By Lawrence Clayton
I like to tell people that I’m not competitive as a runner, but it is a lie.
I am, in fact, fiercely competitive. I race against the clock, against the course, against the runners ahead of me and the runners behind me. I race against myself, I race against my friends, and I am racing against you.
I’m also fairly slow. I’ve never been especially fast, and at this point in my life it’s a pretty safe bet that I never will be. I ain’t winning no races; I like to place in the top half of the pack. I am often able to squeak into the top third.
But still I tromp out the miles, mostly early in the morning before the family is awake. Hills, intervals, distance. I’m usually out there all by myself; it is rare that I see another human being on my runs. I have crossed paths with Harbert Okuti a few times, moving like a ghost on the carriage roads, barely disturbing the fallen leaves, making fast look easy. Me, I thump along the carriage roads like a rogue elephant. If I’m moving fast, you will hear it!
It is outrageously beautiful in a transcendent sort of way, running the trails and carriage roads of the Shawangunks all by your lonesome in the early morning. Every time of year is different. Sometimes I set out in the pitch black, and experience the transition from night to day as I run, the early morning light slowly infiltrating the forest, illuminating the trail under my feet. Sometimes I shake rime ice out of my windbreaker after a run. I wallow in mud, I splash through rain. I have startled deer as I clomp along, one foot after the other. A mile can disappear faster than a card trick, or it can drag out, slower than 6th period algebra. I have seen porcupines, owls, hawks, bears, even a bald eagle. I have run through miles of virgin snow at Spring Farm, slipping on hidden ice, the woods silent and empty. The stark, bare trees of winter; the first luscious buds of spring greenery; the heat and humidity of high summer; the psychedelic intensity of peak leaves in the autumn. The beauty can be overwhelming, stunning, almost too much to process.
And I tromp out the miles. Sometimes faster, sometimes slower. Sometimes my feet cramp up and I have to sit down and pull off my shoes and rub my feet until they come back to life. Sometimes I have to dive off the trail and find someplace to poop, keeping a careful look-out for poison ivy. I get blisters and I lose toenails. Sometimes I push myself too hard and get injured.
I’ve never been particularly fast. I ran track and cross-country for a while in high school; I never even made the varsity teams before I fell under the spell of first theatre, and then rock climbing. I came back to running in my late thirties, when my metabolism started to slow down, and I found myself slowly but surely putting on pounds that couldn’t be explained away as “extra muscle mass”. The running started out as a way to stay in shape for rock climbing, but I quickly discovered that, as a dad, as a homeowner, as a student nurse, running is far more compatible with life as an adult than climbing is. Climbing takes a minimum of half a day and requires reasonable weather, a willing partner, and spousal permission; running requires a pair of shoes and the willpower to drag oneself out of bed of a chilly, dark morning.
And so, grudgingly, I fell in love with running.
I do keep getting better. I tick off personal bests. This year I took nearly 10 minutes off my best time at Pfaltz Point, and I finally broke two hours in the half marathon. I am competitive. I like to be in the top half of finishers; I can often squeak into the top third. I like passing people. I hate getting passed.
The range of human fitness astounds me. I watched the finish of the New York City Marathon last weekend, Mary Keitani slamming out the miles, faster than I have ever run a mile, even in my high school prime, after 20 miles maintaining a pace I can’t even touch in my early morning quarter-mile interval sessions. As a nurse, I have patients for whom walking across the room to use the bathroom is the equivalent of running a hilly 10k against a vicious headwind. I have friends who struggle to complete a 5k; I have friends who do ultras and Ironman races. Me, I guess I fall somewhere in the middle of that spectrum.
I always congratulate the runners who pass me up, who outsprint me, who kick my butt. I try to make it a point to hang out at the finish line and applaud the slow runners, the last of the stragglers. I figure they are working harder than any of us. In this way, we are all in it together. It doesn’t matter if you are fast or slow, it still hurts, and everybody gives everything they have. I may be running in competition with you, but I am also running with you.
There is only one race, and it is inside our own heads.
MAY 26, 2015
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Whoa! My poor, neglected blog. In my defense, I’ve been pretty busy doing ‘the thing.’ My climbing season started the first week of April and it’s been nearly full-steam ahead since. Even with the little hiccup of a tweak to my left A2 pulley, I’m back to leading as hard as I was at the end of last season, which gives me a lot of hope that I’ll be breaking into the next number grade by the end of this season. I finally got to climb with DH a day last week and it was exciting to hear from him that I’m really placing excellent gear, so that also gives me the confidence to begin to push it a bit!
The BIG news though is where my head is at so far. See, here’s my dirty little secret. I’m not naturally small and lean like many climber chicks, especially the really good ones. I’m definitely a classic ‘pear’ shape (read: probably the worse shape for climbing!). For many, many years of my climbing career, the story in my head (my excuse, really) is that I’m just too fat to be able to climb as hard as I want to climb.
I have invested a lot of time and energy in this story over the years, so I’ve had to invest even more time and energy to tear it down. For instance, all of my goal climbs for this season I can climb without falling on top-rope. So I have to remind myself that my body is physically capable of doing these climbs without falling. Therefore, I can lead them. So what is stopping me is not that I’m ‘fat,’ it’s that I’m scared. Odd as it may sound, its easier to accept the ‘fat story’ than the ‘I’m just scared’ story. Probably because with the ‘I’m too fat’ story, I don’t have to change anything. In those moments that I am standing under the climb, looking up at it and contemplating the lead, I can’t do anything about being fat in those moments, whereas I could choose to be scared and do it anyway. But if I blame my body, I don’t have to do the harder thing- I don’t have to be afraid.
The hidden cost of this ‘fat’ story though, is that I was constantly defeating myself on any efforts I made to get in shape or eat better. In a way, I didn’t want to do these things because if I succeeded- if I lost weight- I wouldn’t have my convenient excuse available for when I wanted to wuss out of doing a climb.
There’s an idea in the psychology literature that people are basically motivated in their actions and behaviors by one of two things: they are either motivated to move in the direction of something they love or are passionate about or they are motivated to move away from something that causes them pain. We all do both of these of course, depending on the area of our lives, our previous learned experiences, etc. However, some people, through their upbringing or genetics or something, tend to be more positively motivated whereas others tend to be more negatively motivated.
Once I learned this concept, it kind of hit me like a ton of bricks. I was square in the ‘negative-motivation’ category. I would choose easy climbs, or make excuses for why I couldn’t or shouldn’t do harder climbs because I was primarily motivated to avoid the fear of being on the sharp end. I would start a workout routine or a diet with the negative-motivation of trying to move away from the pain of self-hatred & disgust. Upon seeing it so clearly, it was also easy to see how these strategies clearly were not working for me! Suddenly it made complete and total sense as to why I would say I wanted one thing in my life, but my behaviors and actions seemed to indicate that I wanted the opposite! All this time, I thought that that incongruence was just because I was lazy (another painful thing to berated myself for!) but it turns out that nope, I just had my mind attuned in the wrong direction.
Somewhere about the beginning of April, I was struck by an idea. One of the things I do possess is a strong and powerful mind. Perhaps I could find away to put that gift to use to change my situation; to start being motivated by love instead of fear. I decided to embark on a month long journey of “radical self-love” where I was just going to accept and love everything about myself, even the parts that I didn’t think where very worthy of that love.Especially the parts that I didn’t think were very worthy of that love (I’m looking at you, Cellulite on my thighs!).
I started simply. I challenged myself to journal regularly and to start each entry with 3 things I love about myself, focusing primarily on my body (because it’s easy to say things like ‘I’m smart’ but much harder to say things like ‘I love my thighs’). I also challenged myself to change to my relationship with food. To feed myself like I would feed a daughter or someone else that I loved- with lots of wholesome, healthy foods.
Interestingly, this journey didn’t conclude in a month as much as it evolved. Especially once I tweaked my finger pulley, I knew I need to find something to do to help me stay active. I decided to get in to trail running. At various points in my life, I have been a runner. I even ran a marathon 8 years ago. After that experience though, I pretty much felt like I had run enough for the rest of my life and was not motivated to run anymore. I hate the treadmill with a passion. Cardio at the gym bored the heck out of me, etc. I knew that if I was going to be motivated to do it consistently, it needed to be something I enjoyed. Trail running, luckily, is that for me. And also luckily for me, there are tons of awesome and fun trails minutes from my home. It became fun and addicting to explore new sections of the Ridge on my own two feet. I also love trail running because its perfectly acceptable to walk up the big hills and even to go slow, especially over really technical terrain. It also puts me out in nature, which I love because its feeds my soul as well as my physical body. Once I found something that I enjoyed and once I change my mindset from ‘I’ve got to do cardio because I’m fat’ to ‘I want to run because I enjoy it and I enjoy taking care of my body,’ it became so much easier to get out of bed and go for a run in the morning! No mental fighting with myself. No extreme acts of willpower. Just being motivated to do and follow something that I loved.
With this evolved mindset, it was much easier to put myself in training. I started to think of myself as an athlete, which gave me the motivation to want to take the best care of myself that I could. I started following the training plan from Training for the New Alpinism. I’m only in Transition Week 3 so far, but I feel amazing & fit and I’m so excited for what I’ll be able to do when I ‘peak’ around the first of the year- just in time to go hard for ice climbing and ski mountaineering!
Other people are starting to notice too. A couple girlfriends have mentioned that my arms look more toned or that I look thinner through the torso. Another friend followed me as I busted up a rocky ascent trail with very little huffing & puffing and remarked about how all the trail running seemed to be paying off. In the gym today, I actually really liked what I saw in the mirror! I’ve lost a few pounds, but nothing too big yet and maybe an inch off my hips. (Also, I can’t say that I exactly ‘love’ my cellulite, but I have given up making gagging and retching noises when I see it in the mirror.:-) ) I’m more excited about being down about 2% body fat in three weeks and I know that with time, the rest of it will come.
And if doesn’t, I’m totally OK with that. Because my goal is to be fit and healthy and I know that I can do what I want to do, even if I never drop another pound. Because I know that all that is stopping me is that 3 pound squishy thing between my ears. Because I know that if I choose to pursue the things I love instead of avoid the things I fear, no matter what number grade I climb or what number shows up on the scale, I’ve already won. <3
FILED UNDER: PHILOSOPHICAL, TRAINING, WOMEN AND CLIMBING, ZENTAGGED WITH: BEING A BADASS, BODY IMAGE & CLIMBING, FEAR, FOR THE LOVE, LEAD HEAD,MENTAL SPACE, PASSION, TRAINING FOR CLIMBING, WHAT COUNTS
May 22, 2015
Local climbing is an amazing thing. Recently at the Gunks, there are some sends worth writing home about, and if the weather treats us right, a couple more to write about as well.
Some time ago, long time Southeast climber Whitney Boland moved up to a small cottage in the Gunks. Black Diamond athlete, writer and all around bad ass, Whitney is one of the strongest climbers residing at the gunks right now. When I first heard of Whitney’s name, it was almost always in conjunction with another word: Ozone.
Ozone is a modern classic. Taking small sections from Twilight Zone (5.13b) and French Connection(5.12+), and adding some new sections of hard climbing, Ozone is an amazing and direct line up the buttress. Ozone tips the scales at 5.14.
As I heard more about Whitney, Andy’s name would continue to pop up as well. I don’t know Whitney personally, so whenever I saw Andy, I hoped he would mention the project. However, being humble and not self-touting, nothing was said. Nor did I bring it up. Yet.
Andy’s humility is inspiring. He is a strong climber that flies under the radar despite continuing to send routes that will put hair on your chest and being featured in magazines such as Rock and Ice. Whitney brought to my attention the possible sendage of Ozone, Andy keeps me interested in the progress that’s being made on it.
He simply loves climbing and its evident from all of his actions and words. Take this for example, from La Sportiva’s Ambassador file on Andy. While so many people are concerned with gym climbers taking up their precious climbing spaces and being concerned with their territory, this is what Andy is concerned with:
WHAT REALLY SCARES YOU ABOUT CLIMBING?“The direction it seems to be heading…more and more climbers expecting fame and fortune and being more concerned with a numerical progression than worrying about how they are advancing as a human.”
I’ll echo that sentiment with one of the best pieces of climbing advice given to me by the man who taught me how to plug gear, Doug Ferguson. At the end of the day he told me that whether I continue climbing or not, to
“Climb the route. Not the grade.”
It’s obvious that Andy is progressing as a stronger climber by not focusing on himself.
Despite Ozone not being sent yet, Andy continues to send hard climbs in and around the Gunks. In the last couple months, Andy has sent a number of 5.12 R/X routes, including El Kabong (5.12c R) and the Russ Clune top rope special – The Jane Fonda Workout For Pregnant Women (5.12c R/X). There are probably more I don’t know about yet, too.
This morning, eyes half shut and tired faced, I flipped through Instagram on autopilot. In an instant I was wide awake when I saw on Ken Murphy’s Instagram; a top view shot of Andy eyeing a hand hold next to a bolt with this caption:
“When he’s not saving the world he crushes rocks. After a long battle over many days, a cool breeze rolled in and Andy’s determination and hard work paid off. He put to rest one of the hardest climbs in the Gunks (Planet Claire 5.14).”
Just like that. Another Gunks 5.14 finished by the indomitable Andy. A Lost City modern trad climb that is over 30 years old.
After Whitney’s move up here, I didn’t hear too much more about if they had sent Ozone or not. As I was writing this, I asked Andy how far along they were. He responded:
“Both of us are quite close. Maybe another few days on it.”
Another few days?! While I’m sure many other hard sends have happened between Andy, Whitney and friends recently, the fact that we may be able to report on two 5.14s being sent within a week of each other is an amazing mastery of skills, perseverance, and dedication. We may not have the commitments of the mountains of the far east, or the sport climbing hardships in the west (like Jumbo Love, congrats Ethan!), but we have something.
If you want to poop your pants, question your sanity, and wonder why you ever started climbing – test your might at the Gunks. You’re in for the adventure of a lifetime.
As an added bonus, Andy’s send was only the third ascent of Planet Claire. Keep killing it, Andy.
Bonus gift: Bass for your Face. You’ll know what it is when you feel it.
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