Crossing over

It’s been a while since I have acquired a new skill.  Once upon a time I did a range of sports …. before the climbing bug bit.  And who would think that running would be a new skill?  Isn’t it an ability we are pretty much born with?  Look out illona, your ignorance is showing.

Anyway, I had decided that I needed to get more cardio fit and hopefully get a little leaner in the process.  So I signed up for the Pietermaritzburg 14km trail race for some motivation.  Once a goal orientated athlete, always a goal-orientated athlete.  It was also a good time to start running with my partner as he was recovering from ITB and brought down to my mere mortal level.

It has been an interesting learning curve.  Dating someone who has competed in the Lesotho Ultra Trail (LUT) and done many more impressive distances over mountainous landscapes that are not featured on anyone’s radar.  We have been easing each other into our respective past times.  It helps having a common base to start with – the love of the great outdoors, the need to be out as often as possible, the need to feel some sort of burn, the pursuit of that happy kind of exhaustion earned after a good training session.  And most of all sheer bloody-mindedness*.

So the subtle battle of the sports started.  Frankly he didn’t stand a chance.  I had an entire community backing me, welcoming him with open arms and doing their best to make sure he enjoyed himself.  Those bastards.  ;p  Although, in his arsenal he had the beautiful tracks through the forests, winding upwards to the dam where you could enjoy the sunset and the muffled sounds of distant homes, blanketed in the oncoming mist.

We coached each other on breathing techniques, foot work, pacing ourselves and post-training recovery.   I tackled hills while he battled the overhangs.  I found myself massaging tired legs instead of arms.  I gave him ClimbOn and he gave me Loobit**.

The same phrases started coming out: “Nearly there”, “keep breathing”, “push through”.  I realised that “there are no more hills after this” was the runner’s equivalent of “and after that the climbing is over”.  There are hills and it is definitely not over.

My wardrobe changed slightly – instead of wanting worrying about freedom of movement I was now concerned  with the dreaded chaffing.  I swopped robust ¾ leggings for light, breathable shorts.  Instead of vest tops that allow my shoulders room to move I opted for self-wicking reflective tops.


The day of the race came and after all the training I felt quietly confident about it.  I treated it like another training run (admittedly the competitive side took over as I approached the final stretch).  And funnily enough I came 7th out of the women.  Which is not as impressive as it sounds when you realise that most of the serious runners were in the Karkloof doing the 3 cranes.  And while I will never be a runner and he will never be a climber I am quietly looking round for more races and the other day I was so proud when he presented me with his tick list.  The one thing he taught me through all this was that running isn’t just something you do under duress because you need more cardio in your life.  It has a sense of freedom to it.  When you just need to break free from the shackles of your day a good run in the forest goes a long way in solving that.

Delighted to see the finish line

Delighted to see the finish line

*Both of us have a dogged determination that is relentlessly driven on by the pursuit of the next goal.

**I can hear the climbers out there snickering.  It really is called that.  And it is LIFE SAVING.



It’s been a long time since I’ve fallen at the chains.  In the early days I was reknowned for dorking it, buckling under the pressure and unable to handle the moment.  But these days my head is a lot cooler.  I know that I can recover on most holds.  I know that I can catch my breath and dig for that last bit of power while I get rid of enough pump to move on.  But this time I stood there, on the final ledge, staring at the chains which I could touch with my elbow and yet completely unable to let go with either hand to even get a shake out.  It was surreal.  I was gobsmacked.  How can this be??  The hold was slippery from the rain and more rounded than I needed right then.  But that wasn’t a good enough excuse.  I looked around for other alternatives.  A crimp, a hand jam, a foot lock.  There has got to be something.  I got here so quickly and so nicely.  I can’t let go.  I can’t not get this.

I wailed in frustration, unable to find a solution and caught some big air.  (I have to admit, I do enjoy those big whippers ……but not at the expense of my send).  I wailed some more and threw a little tantrum.  And then had to shake it off and laugh at myself.  It would have been a great send but the rock isn’t going anywhere.  I live to climb another day.

By illonapelser

It doesn’t work out the way you want it to

Eddie Izzard once poked fun at the quote “The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men, gang aft agley.”  Eddie paints an amusing picture of the frustration of the mice when their plans go awry.  And while I can’t speak for my furry counterpart’s week in review, agley my plans did go recently.

My main focus for the week had been organising the Rumble.  This flagship series of bouldering comps for Southern Rock has become one of the highlights of our calendar.  And while you want every comp to be a success, this goes even more so for the first comp of the series which sets the tone for the year.  Fortunately I have some psyched route setters on the payroll and they basically carried this comp for me.  It also meant that for the first time in years I was able to compete in a comp instead of organising it and setting/testing the routes.

I enjoy comps.  I love the vibe our local comps have.  I love how being part of the competition circuit gave me the opportunity to climb alongside better climbers early on.  Seeing them pushing themselves to their limits and seeing what was possible went a long way to inspire me.

And I basically attribute my entry into the climbing world to being encouraged to enter the National Bouldering League when I first started.  Sure, I had messed around on climbing walls a bit.  But it was only when a staff member at the local climbing gym on a random Saturday came up to me and said “you’re strong, you should enter the National Bouldering League” that the wheels were set in motion for me getting hooked for life.  Up till that point I didn’t even know what bouldering was and climbing was just something we did every now and then with a group of mates when we didn’t go play squash or whatever else we did on our weekends (……there was life before climbing????  What did I fill my time with back then?)

I learned a lot during those comps.  Besides finding out what bouldering meant, I received a crash course in technique as the other competitors cheerfully gave me beta and I fumbled my way through the problems well enough to gain third place.  This opened up my perspective and gave me a whole new level of enjoyment which lead to me spending more time at that gym which eventually lead to being taken out on rock for the first time and that was when the hooks really started to dig in.  The sport had worked its magic and the obsession was taking hold.  But that is a rant for another blog post entirely.

So, long story short, comps hold a special place in my heart and I was excited to be able to compete again.  But competition climbing is a sport in its own.  And I was way out of practice for competition mentality.  This resulted in the dorking of some problems before I really had my game face on which meant that I narrowly missed first place.  But hell, the problems were so brilliantly designed that it must be the first time I was engaged for the entire session and then some.  It is good to feel the beast nudged again.  The one that thrives on the challenge.

However, dorking problems sometimes comes at a greater cost than your podium spot.  I managed the reachy and committing cross-over onto the overhang and was overconfidently matching my foot to my left hand when without warning my foot slipped; I somersaulted over and landed HARD onto the mats face down.  At the time my ego was the most bruised part of me but once the adrenalin had worn off and I was relaxing after the comp I suddenly felt like I had been in a car accident and had incurred whiplash.  My neck and shoulders had tightened up to a painful degree.

But the weekend was nigh and in the meantime there were routes to set, kids to coach and 2 brand spanking new routes to open at Kirk Falls.  The crag desperately needed a few easy routes so that we could start taking more climbers there and provide some warm-ups so I had spotted some shorter, less overhanging lines and bolted them in snatches before or after work with no time to actually climb them.  By the weekend I was chomping at the bit to get there but nobody seemed available and so I ended up helping some friends move house.  Not quite the trade off I was looking for but perhaps it was better for me while my neck healed.  I certainly felt better by the end of the day and it is always good to be part of those major events in your friends’ lives.  And besides, the look on their faces when you help carry the washing machine is priceless.

But still, moving furniture wasn’t enough to tire me out like a good day out would and for the first time in a long time I had a bit of spare energy on a Saturday night.  Climbing tends to take over and I have long since happily sacrificed a more active night life in favour of more sleep and more energy for a full day of climbing.  So I got to go out and party and let my hair down.  And while it was a great night out I was reminded of why I don’t do this too often.  Nothing makes me as useless as lack of sleep.

If I had been chomping on the bit on Saturday I had pretty much chomped through the bit by Sunday.  I needed my climbing fix.  Without waffling on more about the obstacles incurred I will simply say that I did manage to run in and open my two lines on a very wet and shlorky day where I was a bit faulty.  But at least I got to briefly hang-out with my good friend Brian Weaver who was down in KZN for a wedding and is just returning from a finger injury.

While this past week wasn’t ideal in many ways they say a change is as good as a holiday.  So after that brief holiday from climbing we shall now return to our usual program : )


By illonapelser