Why I still climb (and what it taught me about running)

This is what fear of falling feels like

This is what fear of falling feels like

I first started climbing a couple of years ago, having been rendered useless to running by bilateral stress fractures. Sick of hearing me moan about my injuries, a close friend encouraged me (er, forced me?) up the wall in our local climbing gym. I hated it. 

In time, my friends moved on- back to running and triathlons- but I remained in the climbing gym. Still injured, I found other climbing friends, dated a few climbing boys, and found a little community away from running. I met my husband throwing burly moves on the overhanging bouldering wall, talking about art and music on the gross old couch in front of our projects.

I healed, I tried to run, I got injured. I climbed. And so it went.

Running is like breathing for me. It reminds me of who I am, takes me into myself, gives me courage. Climbing on the other hand, challenges all of that. It disturbs me, distresses me. It asks me to be brave in a different way- to climb poorly in front of an audience, and to overcome my panic at heights. Running is my peace, and climbing is my battle.

Which is why, even after my fall, I still can't stop. Climbing, always a mental challenge, now triggers a deeper fear. I know what I am risking. A bad fall could mean the end of my running, which I have worked so hard to regain. And that scares me.

But fear is a quiet thing. It can crawl, sneak up from behind you, weasel its way into you ear and feast on your mind. To let fear take over my life is a far more terrifying thing to me than losing my mobility.  So, yeah, I still climb. Terrified, but doing it anyways. Because what's the alternative?

3 Running tips from the Climbing world

Despite what any sane running coach would tell you, climbing has improved my running. Here are some quick tips that crossover:

Find Moments of Rest

On the wall: In any climbing route, there is a crux- a section of the climb that is technically more difficult than the rest. Climbers try to find "moments of rest" during the easy sections, in order to conserve energy for the hard moves at the crux. 

Take it to the road: Alternate between fast twitch and slow twitch muscle movements during your long run or workout. Doing this helps rest the other while you are running. Also, be strategic about your route. If I know a big hill is coming up, I'll conserve a little extra energy so I can push through the hard bit.

The Workout is only Part of the Session

On the wall: Walk into any climbing gym, and you'll see just as many climbers off the wall than on. Shaking out their fingers, stretching, and working with weights. Warming up, strength training, and cooling down are part of the climbing session. There is not one without the other. The actual climbing time is only one part of it.

Take it to the road: Work warm ups and strength into your running sessions, and make it a habit. If you have to cut into actually running time, do it. It is worth it. I start my runs with 10 squats. Is that a lot? No. But a little every day goes a long way against injury, and I don't even have to think about it. 

Send Train

On the wall: Sometimes a group of climbers will be trying to climb the same route, and failing. Then, someone will figure it out and ascend (aka "send") the route. This will start what we lovingly call the "send train". One by one, with encouragement and tips, each climber will reach the top.  Hive mind problem solving.

Take it to the road: Like climbing, running is a community sport. We swap tips and tricks, and encourage each other. When one runner succeeds, we all succeed. Cheering each other on and helping each other out only improve our own running. When I feel weak and unable to complete a workout, I find a running buddy to pull me through. Start the send train, and get on it. Go team!