One of the best blog posts that I’ve read recently, comes from British climber Mina Wujastyk about her recent experiences on the world cup scene and how her levels of motivation in climbing were fluctuating hugely. It wasn’t the quality of the writing or the photos that got me psyched, it was the barefaced honesty of it. These days it’s actually pretty rare to read something from an athlete (particularly a climbing one) that lays down some of the truths about how hard it is when things are going wrong or when they’re suffering. Perhaps we all want to appear superheroes, or maybe it’s just plain hard to say we’re hurting?
I’ve just arrived back in the UK this week feeling pretty miserable. Last week I went out to try and complete the Gondo Crack project that I’ve spent a fair bit of time working on and I failed. I was climbing really well, my head felt amazing and I wasn’t making any mistakes but yet I still didn’t succeed. On the final day, in the final hour (yes I was going for an all out, just before catching the plane attempt!) I grasped the finishing hold with my fingers, but they uncurled and my body hurled downwards. Swinging around on the end of the rope, I knew I’d given everything and it was over. Everyone at the base of the route looked towards the ground and I could feel a sense of disappointment that the person they’d tried to push upwards with screams of encouragement had fallen short.
During the last visit to Italy (I stay in Italy, but travel over the border each day to try the project) I was privileged to meet so many people from the Ossola climbing community. These guys are incredibly passionate about their region and visiting various houses during the trip was constantly opening my eyes to this. There were always photos on the walls of alpine adventures, multi pitch new routes, topos and climbing pioneers up in frames. The history of climbing here is just as rich as ours back at home and the characters involved in the development are real legends. I think it has been the influence of this crowd here in Italy that has made me so determined to succeed on Gondo Crack. They’ve made me believe that putting in extra effort to something that seems unattainable is worth it and when I see each of their faces, I know they’ve already been through that experience. The ups, the downs and the shear hard work.
Being back in the UK again has been really tough, I won’t lie. On the first day back I allowed myself a day off from training (I desperately wanted to punish myself for not succeeding) and spent time relaxing with family and friends to give myself a break from the intensity. Whilst it felt good to chill out, I couldn’t get my head out of gear and I felt like my mind was still pedalling at a breakneck speed towards a certain belay I’d failed to clip.
The next day I felt like I need to start training early. I didn’t want to miss out on any more time and I needed to understand what my body was asking me to do next – did I feel on form to push to another level or was more time out needed? Within 10 minutes, I knew the answer. After just one lap of a hard crack circuit I felt like crying. I had nothing. Suddenly my mind had joined my body and I finally knew that I needed to accept that I’ve got to allow myself some time. Time to reward myself for actually giving 100% to the project and for not flying out from that country thinking I could have given more. I couldn’t. And I should be flipping psyched about that.
The problem is, that all of us who want to push ourselves in sport are generally quite hard on body and mind. We rarely savour the thrill of succeeding and often reward ourselves in a fairly transient way. Just think about the last project that you completed – did you have a big celebration afterwards, take 2 weeks holiday from climbing and write it down somewhere that you’ve achieved your goal? I suspect not. I would put money on most of us having a meal out / drink in the pub with mates and then getting stuck into training or climbing again within 2 or 3 days. The problem is, that this isn’t a realistic way forwards in the long term. Whether we succeed or fail on a project I think we need to recognise that the huge length of “build up period” that we put into these things deserves a longer “reward period” to balance out the mind and body. For that reason, I’m now on a beach holiday in South Wales and I’m pleased (I didn’t grit my teeth honest…) to say I am not training for a whole 6 days. Yes, that is SIX days.