Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Taking the piss.

We need to do more of it.

Please - take the piss out of me.

No - not my balding head, my Scottish accent, or the hairy shoulders that all the girls at the wall seem so fascinated with waxing... my climbing!

A few weeks back, late in the afternoon at Brean Down, just after I'd sent Tide Rising - feeling drained but not quite ready to call it quits - I went for a go at Roof of Inequity (7a+). I didn't get anywhere near the onsight, but it's a bit of a one move wonder so once I'd worked it out I knew the route should go, despite being boxed.

Second attempt I got to the crux, crossed through to a jug, and tried to bring my foot up. Next think I knew I was swinging on one hand, both feet scrabbling desperately for some purchase before my fingers gave way. That purchase was not forthcoming.

I returned to the ground to find Ramon far from sympathetic - instead laughing his head off at my "Riverdance" attempt. My immediate impression had been that I'd tried my best, but because I was tired the move was just too powerful. Ramon's words quickly shattered that illusion - the reason I failed was I lost my composure. Next go, with Ramon's laughter still ringing in my ears, I took my time - used my feet properly to shift my weight under the handhold before bringing them up - and sent the route.

Now, Ramon could have just said to me "dude, your feet were sloppy there, what's that all about?", and it probably would have had the same result as far as that one route was concerned. But it wouldn't have had a lasting impression - and as it is I suspect it'll be a while before I forget that fall. Sloppy footwork, born of lack of composure, now has a catchphrase. And hopefully every time I do it I'll hear that catchphrase in my head, recognise what I've done, and understand why I failed.

Understanding where our weaknesses lie is of course one of the most important factors in improving performance. The subconscious will often make critical self-analysis difficult - our self image is after all important. So, unless we're employing coaches we rely on our climbing partners for that crucial feedback. We're always quick to heap praise on our friends when they do well - and quite rightly so - but I think we need to look for the negatives more often too. I regularly ask whoever I'm climbing with to point out my failings, but not many do. Assuming we can discount the unlikely idea that I'm so good nobody can find fault, that means either they don't want to bruise my ego, or they're not even looking for what I'm doing wrong.

Further evidence that how we perceive ourselved is often not the way we're perceived by others came this week, in a conversation with Nic. I was telling him how pleased I was with one aspect of my recent attempts - problem solving. On Tide Rising, I worked out the sequence that I eventually used for the send in a single weekend - pretty much on my own as Amira's broken toe prevented her working it with me. Two weeks ago, working Storm Warning(7c+) with Ramon, we got the sequence in three attempts - he put together an awesome send next go. To me this was a sign that I was getting better at something I considered to be a weakness - so I was quite surprised when Nic told me he'd always considered problem solving to be one of my strengths.

So who's assessment is correct? I'd have to assume it's Nic's. He can take a more dispassionate view of my climbing, whereas I will always be fighting the human brain's remarkable capacity to lie to itself. We're all pretty good at ignoring the evidence to get a view that satisfies the ego, let's us do what we want to rather than what we should, or just makes us feel better about life - from the "Ach, a few smokes when I'm drinking won't do any harm" to believing in gods. All of us - from the V6 boulderer who still thinks it's a lack of power that's holding him back on low 7 routes, to anyone who can rationalise sending a 7c+ one week and backing off a 6a DWS the next - we all construct a version of reality that suits.

So please, help me uncover these lies I'm telling myself. If you're climbing with me, or just in the vicinity at the crag or down the wall, tell me what I'm doing wrong... and if I don't listen the first time, you have my blessing to rip me to fucking shreds! :-)


  1. ... I think your jacket would go well with my gold/white chalk bag... where did you find it? :-)

  2. got it in a little shop in camden... you're very welcome to borrow it :-)