So if you have no idea what this whole 30 days of exercise thing is, have a read of this post to see my twisted logic on why this is a good idea. I have vowed (to you, the uninterested Internet) to do some form of exercise every day for the next 30 days.
I’ve started on a bit of a cheat day, because I already had exercise scheduled. I’ve recently fulfilled a long-held desire to start climbing. Every Saturday, a friend and I drag ourselves down to an East London climbing wall where we divide our time equally between dangling ungracefully from plastic ‘rocks’, standing and staring at the wall intently studying said rocks and sitting down drinking tea. Today was the third time we’ve been.
It’s actually pretty fun. I have been consistently terrible at all forms of organised physical activity all my life. I’m fairly terrible at climbing too, but there’s noticeable progress each time I come back. It doesn’t feel like other sports. It feels like something you could ‘think’ your way to success at.
We’ve been bouldering – low level climbing, without any ropes. The walls are covered in colour-coded foot/hand holds, and climbers follow a route by using only those of a certain colour. Different colours represent different levels of difficulty. We chose this because no equipment is needed, and also because they just let you jump in and go for it without any training.
The first time I went, it was all about the physical stuff. My shoulder hurt for a full week afterwards. My friend came away with weeping blisters on her hands. We were just trying to hang on long enough to make it round, swinging and grabbing blindly. Now, we’re starting to understand what everyone was talking about when they described it as a ‘problem-solving’ activity. We’re starting to plan our routes and guide each other. It’s so satisfying.
I still feel woefully inadequate in the physical sense. I’m not strong enough to hang from my arms while I’m planning my next move, and I can’t climb for very long as my legs get shaky. People talk about core strength, but honestly, I’m not really sure I have a core.
My other problem, as it turns out, is heights. I’m pretty confident on the traversing wall (going sideways), but on vertical climbs, several times, I’ve known I could finish a route but have been scared to go any higher in case I made a mistake and fell. I’m really hoping I get over this as I get stronger and improve my technique. My hope is that once I can have more faith in my body, I’ll feel better about going higher.
In the meantime, I have a goal for next week – a climb up a freestanding structure called ‘the Boulder’ which my friend managed two weeks ago. She in turn is aiming to finish a particular route on the traversing wall that I managed last week. I have two problems with the Boulder route. One is that it angles out so that you have to climb on an overhang, and I can’t rely on my arms to bear my full weight like that. The other is that it involves ‘topping out’ – climbing over to finish standing on the top, which makes me feel a bit shaky. I’ve done it on another route on the same structure, but on this one the final holds are farther apart and fear keeps winning out.
One thing that’s been really interesting is how we’ve had to figure out different solutions to the same routes based on our body types. I’m taller, so there are holds I can reach easily that she can’t get to, but she’s stronger and more flexible, so can push herself up where I can’t. Trying out combinations of moves and helping each other from the ground has been one of my favourite parts of this. I’m very competitive, which is probably why I avoid sports so much (I don’t want to lost face by losing, and I will, I have no sporting talent). Doing something like this, which is very much about cheering each other on, has been strangely good for the soul.