The past year of my life I have been, more or less, living on the road in my van. The constant access to rock, having a sillily knowledgable and strong climbing companion and being outdoors has improved my climbing comprehension more than I could have hoped for. Hours in the gym were replaced with days spent outside under boulders. Climbing on plastic that forced moves was replaced with figuring out beta that worked for my body type and style. Feet were ubiquitous and psyche was high. The end of last year put me in Truckee, California for a relatively extended period of time. The hope was to temporarily work at High Altitude, a climbing gym in Incline Village, and save up enough money to continue life on the road. However, like all good things, my savings, came to an end and my living situation was less than ideal.
Note: Tahoe in the winter in a van is SUPER, SUPER cold.
So, like any “homeless” or maybe I should say “houseless” climber with a van I skipped town and headed for the Eastside. What better place to contemplate what to do next in life than Bishop.? The Valley (but we’ll stick with the pertinent events). While in Bishop I ran into an old friend, Brian, glorious golden maned Brian. He heard about my depleting funds and suggested I come set for Planet Granite in the Bay Area.
I was set and setting in no time.
Upon moving to San Francisco, I started training, I wanted to keep up with the best of them. And I was training hard. Unforgiving six hour woody sessions followed by brilliantly bronzed Brian’s stupidly hard core work out had every inch of my upper body constantly sore. Everyday I wasn’t setting 7:30-5 I was in the gym, on the woody.
I was, as we say, “psyched.” One day I hit a little (like, the tiniest of them) Teknik Aphid on the woody and as my feet cut I knew I had never felt so strong. The fire in my belly, muscles and mind grew. I mean, it raged. I began to add climbing onto the days I was setting– 7:30am to 9pm in the gym, sessioning.
My thoughts were entirely engulfed in perfecting and developing my climbing. Fingers, hands, feet, flow, tension, moves, mindset. Food? Yeah, I had some. Food comes second to climbing. Food comes second to being strong.
I started falling apart. After my euphoric moment of “damn it feels good to be a gangsta” came a crash and burn of my body telling me “YEAH? Well that sucks for you because I’ve been struggling to tread water for months.” Then one day, while climbing after work, I hit a crimp open handed and boom! shooting pain up and down my left digitus annularis finite digitorum profundus (FDP), or in layman’s terms the long tendon in my left ring finger.
Torn, though only partially.
My reaction: “No, no no no! Not now. I need this. I need climbing.”
Other’s reaction: Hugs
They know. They’ve always known. They saw it happening. It was obvious. I was overtraining.
When we begin to use muscle groups in a new activity, such as climbing, we feel a deep overwhelming sensation of fatigue after calling upon various muscles we do not regularly use. In climbing this means just about every pulling, stabilizing, gripping, grabbing and core muscle we can find. When a person begins climbing the first thing that goes is the forearm, then the bicep, lats, hands, abs, etc… they feel pumped, they would wake up knowing they gained valuable climbing skill points. Climb till you can’t, then rest and recover and do it all again.
More recently, I have been searching for that overwhelming “I can’t even think” tired.
Why I began tirelessly searching for that feeling? I was depressed. I took it out on climbing. Anything to keep my mind off the grey cloud looming overhead that so said rain. Anything to stop thinking about why. Why I left Truckee; why I was in Bay; why I wasn’t using my degree; why I was living in the van in a city; why I should have stayed in Truckee; why this was dumb; why, if I’m not currently doing science, I’m not actively on the road? I was going insane and climbing was my solace. Cathartic crimps in the Valley ruled my every thought and I was getting close to sending my proj.
My thoughts of “If only I train harder” led me to spend all day in the gym. While on my sunup to sundown training schtick weird things started happening:
If I applied tension to my body and my ears would start ringing.
Three quarters of my way up a route and my forearms would seize, fully flexed.
My vision became planar– nothing had depth.
I would forget common words, like “depth” for instance
I couldn’t sleep.
I couldn’t seem to drink enough water.
I was irritable.
I couldn’t even hold going pee for more than 15 minutes.
I believe they describe this as being a wreck.
My climbing started to take a nose dive. I freaked out. I didn’t know what to do. I had and have defined myself as a rock climber enamored with living out of my van. If I don’t have the climbing, doesn’t that just leave me at being a van dweller in the city? Not what I want. If climbing wasn’t going well I still wanted to stay fit and keep my mind off being a shade too close to homeless so I started running.
Wrong thing to do.
Then, one day in the valley while climbing on the damn beautiful, tiny, nothing crimps, and non existent feet that I still can’t stop thinking about, I strained my flexor carpi ulnaris (FCU), palmar metacarpal ligament and fourth lumbrical muscle (at least as of right now this is my/doctors’/chiros’/hand therapists’ best guess; see photo). They are the muscles and fascia that help you push past the point of locking off and into mantling.
Okay, so I have an injury where I really, really can’t climb. Now what?
Being forced to confront your entirely human, degraded, beaten, battered, and bruised self isn’t exactly a walk in the park. Body and mind. Internally, I couldn’t handle my emotions; I overindulged in gaining physical prowess on the wall so much that was left overtrained and flaccid on the sidelines.
Well, that makes sense, right?
Outwardly, I ignored what my body warning signals because my mind told me I could be stronger. Obviously if you spend every waking hour in the gym you will be strong. OBVIOUSLY. But like being too skinny, sometimes strong isn’t exactly healthy.Sometimes strong is putting on a facade for a tumultuous mental state. Just like sometime endlessly spraying beta to others about your “proj” is overcompensating for a lack of fundamental technique or physical power. Fitness, especially in climbing, isn’t just about being strong or lean, nor about knowing all the beta. Fitness is both physical and mental. Taking the time to listen to what your body and mind are telling you together.
I messed up. I messed up in a really big way that sent body into head on collision with my mind and neither came out on top.
Now, I’m going to physical therapy twice a week, ultrasounding, rocktaping, R8 recovery rolling, foam rolling, Therabanding, lacrosse balling, active releasing, reading Grey’s anatomy on muscles, tendons, and ligaments of the hands, shoulders, back and core, researching, consulting, Dynaflexing, and stretching just to get back to the point where I can hang on grips. Physically and mentally.
While massage therapy and grastoning the hell out of scar tissue isn’t a bad way to spend time, a complete and utter disregard for one’s well being in hopes of sending project to find value in climbing is silly. What I should have done is become more efficient with my training, develop a schedule, listen to my body, and learn that in order to climb sustainably with maximum potential you have to rest. You can’t push your body to its limit all of the time, it will fail. Just because the person at the gym or at the crag is bragging about how they “sent” 12th day on doesn’t mean you have to. And that is OKAY. You’re not going to lose your climbing ability by taking rest days. If you think you are, actively watch climbing, or think about what feels good and bad on the rock. Go through mental training. Envision yourself on the rock, climbing. Then, when you do go out to climb tap into what you thought about the day before. Stay in tune with your psyche and ride the ups and downs. Don’t fight them. You’ll only end up broken, watching, and waiting on the sidelines.
Fuel yourself in all of the ways: eat enough, climb enough and rest enough. We are, after all, only human.