Friday, February 9, 2018

Social Climber

Back at the end of January I took a week of easy running after Frosty Trail, and got my two Saturday runs out of the way early in the day. I had heard a few months back that a new place had opened in Cambridge that I wanted to check out, and fortunately Tanker was right on board.

That board had holes in it, and chunks of plastic to pull on.

We trucked on over to Core Climbing Gym for about 7pm, knowing they were only open until 10pm and wanting to get our money's worth for our day pass (which is quite reasonably priced, considering their overhead). We went through the very simple orientation process, then set about trying to fight gravity.

Some of us had more success than others.

This particular gym offers bouldering only, which is deceptively simple. There are no ropes or harnesses: just a pair of climbing shoes (which they rent), some chalk (which is provided for free), and your own determination (bring LOTS) to stay on the wall. Thick crash mats line almost the entire floor, so you'll have a soft landing if the combination of those three proves less than effective.

Not having done any climbing since summer of 2016 and having all of the natural climbing talent of a chubby earthworm, I was delighted to discover that they had problems even I could manage, plus friendly staff who offer useful bits of advice and manage admirably to control their laughter at my ineptitude.

I did actually get off the ground, and even topped out a few routes.

Turns out we shouldn't have worried about the amount of time we'd have - within an hour and a half, both Tank and I were totally spent. Our forearms and hands were screaming, and what little grip strength I possess had left the building. I knew it was time to go when I couldn't even manage the little route they use to train you during your orientation anymore.

The next day, I was in AGONY. My hands didn't want to function properly, and it hurt like hell just to pull up my trousers. Fun fact: you use your shoulders WAY more when running than you think you do. It was Tuesday before doorknobs stopped being the bane of my existence. I had bruises on my right knee from bashing it off holds, and had scraped the skin off my right elbow somehow.

So, of course I leaped at the opportunity to go back with a few running friends a mere 9 days later.

Rachael, Catherine & Chris watching Debbie crush it.

Being a little more experienced and having done a bit of reading about tips and tricks for bouldering, I was emboldened to try some more challenging problems.

Like the ones that start on slabs - chunks of wall that lean back toward you so the fight against gravity starts early.

And also went back to some of the beginner-level problems to build my confidence.

Ok so it's basically a ladder BUT I CAN CLIMB IT, DAMNIT

Predictably, Tanker tried tackling some even weirder routes - ones that don't offer anything on which my hands could get a grip.

Spider Tank, spider Tank..

In some cases, I failed spectacularly at what I was trying to achieve. I fell a lot more frequently the second time than the first.

"..down I go again.."

But, I had some success as well. I was starting to make some progress with my footwork, climbed a route that had only rounded chunks without ledges for fingers (which, given the shape of the holds, I dubbed the Boobs Route), and I was finally able to make it to the top of a problem that started on a slab.

" a spider a spider monkey.."

..and got some deep satisfaction from the small amount of progress I'd made. 


While my grip strength waned and my forearms tired almost as quickly as the first time, I wasn't anywhere near as sore in the days afterward. After only 2 sessions, I can feel myself getting stronger!

I know that the last thing Tanker and I really need is another hobby, considering we have so little time to pursue those that we already have...however, I've long despaired of my lack of upper body strength (I've only ever been able to do a pull-up once, and that was years ago when I was doing factory work), and this is certainly something that will help to develop that. I had been feeling a bit one-dimensional this winter, what with running almost to the exclusion of other activities. Swimming is a bit tough because it means sacrificing sleep (and therefore precious recovery during a big running block), and it's hard to get excited about getting on the trainer to cycle in my livingroom while the conditions outside are too hazardous for my limited bike handling skills. Indoor climbing is something we can do regardless of the weather, and the gyms in the area allow drop-in climbing at any time so we can make it fit our schedule.

It's also made me realize how much I've missed climbing in the past few years. I used to do some top roping in my youth, but it's been a very long time since I was on belay.

For perspective: this is my old climbing harness. Anyone remember when Black Diamond last used that logo?

We had gone Treetop Trekking at Horseshoe Resort a few years back and done some via ferrata in Quebec, but it had been quite awhile since I strapped into a harness and just tried to pull myself up a rock. Tanker used to free climb in the Rockies in his youth, but has never climbed with ropes at all.

So, of course I got us booked for an introduction to top rope course at Grand River Rocks for next week. What better way to spend Valentine's Day than harnessed up and pulling on plastic?

I do so love this man - always up for my stupid ideas!

I am under no illusions that climbing will help my running - as a matter of fact, I'm more likely to end up with a bit of "useless" muscle mass to cart around. However, I do expect it to improve my overall quality of life through addressing the imbalance between my weak upper body and strong(er) legs, while also helping to develop some more core strength and maybe even make me a little less clumsy overall.

Besides - while incredibly difficult, climbing is a boatload of fun and gives me another challenge I can pursue while spending time with my sweetheart. What other justification could I possibly need? 

If any of this sounds remotely interesting, I totally endorse giving Core Climbing Gym a try. Take your kids, take your spouse, take a bunch of friends, and just go have a ball! It's not too expensive to be a family day out, and the staff there will get you climbing in no time. We all know we should be doing some strength work, so why not have some laughs while you're at it?

Believe me - if I can do this, you can too!

I don't think I'll ever be good enough to do any traditional climbing (where you place your own hardware on the rock), and possibly may not even be able to manage sport climbing (where you clip into existing bolts on a wall), but that's not the point. I'm happy to just try my best and learn along the way, even if I never progress past a very basic level. I don't need to be good at something in order to enjoy it - something that should be evident from the fact I keep running!

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