Thursday, February 26, 2015

Walking the line

It's no secret that there's a fine line between training and over-training, but if there's a way to stay away from that line I haven't found it yet.

Between the incessant snow and a tweaked lower back last time I was at Bushwhack, I've climbed outside exactly once this year.  When I found out Emily was going away for eight weeks, I was sure that climbing every chance I got would be the best way to maintain my mental wellbeing.  What I wasn't counting on was for the pain in my middle finger, probably the product of too many system board sessions, to keep me from climbing for the first two weeks.

In the meantime I found other ways to amuse myself... running, swimming, doing core and pulling workouts on my rock rings, sure that I'd come back to climbing even stronger than I'd left.  A couple days ago I actually made it into the gym for a pain-free traversing session, and while I didn't want to risk anything remotely dynamic, my ability to move through positions statically felt more controlled than ever.

Yesterday I woke up at 4:30 after a bad dream, gave up on getting back to sleep around 5:15, and by 6:15 decided I might as well get in a run on my treadmill before work.  Not surprisingly, when I got out of work later I was too tired for the swim I had planned, and with temperatures back in the high 30s for a change I decided on a walk around the lake instead.

Halfway in, I felt a familiar spasm in the middle of my left foot, the same feeling that I had ignored this past summer before the tendon pulled and left me unable to climb for a month.  Okay, so maybe I should stay away from the treadmill for a few days, which is especially frustrating since work is closed because of the snow.  Again.

One thing I've learned more and more is that I have to make rules for myself, especially when nobody else is around to be the voice of reason.  Some rules, such as "point the treadmill away from the glass cabinets when running fast," I've had the foresight to create before they became necessary.  Others, like "don't leave the box of wine on the coffee table to make refilling easier," have been the product of next-day reflection.

Not that I have it all figured out yet, but I've also developed a set of rules for myself specific to climbing/training, which are gradually helping me to progress more effectively and stop repeating the same cycles of injury.  Here's the ever-growing list:

1)  Change it up.  Most of my injuries seem to come not from any single moment, but from repetitive stress, and they usually manifest as a slight nagging pain that I choose to ignore until it's too late.  For climbing this means trying to have a balance of bouldering, ropes, and traversing.  For cardio, it means a variety of activities and intensities, like my current rule of limiting myself to one long run, one fast run, and one interval session per week.

2)  If I bring water, drink it all.  Climbing in Maryland can be a sweaty experience.  During the prime bouldering temperatures of winter, our dry clothes can make it easy for us to forget that we're getting dehydrated until we find our energy sapped and our bodies more likely to get injured.  I always make it a point now to drink everything I bring, especially during the winter when a thermos of warm water has the added benefit of keeping my core temperature up.

3)  If it's outside it's not going anywhere.  I'm sure we've all had those climbs that we can't stay away from.  I've certainly gotten focused on a boulder to the point that I worry about losing other skills as I concentrate only on a certain set of moves, and have at times gotten so focused on finishing it that I don't listen to my body hurting (again, repetitive stress) until it's too late.  It's hard to step outside of the moment, but by reminding myself that the boulder is going to be around much longer than me, I can usually come back when I'm stronger and finish it with far less frustration.  On a related note...

4)  If it's inside, it's not worth it.  I'm not saying that indoor climbing in itself isn't worth doing.  In fact, I love having such a good gym ten minutes away, and I'd put our setters up against any out there.  What I'm saying is that there's nothing they can set that will make me risk hurting myself to the point that I can't get outside and climb.

5)  Open hand.  I'm sure I'm in the majority when I say that as soon as I learned about using a closed grip on crimps, I did it all the time, and within a couple months had the finger pain to show for it.  One of the best things I've ever done for myself was to focus on climbing openhanded unless I absolutely had to do otherwise.  Not that finger injuries are nonexistent for me now, but they're definitely a rarity that tend to be caused from twisting (finger cracks) or hyperextension.  As an added bonus, keeping my hands open gives me an extra three inches of reach, and lets me find thumb catches to make almost any hold multi-directional.

6)  Find my own way up.  I love the motivation that comes from climbing with so many strong people, but it can sometimes be a disadvantage too.  Faced with a difficult move, I often make the mistake of watching how the strongest in the group does it, ignoring differences in body type and climbing style.  By looking for positions that are most suitable for me, I've found that many climbs feel way easier than their grade, even in areas that are supposedly sandbagged.

7)  Don't touch it unless I'm going to finish it.  Expectation of failure is something I constantly struggle with, and I've lost track of how many times I've stuck a crux move only to find my hand reflexively letting go, or my feet already lowering in anticipation of falling.  By the time I talk myself into holding on at all costs, I no longer have the energy to do so.  When climbing close to my limit, I need to make every attempt count and go into it fully expecting to reach the top.  I think of the time last year when Charlie Garcia finished the hardest boulder problem I've ever put up on his second attempt, and when I asked him about making such quick work of it, he said "I knew I could make the move, so I did."  Sometimes the simplest approach is the best.

8)  Don't save it for later if I can finish it now.  Sometimes that expectation of failure makes me go out intending to work on a problem rather than actually finishing it, and giving up when it's within reach.  Not too big a deal in the local gym, but frustrating when the boulder has a twenty minute approach, or is in a place I may never make it back to again.  Why put myself through the trouble of finding a time go back out later and finish something that I could just knock out now?

9)  Stop before the "last try."  Even with a positive approach, some days it's just not meant to happen.  It's one thing to have a controlled pace, for example knowing that I have ten minutes left at a boulder and can probably get in two more good attempts with sufficient rest in between.  It's another thing to throw myself at something until I'm exhausted, and then insist on one final sloppy attempt that ends up leaving me injured.  Again, it's not going anywhere.

10) Training OR happy hour.  Thursday, one of my regular climbing days, also happens to be Pint Night at one of my favorite bars.  The timing is perfect too, since I get out of work early enough to beat the crowd and have a few 5 oz samples, and then get to the gym before it gets crowded.  I'm pretty sure my hardest lead climb ever was on one of those days, when I'd had just enough to shut down the voices that usually scared me away.  So what's the downside?  Well, if I just want to get in and climb things, that's still easy enough.  Doing it with the level of precision that I expect from myself is a little harder, and training bad habits is probably worse than not training at all.  Besides, holding a cold glass is probably a lot more beneficial to sore fingers than to fresh ones.

Of course, all of this time not climbing has meant more time on the internet watching and reading about it.  I've been especially excited to see the new climbing/training site from Maryland ex-pat Will Anglin, and have been finding a bunch of useful stuff compiled on TrainingBeta.  Speaking of training, it looks like the snow has stopped out there, and I've been sitting about as long as I can handle for one morning.  Time to move!

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