Last night I had the privilege of hanging with my two climbing partners Adam and Greg at Go Vertical in Philadelphia. It had been at least 7 months since I had climbed last and even longer since I had had a regular climbing routine in the gym. Walking into Go Vert, I set my expectations fairly low, thinking I’d start at 5.6s and maybe I’d be able to complete 5.7s by the end of the night. I was trying to avoid disappointment by my inability to achieve the 5.9/5.10s I was once tackling before I decided to step away from the climbing scene. Nonetheless, I was excited to get back on the wall and see how far I could push myself.
Shooting up my first 5.6 route of the night, I was impressed that I could remember certain techniques and control my body positioning. I was also surprised at what great shape I was in despite my long hiatus. After belaying Greg on his 5.7 arete warm up route, he asked if I wanted to give it a go. I exclaimed, “why the fuck not”, my new life motto, and gave it a try.
The first few holds were jugs, making it fairly easy to climb, although a quarter of the way up the holds became smaller and foot holds were non-existent. Previously, this scenario would have flustered the hell out of me. My breath would shallow, my mind would lose focus, my fingers and forearms in pain, the overwhelming amount of stimuli would be enough to make me give up. But this time was different. I steadied my breath, focused on the problem, shook out my arms one at a time while resting steadily, trusting my feet. With a deep inhale I positioned my left arm on the arete, anchored it by shifting my weight to the right, stuck my feet on the wall and victoriously reached up for the next hand hold. I was determined to climb the route cleanly, without falling, just to prove to myself that I could. Getting past that one tricky spot, I climbed the rest of the route with ease, tapped out on top and was lowered to the ground with a smile on my face. I was in disbelief that I successfully completed the 5.7 cleanly, exceeding my previous expectations. With that climb under my belt, I was aching to see what level I could max out on.
Following Adam and Greg’s climb, I challenged myself to a 5.8- route with an overhang. In my climbing experience, overhangs have always been my nemesis. Just the anticipation of tackling an overhang has filled me with anxiety, usually stifling any chance at true success. But as I did with the 5.7, I thought, why the fuck not, and gave it a try.
As I had anticipated, just at the point of the overhang, my progress stalled and my shallow breathing kicked in. My mind went blank while my arms and fingers ached, and I let go, swinging out from the wall. Adam who was belaying me asked if I wanted to stay for another attempt. I replied, “fuck yea!”
Kicking off the wall and swinging myself back towards the route I grabbed a jug and pulled myself back onto the holds. I tried to recall how I had scaled overhangs in past climbs. Get your feet high, I told myself. Feet high, hips into the wall, and swing like a pendulum to get to the next hand hold.
After two failed attempts, and some recovery time to regain energy, I planted my feet high, swung my body up and grabbed the hold letting out a loud grunt, with cheers from Adam and Greg below. I completed the rest of the route, not cleanly, but that didn’t matter. I hadn’t given up, which was a success in itself. Before my hiatus, I would have abandoned the route on my second failed attempt. Tonight though, I had a fire burning inside, determined to push my limits and exceed my own expectations. Defeat was not an option.
The rest of the night I stuck to 5.7s and completed one more 5.8 before doing a quick 5.5 to top out, leaving all of my energy on the wall. When the night was over I had nothing but a large grin plastered on my face. I felt exhausted yet empowered, reveling in my personal success.
Coming back from my gap in training, I mentally prepared myself to expect failure. Realistically, There was no way I was going to be able to get back to the 5.9s/5.10s I was working on before my time off, and I knew I had to set realistic goals for myself in the gym. I also relied on self-compassion, allowing myself to be disappointed that I’m not at my best, but I was enough at the moment. This mindset helped me to remain positive when I experienced a set back or challenge, and allowed me to enjoy my time with my friends. I truly enjoyed my time hanging with Greg and Adam, living in the moment, shooting the shit about life, cheering each other’s successes and supporting one another through our personal struggles on the wall.
Returning to the gym and being not far off of my personal best has renewed my resolve to get back into the climbing routine. It’s my hope that I can cultivate this wild flame of willpower to overcome and surpass all of my own expectations, reaching above what I think I am capable of achieving in the climbing gym and beyond. I implore you to also think beyond your own comfort zone and ability. When you reach beyond the limits you set for yourself, the possibilities far exceed anything you may be able to ascertain.