Lisa Alhadeff: Finally Bouldering In Font - Part Four
I've made it to the final week before our trip to Font. It's been a long January, and after writing a paper over Christmas it's feeling like a long time since the last holiday. Climbing has been something that I've been trying to force into my schedule for some time now. It's an essential part of my life, so much so that I really don't know how life would be without it.
As much as I love it though, it’s hard trying to cram training sessions into my life. Choosing to train four times a week so that I have only weekends to climb normally (when it mostly seems to rain) has really tested my motivation this last month.
It seems, at times like this, that I'm always trying to catch up with myself, and I never quite complete each week of training. It can be hard to remember that I'm doing it for a trip that's six months away because six months feels like a lifetime! In those times, when motivation is low and I'm getting exhausted, I tend to find that the only way I can keep momentum is by shifting my timescales. Instead of looking forward to the weekend, I look forward to the next free evening. Sometimes I just motivate myself for the next session, other times I only motivate myself for the next set or even rep. At times like this, I cut other things out - doing less DIY, not seeing friends that aren't local to Sheffield. That doesn't work forever though, and at other times the training load has to be lower and I see friends more.
The key, in carrying on, for me, is knowing why. What I am aiming for, how far away it is and what the risk vs reward is. The balance between social life, training and work is not something which necessarily needs to be fixed - it depends on circumstance.
It's 7:30 am. In six days, it will be my 27th birthday, and I will be in Fontainebleau, climbing and celebrating my birthday with an amazing group of people. That means I don't mind that I have four hours of demonstrating that I'd forgotten about, or that I then need to make up some time on my project, or that I can hardly keep my eyes open because... well, I'm not sure why. I'm just tired. I think when I'm working hard I end up generally more alert and I don't sleep well.
I plan things meticulously: both in climbing and in my PhD. Quite often, the plans are fluid so that things can be swapped around if necessary. This makes them more robust against life getting in the way. I try not to spend too much time actually planning because it's inefficient. That's one of the reasons the Lattice plan works so well for me - given a set of instructions, I will loyally follow them and I will rearrange and rearrange the pieces of the puzzle until it somehow fits.
The training for this evening had to be re-shuffled. I finished later than I'd planned at the Uni, and so by the time I'd done my finger boarding at the foundry, there was no way I was going to have time to boulder. That left me trying to work out how I would fit the two remaining sessions into one more session, with time to run some pre-trip errands on Thursday and have dinner with a friend on Thursday. In the end, I did another fingerboard session. I know that this seems like having lunch and dinner immediately in turn to save time spent eating but bear with me. One session was power-based and one was more about aerobic capacity. I'm sure it wasn't the optimal solution but unfortunately, I don't think I ever manage the optimal solution in my training. It just never seems to work out that way. My fingers were feeling resilient though so I went for it.
The Foundry was having its last round of the boulder league and I'd got my heart set on a pizza from the Sunshine Pizza Oven. I battled internally over whether to order said pizza and then complete the second set of repeaters on the fingerboard or do the repeaters first. I'm proud to say that the repeaters won and as though the universe was rewarding me, I just made it to the Pizza van before they took their last orders.
With Alistair away, and we’ve moved rooms last night into our attic, which I never usually spend any time in. I feel very nostalgic sitting here typing on my laptop. The peeling wallpaper and furniture stuffed into every wall space really remind me of the sort of student accommodation I used to live in as an undergraduate. I hated spending money on accommodation and always went for the cheapest option so that I could spend money on climbing instead. It feels like I'm on holiday, or away at university, rather than in my own home. Lola loves it in here and is eating a roll of carpet.
I woke up this morning when my alarm went off feeling absolutely battered.
I found a woodlouse drunk on mouthwash fumes in the bathroom this morning. I like woodlice, the problem is that you get quite a few in an old house and they are snacks for the cats in our house. I do my best to save them from my beloved killing machines but I suspect many go the same way as the poor spiders.
The other day, Alistair suggested that it might be nice companionship to allow Lola to snooze on the bed at night while he's away. "But what about if she wants to leave in the night?" I asked. "Leave the door open", he replied, "Poppy won't come in if Lola's in there".
3 am on Tuesday morning. Poppy launches herself over my head and into Lola, who leaps out of the bed. Lola displaced, Poppy curls up in the recently vacated warm spot purring and Lola runs away in a rage. The total number of cats remains the same and I go back to sleep.
I had sushi with a good friend - it was an absolutely freezing night so we lit a fire, ate sushi and played board games. Can it get much better on a cold winter evening? I got really stuck during the ordering process and ended up ordering so much sushi that they assumed it was for more than two people and brought several sets of chopsticks. I'm one step ahead of the game though as I now have sushi for tomorrow night's dinner! I’m already dissatisfied with the maximum amount of sleep I can achieve if I fall asleep instantaneously so I'm heading to bed, this time with the door closed.
I woke up this morning when my alarm went off feeling absolutely battered. All of my muscles ached, especially forearms and shoulders, and I felt completely exhausted. I think that for the last few months I've tried to cram as much training and work into my time as possible without losing my social life and it's catching up with me. I found my ability to concentrate was noticeably reduced today. It got to 3 pm and I could barely keep my eyes open. I'd planned to leave a couple of hours early because I wanted to fit in the last training session of the week before a GP appointment at 6.40pm, and I definitely don't owe the PhD any time at the moment. I wasn't sure what to expect from the bouldering, but you can't miss the last session, right?
It wasn't the best bouldering session I've ever had, but it was surprisingly good given how I felt. By the end of it, in spite of the fact that it was a much shorter session than usual, my fingers had had enough. Hopefully, Lattice has configured this week so that I can just stay recruited, but also recover.
Technically it's valentine's day tonight. It was a perfectly timed evening to be alone, I'm burnt out, and I'd even gone to the effort of buying wine and chocolates for myself. I know myself so well.
Thursday evening was spent packing and trying to work out if I'd left the house in an acceptably secure condition. I left a note for my sister who is going to look after our cats for a couple of days saying "Call if you need anything, Roaming is free!" and it struck me how much things have changed even since I was a child. My dad used to work abroad at times and his phone bills paid for by the company were astronomical. Now you can use Facebook on the internet with no additional charge, for better or worse. What times we live in!
I left Sheffield at 9 am, leaving plenty of time to get to Folkstone, and the journey ran smoothly. I've never caught "le shuttle" before, nor have I driven out of the country alone and the novelty of the experience was quite fun.
I was really excited about the Eurotunnel. I just couldn't quite imagine how a car could go on a train. When I got onto the platform, it was exactly the same as human trains, except for cars. I couldn't believe it. I was so enthusiastic, that I parked in the way of some doors and had to reverse back down the train. Alistair messaged to say that his train was cancelled, and I would have to meet him in Paris, but I was too busy enjoying the train to mind that much.
Still excited by my train experience, I bombed happily down the A26 at 130km/h, enjoying the slightly higher speed limit than in the UK. That is, until a pheasant wandered deliberately into my path 10 metres in front whereupon his life ended, abruptly, on my windscreen. I was quite sad about the pheasant's demise, and a bit surprised as well, so I stopped at a cafe in my first Aire.
The long-awaited McDo was superseded by a visit to Quick instead. The French like to say that Quick is better than McDo. This is because it is. I had a raclette burger and it was a thing of great beauty.
It seems, however, that I had been cursed by the pheasant as things went downhill after the burger at Quick. I decided to stop to buy some food as I was early for meeting Alistair at Gare du Nord. Big mistake. It was 8:01 pm and so the supermarché was closed, and without someone helping with directions, I soon got hopelessly lost trying to get back out of Montdidier. I drove for over an hour and found the A1 again eventually about 20k from where I thought I'd left it.
Things only got worse when I got to Paris, where I spent a further two hours trying to find Gare du Nord, At one point I contemplated switching the engine off and waiting for the end of civilisation to occur.
We finally arrived at about 1 am where we found a small hole in the car vents from the pheasant. Karma.
Our first day in Font was spent wandering aimlessly around Carrefour picking up lots of exciting snacks and a small amount of useful food before an afternoon session while the crags dried. We had a potter in the afternoon and I found that I'm a lot more confident on the rock than I was last time I was here. This is funny because I've barely touched rock for about 3 months. If there's one thing I've learnt about fear it's that it doesn't always make sense.
I've noticed in general that my confidence has improved in the last three years since breaking my leg. I can remember thinking that my head (and my leg) would never be the same again. As the leg healed, I was still sure that the psychological scars would last out. I'm continually surprised to find that things improve as time goes on and I would encourage anyone who struggles with either injury-related or inherent fear when climbing to believe that it will improve.
Gentle training and acknowledgement that fear is both natural and sometimes a good idea is a good start: the time to be strict with yourself is not when your brain is playing fear games with you. The best thing for me was challenging the fear by falling off in a controlled way that didn't have negative consequences. After all, I've only ever had a couple of bad results from falling in climbing, it was just that one of them was catastrophic. Have enough inconsequential falls and the fear will fade. And there's no shame in being cautious.
I’m noticeably stronger than I was 18 months ago. Psyched!
The first full climbing day in Fontainebleau, coincidentally my birthday, was beautiful winter sunshine. We played around at Bas Cuvier and the others wanted to try Carnage 7B. After some confusion about which direction to throw myself in for the French start, I managed a birthday send and then did it again from the stand start (7B+). I was very happy with how quickly it had gone. Later we tried “Rencontre Plaffonique” (a morpho 7B which involves an inventive jump if you’re short), on which I felt much stronger than I did the last trip. I’m so happy to be enjoying climbing here because sometimes I do worry about the amount of indoor training I do in the winter that I’ll completely forget how to climb. It’s a relief to see that I can translate it relatively quickly and it’s also nice to see that I’m noticeably stronger than I was 18 months ago. Psyched!
The evening was celebrated with an enormous chocolate and peanut butter cake, Crémant wine and excellent steak. Perfect.
This brings me to the end of my four-week diary; I hope you’ve enjoyed the insight into one climber’s juggling act. I know many people who will have read this juggle much more than I do: we all strive for some sort of balance. Climbing is incredible because anybody can be keen, anyone can try hard and anyone can make progress.
One of my favourite things is to ask someone who’s been climbing only a few times how they like it? So often, their eyes shine with a fire that’s been lit in their hearts. That so many of us stay that way for so long tells me that climbing is special. It means something different to all of us, but it connects us together all the same.
I'm Lisa Alhadeff. 27 Years old, 170cm, ape neutral and 62 kilograms of highly motivated, highly strung, enthusiastic, silly, practically-minded, sieve-brained, attention-seeking individual. I'd like to think that somewhere in the slightly chaotic jumble of activity and belongings that I trail behind me there's a balance that works. I'm happy doing what I do, and although I sometimes have self-doubts, I’m proud to call myself a climber, and an engineer, or an engineer, and a climber.
By Lisa Alhadeff