…an update

It’s been over two years since I last posted anything on my blog. This was partly because I *really* needed to concentrate and finish my PhD, and partly because I went off the boil climbing-wise. In fact, so off the boil that I’ve stopped climbing completely.

This happened way back in April 2015 when my partner and I, along with other friends went to Font. Just a couple of weeks earlier, I had gone out on a bike ride and managed to fall off (in a terribly embarrassing way). In doing so, I’d hurt my shoulder and elbow. When we arrived in Font, the psyche wasn’t there. I was carrying an injury and didn’t really feel that I was completely with it. It probably didn’t help that I was getting up at 7am to work on my PhD before heading out to climb. Anyway, on the final day of the trip I went back to try Lapin ou Canard. I got the closest that I ever have, but still didn’t manage it. Then my partner fell and badly sprained his ankle. This meant that all climbing stopped.

When he was recovering, we started mountain biking again. I discovered that I could get hold of the fear and use it, and progressed really well. It also helped that we’d booked a 5 week trip to Canada/USA to watch the UCI Downhill World Cup in Quebec and New York State. Once we returned from the trip, I didn’t really want to climb anymore. My shoulder still hurt. I was weak and my heart wasn’t in it.

Fast forward to now, and I’m a fully psyched cyclist of the road and off-road variety (although there is still a love/hate relationship there). In fact, our honeymoon is to go and spend 2 weeks cycling in the south of France. Training for that is going pretty good. I’m averaging about 100km a week – and my average speed has increased from about 40km/week average at 21 kph to 100km p/w at 26kph. We plan to ride up alpe d’huez again and try to better our times (mine was 1:12:57). We also want to do Mont Ventoux and Col du Glandon, although I’m not sure that’s going to happen!

Other things have changed too. I have finished my PhD (still awaiting final confirmation of outcome) and have a job as a lecturer in law at a university in the Midlands. The commute can be hard, but it’s a job and I’m working with some really enthusiastic people.

I’m not sure what direction this blog will take. I want to start using it more, and it might become more of a log of my research, with some training chat thrown in. I’ll try to keep those to parts separate – but as I often get ideas while training – I’m not sure how separate these two parts will be!


A weak session at the Climbing Works

After my much happier climbing session on Wednesday, I was pretty drained on Friday. I really wanted to finish the redraft of Chapter 2 of my PhD, so worked pretty intensively on Thursday and Friday. When I finished work, I really didn’t fancy climbing, and the fact that there weren’t any new circuits to try didn’t really help either.

My training program told me to do a Zone 3/4 play circuit, which didn’t really help as there wasn’t anything that I wanted to play on. I was supposed to have done a Zone 2 ‘recovery circuit’ on the Thursday, but that didn’t happen because I had loads of work to do and wasn’t feeling that great. In sum, unlike Wednesday, my psych had up sticks and moved on.

I tried to play on some yellows and some whites. I did actually manage to do a couple of quite hard moves on the yellows (I had forgotten about that – it’s quite useful to log things isn’t it?). There was one that I was quite chuffed about – it involved a strong shoulder move, and trying to keep my feet on. After a couple of goes, I managed to find a way to hold the strong move by using a toe hook and then trying to push up off my foot for another hold. That’s where I kept falling off. It’s very strong move, and one that I’m not sure I’ll get but I’ll keep trying. After trying that a couple of times, and some other yellows, I got bored and cold.

In the end I played on a number of reds (they were the newest set) and then got cold. I was tired and wanted my curry. Hopefully, the Works will reset the yellows or wasps some time soon! Although – saying that – the way that I feel right now, I’d quite like them to wait a week or so!

Back on the Wave at the Foundry

I don’t know why, but it’s felt like an age since I last climbed on the Wave. It was really, really quiet last Wednesday – that probably had something to do with the weather. It had been warm (ish) and sunny for most of the day. I wouldn’t be surprised if many were out climbing on actual rock rather than just plastic. I wish I was outside, but due to other commitments it wasn’t possible.

My training plan said to focus on steep terrain. I aimed to keep to Zone 3/4 and tried to keep strong climbing on steep terrain. I actually felt pretty happy to climb on the Wave.  I even managed to keep my feet on as well!

Anyway, I still felt strong and pretty good. In fact, after warming up (slowly), I managed to top 3 new L2s – some on the Wave! I was very pleased with myself and felt very strong.

A Pink L2. Photo: CanadianKate

 At least, until I bashed my knee against the bomb bay and fell off. It hurt like the dickens! Luckily that was near the end of the session and after warming down, it was dinner time.

In sum, I was very strong and happy to be climbing – clearly the ‘rest’ week had done me good. I was, once more, psyched to climb!

A trip to the Leeds Climbing Depot

After breaking myself cycling on Sunday, I wasn’t particularly psyched to cycle on the Monday. Truth be told, not that many of the group were either. We cleaned up the cottage, and decided to head to the Depot on our way back to Sheffield to break the journey. I haven’t been to the Depot for quite a while, so all the problems were going to be new and fun. And they were!

After warming up slowly – I was feeling quite creaky after Sunday – I started on the Pink circuit which was from the winter bouldering league. It started very easy at about V0 and went up to about V10 (F4- 7C+) and there were 30 or so problems. We got up to problem 18 and then started to get shut down (so about V4-5(ish)) and then moved on to trying other problems. I decided to try the V3-V5 circuit using natural wood holds. Surprisingly I actually flashed a couple too! I loved the name of the holds as well:

Crusher holds. Photo: CanadianKate

I think we climbed for a couple of hours all told. I felt really, really strong and was climbing smoothly. Granted I mainly climbed problems that suited my strengths rather than working my weaknesses but it was fun just to climb new things as both the Foundry and the Works haven’t re-set any circuits in my working grade range for a while. I can’t wait for the Wasps to be taken down at the Works!

Some stats:

  • Worked a number of pinks. Topped most up to about Problem 14, then took a couple of goes until Problem 17.
  • Played on the woody circuit. Topped a couple of them.

Cycling from Alnwick to Shilbottle, Northumberland

I am getting so far behind in my blog posts! I apologise – but my PhD is somewhat more important!

So, here’s a blog post about my trip to Northumberland (21-23 February). After running on the Saturday, I went for a ride on the Sunday. I definitely chose the wrong day to ride – it was stupidly windy, not very warm and a bit dreary. I felt shocking!

I lagged out far, far, far behind my OH and the other friends. It made me miserable because I was trying to keep my heart rate down to a sensible level (i.e. Zone 2) as I was ‘actively’ resting. At one point I was lagging behind by about 1/2 km. It felt like such a ridiculous effort to keep myself in that Zone.

That, in addition to the very difficult gusts of wind, made the whole thing not particularly fun. Perhaps the ‘best’ moment of the ride was when I was heading down hill to a dip and a kink in the road and the whole of the bike was picked up and set aside. I whimpered lots at that point and began to really hate the whole experience.

Luckily we were heading back to the cottage by that point. We started to get the wind behind us rather than to the side and that made the ride back much easier. I also discovered that my brake callipers had been adjusted by the wind which meant that I effectively had the brake on the whole time.

We got home about 10 minutes into the Olympic hockey final. I had a stretch, quick shower and settled down to watch Canada trounce the opponent to win the gold once again.

Some stats:

  • Distance: 15.12 km
  • Elevation gain: 261 m
  • Time: 54:21
  • Speed: 10:4 minutes/h

Running and Cycling in Lesbury, Northumberland

I have been meaning to go to Northumberland for a very long time. It has castles, beaches, really good bouldering and quiet roads; so when the opportunity arose to go for a long weekend I jumped on it. Unfortunately this trip didn’t include bouldering, but it did include running and cycling around Lesbury – and it was such a good weekend!

We arrived on the Friday and got settled into the house. Unlike earlier trips with this group, we planned the run on the Saturday morning and then went to bed fairly early. Clearly we’re all getting older.

Saturday dawned bright and clear. I was in a dither of whether to go for a run with the rest of the group, or go for a ride with the OH. The weather was better for riding on the Saturday, but as I was still trying to rest ‘actively’, I figured I would be able to do that easier while running than by cycling. So, off I ran.

Once again my Garmin took ages to get going. For some reason, it doesn’t seem to be able to find satellite information for the first 10 minutes of the run. This meant that I ‘lost’ about 2 km of the run. I’m having a fair number of problems with Garmin at the moment – but that is another blog post.

The day was so beautiful. It was quite windy – and the wind was cold, but considering that I haven’t really run in the sun for a long time I wasn’t complaining. We ran from the rented cottage through the village of Lesbury and then out onto the flood meadows by a small river. It was quite muddy here, but that’s to be expected considering the amount of rain recently. The river was very pretty – with proper loops and a meandering course. After running along it for about ½ km, we then climbed up a hill and ran along the road through Alnmouth village to the beach.

Running along the river. And getting a bit lost. Photo: CanadianKate

The tide was out and the sands were glorious. It was one of those very bright days, and because of the wind, the sand was being blown into beautiful patterns over the top of the beach. We ran along it for a while before heading back inland to the cottage through Alnmouth golf course.

Alnmouth Beach. Photo: CanadianKate

I managed to keep my heart rate in Z2 and felt fine for much of the run. Luckily my friend was also happy to run at such a slow pace as well and we had a catch up while the boys scampered in front. By the time we got home, I had logged the longest distance since mid January and I felt fine. However, I’m not entirely sure how ‘restful’ it was!

Alnmouth Beach. Photo: Jerry Ibberson

Some stats:

  • Distance: 8.8 km
  • Time: 1:07:07
  • Elevation gain: 111 m
  • Pace: 7:36 km

Year to date:


  • Distance: 104.7 km
  • Time: 12:42:00
  • Elevation gain: 2008 m
  • Runs: 18

Trying to rest ‘actively’ is quite difficult

On Saturday, I published a blog about the importance of rest, and the signs of over training. After reading through them and noting that I’m really eating crap, not performing well, a bit crabby, and generally meh, I decided to take a rest week. However, as all my friends were still coming to the Foundry on the Wednesday, I figured that after 2 days of  full rest, 1 day of active rest wouldn’t hurt.

Well, wasn’t I wrong on that? I was so very tired. After doing about 2 moves on L2s, and 4 moves on L1s I needed to rest. The problems looked really fun and because I hadn’t had a chance to play on them I *may* have pulled harder than I ought. This meant that I worked a couple of L2s instead of puttering around on the L1s, actually listening to my body.

On the plus side I topped 2 of the L2s. I had to work on one to get the sequence and the flick to a hold. The other, I had a sordid battle, but topped it on the flash. In hindsight, this wasn’t a great idea. Clearly I was tired, everything felt hard. I totally misread the sequence and had to use strength and thuggery to get up it. I lost my feet a couple of times and really wrenched my shoulder. In fact, I finished climbing after that because I felt so rubbish.

What I did learn, is that active recovery can’t be interpreted as pulling hard on L2s because they’re new. No matter how gently I want to try them, I will pull strong. Instead, come down, have a chat and don’t feel bad about not doing anything!

Resting, over-training and climbing: sometimes you just need a break

My training plan has included quite a few rest days. this is in part because I’m terrible at listening to my body and having a rest to let it recover. I didn’t feel great on Sunday after having my climbing session at the Climbing Works. Even though I did a quite easy circuit that didn’t really tax me, I was pretty shaky and very fatigued by the end. So, I decided to not climb on Monday (and missed the final Foundry Winter Bouldering League comp). Instead, I started to watch the Good Wife.

I made this sound more appealing by planning to climb on Tuesday evening, therefore still getting in 3 sessions this week. On Tuesday, I still felt pretty crappy. I didn’t climb. I haven’t run since last Thursday.

Stopping and actually listening to my body is really difficult. I get worried that I’m going to get weak, fat and unfit for Font. Clearly this is all nonsense, but it’s very easy to fall into that trap. In fact, there are loads of websites on how/when to take a rest week and the key signs that perhaps it needed quite badly! I think I’ve got some of my own signs as well:

  • I really crave refined carbohydrates (in the last two weeks, I’ve eaten more cake, bread, batter and pasta than I have done in the last 4 months. And felt guilt about it.)
  • I am so very tired
  • I don’t feel strong
  • My old injuries are starting to niggle

Surfing the web, these line up with what Runners World label as the 10 markers for when rest is necessary. Clearly, running is more endurance than climbing, but I think some of the markers are just as relevant:

1. Body Mass

2. Resting heart rate

3. Sleep

4. Hydration

5. Energy level

6. Mood state

7. Wellness

8. Pain

9. Performance

10. Oxygen saturation

Clearly, I can’t really test some of these (oxygen saturation/body mass), but I certainly have had trouble keeping my resting heart rate down, my hydration is shocking at the moment, I’m not particularly bouncing with energy and I have definitely been cranky! Furthermore, my last 2 runs (last week) have been pretty poor, and I didn’t have that great a climbing session on Sunday. In sum, I think I need a rest! I also probably need to eat more healthier too.

So, why does resting help? After scouring the internets, and from conversations that I’ve had with a number of different sources, here’s what I’ve found out:

  • Most dedicated athletes are compulsive – they hate taking a rest day.
  • It gives time for muscles to recover, rebuild and strengthen. By resting, the body can adapt to the stresses that bouldering or climbing makes on the body – which are very specific and often quite alien from the muscles original purpose.
  • It allows the body to replenish energy stores
  • repairs damaged tissue
  • replenishes fluid loss

Some ways to avoid over-training is by including ‘active’ recovery into training plans. I have tried to do this by piggybacking intensive sessions with lighter ones, or a different form of exercise. The benefit of active recovery is that it can reduce muscle lactate levels faster, it improves relaxation and assists in blood circulation which in turn speeds up muscle recovery. However, the body still needs longer periods of rest. These are just as important for strength and energy than actual training.

So, how should you take a rest/week off? Some suggestions include:

  • Take a week off – don’t go near a climbing gym. Try yoga or something else
  • Reduce training load
  • Aim to include a rest week every 6 weeks

I am less than half way through my rest week and I’m starting to worry that I’m getting fat, feeling ‘flubbly’ and generally a bit miserable. But these are all signs that I really quite need a rest week. If I kept running and training, as I have been I’d simply extend the length of recovery I’d need in order for my body to regain it’s energy. I have decided to try and be kinder to my body.

I am going to Northumberland on the weekend, and will start more active rest by limiting the length of time I’m out on the bike. As much as I love logging distance on Strava that would be the worst thing to do right now. Instead, I’ll listen to my body and cut the distance short. That way I’ll be able to jump back into training next week and continue to improve for Font!

Recovery climb at the Climbing Works

I woke up on Sunday with a bit of a sore head. It was our 7 year anniversary on the 14th February (such a cliche, eh?), so to celebrate, we did the usual Saturday night routine: cook some really yummy food and watch Take Me Out (mainly to annoy the OH). I was a bit fuzzy headed the next day, so quite pleased that my aim for Sunday had changed somewhat from my training plan and my aim was to do a more endurance/volume session. Even better, the Works was quite quiet for a change.

I warmed up traversing and doing some one-legged climbing on some of the reds and greens towards the back of the Works. I’m finding the little kiddy play area great for easy traversing and luckily there weren’t any kids around, so I could play to my heart’s content. After starting to feel somewhat more the thing, I started at problem #1 of the Pinkles (graded F5+). It was lovely and straightforward, but also highlighted that I really hadn’t quite warmed up yet, so I threw in a couple more reds and greens for good measure.

I zoomed around the Pinkles as much as my head and the other climbers would let me. I had a couple of rests because I really wanted to do the problems in order as I often forget which numbers I have missed out on and then fail to complete the circuit. In the end I did all 36 problems, and only failed on 4 (#2, #7, #29, #14(?)), one of which I had done on Friday. A few of them took more than 1 go, but no more than 3. I was working quite hard during this session, and was in Zone 3 for most of it. For Sunday that was exactly what I wanted – something to make me work, but not to expend too much energy as I wasn’t feeling that great (self-induced, I know!).

I also aim to climb on Monday at the Foundry as it is the last of the Winter Bouldering League, so once I finished the Pinkles circuit, I cooled down, had a bite to eat and chatted with my friends. Running around doing endurance does not lend itself to social climbing, so it was nice to catch up with people at the end of the session.

By the end of the session I felt that I had accomplished my aims. I probably should have warmed up a bit more before starting my training proper, but I was keen to get cracking and I could warm up as part of the endurance circuit. I don’t think that I climbed particularly efficiently – I think I used more strength and thuggery to top some of the problems than body position and finesse. Diane said that she often climbs easy problems again when she thinks that she hasn’t climbed them particularly efficiently. I think I might start doing that, as it would force me to use better body positioning, balance and grace than simple thuggery. Maybe I’ll integrate this into my training plan too.

My general aims for the next week are quite broad. We’re going away for 4 days, so I’m aiming to climb Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. There is a comp at the Foundry on Monday, and I’m tempted to go and have a play on the new problems, or if not that psyched, go and do a steep terrain session on the 45 degree board instead. On Wednesday, I plan to do another easy circuit which means climbing all the L1s at the Foundry. On Thursday, I’ll be playing around on insecure holds again. Not a bad training week eh?

Here’s the grading of the new Pinkles:

The new pinkles circuit at the Climbing Works. Photo: CanadianKate

Valentines Day at the Climbing Works

I went training at the Climbing Works on Friday. Coincidentally it was also valentines day and I saw quite a few couples climbing together. Did I climb with my OH? Nope. He climbed with a mutual friend and I had training to do! Diane did keep me company which I apprecidated. Training can be lonely at times.

When mulling over my training aims for Friday, I realised that I have overly focused on steep terrain, at the expense of my other weaknesses such as moving from insecure holds. To redress this, I decided to work on this on Friday. After warming up on some of the new pinkle set (the OH completed it and said it was ‘fun’), I started back on the yellows and whites.

The key mantras that I have running through my head pretty much every session are these:

  1. Remember that trying really hard on moves that I ultimately fail at/fall off on will make me stronger!

  2. Some days will just be harder than others, especially in the middle of a training programme

  3. Focus on the aim of the session rather than the grade of the climb

These were certainly on my mind on Friday! I find the yellows and whites very hard – and so they should be as they’re towards the top of my level.

I worked about 6 different yellow and white problems. A couple I had tried previously (as they covered both steep and insecure holds), and a couple I had not even bothered looking at.

The first problem that I tried was a yellow problem that I had tried previously. It involved some good starting holds and then a pop to a ball shaped hold, getting feet sorted and another pop to a fairly good hold. At first I couldn’t even get to the ball, I didn’t have enough pop off my foot to catch it. After doing some foot faffery, I figured out a way to reach up and get the ball in control. I then had to use tension to keep my foot on and quickly move my hand from the starting hold to a good crimp about my chest height. Once my hand was there, I could ‘easily’ move my foot to the starting hold and give a good shove with my foot. I actually managed to get to the next hold on the lip, but I couldn’t latch. I didn’t have enough tension to really catch hold of it. My shoulder started to fatigue so I decided to move on.

The next problem was also a yellow, but on a slab this time. It required a balancy high step and I kept barndooring off from. Eventually, I managed to get my toe on the hold, while standing on tip toes in a rather precarious position, but I could not get enough weight transferred to my toe in order to keep myself on. In the end, I called it a day and moved on to something else. I had progressed on that move but, it was not to be!

I tried a couple of more problems, including a white one which was mainly a horrid, horrid grapple with some huge slopers. I could hold the two starting holds, and get my heel up, but I couldn’t hold the position to get my hand to the next hold. But still – I held some holds on a white!

I did top the final problem of the session. It was a yellow with a good sloper hold and some pinches thrown in as well. I felt really good and confident on it, and according to my friends, I climbed it in fine style! By the time I topped it and came back down again I knew that I was done for the session. I was pleased with my effort. I kept my psyche up, even though I didn’t see particularly concrete signs of improvement i.e. topping out. However, I could keep the aim of the session to the foreground and remember that I wasn’t necessarily going to see massive improvements, but the small ones such as being able to catch holds and move between holds, are still important.

I think I might do an easier session next time in order to top things and be able to move efficiently between holds. One problem of working hard moves and to the top of my ability is that it gets a bit bitty at times. I’m looking forward to my next session already!

Some stats:

  • Warm up: cross-through traversing, L-R and R-L; some pinkles
  • Main session: using insecure holds. Worked 6 problems in the yellow and white circuit. Topped 1; progressed between yucky holds on 3/5. Added an intermediary hold on 1 problem, and then were able to progress even further.
  • Cool down: dynamic moves between green holds. Some popping and some skipping holds