Monday, June 25

A hierarchy of sorts

When I was young(er) (ahem) I always wanted to be sporty and cool, while my mother always insisted that I should study more. Truth be said, studying was cheaper (we were poor) and I wasn't really talented at sports either. The lack of talent is still with me today, sadly, but nowadays I can do what I bloody well please (something I was doing back then anyway*), and I have on my side the advantage that I never ever quit. So, to my mother's despair, I now enjoy sports such as climbing, running, and, for a year or so while in singapore, yoga and tennis. Needless to say and for obvious reasons, my mother absolutely loves the yoga, tennis, and the (short-distance) running, but loathes climbing, especially rock climbing (as opposed to bouldering).

I've spent the past couple of runs thinking about

  • why the fuck am I running so much?
  • why is climbing just the best thing is this whole wide universe?

The answer to the first one is simple: I did say a long time ago that I will run a marathon every year, but that is not really the answer, as I can (I  hope) quietly let that promise go (sneaky much?!). Truth is, the running high and the endorphins and goddam kilometers of pain are addictive, once I get past 15km or so. Another important truth, which also ties in nicely with the second question, is that running is inherently competitive, where the person you are competing with is nobody else but you.

I cannot say that yoga and tennis are not challenging - handstands, anyone? I was decent at tennis but only because I was good at running: had a lot of anger in me, could run for four hours straight on the tennis court, and had strong biceps and wrist control, hence good (but imprecise) forehand. But there is something about running that puts it above these, and I think it's the long distance, the constant counting game ("Right, I did 10 km, now only 30 km to go, that's about a quarter, if I go at this pace I'll be halfway in about an hour, and then two hours after that and we're done"), the zone where nothing matters as long as you keep going, the stories of everybody running around you** and the incredible euforia when crossing the finish line, when you feel like a king/queen (albeit a dead king/queen).

Climbing is even more like this, even if you take out the element of painful death - which you can, for a large part of rock-climbing. The mental game is more complex than "roar, you can do it!" and requires careful posing of one's self in a good, positive place, aka the 2 sq. m. zone around yourself.  The adrenaline rush is unexpected and varies from climber to climber, route to route, and move to move. It can be triggered by anything, even by casual comments from passer-bys for the most self-conscious ones of us. It also is highly dependant on the number of coffees you drank that day, which we know can be quite a problem with some of us (ahem). And despite the adrenaline rush, one still has to be extremely precise, focused and cool.

And then we come to injuries - as opposed to running, injuries in climbing are sudden (i.e. not overuse injuries as most in running), loud (ankle breaking, tendons popping, elbows, shoulders, and knee dislocating), and leave permanent psychological scars, which further complicate the mental game when one has to convince one's body to lunge, jump, and hang on particularly badly injured (in the past) limbs, especially if it's that particular move that caused the injury in the past.

And lastly, the pump. Besides the adrenaline rush, I would say the pump, and the feeling of your fingers taking all  your weight (including that caused by the pizza you binged on last night, ahem) is what makes climbing so addictive. For non climbers, a good way to experience this pump is to try open and close your fist for 10 minutes or so. And then go do a pull-up.

So, in summary: death, mental game, adrenaline, pain, pump, addiction. While I could have said that at first, and thus could have returned to the rejoinder I still have to write, I really had to get this out of my system.

* I once ran away from home to go to the local gymnastics selection - I made it to the metro station.
** I once saw a female runner guiding a blind man that seemed to be her father - they were fast, despite running on a single pairs of eyes!

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