When life turns you upside down and you can't go up
20 Aug 2016
Chronic stress passes through the body like a glacier moving silently almost unnoticed until one day you suddenly see it’s there, and the devastation of how much it carved out is really quite shocking. With me it stripped me of my health, my energy and for a period the curls in my hair. Life’s events have played out and for that reason I haven’t written anything on here about what I've been up to for well over a year.
The goings on in my life have no place in these ramblings. And I don’t need to even write about this, but I want to because this topic affects so many of my clients (and in fact everyone), and in turn their climbing. Clinging on to that slim thread of being a climber during life changing events or periods of stress is a delicate balance. Finding a place where climbing can be kind to you and can support you through is not always that easy.
I've been chipping away at my mile time here at Hathersage pool. I find the blue line on the bottom of the pool very meditative and oh does swimming get rid of stress - I feel sorry for the other swimmers when I'm there.
One day last September, my arms decided they were empty and I knew it was time to throw in the towel for a bit. I read confusion across people’s faces when I mentioned I was taking a break without a valid enough excuse. The eyes would narrow, the frown widen and then a pause. “What? But conditions are so good at Malham” one friend questioned. And, uncomfortable, I wouldn’t know how to respond. It felt easiest to just change the subject.
Then I almost lost my desire to climb. The very thing that makes me feel most alive! This has been an uneasy state for me, particularly as it’s never happened to me before and I struggled to understand it. The gentle, familiar cracks and edges of my local gritstone always previously hooked me back in from injury, previous lows and dips, pregnancy but not this time. I just couldn’t be bothered.
Katy at Cloggy - sometimes you've got to do something for your soul
Climbing, even in its simplest form, is really quite complicated. Legs, ropes, hands, height, equipment, other people, guidebooks can all combine to make the most friendly of situations too much for a brain that’s already quite full up. There were occasions where figuring out how to move my hands and feet in a certain order, to generate upwards movement, eluded me. And for me, these kinds of decisions are the very essence of climbing that I love. There were moments too when I didn’t even trust myself to lead; the separation of mind and body meant I was no longer really in control. What happened to the very thing I reached out to in the past?
Apart from a brief trip to Spain in March where I pulled myself together somewhat, I had no means to apply myself. I needed things to be laid out for me, but they weren’t so I stopped... again. And then only just recently something happened. Spring came and went and summer arrived. The air was warm and the mountains beckoned. I decided I would at least try to go to the crag. There I fell asleep deeply a few times. I realised that being surrounded by these big hunks of rock was the most relaxing place for me to be. In the fresh air, with friends, removed from mobile phone reception I could at least sit there and feel the sun on my face.
Lucy despairing at how long it took us to find this bit of Tremadog - yes we're out of practice - but on this occasion we're blaming it on the guidebook = useless
It felt awkward at first – I was nervous, placing gear took time and my brain hesitated often. And this process is still ongoing. But my friends have been patient with me. Actually many of them have something or other going on too and we just laugh at our general inability. For too long I’ve been in the habit of setting goals for myself that are too hard anyway. Now my goal is just to read a guidebook description, or look at a piece of rock and go with the feeling of whether it feels right or not. I still have a long way to go to get anywhere back to previous levels, but my motivation is slowly creeping back in. And that feels good.
Life’s volume is still turned up high, but I can now see a light at the end of the tunnel. At least, with some relief, I’ve found a way for climbing to help me through.
Often clients come to me at the beginning of a session apologising for the fact that they are stressed and that it’s likely they won’t be climbing their best. Each time I thank them for letting me know, assure them this really is no problem and I so wish they didn’t feel the need to apologise. And so, if you are feeling stressed, pay attention to it, be kind to yourself, it will have an effect on you and your climbing, but it won’t last forever.
Hoping to get this keen again some time!
Happy New Year 2016!
08 Jan 2016
Happy New Year!
I really hope that 2016 is treating you well so far. I am really excited that I have so many people keen to come together for the winter workshops, which are starting in less than a month! 14 people will be joining me and Andy Swann on the workshops, dedicating themselves for the next 3 months to pushing closer towards their climbing goals. Some people are coming back from pregnancy, from injury, or just a very busy phase of life. Others just want to see how to progress further. All have decided to commit to this and I'm so pleased they have placed their trust in me. Please get in touch if you want to join us - there are 2 places left.
I've had this idea for at least 1.5 years and I'm so happy that I am not the only one who thinks it's a good idea! I will report on the progress of the workshops here (and my facebook page). I'm also hoping for lots of interesting questions, comments and enthusiasm via the facebook group. The whole thing is a very new idea and concept and I can't wait to see how it all works out.
I've also put together my final training article all about how to bring together all the different elements from my recent training articles. Here is the article:
Putting it together is obviously the main stumbling block for most - you will not be alone if you are scratching your head. Get in touch if you have any questions.
16 Dec 2015
Ultimately the most important element to train (if it’s your weakness): Strength
If you can’t do the moves, you’ll never do the route or boulder problem. Training overall is not that simple, but it is the starting point. Sometimes your technique is the reason you can’t to the move, but it may also be your strength.
Read my latest article to find out the key methods to getting strong:
- Pull ups
- Locking off
I would love to hear how useful you are finding these articles. Some people have let me know that they’re planning next year’s training now with the use of the articles. Perhaps they can help you. My next article is about putting everything together. Hopefully by early 2016 you’ll have a plan!
Power endurance article
10 Dec 2015
Here's the biggie: power endurance.
Power endurance is one of the least understood areas of climbing and it's fundamental to our sport. I've written an article on it here.
Hopefully it's not too difficult to understand. It's easy to get bogged down with the science - it is quite a complicated area, made even more complicated by the difference language people use to describe it. I've included links to 2 really good videos by Wild Country featuring James Pearson talking through exactly what I've written in the articles (using slightly different language).
Please let me know what you think.
Final two articles are on strength and 'putting it all together'. All in the countdown to Christmas so that you can start planning your training for next year (if you haven't already) or to get you in the mood for my winter workshops!
03 Dec 2015
The previous articles I have written talked about planning what you actually want to climb and preparing your body to train. I am now moving onto some specifics. Personally, my training has become a lot more effective when I understand why I need to train certain things. Others may be happy to simply be given an exercise and complete it. However it's a well known fact that we all individually need to do different training - it is not a one size fits all approach. We all have different bodies, lives, amounts of time and climbing goals. So we have to learn to take control of our own climbing.
It's crucial to understand there are different energy systems. We all know the difference between a marathon and a sprint. Each uses different energy systems and we have to train each of them. So this is my next article.
Following on from that is base level endurance training. There is virtually no climber in the world that won't benefit from this in some way at some stage in their climbing life. I found it fascinating to watch the Legends Only competition at the weekend. You might think the bouldering specialists would be the winners, but it was the lead climber Janja Garnbret (from Slovenia) who won. Yes she has marvellous technique and she's only just finished the world cup season and her talent is quite remarkable, however... her endurance would have massively helped her. The commentator mentioned how much more time she was able to spend working the boulder problems than the other competitors and during the competition she could recover more easily between goes.
New training articles
20 Nov 2015
I've written a load of training articles and week by week leading up to Christmas I'll put them up on the site.
The first one is about 'what is training': training with a purpose and goal.
The second one is about a vital but often neglected or forgotten stage in training: body stability, core and flexibility. You can never get fully strong if your body is unstable (and you'll be more prone to injury). If your core isn't strong, you will never be as strong as you could be - there's a glaring weak link in the chain (and you'll over compensate with other muscles. And finally flexibility - it's obvious - you might be fit and strong, but if you can't get your leg into position... well, you know the outcome.
The remaining articles are about the different kind of energy systems, which help you train your endurance and power endurance and finally strength. The last one will help you put it all together. Keep posted!
I would love to hear what you think!
Winter Workshops 2016
13 Nov 2015
I’m really excited to tell you about some new workshops I will be running early 2016. These day long workshops, spread over 3 months will, on their own right, give you lots of tips and training exercises to help you progress your climbing. But I will, in addition, be offering a 3 month climbing plan. The idea is that the two things will work together. In my experience, completing a training plan of any kind is quite daunting and much more effective when you do it with a friend. It’s even more effective when you are checking in with someone (in this case me!) that you are doing things in the right way.
If you take part in the workshops you’ll also join an exclusive facebook group, which I will manage, giving you regular updates and useful links – it will also be an opportunity for everyone on the workshops to be able to communicate and chat through how things are going. This is a unique concept, mainly in the 3 elements going together and I’m sure that you will get some great results in your climbing.
As you can see, the dates move into the better weather months. I am keen that the workshops and plan will help you bridge that gap from indoors to out. If you are an outdoor climber (but it doesn’t matter if you aren’t) this transition will be made easier with specific tactics such as route reading and managing anxiety. However are still important for indoor climbers too.
Click here to find out more about the workshops and what they involve. Please get in touch if you have any questions!
The price is £240 (with a 10% discount if you book before 20th December)
I will also be sharing some training articles I have written over the next few weeks leading up to Christmas on the following topics:
- Building strength
- Body stability and core
- Power endurance
The first one that I’ve written is about ‘what is training’. Here I talk about the importance of setting goals – something we will tackle on the workshops. I will be sharing the articles on facebook but will post updates on this blog to let you know when they are ready.
Women's Climbing Symposium
04 Nov 2015
Me and Suz working together on our Foot Tricks workshop
This was the Symposium’s 5th year. I’ve worked at all of them apart from one and I really felt this was the best year yet. Because I work on the coaching workshops I don’t get to see the whole thing, but I do get to listen to the 3 main speakers and soak in the atmosphere. So my experience is slightly skewed, but I don’t think my feelings were no different to others’.
When I read the programme months before the event, noticing that Catherine Destivelle was the opening speaker, I knew this event would promise more than previous years. This year too, I was running a ‘foot tricks’ workshop with Suzan Dudink and I was looking forward to working with her. Before the event we chatted, emailed and designed an idea for what we would do. The night before the big day we worked on our workshop more, but still we felt we needed more time for planning the morning of the event. When Suzan and I arrived early on the day, on a mission to get organised, I had to make a double take seeing Catherine Destivelle right there next to where I had plonked my bags. The next thing I knew I was shaking her hand and tripping over my words saying ‘welcome to Sheffield’.
Her opening talk was really interesting and I was fascinated to hear her slightly adapted talk for a woman’s audience (I saw her at Kendal Film Festival a few years ago). She talked about the challenges of being a woman in a man’s world, pioneering climbing standards and knocking out ground breaking first ascents, at a time when I was reading Smash Hits, trying to pass my GCSEs and stumbling around on the Lacrosse pitch.
Our first couple of workshops went well, people were enjoying the climbing and Suz and I were winding down for lunch. Sometimes it’s all the more powerful hearing something amazing when you weren’t expecting it. I have to confess I knew nothing about mountain biking and was hopelessly unaware of the whirlwind that is Rachel Atherton. At age 27 she has won 26 downhill World Cup races and is currently the reigning World Champion. Her link with climbing is that she has used it as a way to strengthen up her body to recover following her many accidents, injuries and operations.
I felt so lucky to be in the presence of a World Champion being candid enough to be able to share her struggles and successes with us. This year alone she confessed to terrible attacks of the nerves, causing her to be physically sick before races and she sought help from a sports psychologist. It’s too easy to read articles and watch videos where climbers tell us how it pushed them to their limits and they had to dig deep, but it often feels distant and not in the slightest bit relatable to ourselves.
She shared one of most useful tools: the 3 Es. Evidence (good performances have happened before, so they can happen again), energy (direct your energy onto everything necessary for comp day and don’t waste it on anything superfluous) and emotion (put negative emotions away). A top tip from a world champion, it’s not often you get one of those!
Invigorated it was time to get back to work. It was only after about half an hour that I noticed that Rachel herself was in our foot tricks workshop and she's asking me for tips! It’s not often you see how someone so exceptional in one sport copes with being a relative beginner in another. She wasn’t super human, she was like one of us – we are all capable of learning new things. I didn’t see a hint of frustration or ego, she just wanted to learn as much as she could to apply to her own climbing. We can’t all be world champion, but we can all choose to approach our learning and climbing in a calm, thoughtful way, above all with fun and enjoyment being the number 1 priority.
Suz and I had one more workshop to do and then the day finished off with a funny and entertaining talk from Caroline Ciavaldini, who talked through her transition from comp to trad climber.
Suz and I really enjoyed our workshop we hope that everyone who came on it did too. This year I really felt that I experienced something really special. How can this year be beaten? It will be a tall order!
Spending the day with performance dietitian Rebecca Dent
30 Apr 2015
Some time ago I saw an advert on facebook for a competition. I quite often enter things to win a Rab jacket or £2000 to spend at John Lewis but it always ends up the same way. I was really surprised when I won! Rebecca Dent, performance dietician was looking to spend the day with three ‘elite’ adventure ‘athletes’. Since I am 40, potentially (but hopefully not) past my prime and have no time and don’t feel particularly elite or athletic I wasn’t quite sure I fitted the bill. But Rebecca immediately emailed back the next day. Rebecca is a widely respected performance dietician, who has worked with athletes up to Olympic level, I couldn't wait to hear what she had to say.
Rebecca and I at the Foundry, Sheffield
If you’ve read this blog over time you’ll know that I’ve had a lot of poor health in the last 3 years (many chest infections), too many antibiotics and explored many avenues from acupuncture to herbal medicine, allergy testing and getting a mercury filling removed. Each added something (but took a lot from my bank balance) but nothing resolved, and so, each time I’d come back to the conclusion that what you eat is going to have the biggest bearing on your health (apart from stress etc). But being ill is stressful, so you go round in circles.
I’ve spent hours on the internet and speaking to people researching diet. I’ve tried gluten free, sugar free, dairy free, yeast free and grain free. Only gluten free made a noticeable difference and the rest I wasn't able to stick to. Now I eat a massively reduced gluten diet and only gluten products that are not at all processed (i.e. will go stale in 2 days). For me eating is about enjoyment and not having cakes or chocolate simply cannot be a feature. One thing that definitely did work was high doses of vitamin C and D.
And so, I am well, and have been off antibiotics for 5.5 months. This is great – but I am looking for more than just not being ill. I get really tired (this is aside from work and being a parent) and my recovery from training has always been poor. My gut is also a mess from all the antibiotics and I needed to find a sensible non-faddy way to deal with this. There’s a torrent of info on the internet, which I’ve dabbled with but have been unsure about what I need to do.
Sports nutrition can be tailored right down to the types of training you are doing and when you are peaking. I’m not even at that stage; simply feeling healthy all the time means I can climb regularly and that is my aim. For me that is more important than anything.
Rebecca wanted to see me ‘in action’ as well as have a good discussion about the demands of my life, training and climbing. I really felt she just wanted to understand ‘me’, not just me as a generic climber. I came away with a whole load of stuff to work on that I hadn’t expected and she blew away the cobwebs on some long held beliefs of mine that were perhaps not ideal.
Revelation number 1
Climbers in general do not eat enough
I have always wondered why it is that I always need to eat so much, when many climbers around me eat seemingly very little, even skipping meals altogether. Over the years, at sport crags in particular, I hardly see people eating, and if I see them eating at the wall, it’s usually cake. Without realising it, I’ve been swept along with the dieting culture, without meaning to, leaving me constantly with a sense questioning what I am doing wrong (which is rather sad for someone whose body is in good shape). Actually Rebecca told me that I was doing an awful lot right. This was really good to hear. I took along my list of what I ate at Malham the other day:
- 2 spelt bread sandwiches with ham, cheese, homemade chutney
- Some rice with a can of fish, avocado, tomatoes
- 2 boiled eggs
- 2 corgette chocolate muffins (homemade)
- A banana
- Some dark chocolate
- 2 cadburys cream eggs (it was Easter)
And when I got home I had a roast dinner. You have to bear in mind it takes me 2 hours to drive to and from Malham, plus time spent at the crag: it's a long day. Somehow had it in my head that this was a lot of food (it did take up half of my rucksack) and somehow too much, purely based on the fact it was at least double that of what I was seeing anyone else eat. In fact Rebecca said it was exactly what I needed, in fact more wouldn’t have been a bad idea. But isn’t it crazy how skewed my head has become? There is in fact no way I can cut down on my food intake since I get starving at the drop of a hat but Rebecca said I did hold back at times, which accounts for why I get even hungrier than I should. But we have a very confusing sport where many of the top athletes simply do not look healthy. They are extremely thin.
We had a long discussion on the topic and she agreed that weight in climbing is vitally important, but NOT ALL YEAR ROUND. And this is the key point that is missing from articles like this http://www.rockandice.com/lates-news/training-beta-how-to-lose-weight-for-climbing. It doesn’t mention does it that you should only lose weight for very specific, planned periods of the year. Not to mention that sentences like "Just don’t put as much food in your food hole. And get used to being a little bit uncomfortable. As a very good friend once said, “Nothing tastes as good as sending feels.” are plain wrong - and can be quite harmful to some readers. There is no escaping that the strength to weight ratio in climbing is critical, but this needs to be managed. This is where people like Rebecca can help.
Revelation number 2
Every meal should include protein, fat and carbs
Perhaps this is obvious to you? But it wasn’t to me. A breakfast of cereal and toast simply doesn’t cut it. I have always wondered why I get so hungry by 10am, bearing in mind I have oats, seeds, fruit and milk for breakfast (pretty health I thought). I was lacking the protein. Instead it’s 2 eggs/banana pancake with maple syrup and then a bowl of oats/seeds with yogurt. Now I can last till 11am! But it’s a whole load better. And the same goes for every meal now.
Revelation number 3
The importance of healthy fats
Check this out: fat makes testosterone and testosterone makes muscle. Also recovery is poor if you don’t have enough fat. Rebecca measured my skin folds and she found a disturbingly low level of fat (despite a healthy and normal body mass index BMI). Here (I think this is where it happened), not meaning to, by replacing dairy with soya and almond milk (which hardly has any almonds in it) my daily intake of fats was not nearly enough. I’m on whole fat milk now and an omega oils supplement. Of course it’s healthy fats like fish, avocado, olives etc that I’m after.
And so, healthy eating really is, as they always say, a good balanced diet. She did give me a few useful tips:
- Before climbing go for a carb+protein snack such as banana/yoghurt, homemade cereal bar inc oats an whey protein for example.
- During training/climbing eat the same as above. An egg or meat sandwich would do the trick. Drip feed the food in small chunks throughout the day. For my size I should have approximately the volume of one cereal bar per hour.
- Immediately after climbing the simplest recovery fuel is a pint of milk and a banana.
I was excited when Rebecca sent me my nutrition plan detailing my nutrition aims, figures relating to how much protein, carbs and fats I should be eating (for my bodyweight) what to eat before, during and after climbing and lots of recipe ideas (particularly breakfast, which is so important).
25 Mar 2015
It’s been a while since I last blogged – that’s not to say that I’ve nothing to say – it’s probably a case of too much and where to begin. The obvious starting point is our recent trip to Spain – Chulilla to be precise.
There was a lot riding on this trip. It was the very first one, just Nic and I, without Vanessa. We wanted good weather, to climb, to rest, to relax, to be together. It delivered on everything and there was more than we realised. The slice of no responsibility for a week tasted very good. My parents had the other half of the cake. We left them with World Book Day on the horizon and a fancy dress costume to organise. Vanessa confidently chose Dick Whittington.
In between knocking out a few routes in the sun we also enjoyed regular skype updates on the outfit developments. Seeing the costume progress was just as good as monitoring the improving forearm capacity. The role of parent and climber sits on my shoulders in equal measure. An interesting, rewarding but challenging balance.
The final outfit! Thanks Grandma and Poppa!
If you haven’t visited Chulilla you must. The routes are long; an 80m rope would be handy and most crags start around 6b. Despite the length, the climbs are never boring and the rock quality remained consistent throughout: excellent. The village is bustling with small shops, a few bars and a school. This may not be on your radar but we clocked the 2 playgrounds for future visits.
Two people in need of sun!
For me this was virtually the first outdoor climbing in around 5 months bar 2 hours at the Cromlech boulders at the beginning of February. That was a decision I chose since, all going well, this would be my first winter in 3 years of consistent and continuous training. My vitamin C and D intake has kept everything at bay and I have tried to be organised, diligent and stick to the plan. Things have gone as well as I could hope for. However two things can never quite accounted for in a winter training period: confidence and rock-ability. When I write training plans for others I always pencil it in: towards the end of the plan I mark in ‘fall practie’, ‘getting used to the rock again’ etc. How hard it is to do it for yourself!
It was a big team. Pictured: me, Nic, Lucy and Ben. There was also Bob, Mia, Charlie, Gilly, Rich. Thanks guys, what a trip!
Whilst I know this and I know myself, it’s hard to suck it up when you find yourself jibbering above a bolt faced with a plummet. Things became clear the week before as I froze, level with a belay at Awesome Walls, since I didn’t have the bolt by knees clipped yet. I grabbed a neighbouring jug. I also squealed when I took a practice fall. I squealed twice more in Chulilla on 2 other falls.
Through 15+ years of foreign sunny Spring trips my pattern of behaviour is this. Day 1: over-excitement leads to a seeming abundance of confidence. Day 2: reality unveils. My knees were literally wobbling so much above a particular bolt I fell off since my legs could no longer support my upper body. Day 3 onwards: realisation kicks in that the problem isn’t going away and that the pattern is repeating itself and I need to do something about it.
Beautiful Chulilla, climbable crags are all on the left in black
This meant that on Day 1 I onsighted a 7b+ and on another route I took a big whipper as my foot slipped clipping a bolt with the rope fully paid out. Day 2 my knees wobbled and I had to have serious words with myself to complete the redpoint. The realisation that Little Miss Unconfident had arrived without an invite was offset by a blatant improvement in my fitness.
We can improve our confidence through training, particularly working on a weakness. If you are weak, it’s no wonder you won’t feel confident if your arms may realistically give way at any moment. It’s the same with fitness, which in my case had improved. But it cannot be solved by only working on the physical. Confidence can be trained like everything else, but just like everything else it requires patience as there is no small fix. Since I coach, my errors stare me in the face: above bolts I over grip, I become blinkered and can’t see all the handholds and footholds, my heart beats faster and my ability to make decisions melts away.
Looking towards Oasis sector
Towards the end of the week I was faced with a decision: do I continue trying to improve my onsight head or attempt a hard redpoint? I chose the latter since that is exactly what I want to do this year. So on day 3 I picked a route, which had been recommended to me by 3 people: El Diabolo visite de prana 7c+. I battled to get on it at all since I felt there was only a slim chance I could do it in the timescales. Yet I needed to fall off, I needed to experience hard moves but what I wanted was an all out burn on something.
I didn’t get the route, I was extremely close, falling around the 28m mark –I had made a few too many assumptions about the ‘easy’ top, which isn’t so easy. But I did get the burn – and that stood me in good stead for what was coming next.
Malham and GBH – 8a+. I’m diving in this year – normally I spend a couple of months going through the grades, but I have sense that time is ticking and there is none to be wasted. After 2 visits I’m still jibbering above bolts and resort readily to top ropes but my rock sense and movement is much better. At least I’m more aware I need to address it. How many years having I been climbing?
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