In the months since I’ve started this quest, I’ve gotten all types of training advice, both mental and physical. I’ve also heard plenty of awesome stories of other people’s successes and failures. It’s truly an inspiration, and I’ve appreciated all of it, but sometimes it confuses the mind and disrupts my thrown-together and uneducated plan. The most common advice from most climbers (all of whom are strong and have ticked dozens of 5.12s themselves) is to pick a route I’m psyched on, dial in the moves, and keep working at it until it feels like a warm-up and I send it like one of those six-beers-deep emails to my ex.
This sounds like a great idea in theory; it’s more or less what the best climbers do when they’re projecting. When you can’t stick a move, you either try it over and over or train specifically for that move. Seems simple enough. I’m torn, though, because even though ticking a 5.12a that’s perfectly my style (I like technical crimps on long and vertical walls) would meet the parameters of my 12 in 12 goal, I don’t just want to climb a 5.12. I want to be a 5.12 climber.
Being a 5.12 climber means being able to comfortably redpoint a variety of 5.12 climbs, whether they’re overhanging and pumpy or bouldery and technical (slabs be damned!). For me, that means improving across a variety of platforms. Get stronger. More power. Work on pinches and slopers. Focus on keeping core tension. Endurance, endurance, endurance. So I’ve been in the gym many hours a week, working on all these things. If I’m strong now, breaking into the world of 5.12 climbing will be more realistic in the future.
The most important mental aspect for me is feeling strong. When I feel strong, I’m not afraid to make moves or fall; I’ll lead almost anything. When I feel weak or pumped, I get frantic, start using bad technique, and shamefully ask to take. Climbing in the gym makes me get and feel functionally stronger, so on real rock I can make it happen. I aspire to be able to say, like Alex Huber, “I have power to waste!”
I know I will go out, pick a route, work it for a while, and eventually send it. I have confidence in that, but this transition phase is a bit of a mind-boggler. I just went out and started climbing 5.11 one day. Can I go out and just start climbing 5.12? Is the biggest problem I have right now not my mediocre lats and forearms but the mental block of the number 12? Am I putting 5.12 on too much of a pedestal? Is my brain the only thing standing between me and a 5.12 tick?
Sasha DiGuilian recently said in an Urban Climber interview (read it here) that “The hardest route a lot of women have done is nowhere near their potential because they don’t work at it.” She went on to say, “A lot of it is just getting on hard climbs and trying them.” That struck a serious chord with me. Here is this 19-year-old female who climbs 5.14d saying, “Just try.” You’re a better climber than you think you are. Whoa. Talk about words of inspiration combined with a serious gut check.
So let’s all do that. Let’s try a little harder—at the gym, at the crag, on the campus board. Let’s push our limits back inch by inch so that they’re not really our limits any more.
Tell me how you’re trying hard at email@example.com
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