Why You Should Learn to Lead Climb

As with any sport, climbing follows a natural progression.

First you learn to boulder. Then you try out top-roping. Eventually you muster up the courage to try lead climbing. And once the fear from lead climbing subsides, you test your luck on gear. Generally. I know people who have done this in reverse, or skipped an element all together. It’s all in the eyes of the climber.

For about four years I was content letting someone (usually my boyfriend or another really strong male friend), lead the climb and set up the top rope for me. Then I’d willfully flail around on the thing for however long, maybe make it to the chains, maybe not, be lowered, maybe get grouchy for being such a terrible climber, rinse, repeat.

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Let me say, there is nothing wrong with top-roping. In fact, top-roping is an essential and useful aspect in learning how to climb. The falls are more protected, you can hone in on your technique, and it requires little know-how. Top-roping plays a vital role in climbing.

This is sticky, so bear with me.

Before I learned how to lead climb I was always dependent on someone else. I needed someone with a higher skillset than my own to hang draws and set-up the rope for me. Climbing wasn’t my own. I couldn’t call up just anyone to go climbing, I had to call someone who would be willing to take me out and do the work for me.

The more I went out and lacked the skills to set-up my own climb, the less empowered I felt.

In fact, I started to feel everything but empowered.

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I understand teamwork and collaboration. I value the power of we. And climbing is far from a solo endeavor. You need a partner. You need a catch. You need a spotter.

Like every good partnership, however, it can easily become exhausting when one partner is doing all the work. I noticed this in my relationship with my husband (who was my boyfriend at the time of these revelations). I wanted to be this strong, independent woman, but I was unable to own my climbing. And it was so easy to use him as a sort of crutch. I started thinking, if he hadn’t come into my life, would I be climbing at all?

I needed climbing to be a thing for me. I needed it to be something I did because I could. At that point, I couldn’t just go out and climb because I lacked the skills.

So, I learned to lead climb.

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And yeah, lead climbing is terrifying. While it gets less terrifying over time (and then ups the terrifying levels when you least expect it), learning to lead climb is scary and uncomfortable and if you’re anything like me, can be downright paralyzing at times.

When you’re first starting out, it’s type II fun, for sure.

But once you start hitting that flow on lead, and you realize that every fall won’t be your last, you tap into a part of yourself that believes you can.

For the first time in my climbing career, I’ve been able to go out and project 5.12 with some incredible, crusher, badass ladies. I’ve introduced women to the sport. I’ve been able to setup top-ropes for beginner climbers on routes they wouldn’t have been able to try otherwise.

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I love this circle.

So to all of you out there, who want to try lead climbing, but are maybe scared (or, like I was, downright terrified), I encourage you to try it. Take a class. I know the gyms in Salt Lake offer lead climbing classes on a regular basis. There are also dozens, maybe hundreds of people in climbing communities who are more than willing to mentor and encourage new climbers.

So get out there, and get scared.

 



 

**All pictures courtesy of my dashing, and incredibly talented husband, Coby Walsh. You can follow him on Instagram @icoby24

 

What They Don’t Tell You About Running

Around 5am every morning you can hear the low hum of complaint as angry runners rise from their comfy beds to get 30 minutes in before the day is underway. They grumble as they lace up their running shoes, grunt as they pull on their compression socks, and whimper as they step out into the cold, unforgiving world. They force their way through three unpleasant miles, and kiss the door as they return, so absolutely thankful that running is out of the way, and they don’t have to go through the process for another 24 hours.

Fun, right?

And then they go to work and complain to their coworkers about how much they hate running, but they have to do it. They do it for the carbs, or for the abs, but never because they want to. We love the camaraderie of misery.

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I used to be a spiteful runner. I ran in spite of what I wanted, and for that I was proud. I made myself run today, wasn’t I a rockstar? I didn’t give in to my primal desire to lay in bed all day, feasting on Cheetos and binging on Netflix. No, I went out and I ran.

It was awful.

All that time I spent angry about my feet hitting the pavement was a lot of wasted energy. If running is something you do for thirty minutes a day, four times a week, that’s over 100 angry hours every year. Four entire days of negativity. Sounds exhausting.

Especially because something wonderful happens when you embrace the choice to run. Your body finds it’s rhythm. You start to feel like a gazelle. You start to build confidence and mental endurance. You begin to believe you were made to run. And guess what, you were.

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Our ancestors were persistence hunters, chasing down their prey before the invention of bows, arrows, and rifles. We ran to protect ourselves from predators, and as early as 1829 B.C. we were running for sport in ancient Greece. Our body mechanics, from our glutes, to our sturdy trunk, are huge proponents in our choice to continue moving forward. Running is natural.

Let’s stop buying into the negative narrative about running. In our everything-is-easy-and-accessible world, we shy away from hard things at a rapid pace. While I have a newfound perspective on running, I don’t neglect the fact that running is hard. When I’m running uphill and my lungs are on fire and I feel like I’m going to collapse, I curse the hill, but I keep moving forward. When my arms start to tingle around mile 6, and the sun is beating down on my shoulders, and sweat is burning my eyes, I am thankful to be moving.

Let’s change the narrative and embrace the run.

How to Run Downhill

 

I always thought running uphill was the worst part about a long run, until I discovered the woes of running downhill. The other day I told my husband the aggressive mantra I keep when running uphill (it includes swearing and some not-so-nice suggestions about where hills can, well, shove it), and he told me I should run downhill to appreciate the uphill. I laughed thinking downhill’s are a treat, not realizing I’d never truly run down hill before.

Running down a steep trail the other day I thought, there has to be another way. There must be something better than experiencing the repetitive shock sent from my heel to my head, creating every hidden (and obvious, let’s be real) cell of fat to jiggle, as I maneuver myself between rocks and trees and puddles, praying to god I don’t trip and break open my forehead on any obstacle in my path—

And the Google delivered. From a few articles about downhill running I gathered some helpful hints and tips that will hopefully aid us all in enjoying the downhill a little more while hurting our bodies a little less.

Think of your foot as a tripod:

A downhill strike works best when you get the top and bottom of your toes to strike at the same time as your heel. It’s similar to how we should be striking anyway. However, in a typical stride, the force should be focused on the forefoot while the foot strikes the ground. When running downhill you want equal force and balance between the front and back of your foot.

Think hips not shoulders:

Where a lot of us go wrong is when we lean back and away from the hill. Our bodies should be perpendicular when running downhill, that means leading with your hips, not your shoulders. Leading with shoulders is not only bad form, but also creates unnecessary tension and pain in the neck and traps. Speaking of your neck, while you’re keeping that beautiful perpendicular form, pretend there’s a grapefruit between the chin and chest. That way you’re not leading with your neck either…

The ground is lava:

Remember that game you played as a kid? Keep it in mind while facing your downhill demons. By keeping ground contact to a minimum, you keep the spring in your step that might be necessary for quick maneuvers around hard-to-see obstacles.

Don’t fight the force:

Gravity is our friend! XTERRA world champ Lesley Paterson recommends flailing arms to the side for balance. It helps if you suddenly need to change direction, and also, it’s pretty fun.

Engage your core:

This is pretty much a rule for every outdoor activity. You can check out some easy ways to strengthen your core here.

You can check out some more flushed out, scientific articles through the following links:

http://www.runnersworld.com/running-tips/three-tips-for-running-downhill

http://running.competitor.com/2014/07/training/perfect-your-downhill-running-form_52804

http://www.active.com/cycling/articles/4-keys-to-running-downhill-efficiently

Hope that helps! What other tips do you have for downhill running?

 

 

 

Quick and “Easy” Ab Workouts

It goes without saying, your abdominal muscles are some of the most important in your body. They help stabilize and reduce the incidence of injury. They’re also probably the most photographed muscle in all of Instagram history. As with any muscle group, the beginning steps to definition are hard. I’ve been known to feel defeated if after one workout my abs aren’t debuting they’re presence in the world. C’est la vie.

Professional climber and athlete, Paige Claussen, commits to ten-minute abs after every climbing session. She picks ten different exercises and does each one for a minute without stopping.

My go-to ab exercises are either five minutes of leg lifts or circuits. My husband has been doing five minutes of leg raises for quite a while and has begun modifying to include scissor kicks, butterflies, and raising/lowering at different paces. They’re easily adaptable. If you’re unable to complete five full minutes of leg lifts, start with one minute, rest 10-30 seconds, do another minute, rest 10-30 seconds, and so on. Do what’s best for you, but I also encourage you to push yourself.

When I have more time or brain power I like to do ab circuits. Choose 3-4 ab exercises and repeat 2-3 times. Generally, if I’m doing an ab circuit I like to throw in an arm or leg exercise, like squats or push-ups, to mix it up.

Favorite ab exercises for circuits:

V-Up:

Start laying flat on the mat. In one motion raise your upper body and straight legs up to form a “V.” For a modified version, you can keep your legs bent at whatever angle is doable.

Russian Twists:

Start sitting. Lower your upper body slightly, so that it’s at a 45-degree angle from the mat. Bend your knees slightly, with your heels just grazing the mat. With hands clasped above your stomach, lower them down to your right side, and then over to your left. Repeat. Add weights/medicine ball if it feels too easy.

Planks:

Good old fashioned fun! Planks are my definite go-to because I know exactly what to expect and there are so many modifications. Start laying face down on your mat. Place forearms on mat and lift body so your only points of contact are forearms and toes. Take extra caution to not rise up in your shoulders, or sink your lower back and hips. Think stiff as a board!

Lie-Down-Sit-Up:

Start lying down on your back. With arms across chest, right hand touching left shoulder, left hand touching right shoulder, roll up, and reach to touch your toes. Re-cross arms and lie flat. Repeat.

Hanging Leg Raises:

I confess, these are tough and I fight my will to complain whenever I incorporate them. Using a pull-up bar, extend your legs straight below you. Engaging your core, in an effort to remain still, bend your legs at the knees and raise to your chest. Lower, and repeat. The real trick with this one is to keep your body from swinging and using the inertia to bring your knees to your chest. Go slow, and be precise.

There are so many ab exercises out there that this list isn’t even the tip of the iceberg. Climbing Magazine did a great article on ab exercises for climber’s that you can find here.

Happy exercising and may your abs soon be defined!

Priorities vs. Excuses

I am no stranger to excuses. In high school I fell into a particular school of thought that encouraged the pursuit of easy things. Mostly this manifested in my schoolwork; I excelled in English because it came naturally, I struggled in Physics because it didn’t. Logically it’s sound. Besides long-term-reward type thinking, why choose the hard thing?

If all you’re working towards is getting through the day with relatively little effort, the easy thing makes the most sense. It keeps your stress levels to a minimum, boosts your confidence levels, and is sustainable. You might not see consistent promotion, those rock hard abs you’ve always dreamed of, or the finish line of an Iron Man, but you will experience happiness in the most contented form. Depending on who you are, you may not find anything wrong with that. For about 24 years of my life, I didn’t either.

It wasn’t until I actually put effort into something that I realized the rewards were worth the sacrifice. The tricky part, though, is finding the thing that’s worth the sacrifice. Oftentimes, before you can commit, doubt sets in, and the urge to make excuses is too strong to stand against. Chores like laundry, grocery shopping, and fixing household gadgets are some easy go-to excuses that trick you into thinking you no longer have enough hours in the day to possibly pursue whatever challenge is nudging you. It’s an excuse I’ve made and an excuse I’ve heard over and over again. But here’s the truth: there’s time if you make time.

Take ultrarunner Sally McRae for example. The 34-year-old member of the Nike Elite Trail Team is also a mother of two and manages to balance a grueling training schedule, motherhood, and her personal coaching business. In an interview with Outside Magazine Sally said, “Stop using parenthood as your excuse not to run or workout…being a good parent doesn’t mean you throw your health out the window; it also doesn’t mean you teach your children that when they, too, become parents, that their goals and dreams are no longer important.” (You can read the full article here). McRae plans out her entire day to the hour the night before to ensure there’s enough time to fit in all she has to accomplish.

Another example is Michaela Kiersch, a 22-year-old professional climber and senior at DePaul University who manages to fit in a full course load, rigorous training schedule, and coaching five days a week at the local climbing gym. Kiersch made the first female ascent of “The Golden Ticket,” a 5.14c in the Red River Gorge. In the short film about the ascent, Kiersch talks about her hectic schedule, “I only have a couple time slots throughout the week and if I don’t climb on Monday’s at 2:30 exactly, then I can’t climb again until Wednesday at 10am. And then the drive to the Red is seven hours, and every weekend we just make this trek, this mindless drive to Kentucky, and we do every weekend without fail.”

I can hear the excuses already, “Yeah, but they’re professional athletes, it’s different.”

But where do you think they started?

I’m not saying we all need to take up some crazy-intense Double Iron Man training plan. I’m also not saying it has to be an athletic endeavor. It could be a creative pursuit. Learning the guitar, writing a book, and baking are also activities I’ve personally put off because I “didn’t have enough time.” Truth is, I’ve always had enough time, just not enough drive.

I say we all start with something small. Everybody has at least ten minutes to spare in any given day. Use that ten minutes for something you’ve always wanted to make time for. Do it for yourself. Someday that ten minutes might turn into thirty might turn into an hour, and before you know it, you’ve found the key to unlocking time by pursuing the things you love.

Because Mexico!

I don’t know about you, but this month has been painful–politically, emotionally, and mentally. I’ve felt exhausted by the negativity on my news feed, the reports on NPR, and the wonderful winter weather threw my work days into a tailspin. With all this mental exhaustion I’ve barely had the chutzpah to get myself into the gym for a solid workout. One day I went to the climbing gym, went up to the fitness deck, and sat in my butterfly stretch for 30 minutes. So yeah, it’s been a struggle.

But all that’s changed! Because it’s February! And it’s time to get it together!

Plus, my husband and I are putting together a climbing trip to El Potrero Chico in April, and I have to be swol before I can even THINK about hauling myself up 12 pitches of 5.12 climbing…

I started with a little research on training for climbing. Climbing magazine has a pretty decent training section on their website as does Rock and Ice. I also found some great stuff at Training Beta. The main focus of climbing specific training is power and endurance climbing, however I’m not quite there yet. I’ve decided to spend the next month focusing on an overall fitness base.

This is what I’ll be shooting for every week of February:

Yoga: 30 minutes

Running: 20 minutes X 3 times

Arms/Abs/Leg Workout: 4 sessions

Climb: 3 sessions

And every session (besides a solid ab workout), I’ll follow with 10 minute abs (10 ab exercises each for a minute without resting).

I knew I needed to start small with the yoga and running because every time I’ve tried to become a runner or yogi in the past I’ve gotten overambitious and quickly lost interest and the wherewithal to keep at it. With this vague training plan I hope to start developing my base fitness, lose the layer of fat hiding my most precious abs, and have better endurance on the wall.

Hoping to start some kind of power/endurance circuit by the beginning of March.

Let me know what your trusted routines are! I’d love to incorporate them.

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Inspired by “The Golden Ticket”

Recently, professional climber Michaela Kiersch made the first female ascent of The Golden Ticket in Red River Gorge, a 5.14c. Below is the full edit of the short film, “The Golden Ticket.” Michaela is inspirational. She’s a full-time undergraduate student at DePaul University in Chicago, manages to squeeze in a few training sessions a week between classes, and then makes the seven hour drive down to the RRG nearly every weekend.

So much for my lame excuses to not hit the gym anymore when I LITERALLY have nothing else to do besides catch up on Netflix……

From the film: “That whole stigma that girls won’t do this route because the moves work a certain way, I just don’t think that it’s true anymore. We have so many strong female climbers out there, I think anything is possible. I don’t think there are really any barriers stopping anyone from doing something that they set their mind to, especially in climbing.”

Hell yeah. Anything is possible.

Michaela Kiersch and The Golden Ticket from Andy Wickstrom & Just Go Climb on Vimeo.