falls, either! Powering through, I found myself clipping the chains on this one as well, and even though I didn't send, I felt relieved and proud to have pushed through this mental block I've been having with sport climbing for the past few months. Today was the first day I felt like a rock climber in a long time.

I wasn't expecting my "results" to completely 180, and I'm still not. Of course I know there'll be good days and bad days, and some days I'll be terrified again. But to have just one day where I felt normal again has made this whole thing worth it.

Thanks to everyone who posted for making me feel human, sharing your stories, giving advice, and making me laugh.

Good luck!

11 June 2014

Vail 2014

Vail happened. Yes, I was there, I competed, and I tried to try hard. My heart wanted it, but my body didn't feel like cooperating. On Friday I ended up in 26th place, the worst I've placed, ever. And I don't know why.

To some people it may have looked like I didn't care. Those who know me, know I hide behind humor. Was I upset? Frustrated? Angry? Sad? Embarrassed? Of course, who wouldn't be? When you commit any part of your life and self to something and it doesn't work out, of course you'd be upset. Did I cry? You bet. Did I throw something? Yup. Did anyone see me do these things? No. That doesn't mean they didn't happen. On the public stage I kept it together (somewhat) smiling and chatting with the judges, but also throwing my hands up in frustration when I couldn't do something I know I'm physically capable of. Again--who wouldn't be frustrated?

But why? Why couldn't I do those climbs? The ones I did do, why did it takes so many tries? That's how competition climbing goes I guess. I don't know. I keep thinking of a hundred possible reasons: Was it the altitude? Did I drink enough water? Did I sleep enough? Eat enough? Was it the five hours in iso? Am I about to be on the rag? (Sorry dudes.) All possible reasons, I suppose, but why make excuses? It's over now. I did everything right during the six weeks leading up to Friday. I changed my diet, I went to LA and trained on plastic, campused, did 4x4s, ran, lifted weights. Obviously I took this event seriously and to think otherwise would be ignorant. 

I act like I don't care because it doesn't hurt as much.

That's as high as I got on that boulder...

I know I sound melodramatic, but it's hard not to think of the weekend as a complete bust. You spend all that money traveling for what, twenty-five minutes of climbing? Ahhh! Anyway.

Of course I loved seeing everyone, and had a great time hanging out with my friends. They're funny! My consolation prize was commentating finals, which I really enjoy, and some of the performances in finals were insane! Little Megan Mascarenas put up a great fight representing as the only American in finals, and that was exciting.

In the end, yeah I was bummed, duh. But it's just another climbing comp, right? And 26th is better than 27th... And hopefully some people still think I'm cool.