Climbing Goals are Moving Targets
Goals Should be Moving Targets… Right?
By Terri Barry, Stonewear Designs Ambassador
I have always been very goal oriented. Soon after I started climbing I formulated two climbing goals. The first was to climb 5.12 in the gym. Consistently top roping 5.12a would do. The second was to be at least moderately competent as an outdoor leader, both sport and trad. I have flailed up two 5.12a top rope climbs at the gym but that was over two years ago. I have dabbled in leading outdoors but I am nowhere near “competent.” I will say, however, I can follow 5.10 trad outdoors. I am an excellent and resourceful follower.
These may not seem like lofty goals for a climber but I’m soon to be 56. I started climbing just before my 51st birthday. It is true that when I started climbing I was fit (a marathon runner) and strong (a sculler/rower), but climbing has its own skill requirements. Anyone who climbs at more than a casual level knows that, even after climbing skills are set in muscle memory, training to climb at the 5.12 level is demanding. Heck, climbing reliably at 5.11 is demanding.
I earned my gym lead card in just under a year and achieved consistency at 5.11 relatively quickly. But then my progress stalled. I spent a year unhappy with my lack of progress. Sometimes climbing in the gym wasn’t actually fun. A variety of factors were responsible for my skill plateau, including some weight gain over the holidays, having the flu, and family/job demands. I also increased my outdoor climbing time, mostly trad climbing. I did some leading. To my surprise, outdoor climbing not only did not help my gym climbing, it actually had the opposite result. The gym climbing moves and crimpy gym holds are the antitheses of outdoor trad climbing. So, I’d get back from outdoor trips and climb worse in the gym than when I had left. My hand strength would decline after a surprisingly short absence from the gym. At the same time, my lead head was not developing – at all. It was frustrating. My climbing partners commented that my goals were totally within my abilities. I just wasn’t delivering to myself.
My perspective on these climbing goals and my attitude about them changed radically on May 18, 2012. That evening my husband, Sean, suffered a major heart attack. He was technically dead–CPR and multiple AED shock kind of heart attack. The ER staff saved his life – my heroes. And my husband is a remarkable person who not only survived but has taken both the traumatic ER event and follow-up treatment in stride. He has completely changed his diet, lost 40+ pounds, and adjusted to taking a myriad of medications when he took absolutely none before his heart attack. However, initially what was in store for the two of us, and our family, was unclear. It was probably six months before we were back to some semblance of our pre-heart attack life. The summer of 2012 was a blur of adjustment. I didn’t do anything except go to work and come home for several months. I occasionally fit in some running. It was obviously most important to be home. I climbed just a handful of times over many months. I occasionally went to my normal gym near work at lunch to boulder. I did not climb outdoors even once that season. I got teary eyed when in July my daughter and I were able to steal away to a climbing gym close to home for a morning lead session. I realized how much I really missed just climbing, the level didn’t matter. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever gain back my opportunity to climb regularly. Climbing seems so trivial on the surface but it fills a need for many of us. Everything was unclear.
But, by the fall of 2012 Sean had completed cardiac rehab with flying colors. He continued to impress everyone with his recovery. It is really remarkable how well he has done in all aspects of his recovery. In September, as a family, we all did the Heart Walk in Sacramento. We happened to visit the SPCA booth at the event and found a Jack Russell Terrier named Sport up for adoption. So, we added our doggy to our family! And it turns out he is a good crag dog.
So, how does this relate to my climbing goals? I still want to consistently climb 5.12 in the gym. But I have to adjust at least the horizon on that goal and be okay with it. Sean has encouraged me to resume climbing regularly. I climb two or three days a week instead of four or five. And I have realized I need a lot of solid time climbing outside to come to the confidence and emotional place required to lead, but that volume of time is probably not available. It requires too many weekends away or days off from work just to climb. So, I like to follow. I just need partners who want to do all the leading.
I have committed to enjoying what time I can take to be climbing anywhere—even at the gym. To be honest, as an older climber, I do feel a certain amount of urgency in my goal achievement. But what I really like is the actual process of climbing. I lost that perspective for a few years when I got so focused on grade chasing. Climbing is like a giant, full body puzzle. I love solving those puzzles in the most controlled and elegant way whether the puzzle is an easy gym 5.9 or a thin outdoor 5.10a trad route. And I’m okay with that.
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