Climbing Portland, Sportland and Shitting It!

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Why do we climb? Why is there a whole sport dedicated to scaling difficult to scale walls, only to be lowered down again as if you never got to the top at all? I think climbing is one of those sports that is pure in its challenge, in it’s trying to be better than you were yesterday and in feeling a pure sense of accomplishment over an outwardly and seemingly pointless activity. There is so much more to climbing than just scaling walls, there’s the self-mastery of your fear, the people you meet and enjoy the company of, there are the adventures and trips that make you feel so glad to be alive. What could be a better way to spend your time than connecting with others, connecting with yourself and connecting with nature: and here is perhaps a core feature that makes climbing such a gripping sport.

At the weekend I experienced outdoor lead climbing for the first time. This means clipping in your quickdraws as you go to bolts attached to the wall. Between carabiners, the last point of protection can sometimes be below you, which makes falling so SO much scarier. On top rope, falling is no bother. On lead, it really ought to be no bother but it’s pretty terrifying when you’re last anchored to the wall below yourself because you have twice as far to fall, even if you’re only 4 inches above the last quickdraw – it can take a lot of deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth to let yourself fall. You know you will be caught. You know you won’t get hurt. You trust your belayer, otherwise you wouldn’t have started the climb, and still, you shit it.

This kind of climbing is known as sport climbing, and I think it’s probably the most popular type of outdoor climbing. There’s something very different about sport climbing outside compared to the climbing gym. As with all outdoor climbing, the route can be less obvious, the heights are a bit more, and the scenery is second to none. We went to Portland in Dorset, which is an area of some of the best coastal climbing in the UK. On one side you are faced with dramatic wall faces that command a beauty of their own, and on the other, the vastness of the sea: so vast and so beautiful yet in the same breath, so dangerous with no fucks given about swallowing you up in its gentle gargantuan currents, just like that. Mother nature never ceases to fascinate me. Below is a list of observations from popping my outdoor sport climbing virginity:

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Funnily Enough, The Ropes Work!
  1. Limestone is sharp and hurts your fingertips.
  2. Being above the last quickdraw makes me very nervy. I need to fall more and get OK with falling!
  3. That falling on the rope is still fine, even though it’s scary – I did fall unexpectedly and funnily enough, the system worked. I live to tell the very uneventful tale.
  4. Climbing on the sun-trap side of rockface is confusing for my sense of time; it really felt like a beautiful spring day!
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    A Perfect Sun Set to End a Perfect Day

     

  5. Grades outside are much harder than their numerical counterparts in gyms – hello vanity grading! (I don’t even know if this is a thing, but I imagine so!)
  6. Deep breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth is your friend when you’re internally screwing and freaking.
  7. The frustration of not making a route you thought you’d flash is incredibly humbling as it is frustrating.
  8. Good company is an essential component of a great trip – this is something that Black Lizard Climbing and Mountaineering Club nail! Link if you want to come and join or try us out.
  9. I need to climb more – goals, goals, goals!
  10. Climbing is an emotional sport, much more than I ever gave it credit for when I started. I remember saying to a climbing friend years ago, that climbing was great because there no emotion involved, it was just methodical and logical. She disagreed and thought it was an incredibly emotional sport. I’m more inclined to agree with her… 4 years later!
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Mona and Rebecca from Black Lizard Climbing Club

 

Beating the January Blues

January is well and truly underway halfway point of peak wintriness (definitely!). With lengthier stints of creepy darkness consuming our hours, it’s a very natural feeling to want to hibernate a bit. I think the bears have the right idea with this one. Unfortunately, we are not bears and the world does not stop for 6 months a year for us to hibernate; the show must push on.

My Mum looking wintery AF in The Lakes

Winter would not be complete without a mention of our aptly named friend, SAD. SAD is actually an acronym for ‘Seasonal Affective Disorder’, which is characterised by depression that occurs recurrently and seasonally, most often during winter months. A small number of people do experience symptoms during summer months, however. There are a few contributors to the development of SAD, including affected circadian rhythms (a pattern of rhythms and motions that control and affect our sleep/wake cycles), reduced sunlight exposure meaning a reduced exposure to Vitamin D, and therefore absorption. Vitamin D, particularly D3 is very important for mood maintenance and overall happiness. It is now recommended that everyone takes a supplement during the winter months because as the winter progresses in the northern hemisphere most people become deficient of this vital and unique micronutrient and hormone precursor.

Even for those of us who aren’t experiencing SAD right now, January is still a bit of a funny month. The festive shenanigans are over, which can be a relief. For others, this means there’s nothing to look forward to for a while (debatable). Perhaps something terrible happened at Christmas because usually in someone’s life something terrible happens at Christmas (not an official statistical fact). To top it off, January hosts Blue Monday – an idea that the third Monday in January is the bluest of them all, and although I very much disagree with the sentiment that you can feel depressed for a day or a week only, the fact that the idea of Blue Monday took off indicates that January is just a bit of a shit time of year – which is kind of funny considering we start it off with the biggest bang of all the months; while being the number one most hated month (a very quick and brief google search confirms this if that’s the level of evidence we’re accepting now).

With all of this in mind, I thought it might be helpful to think of some ways to cope this January if you are feeling a bit off keel. Maybe you’re skint and want a holiday – Oh HI THERE!?! Maybe you’re feeling a bit crappy because Christmas happened and that can be a bit shit for a lot of people. Maybe you’re feeling fat but that crazy restrictive diet you started and swore would change your life hasn’t lived up to your hopes, or you didn’t stick to it (I don’t blame ya!) and the thought that having a specific quantification of your gravitational force on Earth is maybe, just maybe, not the answer to all your problems (spoiler alert, this is almost guaranteed!!) And maybe you can’t put your finger on a reason, and that’s OK too! So without further ado, I present to you the catchiest list title ever…

Things Maybe, perhaps, Worth a try This January if and when You Feel a Bit Shit

(also recommended for when it’s not January and these are not January specific suggestions – you can do them any time of year, any place, where ever and whenever you want)
Exercise
Even just getting out for a walk in the park, preferably during daylight hours if you can, will help; fresh air, trees, and a punch of nature. If you’re in the countryside, then go submerge yourself in real nature for a stroll instead of the man-made catastrophes we love in London so much.
Eat your fruit and veg
This isn’t the same as dieting, but eating a varied and colourful diet can really make sure you’re getting all those vitamins and minerals that play a vital role in maintaining your well-being. Also, the fibre and whatnot will help your gut microbiome be healthy – which is super important for maintaining your mood and mental wellbeing. Speaking of gut health.

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Don’t be a sad pumpkin, like this fella!

Take a probiotic if you can
Look for one that is general all-rounder, or perhaps more specific to what you might need. I’m currently taking one for my immune system because *cough cough splutter* need I say more?

Connect with people
See your friends. Have a real conversation and turn off the box a little bit. Netflix does not count as hanging out with a friend or partner. If real-life people contact is a bit difficult, go to the park and pet people’s dogs. Dogs love it, usually. You love it, don’t you?

Spend time with your Homies, like this Beau!

Let yourself rest
I get it, January is prime life overhauling time. You want to train for a spring marathon, you want to lose weight, you want to work towards that promotion – and go for it if you really want to – but don’t forget to rest. There’s no use pushing for goals and burning yourself out in the process because you are more likely to either fail or achieve your goals injured, battered and unable to really enjoy the glory of your hard work and suffering. Chill with a cup of tea, have a bath, read a book, watch some TV.And remember, if you’re marathon training – you really really do need more sleep in order for your body to recover from training and lay down the training gains in muscle reparation. Thisall happens mostly when you’re asleep. Early bedtime calling your name? Yeah same, I love an early bedtime!

Salem’s got the right idea about sleeping and chilling; he does nothing else!

Be Balanced in your approach
Even if you are wanting to lose weight or change your diet completely, a piece of cake won’t ruin everything. Whatever your goals, we need to move away from the all-or-nothing mentality. Have a piece of cake if you really want it, a cake can be a perfectly fine and healthy complement to our lives. Believe it or not, there are situations where eating a piece of cake is a sign of healthier behaviour – moderation is your mentor!

Rugby
If you’re feeling really radical, maybe try a new sport: Rugby England are currently doing their Inner Warrior Campaign for womens rugby, or maybe there’s a sport club near you offering try-out sessions to have a go and have some fun? Rugby is great fun (I may be slightly biased but, if you’re feeling brave enough give it a try! YOLO and faces can be restructured by plastic surgeons really well now so that’s not an excuse!)

Inner Warrior for Beckenham Ladies RFC

I hope these are some helpful ideas. If you’re really struggling and think you might actually be depressed or suffering way more than what you think you should be, then book an appointment with your GP and talk to them about how you’re feeling. They can assess you a little bit and figure out what the right steps might be for you.

Man Vs Coast – The First Run

If you’ve ever visited the Rat Race website you’ll know what I mean when I tell you that we signed up to Man Vs Coast following a brief episode of excitement from watching the promo film. It’s the music, I’m telling you, it gets you riled up and wishing you could teleport to the start line right now. Man Vs Coast was sold as 20+ miles and closer to 20 than 30, from my understanding. My understanding could have been off, who knows? In my mind I thought “what’s 20 miles of adventure after 26.2 at the London marathon? I could definitely knock out 20 after the marathon, easy!” as I would be, here’s the cinch, trained for it as a by-product of my London Marathon training. Ah, well, things haven’t quite panned out this year as I had planned although they certainly haven’t panned out bad either. I can’t complain but I definitely do not have a season of marathon training behind me, or in my legs.

The only training I have managed for either event is a general improvement in my fitness from working on exercising more consistently. I’ve not exactly done nothing, I’ve just done nothing specific to either event. I’ll say this now, I don’t and would never recommend this approach to either event. I also wouldn’t intentionally do each event without training again.

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We registered the night before and you can either camp or stay locally. We camped. I love camping and it really is much easier to wake up at the crack of dawn because you get all the natural light induced wakefulness. There was quite an extensive kit list that was checked at registration, however having done the race the only thing I would skimp on next time if the weather was similar would be the optional extra layer I carried; I didn’t need it and there was no way I was going to get cold sitting still if my leg fell off at all, except perhaps from a shock reaction, maybe?

We got a shuttle bus to the start at Marazion Beach by St Michael’s Mount where we waited for a good while. My only complaint would be that the shuttle buses were far too early for the start time.

First things first we dumped our bags on the beach after 100m and swam out to a Rat Race float which was definitely at not-standing-depth, except for the incredibly tall, into the Channel Sea. It was good fun and great to be jumping into the sea at 9am. I found that the peer pressure of being surrounded by people just getting on with it gave me the encouragement and guts to do exactly that and suck it up: a really refreshing and great way to start a race. If it was pissing it down and blowing a gale I’m pretty sure I’d feel very differently.

We ran along the beach for a few miles. Then another swim before leaving the awkward underfoot of trying to run on sand. By trying I mean really trying! This time the swim was much further but the reward? Climbing on a rigged float and jumping off like a kid at the swimming pool. At the lido I still jump in anyway but in general swimming it’s frowned upon for a nearly 30-year-old woman on her own to bomb into the water repeatedly. It’s a shame really because it’s still fun no matter your age – so I really appreciated the chance to do exactly that before the slog back to land against the undercurrent. It was a brilliant way to get us smiling for the first few miles and really not thinking about the momentous task ahead of us. Trust me when I say this, the task ahead was mammoth.

This was the hardest physical challenge I’ve ever done, thanks to my trail shoes being too small for me on race day for some unknown reason, this was fucking hard. We cut up from the beach along a river bed. I didn’t knock my head on the bridge over the river because I was fiddling with my GoPro at all. Nope, that wasn’t me. After a while we were cutting through villages and cul de sacs until we hit the country lanes winding up to the moorland and over to the north coast.

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I honestly thought that once we hit the north coast trail we’d be grand. I thought it would be relatively undulating but not brutal all the way to Land’s End. If you ran it or know the Southwest coast trail on the north coast of Cornwall, you’ll know what a ridiculous idea this is: laughingly ridiculous. It turns out that we had severely underestimated this race, the distance, relentlessness and difficulty.

It has to be said, the scenery was absolutely phenomenal. I mean ‘are we even in the UK right now?’ phenomenal. We followed the coast up and down, up and down, for what felt like eternity. Eventually we snaked down to a boat slope leading into the sea at the end of the most enticing and beautiful beach there could have been at that moment. For miles, we were gawping at the stunning beauty of that beach and desperately pining to jump in the water. Luckily Rat Race had this figured out and that’s exactly how that leg of the race ended; with the most refreshing and welcome dip in the Atlantic Sea you’ve ever witnessed. It was bliss. I didn’t want to get out, I wanted to stay and float and bob around like an overheated seal, alas we had 14 more miles to cover and thought we were a mile out from half way. Nope. Not at all. We didn’t have a clue.

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For added excitement, because running 25 miles on coastal paths just isn’t exciting enough for Rat Race, there were scrambling activities on the rocks way off the beaten track, there was a cliff jump, more scrambling, endless brutal hills that made the genuine ‘Vertical Kilometer’ look like satire; I swear we climbed much tougher and longer hills than the one assigned official ‘Vertical Kilometer’ status. Navigating through bracken and overgrowth taller than ourselves, dipping my hat in rivers and eating my snacks definitely made for much more adventure than any road race could ever dare to imagine. Early on I had joked that I was going to eat my way around the course. That turned out to not be that much of a joke; I really did eat my way around the course.

Finally we hit the final beach, Sennen Cove, which went on for what felt like forever. After a clumsy and painful scramble across some rocks we were on our final ascent to Land’s End. The finish was in touching distance. Despite being told a number of times about how close we really were to the finish line that last mile was the slowest most painful mile of my life. I really wish I was being a drama queen here but I’m not. We trudged and we trudged. People overtook us and one woman said “that looks painful” when I was walking. It was indeed very fucking painful.

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My feet had swollen as you would expect on a 25 mile route and my shoes had felt tight as soon as I put them on in the morning. Eventually we came around the corner then finally, and it really was a finally, the finish line was in sight. We could see it, someone announced our arrival on the microphone and we were cheered in by our fellow rat racers who looked much less broken than I felt at that moment. My Dad and I hugged a long drawn out hug before getting our medals, our finishers photo and some hot soup. Finally I could allow myself to sit down because it didn’t matter now if I didn’t want to get up for ages, and I didn’t.

Finishing Man Vs Coast brought such a smile of relief, pride and absolute joy that we had conquered the coast.

“It was Man VS Coast, so she came from London and Mon Vs Coast commenced….and she wonnnnnnnnn” *crowd cheers and I hold up an imaginary huge trophy belt*

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The end wasn’t as glamorous as my imagination paints it to be but it was the most welcome finish line I’ve ever crossed in my life just above Hackney Half 2017. Despite all the pain and just plodding on I would also definitely do it again. I will wear Size 8s next time and do some training so I don’t have to pull an awkward face when the medic asks me how I was with fluid retention during my training after I’ve asked for a paracetamol for my headache.

“Did you do any training?” *shrugs with an awkward face* It’s apparently impressive that we even finished without training and I think he might be right considering there was a 30% DNF rate from the starting and finishing stats. I’m proud of myself for finishing and pleased that I didn’t give up. I will also have all the views and memories and joy from skipping through bracken on the moorland to the north coast thinking we were so much closer to the finish than we were, and the joy of swimming in the Atlantic after a scorching trek along the trail, and the shower afterwards feeling like a miracle healer on my broken self.

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It truly was an adventure. Man Vs Coast definitely didn’t fall short on delivering a real adventure exactly like I’d been hoping for. If you’ve got the guts and the grit go for it. It’s bloody brilliant and I hope to see you at the start line next year.

Mental Health: Keeping Going During a Med Change

At the start of December I started a transition from one medication to another. I’m still adjusting but am finally on the prospective dose we hope will help me out. It’s not been easy at all. I have had all sorts of side effects to contend with, during which I have to keep repeating to myself that it will pass, and this right now is just a transition phase. It helps keep up the perseverance it takes to not sack it in or give up on the medication.

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My exercising habits have taken a hit during this time, along with some other parts of my life. I am finding myself really quite apathetic and unmotivated to really move. Currently I could definitely spend a string of days staring at the wall with nothing going on and doing nothing, and actually not even feel bored, or frustrated or anything much at all.

Getting myself going is quite challenging and I’m not really enjoying things as much as I would normally. I feel very much like I’m just trying to force myself to keep up with going through some of the motions each day. I’ve been writing a lot because staying on my computer all day every day is very appealing right now. I can concentrate so reading is a very helpful distraction for passing the time that feels less wasteful than just watching TV or magnolia walls do nothing.

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I’m not sad. I’m not particularly happy or enthused either. I suppose it’s that awkward in-between, so balanced there’s almost nothing. I think, quite understandably, this has impacted my ability to get out and run as much as I would like. Even climbing feels like going through the motions. I’m holding onto the hope that this too will pass and trying very hard to use opposite action to keep moving and doing despite my urges to become a breathing statue.

I feel quite cumbersome within myself. When I move it doesn’t feel easy or natural. When I did last go running it took a long time to get used to the motion of it again. I feel graceless, clumsy and jarred. It’s an odd one.

Therefore I’ve reduced the pressure on myself to do as much as I would ideally like to be doing. I’m trying to make sure I do something each day, and I’m trying to get some form of exercise 5 days a week, as long as it is something. Even if I continue to feel nothing, I think it is important to maintain some form of momentum because in these situations I know that it can be incredibly easy to stagnate in an endless nothingness.

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Getting out can be hard, and nature is a really great carrot of motivation!

So for now, the plan is:

  • Some form of exercise 5 days per week
  • Be sure to eat with balance in mind and get my fruit and veg
  • Get dressed each day
  • Make my bed each day to help dissuade myself from getting back into it
  • Focus on what I have done over what I have not done
  • Keep going to relevant support groups