As a theatre type I’ve been acquainted with the pause for a long time. The works of Harold Pinter are testament to the way a desperately intense 10 seconds of silence can make or break a performance. A hesitation between two “I love yous” can mean anything from an overwhelming sense of ecstasy to a sudden desire for the ground to swallow you up. The pause is definitely a powerful thing. But I’ve recently come to discover how a physical hiatus can be just as useful, constructive, and beneficial in every way – when it occurs at the right time.
I started this year with the best of intentions; to lead1 climb 7a again, and start to really live the lifestyle I’ve wanted, climbing hard, exploring and travelling, and learning more about myself. Unfortunately, part of that training saw me slip a disc back in February, and the subsequent months weren’t as ‘crush’-filled2 as I’d hoped. It was incredibly difficult to stay motivated, especially as it’d been a year since my last back injury. But I ticked on, and didn’t seem to get much worse, which at the time was the best I could hope for. However, the thing that always happens to me is my head gets in the way. As I began to climb harder and hone my technique whilst carefully easing my back, the amount of thought going into each climb saw me drifting away from my instincts and over thinking each move. Not great, when you haven’t been leading for a while and are suddenly frozen in fear on indoor routes. So it’s been a slow year of the plateau, without much to encourage any more dedication or training, and just hoping to remain uninjured once everything returned to its rightful place.
The summer was set to be a busy one – dissertation deadlines, final shows, weddings, birthdays, graduation, and my sister setting off on her travels. So I didn’t expect to get much climbing in either. I was still managing to get to the top of 7as whilst on a toprope3, and these routes weren’t feeling particularly difficult, but they weren’t feeling particularly easy either. A finger tendon scare made me even more over-cautious, and the newly taped digit didn’t exactly boost my psyche4 levels. Then July hit and life got exciting – five days after graduating I landed a full-time job. I hit the ground running, commuting 9-5 to London, working in an office, and learning the true meaning of “starting on the bottom rung”. Combine that with a family holiday, and trying to get my bearings in this new life, and a whole month went by without me barely touching plastic, let alone my beloved coastal crags. I didn’t even notice, and to shake any lethargy went to my old favourite of Davina workout DVDs in my living room after work.
After weeks of just getting on with the day-to-day, the question “shall we go climbing tonight?” was met with a resounding “yes!” as I realised that we did have the time, finally, and the desperate need for a change of scene. And my goodness am I glad we went back. It might have just been an indoor session, but getting halfway up a 7a+ on my second climb of the evening left me feeling proud, achy, but damn pleased to see my body finally clicking into place (sometimes literally!). Probably due to exhaustion my head wasn’t getting in the way, and with my boyfriend feeling tender with a knee injury it was my job to lead and set the ropes up. This forced me to make my way up straightforward 6as and remind myself of what I can do, and that my body had mysteriously become stronger than expected. That was just last week – this Monday we managed to go back, and again I felt better than before. My arms pulled, my legs harnessed the technique I’d been drumming into myself for over a year without even realising. Another 6a lead (in a corner – my least favourite style), a scary overhanging 6c route tackled without falls, and some burly moves nailed, and I’m feeling good again.
I don’t know when we’ll have time to hit the cliffs, and time is short with an encroaching English autumn. But I know that without that 4 week break, I would have remained stagnant and uninspired. It gave my finger time to heal and strengthen, and my head time to settle from the madness of the summer. I’m feeling calm, determined, but without the pressure I’d put on myself before. I know I’m currently climbing the best I ever have in my life so far in terms of technique and attitude – if that results in a 7a lead by the end of the year, then that’ll be incredible. If not, it’s still time well spent, and – fingers crossed – time moving towards a future lifestyle where I can use what I’m learning every day. The power of pause allows you the time to reconsider, recoup, and regain the confidence to tackle life full on.
1 Lead climbing consists of climbing a route with the rope attached to your harness hanging loose, being clipped in at intervals upon ascent. Falls from above clips can be big and scary.
2 Verb; ‘To crush’ – the term used by climbers to describe climbing a route of relative difficulty with great feats of strength and technique. Often accompanied by grunting noises.
3 Climbing with the rope in situ, allowing a greater deal of confidence knowing that any fall will be instantly caught.
4 Colloquialism used by climbers and extreme sportsmen and women to define a high level of motivation and desire to achieve. (as defined by Simon Chevis – credited at his request!)