There are infinite ideas that apply in life and in climbing. Here is one: a good life is hard work. This is an idea emphasized in the first chapter of a book I just started to read, “The Good Life: Lessons from the World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness.” It is absolutely true. What makes our journey worthwhile is not only the moments of happiness and joy, but also the stress, the doubts, and the maximum effort moments that push us along down our paths.
I turned 40 back in 2021. During the same fall, I restarted graduate school to finish my ESL teaching certification. I was also trying to break into climbing 5.12 outside. Working to excel at a sport, a career, and a graduate class simultaneously brought be a lot of long days and a few heinous days.
Now it is behind me, I am enjoying more free time, more training focus, and less stress until my next career goal begins: getting my National Board Certification in Secondary English. And, the climbing goals are along for the ride.
Climbing Hard in Your 40s
I was 39 in 2020, and I made the goal to finish my first 5.12 outside on lead. So, I made a plan and started a count down to getting to the top of my first 5.12 by my 40th birthday. I kept track of each month or so of progress, and while I did make my goal, turning 40 was a false finish line. You arrive at one finish line only to discover that it is just another starting line.
Post 1: Just say yes.
Post 2: Make a training plan.
Post 3: Overcome challenges
Post 4: Reassess and revise training plan as needed
Post 5: Stretch
Post 6: Find the right climb and probably drink less
Post 7: Things might go sideways
Post 8: Enjoy the moment and begin again
There is a lot that goes into an outdoor climbing season that isn’t climbing: the recovery, the nutrition, the antagonistic training, the mental training, the planning , the problem solving, and of course, remembering why you are there out there climbing rocks in the first place.
I’ve absorbed a good bit of training advice from a couple of different pros, and loosely apply it to myself.
Timing your Best Outdoor Climbing Season: Planning and Training
Simply climbing more to get stronger does not work for me. I’m in my 40s and I have limited time, so just climbing all willy nilly won’t help me climb my hardest. When life permits, I enjoy having an organized plan that allows me to see and assess my progress.
In the past my husband and I have loosely followed the 4-3-2-1 training schedule that Eric Horst talks about in his book Training For Climbing.
So, planning with the 4, 3, 2, 1 training schedule. You basically start it 10 weeks out from your trip. We bouldered hard for 4 weeks, then did hard top tope repeats for 3 weeks, then lead hard for 2 weeks, then tapered. (Side note: The first 4 weeks was supposed to be volume to build endurance, but, oh well.) Going into the gym with this direction was a game changer. I used to leave the gym with heavy and worked forearms, but going into the gym with this structured plan, we were leaving the gym with a new kind of fatigue. I felt it in my hands. It felt good. Sometimes we would take 3 days off, just to be sure that our hands would be 100% recovered from each sesh.
Side note: we climb at Reach Climbing and Fitness just outside Philadelphia. Of the 10 climbing gyms I have ever been to in my life, it is by far the best!
Summer Outdoor Climbing: jump in lakes, build mileage, fun times only!
My fall climbing season this year started in the summer, and my summer trip gave me a couple of things I didn’t know I needed.
It was really unique for two reasons. First, I didn’t go with my boyfriend. When we are on climbing trips together, I just don’t wear the pants! I don’t look at maps much, I don’t pick out climbs, I hang fewer draws. But, going solo with other friends, well, I was kind of more on my own! I didn’t know I needed this independent boost of confidence! Here is a post I wrote about the little bit of extra independence I felt going on a climbing trip without my boyfriend.
The second unique thing about my summer trip was that it was super low key, and I needed low key outdoor climbing. I am almost always nervous about leading outside, and the NRG is a bit notorious for run out climbs, so I can get anxiety leading up to a NRG trip. Having a trip where we were just focused on leading a 5.6, 5.7, 5.8 climbs and just enjoying the time outside was great for my head. Here is a post about enjoying that low key easy going summer climbing trip! Summer 2021, I definitely want to do the same, just get out and climb a bunch of 5.8, 5.9, 5.10s just to log time on real rock and have fun.
Mental Training and Finding Purpose
Mental training and identifying your purpose in climbing is as important as physical training in climbing. There are two main reasons why mental training is as important as physical training. First, a solid foundation for your mental training starts with knowing your purpose in climbing. If your purpose in climbing is a grade or a climb, then that is a very superficial and thin foundation. Your purpose for getting out has to go deeper. I am sure that your love for climbing and the outdoors does go deeper, you just can’t let that foundation be forgotten, which can easily happen.
Second, you have to control what goes on in your head when you begin to struggle on a climb with the beta or strength required for a move. If you haven’t done some mental prep for this situation, it could get quite ugly upstairs. You don’t want a bunch of negative self talk noodling around in your head, when you should be thinking about strategy and technique.
Problem Solving: Be Ready to Learn
Achieving harder grades in outdoor climbing is not just about getting stronger. It is about learning new skills and overcoming weaknesses. With each new outdoor climbing season comes new climbing goals. With each new goal comes new skills that you need to learn as well as new weaknesses to train! This ties into mental training. When you run into those skills and weaknesses, you have to be mentally ready to unpack whatever it is that you need to learn to achieve those goals.
When you can’t pull through a crux sequence with good technique, or at all, or when you fall off a climb you want to send that is at your limit, yelling or swearing or just feeling bad about yourself and your ability gets you no where. You have to think and learn. Thinking and learning will get you there. Do you need to climb faster or rest longer? Or maybe you need to use your feet better? Do your friends use different beta your should try or maybe you need to invent your own beta? Do you need to memorize a sequence? Personally, this climbing season is not even over and I have definitely had my fair share of lessons learned!
I thought that this season I could maybe try to climb 5.12. I started doing a lot of resistance training during Covid lockdown, and when my climbing gym finally opened back up and my endurance came back, I actually felt stronger! The consistent resistance training had really helped me. I learned a ton with just taking my first baby step into experimenting at this new level of difficulty for me.
Making your best Outdoor Climbing Season: This season AND next!
One thing I learned I was missing in my attempt to try 5.12 outside was a foundation. Ha! Seems so obvious! So, in his book Climbing 5.12, Horst says that if you don’t have a foundational pyramid of routes, you probably won’t succeed at new grades. I think he is right. Lol. So, I am building a pyramid. It isn’t done for the season, as we will still hit the RRG for a week over Thanksgiving. Hoping to tick off an 11.b/c!
So, my 2020 climbing adventures are not over yet! When 2020 comes to a close, I will be in the final stretch of my 30s. I turn 40 next November, and I’m going to try… to climb 5.12… I say this with some fear and insecurity, but I’ll see how it goes! lol! If you want to check out my plan to try to reach this lofty goal, check out my post here!
Game Changing Climbing Resources
Again, I am not a professional athlete or elite climber, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t take advice from elites and pros to apply to my own training! These resources have been inspiring game changers for me.
Thrive Fitness is a body weight resistance training program for endurance athletes. THe program is designed to build muscle strength and power without muscle mass gains. Perfect for an endurance athlete who wants to be strong and not bulky. I use this resistance training program when I am in a 4, 3, 2, 1 training phase for climbing!
These are the same book. One is a Kindle version! This book covers it all. Injury prevention, antagonistic training, recovery, tracking progress, more. Horst couldn’t have been more thorough.
Thinner, Leaner, Stronger is a heavy weight resistance training program that I use when I am not leading up to a climbing trip. As a female athlete trying to get stronger, I can use a little bit of extra muscle mass! This book also talks a lot about nutrition, bulking, maintaining, cutting, it has it all!