My climbing friend very rarely says I’ve done well. It’s not that he’s mean, though. He seems to think I’m far more capable than I believe, refusing to let me down or spot my dismount when I feel like I can’t carry on. He insists I continue and won’t hide his disappointment if I don’t complete routes. Any positive remark is followed by multiple ways I could’ve done better. Constructive criticism, I guess.
I was taken by complete surprise when, after my first time top-roping outside on slippery sandstone and completing just one lonely route, he exclaimed how well I’d done – he even gave me a double high ten! I checked for sarcasm. None.
I’d had fun but I felt discouraged at the fact that I’d left so many routes incomplete. It turns out, he hadn’t expected me to get so far on the routes I attempted. That, apparently was a win. Despite my friend’s support, I couldn’t help feeling like I’d failed. In running terms I had collected multiple DNFs and a couple of DNSs, where I couldn’t even get my feet off the ground.
Perhaps this is the problem. I’m trying to climb like a runner.
Running and climbing are fairly similar. They both require some kind of enduring physical exertion, both certainly encourage huge appetites and, in my case at least, I focus on finishing every route I start.
It’s relatively easy to put one foot in front of the other. Even if you run out of steam and have to slow down, you can finish a 'run' by walking or even crawling to the finish. Climbing is a bit trickier than that. If you lack the required skill or experience or strength, you may never finish a particular route. But that, apparently, is absolutely fine.
What I failed to pay attention to on our trip is how often my friends also fell off the rock and that there were routes they also left incomplete, all be it harder routes. Like a physical puzzle, it’s ok to put it aside when your body’s exhausted and your hands are blistered and bloody, to come back to it later (or in this case a few weeks' time).
It’s the long game. You can spend months returning to the same climbing spot, slowly ticking off the number of moves you can do on just a single route until, one day, you finally crack it and suddenly find yourself at the top.
So if I must climb like a runner, let’s liken this lengthened pause to stopping at an aid station. I’m refuelling my knowledge and muscle endurance and when I’m ready, I’ll go back out to complete a little more of the vertical distance. It's not a DNF but a ‘did not finish, yet’.