The Post-Quarantine Pump

The COVID pump hits different.

Dru Mack, June 13th 2020, Miller Fork Recreational Preserve

When the lockdowns were enforced, I often day dreamed about what the first day back outside would be like. I thought about the Red River Gorge – pining to be there instead of cooped up in my apartment fake climbing on my flash board.

On June 13th, 2020 I finally got to return to my favorite place in the world. With Kentucky humidity in full force, my other half and I headed down to the Red River Gorge.

Famous the for its pumpy style, I cannot think of anywhere more hilarious to return to after being unable to climb for three months.

I remember hanging around one of the crags at the Red a few years back, overhearing some crusty Yosemite guy complaining. “You don’t need to have any technique here, you just need fitness.” He spat this out after getting bucked off a 5.10a. Though I generally disagree with his statement, there is a kernel of truth in here. It helps to have some fit forearms down in Kentucky.

So where could be better to your ass handed to you after a forced hiatus from rock climbing than the Red River Gorge?

Enjoying the pump at the Infirmary. Photo by Sam Laslie.

Expectations vs. Reality

Though I had no delusions that my first venture back to the Red would be a wild success, I did think I might be able to perform reasonably well. This assumption was based on another recent excursion. In May I took a sneaky trip to New Hampshire. I onsighted up to the final bolt of an 11c, then ended up doing it in three tries. Going into this weekend in the Red, I thought I might be able to try something like that again. For reference, my hardest onsight to date is 5.11b.

new hampshire sport climbing
My first climb outside post-COVID. May 2020. My one day of climbing between March 15 and June 1.

Fast forward to the first route of the day, a 5.10b at the Infirmary in Miller Fork. I found myself pumped stupid hanging on the third draw. Three months off climbing seemed like a long time, but I had not conceived that I might suck this bad. Onsighting 5.10 at the Red was a given – or it used to be anyway.

I even knew going into this weekend that if I got really pumped that I might start thinking crazy things – like that I had somehow trained hard and regressed. Or that the whole year was a wash because of Coronavirus. I was so aware of these mental pitfalls that I wrote a blog post about it last month.

But there I was, hanging around the third bolt of a 5.10 with bricks for forearms, in my feelings more than a Drake song. But I had still had some mental tricks up my sleeve.

Label It and Move On

There is a meditation technique called “noting”. While meditating, if a thought or a feeling comes up, you are advised to label it like “thinking” or “feeling”, acknowledge it, then move on. You then resume trying to think about nothing until another train of thought arrives at the station.

Despite the strong emotions about my weary forearms, part of my mind recognized that these were simply feelings and did not need to become my whole reality.

Understanding that I was having a predictable emotional reaction allowed me to push through and keep climbing. My goal was to get on as many routes as I could stand that day. I wanted to fight, commit, and re-learn how to do what I had done before.

This was uncomfortable, but it helped me keep going even though I was disappointed in how hard everything seemed to be. “My endurance is gone,” was the crag anthem. The crew at the crag gave each other a hall pass for bitching, unified in how flamed out we were.

We’re Learning

As the weekend passed, I insisted to myself that everything was great because we were learning. Every fall was a victory – a badge of commitment for pressing on while pumped as shit. Every route was a chance to get used to the sandstone, to read a crux, to power through something that seemed “a little run out”.

Back when I was sitting in my apartment, all I wanted was to be stupid pumped on sandstone again. It was a blessing to even be there.

Not as Bad as I thought

Day one turned out to be pretty rough. I did not send a single thing. I accidentally skipped a clip while placing draws, resulting in a rather gigantic fall. It was Weekend Whipper worthy. Then, I proceeded to give up on a 5.10d. I didn’t pack enough water. A textbook junk show.

Then after a campfire, some sleep, and some time to let the emotions simmer, I was ready take on day two. I scrubbed away the expectations and told myself the goal was simply to fight my hardest and really commit. I also told myself that I was certainly capable of sending something.

Guess Who’s Back

By the end of day two, I finally got some points on the board, flashing an 70 foot 5.11a. I committed when I was pumped, remembered how to let the friction do the work, I read sequences better, and did more doing than fearing.

“Shady’s back, tell a friend!” I yawped on the repel down from the anchors.

That first day out as I sat at the third bolt of a 10b, I despaired. “Yeah, there’s no way I’ll surpass where I was last year. I need to bring down my expectations.” But a day later, I can quickly see how silly that was.

It’s going to take time to get back into the swing of things. I will be present, accepting, and prepared to relearn. Do not let yourself give up, 2020 is not over yet.

How was your first day back post COVID? Drop a comment below, I’d love to hear about your experience.

Want more tips to help you become a better climber? Stay up to date on my latest posts by following me on Instagram, Facebook, and subscribing to my monthly newsletter!

Discipline not Motivation: An Actionable Tip

lauren gravity vault climbing

Last week, I polled you all on instagram asking what you needed help with. Of all the options, the majority (36% of you) said that you were having trouble staying psyched.

I can honestly say you are not alone. As I write this, I am on day 67 of quarantine training in my apartment. Finding excitement in the nuances of hangboarding and kettlebell training is getting to be difficult, especially when I really want to climb. Motivation is running low, but I am still training.

Honestly, I don’t know if psyche is the answer to our problems, but discpline might be.

If you are having trouble staying motivated, but you know in your heart you want to train and progress, here’s a tip for you: use implementation intentions.

What the F* is an implementation intention?

Glad you asked. I learned about this in Jame’s Clear’s book, Atomic Habits. It is really simple, almost preposterously so.

You write down this sentence, “I will [BEHAVIOR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION]”.
(a great way to leverage a training notebook).

Too easy not to do.

Does this really work?

Yes. In a review of implementation intentions and action planning, researchers found literature pointing to improved behaviors ranging from physical activity to smoking to sun safety. Clear echos this in his book.

Hundreds of studies have shown that implementation intentions… increase the odds that people will stick with habits like recycling, studying, going to sleep early, and stopping smoking.

James Clear, Atomic Habits

Related: Systems over Goals

Ok, how do I do this?

Great question. Here is my system for leveraging implementation intentions myself.

At the beginning of each week, I write down what my training plan is based on what my work schedule, etc. It looks like this:

Then, the night before I train, I make the tables that I’m going to record my session in and I put the date and the time of day ahead of time (AM or PM). I make sure there are enough details that I don’t have to think – I can just do.

I love graph paper notebooks because they make the tables easier to build.

Is this a 100% guarantee to get me to train every time?

Obviously this is not a magic pill for discipline. I will say; however, that I have been doing this since the start of quarantine. To date I have “missed” only two sessions that I planned to do – and I made them up the next day.

If your psyche is low and you can’t seem to stick to anything, I highly recommend trying this out and seeing if it helps.

Found this useful? Did you try it out? Leave a comment or shoot me an email at lauren@senderellastory.com, I would be thrilled to hear from you.

Resources

Implementation Intention and Action Planning Interventions in Health Care

Atomic Habits by James Clear

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Outdoor climbing: 5 Mistakes to Avoid at the Start of the Season

Lauren Abernathy Wild Iris

The first time I completed an indoor training cycle, my first day back outside was magic. Routes that I could not finish the spring before became routes I did in one try that Fall. I could hardly believe my forearms. You might remember this mystical time yourself.

Unfortunately, as the years go on, making massive leaps becomes less and less common, if it happens at all. It is critical to have the right attitude when transitioning from indoor training to outdoor climbing. Here are a few mistakes to avoid at the start of your outdoor climbing season.

Mistake #1: Forgetting the unique demands of outdoor climbing

No matter how specific your gym or home wall, the likelihood is that your indoor practice does not perfectly replicate what you will be doing outdoors. The bolts are farther apart, the topouts are higher consequence, the feet are probably worse, and the route is not spelled out by big, bright holds.

This does not mean make a bunch of excuses. Give yourself the space to fail and don’t expect that you will be right back in the saddle on day one. He’s a tangible example from coach Nate Drolet about a smart way that one of his clients transitions into the start of a climbing season.

He doesn’t have a ton of time to climb outside. He recognized a pattern recently…. it takes him roughly twenty pitches to really start feeling in the groove… His goal now is, his first weekend, he’s going to knock out twenty pitches. He is fully committed to biting the bullet and going through that learning curve.

Nate Drolet, Power Company Podcast: Why Bouldering May not Help Your Sport Climbing

It takes time to get back in the groove, so plan for it. Be aware that as you get re-acquainted with outdoor climbing, you might have some rough days.

Mistake #2: Letting one bad day derail your confidence

The first day ever climbing in Rumney New Hampshire, I literally could not get past a move on a 5.10b. That same day, I fell off of a 5.10a. My confidence was crushed. I felt really stupid. “All that training and I can’t even climb 5.10.” But later that season I sent my first 5.11c and 5.11d. The training worked, but I had a bad day.

Perhaps on the first day out, you climb like shit. The narrative begins “I trained so hard and I still suck. I made it nowhere.” Stop it. Yes you did. If your training metrics improved throughout the cycle, you got better. Do not psyche yourself out – there are a million reasons why your first few days back outside do not feel like you hoped they would.**

Did you eat enough? Did you sleep poorly because you drove six hours and did not get to the crag until 2 a.m? Are you climbing in a new area? Did you intentionally dehydrate yourself because your other half won’t stop for bathroom breaks on the drive to the crag? Ok, maybe that one’s just me. Either way, between the fundamentals of getting outside again and a thousand other factors might cause you to have an off day. Don’t read into it too much.

**if you have not been training and you just got off a six month couch break, do not be surprised if you performance is lacking.

Mistake #3: Forgetting to communicate with your partners

Fortunately, I live with my climbing partner, but I know this is not the case for many. Practical things like not planning where you want to go, or not asserting yourself when you want to go work on something can really blow up your trip or a whole season.

Have a conversation with your partners or group about what you want to do in advance. Prioritize objectives so that if all else fails, at least you got to do “insert whatever route” here. Make plans. If you don’t, you may not even get to the route you have trained so hard for.

climber girls
Me and my buddy Sam. We live in different states but we’re always texting about routes and goals and plans for our next trips. It keeps me really psyched.

Mistake #4: Not planning a transition tick list

Something I have failed to do in the past is start the season with lower-tier projects. Usually, I feel that I have so little time to get outside, that I too quickly into the season objectives. I am better about this, however when I go on trips to new areas. I typically give myself some time to adjust to the style. This tactic is fun because it involves climbing a bunch of new routes before digging into anything major. For example in during my week in Wild Iris last year, on day one I did a bunch of 5.10 and 5.11 routes to adjust to the area. By day three, I was digging into my project for the week.

How long your tick list is depends on how quickly adjust to the outdoors as well as how much time you have for adjusting. If your trip is two weeks long, maybe more time to adjust is warranted. If your season is five or six weekends long, then maybe one or two weekends of busting out climbs is all you have. This is something you should figure out for yourself.

Lauren Abernathy Wild Iris
Working through some fun 5.11s in Wild iris on my first day there.
Photo by Tyler Palmer.

Mistake #5: Too Much Training

When it is time to perform, you have to turn down the training so you can prioritize your time outside. Your training priority will have to shift from making gains to maintaining and performing. You cannot expect to do your best outdoors if you are still thrashing yourself at the gym. When I anticipate a day outside I give myself two rest days before heading out. During the season, my training volume gets cut way down because I know that the outdoor climbing is what’s important.

Wrapping Up

Overall, thinking you are going to hit the ground sprinting is a good way to set yourself up for disappointment. Though you might be ready to crush on day one, odds are, you won’t be.  Make sure you put your energy towards good planning, not towards beating yourself up if you fall climbing something “easy” on the first day out.

How do you like to start the season? Does anything work really well for you? Leave a comment below – I would love to hear from you!

Want more tips to help you become a better climber? Stay up to date on my latest posts by following me on Instagram, Facebook, and subscribing to my monthly newsletter!

How to Unsend Your Project

deep water solo mike

I turned my back to the yachts and headed downward. The limestone slab was easy enough to navigate. I worked my way left just as I had a year prior, down to the base of the routes. I came around the corner to see a few other tourists hanging about the cave: a boy and a girl who looked to be in their twenties, whose climbing shoes looked a little too large – if I was asked to give an opinion on it.

From this little hole in the rock, you can see the whole cove. There were a few bright boats and celebrity-like houses across the water. Looking around it seemed absurd that you’d waste your time flailing on this cliff face. Why not sip a margarita and lay by the water instead?

deep water solo mike
A beautiful place to climb.

Back again

But there I was, in Mallorca again, ready to hopefully re-do a route that had gone down in three tries the year prior. Last year I hadn’t even redpointed a 5.12 yet. This year, I’d done five. I was surely much stronger this year than I was the previous. The numbers didn’t lie.

I began the traverse to start the route, crossing hands over feet until I was where I needed to be. Then, I heard a thick German accent shouting the boat across the way.

“It’s 7a if you keep going further, but this is the 6b! Yes, yes. Stop there!”

deep water solo mallorca

The man seemed to assume that I would be happy to know where to stop since I probably only wanted to get on the 6b (around 5.10d in the yosemite system). I couldn’t possibly be headed for the 7a, because scrawny American girls can’t climb that hard, of course.

Despite this, I continued on until I reached the base of Rich Bitch, the 7a I had done the year prior.

The First Splash

Ready to prove myself to the Peanut Gallery, I lunged for the first move, a rather large throw that demands your feet cutting loose (unless you are about 6’3″).

A few seconds later my nice, dry shoes were soaking wet. I had not quite reached the best part of the slot. With few quick expletives, I swam back over to the start of the route and heaved myself out of the water.

The tourist boy who had made no headway on the route tried to comfort me. “Good try, it’s a really big move.” My frustration brewed.

No matter, I would surely do it next go. My ego throbbed and I evaluated the man on the yacht. Was I really getting sprayed down by a fat, German tour guide while he lounged on a boat?

senderella story deep water solo
a photo of me on the send go in 2018.

A Play by Play

Fast forward about twenty minutes, I tried again. This time, I stuck the move and kept moving. My other half, Michael, was also working the route, so we had reviewed some beta together. I was ready to execute, but my focus again dissolved in the shouting.

“OK. Now you’ll want to put your foot up in that hold and move your hand right!”

The German guy was seriously giving me a play by play. I froze onto a crap hold. Half irritated that I couldn’t hear myself think and half trying to maybe take his advice, I made a couple more moves, then slipped off again after messing up the sequence.

My climbing was hideous. I was pissed.

Fortunately the swim through cold water would at least take some heat off me by the time I got back on shore. Though I gave no visible signs of anger to everyone else at the crag, on the inside I was fuming.

The next go was better. Before beginning the traverse I turned and looked the guy in the boat square in the face.

“Can you please not yell at me?”

“What!?”

“Can you please not yell at me? I want to figure it out myself.”

Though he seemed agitated at my request, he did not respond. Which is fine because he did exactly what I asked. Though it didn’t go this time, I made progress. I was able to figure out the next section and the attempt felt much better. I was calm again.

About an hour later, the tourist group and the pesky boat were sailing into the sunset. The crowd at the cliff was dissipating and on the sixth go, I finally repeated the thing. I was not proud, but I was relieved. It was a fine day to unsend something.

Mike and I after a good day of trying hard, despite my temporary adversary.

The Lessons

I have learned many lessons from reflecting on this day. Here are a few.

Great Expectations

For whatever reason, I assumed that because I had done it in three tries a year ago, that the route wasn’t hard and it would go just as easily. I had expectations that this 5.11d would be a piece of cake since I had finally cracked 5.12. I sauntered in ready for a cake walk instead of marching in for battle.

Bad with Crowds

I have always had a hunch that I have some crown-related performance anxiety, but this really illustrates it. The day I sent Rich Bitch the first time, there were about four people from our group at the crag. I was comfortable and I felt supported. On the return trip, however, the crag was flooded with new faces, including my yacht-lounging antagonist. The environment cracked my focus.

You Have to Advocate for Yourself

Though my fear of crowds needs work, we can all agree that having unwanted beta sprayed at you while you are working something is irritating. It was critical that I advocated for myself in this situation.

If you do not like something in your environment that is controllable, then change it. You only get so much time to climb, so make it the best you can be to ensure your success. If you would like for your friends to be silent while you are trying to redpoint, just ask nicely. I am sure they will oblige. If you want your belayer to yell a certain beta cue when you reach a particular hold, then tell them. Own your sends and create an environment that helps you do your best. Conversely, being a good climbing partner is all about helping to give your climber what they need when they’re on the send go as well.

The Pursuit of Mastery

Though I did think that redoing this route would be much easier than it was, I still took the time to redo it and I learned a lot from going through the process again. Here’s some advice from Kris Hampton from his book, The Hard Truth.

“Don’t be satisfied with sending the boulder. Send it better….Revisit old mini projects now and then. Unsend them and then resend them.”

Bad Days Happen

This was the first day of my trip to Mallorca. I was a little frustrated that it took me all day to repeat this route, but I didn’t let one off day spoil the pysche for the whole trip. Bad days happen and I knew the vibe at the cliff had messed with me a litte.

However, I did not let this hiccup cause me to spiral into destructive thoughts like “I don’t have enough power to climb here” or that “I’m not in shape anymore” or “my training didn’t work”. By the end of the trip, I went on to send both of my goal routes, Bisexual (7a) and Metrosexual (7a+). I did not let one bad day spoil my attitude for the week.

The Obvious Lesson

Spraying random strangers with beta by yelling at them mid-route isn’t cool. If you do this, you are an irrefutable ass hat. Just don’t do it. That shouldn’t be too hard, right?

Have you ever un-sent something? What did you learn? Drop a comment or shoot me an email, I would love to hear from you!

Want more tips to help you become a better climber? Stay up to date on my latest posts by following me on Instagram, Facebook, and subscribing to my monthly newsletter!

A Climber’s 21 Day Meditation Experiment

girl climbing gym senderella story

I always liked the part of yoga class where you laid down on the floor and did nothing for ten minutes. It was my motivation for showing up actually. I suffered through the vinyasas, holding planks for too long, and eating shit while trying to do crow pose, just to dissolve myself in the last ten minutes of nothing.

For some, the ability to find ease in the present moment is commonplace. For many, it is not.

Whether I’m at work or training or trying to enjoy dinner with my other half, parts of my mind are nibbling away joys of the present. It is sometimes difficult to avoid mulling over the worst parts of my day or skip to planning out the next. You might feel this way to.

These thought patterns are a detriment to our progress and well-being – in climbing or otherwise. The ability to focus is critical to enjoying our lives and our performance as climbers.

Focusing on technique and the execution of moving is always priority number one when training. If you are not there and conscious, no learning is happening.

Marius Morstad

Which is why in 2020, I set the goal of “developing a regular meditation practice”. Frankly, this is a crap goal because it lacks specificity and timeliness. However, I am writing this from month four of this project and I see that the end goal is to have meditation become a part of my day everyday – just like brushing my teeth.

Getting Some Help

To help with this, I received some help from Jenifer who runs Oasis Climbing Club, a guide service providing yoga, meditation and climbing retreats in locations throughout Spain. We connected on social media and I mentioned my goals to her. A certified yoga teacher with a specialization in meditation and visualization, she graciously offered to help. She is certainly the expert I needed. Since Jen is in Spain, we communicated via WhatsApp. Each day she uploaded a ten minute recording, allowing me to sample different types of meditation. For those who have not meditated before, this may seem absurd. “How could sitting on your ass with your eyes closed be categorized into different ‘types’?”

This confused me at first too, but after twenty one days with Jen – I began to understand the nuances.

My Favorite Meditations

In the 21 days with Jen, a few of the meditations really stood out. My absolute favorite was a visualization of a day at the crag. From getting out of the car to the crux of the project, Jen’s voice guided me through a visualization. The purpose of this is to breed familiarity, control and confidence when I face these situations in real life.

If you think visualization is too “woo woo” for you, then perhaps some research may be of interest.

Research: Physical Strength Gained by the Mind

In a 2004 study, researchers took to finding out what happens if individuals used only their minds to improve their strength in comparison with physical training. There were four groups. One group trained their pinky flexion performing only mental contractions. There was a group that trained physically, and another that did no training, but was measured as a control. After twelve weeks, the results were in. The group that trained physically saw an increase in pinky abduction strength of 53%; the mental-only group saw strength improvements as well: 35%. Not bad for not even lifting a finger.

We conclude that the mental training employed by this study enhances the cortical output signal, which drives the muscles to a higher activation level and increases strength.

From mental power to muscle power–gaining strength by using the mind

Visualizing is not just for strength, however. The best of the best climbers have used this technique for some of their greatest ascents.

Then I visualized a lot. In my head, I cut it down into different sections. Here climb fast, here slow down. In the end, I figured there would be two moves where I could fall.

Adam Ondra on his Flash of Super Crackinette, the world’s first 5.15a flash

So if you think that increasing your mental sharpness and visualizing your sport will not help you, you might want to think again.

Lauren Abernathy Flesh for lulu
Me getting ready for the first crux on Flesh for Lulu, 5.12a/b with some deep breathing and visualization of the crux moves.

Jen’s calming voice did not only help me with a day at the crag, I also learned techniques for eating – mindfully, that is.

Eating Meditation

Another one I really enjoyed was a meditation on mindful eating. I “mindfully consumed” a sunflower buttercup. It made me realize how much I rush through eating my food. Though I don’t always remember to, I do recall these ideas when I am eating on occasion. It helps to slow me down and squeeze a bit of extra joy out of my life.

What I Learned

Though there were certainly days where I didn’t feel like I had even ten minutes to myself, I was always glad when I did take the time. Showing up to meditate is a lot like showing up to train for climbing. Some days you are going to suck at it — not that you can really suck at meditation, but some days definitely feel harder than others. However, you build the practice and reap the benefits by being consistent, not by giving up when it seems difficult.

Why this is important to me and my climbing

Practicing the mental aspect of climbing is difficult, especially since it lacks the tangibility of physical practice. Meditation is a common practice for many elite athletes, especially in the climbing space. Though I can’t keep up with Adam Ondra’s campus session, keeping myself mentally sharp by meditating like Hazel Findlay seems like a good option.

The mind is a muscle just as much as the body. We should train it as such.

You would never train your fingers and then expect your fingers to be strong for years without continuing up your finger-boarding. Equally, you can train your mind, but if you don’t continue that practice it will get weak again.

Hazel Findlay – Power Company Climbing Episode 57

In addition to benefits in sports performance, the body of research relating meditation with improved health and wellness, is absolutely booming. There is an entire sector of Harvard research dedicated to mindfulness. This practice that has been around for thousands of years, seems to have significant positive effects on our wellbeing. I have found that taking this time for myself feels really good and the scientific community seems to resoundingly agree.

Several studies have shown that the constant practice of meditation induces neuroplasticity phenomena, including the reduction of age-related brain degeneration and the improvement of cognitive functions… The effects of meditation are correlated to improvements in attention, working memory, spatial abilities, and long-term memory.

Mindfulness Meditation Is Related to Long-Lasting Changes in Hippocampal Functional Topology during Resting State: A Magnetoencephalography Study

Where to Next

After the completion of my 21 day experiment, I had the kick start I needed. To keep the journey going I use a combination of my white board as well as the HeadSpace app.

I am far from perfection, but I am showing progress in being consistent. I had a fifteen day streak of meditating in March – a personal record. Though I missed a couple of days throughout April, I am still keeping up with the practice.

The HeadSpace app has meditations as short at 3 minutes. It’s hard to say you don’t have the time to be consistent when you can invest just three minutes a day into improving your wellbeing.

Have you meditated before? Has it helped your focus while climbing? Have questions about how I made it a consistent practice? Drop a comment below or shoot me an email at lauren@senderellastory.com.

More about Oasis

I would like to point out here that this is not a sponsored post for Oasis Climbing, Jen is simply very kind and offered to help with me with my self-experiment. It would be a total disservice to the climbing community to not share that this sort of kindness exists. So if you are in the market for a guided climbing trip, check out Oasis. A week of Jen teaching you yoga and meditation after a day at the crag sounds like paradise to me. Learn more here.

Want more tips to help you become a better climber? Stay up to date on my latest posts by following me on Instagram, Facebook, and subscribing to my monthly newsletter!

Resources

From mental power to muscle power–gaining strength by using the mind

Power Company Climbing – Flow and Mental Mastery with Hazel Findlay

When Science meets Mindfulness

Mindfulness Meditation Is Related to Long-Lasting Changes in Hippocampal Functional Topology during Resting State: A Magnetoencephalography Study

Interview: Adam Ondra Completes World’s First 5.15a/9a+ Flash

Climbing Motivation: How to Make a Route Pyramid Poster

I have written about route pyramids before, but up until writing this post my own route pyramid was but a pile of rock climbs randomly strewn about my memory bank. However, after being inspired by a couple of close friends who have done the same, I made my own route pyramid come to life.

Inspiration from a couple of friends.

If you’re climber that “doesn’t care about grades” then you’ll want to step away right now, but if progression interests you or if you just like keeping track of things , then stick around. Here is how to make your own Visual Route Pyramid.

Materials

Photo Frame*
1/2″ sticker dots
A print out of this template**
Thin Marker or Pen
Guide Books
Tape (just in case)

*I went to FedEx to print mine because I don’t have a printer and didn’t have access to one at work. I reccomend either 16″x20″ or 18″x24″.
**If you do happen to download this template, it would be lovely if you subscribed to my monthly climbing training newsletter!

Step 1: Put the template in the frame

Step 2: Begin putting your stickers on.

Put your stickers on the outside of the glass/plastic. You are not going to want to take your poster out every time you get home from a trip. I recommend starting from the bottom and going up, make sure you have your guidebooks with you. Remembering routes from a few years ago can be pretty tricky. Take time to reminisce and reflect (this is a great activity to do with your climbing buddies, if you can).

You’ll notice that 5.10 looks a little barren on mine because I really don’t remember a lot of them…

Step 3: Add pictures that get you psyched

I just slid my pictures of Red River Gorge Nature and cool rock climbs into the frame.
A picture of an amazing rock climb is way more inspiring than this:

5.11d

Step 4: Put it somewhere you will see it

At my old job, I had pictures of routes I wanted to do at my desk. It kept me from bailing on going to the gym after work. “I’m too tired, there’s too much traffic” seemed to dissolve a bit when I was looking my goals straight in the face.

Additionally the poster is a great reminder that you have sent things before and you will send them again. This is a reminder every climber needs throughout their career.

Is this actually helpful for my climbing?

In short, yes. First of all, reflecting on routes you have climbed is an inherently good thing. For example, when I look at my route pyramid, it is glaringly obvious that I put too much time into the “cusp grades” and avoid the 5.11c/ds. I may need to slot in some sub-maximal mini-projects to fill that in next year.

Taking time to reflect on previous experiences is productive for your climbing and other aspects of life, obviously. Additionally, as you go on to add more climbs to your pyramid, you’ll have a moment of thoughtfulness when you write the route name on the sticker and put it on your wall.

Your poster pyramid (hopefully studded with pictures of inspiring rock climbs) will keep you motivated. Perhaps you will put your pyramid somewhere to remind you that getting your ass out of bed before work to hangboard is worth it. If you have to look at your goals when you press snooze, perhaps you won’t hit snooze so often.

While making a poster will not result in increased finger strength, but perhaps it might cause you to be more motivated and intentional with your climbing and training.

If you’re going to hang something on your walls, why not make it inspiring. Plus, I’ve seen your water bottles. You guys love putting stickers on stuff.

Have questions? Suggestions on how you made yours even better? Leave a comment below!

Additionally, please email me pictures at Lauren@senderellastory.com
I would love to see your work.

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2019 Wrap-Up: Failure, Fun and Onto the Next

In the Fall of 2016, I went on one of my first trips to the Red River Gorge. I packed some clothes, some food, a hammock, and an intense fear of heights. My vertical neuroses paired interestingly with a fierce determination to become a good climber. This combination of fears and desires eventually left me hanging in terror on the seventh bolt of A Brief History of Climbing. I sat with my head against the wall crying because I was so uncomfortable with the heights. If you would have told that girl that in three years she would send 5.12, she would have laughed. If you told her she’d do it while deep water soloing in Spain, she might have slapped you. But here we are. I’ve done all of those things. It’s been a hell of a year.  

For those who may have missed it, at the beginning of 2019, I set the goal of red-pointing twelve 5.12s in at least four different climbing areas. Though I didn’t meet my objective, I was certainly made better for trying.

So with lots of training, focus, cursing, joy, and many aggressive weekend road trips, here is what I did piece together in my attempt at twelve 5.12s in 2019.

  • Groovin’ 5.11d in Birdsboro, PA
  • Starry 5.12a in The New River Gorge, WV
  • Butch Pocket and the Sundance Pump 5.12a in Wild Iris, WY
  • Beattyville Pipeline, 5.12a in The Red River Gorge, KY
  • Orangahang 5.12a/b in Rumney, NH
  • Flesh For Lulu 5.12 a/b in Rumney, NH
  • Bisexual 7a/5.11d (Deep Water Solo) in Mallorca, Spain
  • Metrosexual 7a+/5.12a (Deep Water Solo) in Mallorca, Spain
Lauren Abernathy mallorca
Falling off the top of Bisexual in Mallorca.
Lauren abernathy Beattyville pipeline red river gorge
Me on Beattyville Pipeline.

Additionally, though I went bouldering only two or three times this year, I flashed my first V4 and sent my first V5 outside, which was a neat little bonus on top of my sport climbing objectives. With that, here is the little bit of wisdom, that I have personally collected over the past year.

Lauren - powerlinez bouldering
After the send of my first V5 outdoors.

Persistence or Bust

I love climbing, but getting better at it is not easy. Usually, if you are proud to accomplish something, it means you had work hard and make sacrifices to get it.

There were many times where I felt tired, or my day job was really stressful, or I wanted to press snooze on the alarm clock and skip my morning training session. Sometimes I did. But most of the time, I showed up with a plan and got shit done. Not every session felt great – most felt either lackluster or completely terrible. But I showed up.

Personally, I have seen that being consistent and finding excitement in incremental improvements is critical to continuous improvement in as a climber.

The Blog

Consistency is something that has been a key to pushing through with this blog as well. When I first started writing, I didn’t really know where it would take me, or have any idea what I was doing. Then after four or five months of having no more than twenty people readers, I thought that maybe I ought to quit. It felt a like I was performing a monologue for an auditorium of deaf kittens. Lots of work with no one listening.

I want to sincerely thank those of you who emailed me, messaged me and told me that something I had written had helped you or inspired you in the year since I started this blog. Knowing that someone had benefitted from something I had written kept me from quitting. It helped me to stay excited to write even when it seemed like this blog served no purpose besides sucking time from my loved ones, my climbing, and my apartment that needs to be tidied every now and again. So thank you, sincerely. I love writing and climbing and I do not have plans to stop doing either any time soon.

 Here’s to a New Year

With that, I wish you all the happiness, health, and sends in the coming year. May you set big, hairy, audacious goals. Even if you fail, may you learn a lot in the process.  

With that, I will leave you with the words of the late Warren Miller.

“If you don’t do it this year, you’ll be one year older when you do.”

You are never too old to crush at something. Have a happy New Year.

Want more tips to help you become a better climber? Stay up to date on my latest posts by following me on Instagram, Facebook, and subscribing to my monthly newsletter!

Systems over Goals: Set Yourself Up for Success

“A goal should scare you a little and excite you a lot.”

Joe Vitale

In 2019, I said my goals loud and proud for all of the internet to read – some of you all did too. In 2020, I am making some tweaks to and trying to re-frame the goal making process. Here are some actionable tips to help you examine the way you have (or have not) been making goals, your resolutions, and the overall quality of your follow through on the commitments you make to yourself.

With that, here are some new perspectives you can apply to your climbing goals in the coming year.

What Kind of Person are You?

Perhaps you have failed at sticking to your commitments in the past and you want to do better this time. In the past, you may have said “this is the year I will actually follow a training program”. And then life got in the way. Then you gave up. Now you are still climbing the same grades that you were two years ago and you are frustrated that you can’t follow through with commitments you make to yourself.

Maybe you have plenty of the motivation, but you don’t seem to understand how you can get yourself follow through. Might I suggest an eight question quiz to help determine your own tendencies around behavior modification? It will help you learn a bit about what makes you tick and help you to set yourself up for success. Perhaps it is not that you don’t have the motivation or the ability to achieve what you want to, maybe you simply have not designed your systems to your own unique habit-changing specifications. So take the quiz, find out how you work, and proceed from there.

Take the Quiz here.

Further Reading: Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin

Photo By Teagan Maddux

On Keeping Your Goals to Yourself

In addition to understanding how you work in the context of achieving goals and altering your habits, another interesting idea that I am pondering is the usefulness of sharing my goals with other people.

Though I have given a select few a glimpse into what I want to tackle next year, I plan to keep the spray about what I want to achieve in 2020 to a minimum. Though I will still be sharing in the process, I am keeping the end goal to myself this year? Here is why.

Though some people need added external pressure, I find that with my sometimes overwhelming fear of failure, letting the world know about what I plan to achieve does not really help me at all.

However, if you are the sort of person that lacks intrinsic motivation and has found that external accountability helps you to succeed, then godspeed. But make sure that you don’t phrase the discussion of your goals in a way that makes you feel less accountable for putting in the work to achieve them.

The next topic I want to address is the idea of focusing on our systems and habits more than the goals themselves.

Related: How to Set Quality Goals

Habits, not Goals

Though having big objectives is important, having a framework for what habits or systems you want to build is critical to achieving them.

If successful and unsuccessful people share the same goals, then the goal cannot be what differentiates the winners from the losers.

James Clear, Atomic Habits

Practically everyone has the goal of climbing harder in their next climbing season. Whether or not you succeed has little to do with the goal you set and a lot more to do with the plan you have in place to do so.

You may not have any big goals, but setting up habits like “I will do fifteen minutes of footwork drills at the beginning of my climbing sessions” will lead to improvements without being attached with some grand, long-term objective.

Personally, I like having big goals. However, making a goal is the easy part. Formulating a plan to execute is what takes effort.

Related Reading: Atomic Habits by James Clear

Simplifying for Success

Plans to reach our goals can vary in terms of complexity. If you are not participating in a training program right now, the odds that you are going to handle your training complexity going from zero to one hundred are statistically extremely low.

For those that have never followed a training plan before, you can likely get something out of making simple tweaks to your time in the gym. Here are a few ideas to get you started. Note that whether or not these suit you specifically, is up to you to determine.

  • Add movement drills to your climbing warm-up
  • Do the same hangboard session once a week for 8 weeks
  • Go to the climbing gym three times per week
  • Try any boulder that you do not flash at least five times
Measuring progress during a hangboard session. Photo by Teagan Maddux.

The list could go on forever. The point is, getting better at climbing doesn’t have to be complicated. If you know that you have failed at sticking to training plans before, then resolve to make small adjustments to your training, stick to them, and make changes once you stop seeing results.

This is not to say that getting better at climbing is easy. And eventually, your goals will necessitate increases in training complexity beyond the small tweaks to your sessions that are discussed above. That being said, if you don’t feel comfortable going big with a full-fledged training program. Start with small, manageable bites.

Please Start Measuring Something

Making small tweaks to your climbing session is a great way to get yourself headed in the right direction. However, if you don’t measure your progress, you really will not know if what you are doing is helping and when your progress is leveling off.

The first step in knowing that you want something in your climbing to change is to have a grasp on what your climbing consists of now. But if you have no idea how strong you are, what you consistently send, or how much climbing you have actually been doing, it is really difficult to do that.

Perhaps you are very new to climbing and all you need to do is go to the gym more to get better. However, you might be a veteran that truly needs to take a hard look at some serious finger training to break into the next grade.

Whatever your situation, some measurement will go a long way.

senderella story - track your training
Taking notes during a climbing session. Photo by Teagan Maddux

Depending on your current habits, maybe it is unrealistic to expect that you will become a detailed note taker that logs their training sessions like I do. If that’s you, fine. Meet yourself where you’re at, but please track something. Here are a few ideas for baby steps you can take to become a better tracker of your climbing and training sessions.

  • Record every time you go climbing or train for climbing. Keep a tally. Bonus points if you separate days inside vs. days outside.
  • Write one sentence about what you did, how it went, for how long, and the date for every time you train or climb in a notebook or excel sheet.
  • Give every session a rating of perceived exertion (how tough the session was) on a scale of 1 to 10.

Once you get in the habit of recording something for each of your training sessions, get more detailed. If you really care about getting better at climbing, you need to keep track of what you are doing.

Related: Comprehensive Guide to Tracking your Climbing and Training

Shut Up and Crush It

So now, please go forward. Spray about it or don’t, but use the above to shift your mindset and crush next year. I am really excited for you and all the dreams you have. So please go make them a reality. See you at the gym.

Do you enjoy making goals? Is training something you are trying to be more disciplined about next year – leave a comment below and let’s discuss!

Want more tips to help you become a better climber? Stay up to date on my latest posts by following me on Instagram, Facebook, and subscribing to my monthly newsletter!

How You Can Listen to Your Body: Climbing Injuries

Let’s face it, climbing is a tough sport. If you are trying to push yourself as a climber, you will very likely hurt yourself in the process. It may be minor tweaks or it may be a big season-ending injury, but even the strongest climbers get hurt. In 2018, Adam Ondra took an 8 meter ground fall and injured his knees. World cup boulderer, Alex Puccio has had a string of ACL injuries, and even Alex Megos had a season-ending finger injury in 2017 that majorly disrupted his competitive climbing season.

The fact is, you are probably going to come across some sort of injury — acute or otherwise in your climbing career. So brace yourself and learn to listen to your body – you will prevent yourself from turning a small tweak into something bigger.

This skill is hard to learn – and even harder to manage when you are close to sending something and you want to give it one last go. But it is critical if you want to have a sustainable climbing career. I am not perfect at this. No one is, but holding back when you need to is a skill we all should learn.

Even though we’ve all lived in our bodies our whole lives, listening to your body can be tough. Here are four questions that I ask myself when I get the feeling that something is amiss.

What are you feeling?

For me, it usually starts with a tingle. Maybe I wake up with an achy shoulder and it feels better by the time I go climbing. Maybe its a weird feeling in an elbow immediately after executing a non-ergonomic move. Perhaps I felt a sharp pain in my finger.

It is important to notice these things and not ignore them. They might feel small now, and perhaps they aren’t super painful, but keep stock of these little signs. Your body is trying to tell you something. What you do with it is up to you, but ignoring it usually doesn’t work out.

What have you been doing leading up to this point?

Usually when you get injured, unless its something catastrophic like a piece of gear popping or a rock falling, you can typically see it coming. Hindsight is 2020, but you know what I mean. What was the last thing that kept you out of climbing for a few days or weeks? What were you doing leading up to it? Did you climb five days on? Did you hit it hard with a new training regime that was maybe too much? Did you change something or increase the intensity of something in your climbing or training?

Cranking down on small holds was just what my painful shoulder needed.

Here’s an example of a pretty stupid way that I hurt myself in the Fall of 2019:
I was in Rumney, NH and my boyfriend and I were rushing to hop on a classic 5.10a before the crowds got there. But as we kept hiking, a big group behind us was fast-approaching. In the rush to hop on this classic, mantle-filled 5.10 on a cold autumn morning, I did nothing to warm up my shoulders.

And to be clear, 99% of the time before I climb or workout, I warm up my shoulders. The theraband is with me at all times when I go climbing outside.

But I didn’t this time. And you know what, I tweaked my shoulder. Proceeded to climb on my project, sent it through the pain, and then I needed a week off of climbing. My shoulder bugged me a little for the rest of my Rumney season.

What could happen if you don’t listen to your body?

So giving yourself a rest, walking away from a project, or avoiding climbing for a week or two might not sound sexy, especially if it doesn’t hurt “that bad”. But there have been a few times over the past year where I had to put myself in time out. So far, I have tweaked my knee twice in 2019 and have had to rest it for a week or so at a time. I have also tweaked a finger, and taken a week off after feeling an acute, popping sensation. I have also taken a week off after the above shoulder incident.

And what motivates me to have the self-control to not waltz over to the climbing gym when I can literally see it from my house (it is an actual 30 second walk away)? Well, I avoid the temptress by getting a little imaginative. I think things like “well if you don’t rest, you might go into the gym and completely tear your ACL and then you’ll be out for way longer than a week.” That thought usually gets me to take a step back and stay off whatever limb I injured.

Anytime you feel that sudden onset of injury… you immediately rest, stop climbing, stop moving, give it a week or two to see how bad it is.

Physical Therapist and Climber, Esther Smith on the
TrainingBeta Podcast Episode 94

So imagine a few horror stories to motivate yourself to have some restraint. If you feel like something is wrong, pay attention to it and don’t pretend that you’re OK if you’re not.

Lauren - powerlinez bouldering
My first V5 outdoors – would have been a great moment, except that I should not have kept climbing after I blew up my knee in a heel hook on a nearby warm-up….

Is there anything else going on that might effect your likelihood of getting injured right now?

Is there something that happens leading up to when you get injured? Are there any patterns that you notice? Were you really stressed by a situation at work or school? Had you not been sleeping well? Is there anything in life that might make you more injury-prone at certain times? I hurt my knee on a bouldering trip in the Fall of 2019. I started the day with a really tight hip left hip, I had gone on a run that week (which I NEVER do which still had me sore), I was exhausted from a bad work week, and unsurprisingly, my knee blew up in a heel hook on a warm-up route. I had to sit myself out of climbing for a week to let it rest.

That Time of the Month

For all the ladies out there (or men that want to learn something about your female climbing counterparts), did you know that a significant portion of ACL ruptures in women occur around the end of the second week of the menstrual cycle? According to the literature, increases in estrogen levels lead to decreased tendon and ligament stiffness. In women, this spike in estrogen leads to increased risk of injury. Practically speaking, I can confirm that all three times I have tweaked my knee, it has been around the middle of my cycle while simultaneously pushing myself, whether it be skiing, a climbing competition or outdoor bouldering. I joke that I “should avoid going hard for 25% of the year”, but perhaps I need to take this into greater consideration. The chart below is taken from the Effect of Estrogen on Musculoskeletal Performance and Injury Risk.

Look to the Past to Tell your Future

In any case, it may be interesting to reflect on past injuries and tweaks to see if you notice a pattern. Think about all of the things in your life that might wear you down a little. Perhaps you are blocking out the fact that after you do yard work for a weekend and then you try to hit it hard in the gym, your back starts hurting. Maybe you do electrical work and your injuries happen a few days after you work a double shift. Perhaps sitting at your desk all day with poor posture really hurts your shoulders. Maybe your injuries occur the first day out on a climbing trip when you hardly slept because you were traveling the night before. Who knows? Take stock of what happens leading up to your injuries whether they be major or minor – acute or chronic. You just might learn how to keep it from happening again.

The next time you feel something coming on or you get a feeling in your body that something is not quite right, pay attention to it. It might prevent you from being out of commission for a few weeks – or worse.

What are some patterns you notice before you get hurt? Are you good at taking time off when something does not feel right? What hindsight do you have about your injuries? Leave a comment below or shoot me an email at lauren@senderellastory.com – I would love to discuss!

Want more tips to help you become a better climber? Stay up to date on my latest posts by following me on Instagram, Facebook, and subscribing to my monthly newsletter!