Monday, 28 January 2013

Stepping it up a bit now

Climbing 'Malsonando', Gandia.

During the week in Spain I have been doing some 7b and 7cs onsight just to get into the flow of climbing again, but I was also keen to see just how far away from recovering my form on harder routes. So I tried an 8c called Malsonando at Gandia.

I had no idea how I’d get on. Before coming out, since starting climbing again I’ve had 6 weeks or so of some indoor climbing and started from a very low base of fitness and very gentle climbing on easy ground at first. I did manage to climb the 8a endurance circuits in TCA Glasgow and in the past I’ve found that if I can do 8a indoors I can usually do 8c or even 8c+ outdoors. Folk sometimes find that weird and don’t understand it. Partly it’s because my hands sweat quite a lot and so climbing outside in cold conditions allows me to climb a lot harder. However, the main reason is I’m not that strong and so struggle more indoors where I can rely on technique more outdoors.

Anyway, the rule held true and yesterday I was able to climb Malsonando in pretty bad conditions which I was very happy with. My endurance is still barely off the baseline level and I got quite pumped well before the crux, but it’s definitely a good place to be 2.5 months after the surgeon was drilling into my Talus.

Today was good too, an 8b first redpoint, another 8a and a 7c+ onsight.

On the way home from the crag, I began to think that I could start to set some firmer climbing ambitions for the coming year now. 

Sunday, 27 January 2013

First run

I just arrived in Spain for a little sport climbing to learn to move on rock again. The first day was pretty brutal. I really understood how much confidence I need to get back. I wasn’t scared of falling off, just of moving dynamically as I still get some bad pain if I move in a particular way. I did the moves on a hard route (badly) and then onsighted a 7c (badly). However, getting from bad to, well, somewhere better is what I am here for. So I shall get on with it.

The fatigue in may arms felt really strange, I can’t really explain it but, lets just say I really need the next few days to try and get into some sort of flow.

The highlight of the day though was going for a run. I ran just over 5 miles. Although the damaged part of my ankle joint did give me some twinges unless I start to heel raise before my foot goes too far into dorsiflexion, it felt pretty good and a good bit better than the last time I attempted a run about two weeks ago. However, the real test was not the first, but the second run. 

A couple of days later I went 8 miles. Sods law, the first 5 felt ok and then it started to hurt a fair bit. Not so good. I experimented a bit with trying to alter my stride it seemed to be no use. It just hurt and I felt pretty depressed when I finished. Again though, I readied myself for the ankle to be even more annoyed after having a nights sleep to think about it. But it actually felt fine. Dare I say it, even better.

I had an idea that a heel lift orthotic in my shoes might make a difference. The repaired part of the joint is at the very front of my ankle and is only about 3mm. In normal walking gait it's outside of the articular surface and therefore no problem now. It's only the last few degrees of Dorsiflexion during running that seems to cause the problem. So I made a hasty orthotic to try and went out for another 8 miles.

Much better. I still had to concentrate on my stride form like hell the whole way. The slightest drop in concentration or letting my stride get lazy and I could feel a few nociceptors firing. However, at the end of the run I felt like I could have kept going and the ankle was only mildly more tender and that settled within 30 minutes. Very early days, it could be totally different running on uneven surfaces, but it's a huge leap from where I was a few weeks ago.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013


Although I’ve spent my whole adult life involved in sport, I still have big reservations about large parts of it. I’ve read a lot of work on the history and philosophy of sport, and to be perfectly honest, a good chunk of it makes for depressing reading. I wish more of it could be more like the way it’s supposed to be.

The fact that climbing on mountains and cliffs is hard to pin down, hard to reduce to numbers and results and competition was quite an important aspect of what drew me into it. It’s hard to say ‘I had a better adventure than you’. Even as a climbing coach, I’ve sometimes been uneasy seeing young climbers come up against some of these negatives. Sometimes I wonder if I should say ‘skip the comp this time’. Go and explore somewhere new with some friends and come back for the next comp. As well as providing the essential ability to see outside the bubble of the scene, the perspective might well make a better competitor in the long run.

Kev pointed to this picture on Facebook, of a Basque athlete helping a Kenyan who’d stopped running a few metres short of the finish line in a cross country event, thinking he’d already passed it. The Basque runner could have run right past and won the race. But he stopped to direct the Kenyan over the line, staying behind and keeping the place he would have got if the Kenyan hadn’t made a simple human error. The surprising thing for me was that the attention this story got was as a ‘rare’ piece of sportsmanship. Why shouldn’t it be the norm?

After getting my ankle surgery in November, I decided to enter a running race for the first time, and see how it went. I thought it would be good as a goal to help get me back on my feet and moving fast in the mountains again. I entered the West Highland Way Race for next June. Although I have done quite a lot of hill running at different times over the past year or two, like anyone getting involved in a new scene I was a bit nervous about how welcoming it would be to someone who is known as ‘a climber’. Yesterday a friend told me about this thread started about my entry, which was a bit of a downer. When I experienced this sort of thing as a teenager doing sport at school, I hated it, avoided it and eventually found it’s antidote in going climbing. This time round I don’t need to react like that. But if I am able to recover from my injury enough to do it, it will be weird to stand on the start line knowing I’m standing with others who feel I don’t deserve to be there. My slowly healing ankle joint is the only thing that would stop me earning a place. As I said on the thread, if anyone feels I really don’t deserve the chance as much as them, drop me a line and I’ll offer to withdraw and donate my place.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

First winter climb…

This is great, it really does feel like I’m doing things for the first time all over again, and not just because I’ve lost so much ability to my surgery layoff. During the week, I decided to see if my ankle would be ready to handle a day of winter climbing. It’s quite a big step up from what I’ve done on it up to now (mostly very overhanging circuits indoors). I was rightly worried. I managed it, but only just.

I went out with Kev to Aonach Mor. Kev had been wanting to do Stirling Bridge (VI,7) for years and so we headed for that on a nice morning which was a fine reminder what I’d been missing due to the injury. Kev jumped on it and got to the difficult part but eventually came down so I went up it. The climbing felt quite straightforward. The main problem was cold hands which gave me the most nauseating hot aches I’ve had in a long time. Or perhaps I am softened by my indoor time. All too soon the fun was over and it was time to hobble off down the hill. Just as we were reaching the Gondola I could feel my ankle hurting more and more and was thinking ‘thank goodness the walking is nearly over’. 5 minutes before we got to it, the Gondola was closed early due to the strengthening wind.

The walk back down the line of the Gondola was horrible. A real teeth gritter. I felt bad for putting my ankle through such trauma and braced myself for the next day being even worse. However, to my surprise, by lunchtime the next day it felt quite good and was able to complete another 8a circuit in TCA with no problems.

So there are more ups than downs right now. Net progress.

Climbers against cancer

Climbers Against Cancer is a new organisation started by John Ellison. It’s a good story, and seems to have a lot of momentum in climbing. Check it out here. And when they are ready, do buy a T-shirt.

Thanks Shauna for the heads up.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

First time wielding tools again

Manu on the local training route in the Ecrin, France

Last week I was in France, to speak at the Ecrin Ice Festival. On one of the days, I had the opportunity to go and climb with some good climbers. Although I was still uncertain about going winter climbing, it would have been crazy to turn it down. So I turned up and heard from my climbing partners that the plan was to do a very overhanging 6 pitch M9 dry tooling route. This was kind of perfect. The bit I was most worried about was walking in for 30 minutes on snow. But that went fine and my arms proceeded to have a fine wake up call to climbing with tools again. The next morning we did a short ice route with a very rapid retreat due to everything melting around us and making scary cracking noises. I was amazed that my foot was not sore the next day as I expected, and nice to add another first on my list of climbing comeback milestones (or perhaps metrestones).

Obviously I felt quite rusty on the tools. It was quite heartening to see that I could still pull hard, but I’d forgotten so much of the subtlety of the movement in tooling, if I ever knew about it in the first place. I climbed the first pitch in ‘pull up contest’ style with not much weight on my feet. But watching Luca in action reminded me of a lot and by the final pitch I had improved a little.

Luca relaxing on another M9 pitch!

Since then I have stepped up the volume of training a little more, with a 5 days on, one off schedule. This was perhaps a little premature as I can feel my ankle a bit after that. However, it hurts in the context of everything else hurting from the work, so it’s not too bad. I’m still feeling fitter with every session and back up to doing 8a routes indoors. That is pretty much as hard as I’ve climbed indoors ever anyway. Quite soon I may well get the chance to try some hard sport routes outdoors too.

Since it’s rest day time now, I’m back to full on writing of my book..

Monday, 7 January 2013

Outdoor climbing begins!

I spent the final couple of hours of 2012 fixing my boiler and packing to go outdoor rock climbing for the first time since my accident. I was so excited about this I failed to sleep all night and had a bleary eyed drive across the highlands on empty roads first thing on new year’s day. I spent a bit of time working on an 8c sport project I’d wanted to try since before the accident and made some nice progress for my first session on it. I linked all the bits that were dry on my first go and got all the moves done despite some wet holds. 

On another session it was too wet to even bother getting on it so I did a couple of 7c+s that were really quite wet. I wasn’t scared of falling off at all, but with wet hands I was more anxious about my hands or feet slipping suddenly and loading the ankle. I absolutely loved doing the whole routine of being able to try hard on a rock climb, being outside feeling the cold air and dealing with ropes and and real rock again. It definitely put a spring in my step.

On the other hand, I’ve still got the weird feeling of making rapid progress versus feeling very weak in certain muscles and positions at the same time. As I (hopefully) progress with this return to climbing harder on my second apprenticeship, I’ll try and share with you the lessons I’m re-learning, or indeed learning for the first time. Here is the first:

Apprenticeship 2.0, lesson 1.0

Trying hard underlies all improvement. And underlying trying hard is loving what you do. On my first day out, I was really struck by how much I missed outdoor climbing, and just how much I loved doing it even though it was about 2 degrees with a freezing wind and seeping wet routes. All I could think about was how lucky I was to be back at it. 

On the second day, I was totally whacked. I fell on my ass coming down the stairs from bed in the morning. Driving to the crag I just wanted to stop and sleep. The feeling hung around all day when I was belaying or resting between climbs. It would have been so easy to sack it off, not least because the routes were soaking. Having been deprived of climbing for so long, I was able to easily push this straight out of my mind and the feeling in my body disappeared the minute I had my rockshoes on and started to battle up the routes. I was really aware that volume (of moves climbed) is going to be critical as a foundation of my apprenticeship. Thus, a wet day was a fine opportunity to climb lots of volume at an easier intensity instead of battling on the same moves on the 8c. By the end of the day I could definitely feel my movement was getting better, and I’d had a much needed workout.

Sometimes loving what you do just comes completely naturally. Sometimes you definitely need to think carefully about it to override temporary fatigue that tries to convince you you’d rather just head home for a cup of tea.

New film downloads in the shop

I have just added HD downloads of the Hot Aches Productions films to the shop. So now you have a cheaper and more instantaneous way to watch the classic climbing films: The Long Hope, The Pinnacle, Committed 1, Committed 2, Wideboyz, Odyssey and Monkey See Monkey Do. You’ll find them all here.

The DVD options are still there too of course...