Hitting the Wall

What did you fear growing up? Was there anything that terrified you so much that you’ve never tried it since? I’m not talking about phobias here: I’m talking about real, [almost] rational and legitimate fears.Edale stream

I had several, most of which stemmed from school trips. Between the impressionable and personality defining ages of about 9 and 13, school trips involved adventure holidays at Welshpool in Wales and Edale in the Peak District. These beautiful, parentless locations were the backdrop to our attempts at a variety of challenging and often exhilarating activities – most of which I’ve virtually forgotten.

Rock ClimbingIn fact, I barely remember my achievements, but I vividly remember the scary parts. I remember that I dreaded rock climbing most of all. The idea of putting my life in the hands of another pre-pubescent child was terrifying, as was being responsible for another’s life when I had to hold their safety-line in return.

I remember how small and baby-faced the boy responsible for my line looked: He was a full 5 inches shorter than me, the youngest and smallest in the class; I remember him looking up at me, nearly as frightened as I was, with his pale wide eyes and pudgy freckled ginger features.

I somehow managed to get to the top of the cliff despite fear oozing out through every pore. I loved climbing trees but standing before a rock face I became weak and scared of heights. I was always relieved when the climb was over. I eventually reached the top once at each location but that was it: Once was more than enough.

The only part of the climbing experience I enjoyed was the abseiling. I felt proud when the tutors commended me on my natural ability… It was more fluke than skill but I didn’t admit that at the time.

The terror I associated with rock climbing prevented me from trying it again as an adult. I’ve was never tempted, until I wrote my Day Zero List.

URBANATHLON

I didn’t just pluck this particular challenge out of the air: I ran in the Manchester Urbanathlon to raise money for Forever Manchester, which rekindled my thoughts about Urbanathlonclimbing.

Yes, I know I’ve mentioned it before, twice, possibly even three times, and yes I probably will mention it again: The Urbanathlon is “a silly yet challenging urban obstacle course where competitors run, wade, scramble, slip, slide and dangle to the finish line in sweaty, soaking, mud-splattered splendour.”

Amongst other challenges the Urbanathlon forced me to face my climbing fears at least twice during the 5km race. 

About 4km into the race Blondie and I were suddenly presented with a seven foot vertical wall to scramble over. It might as well have been a twelve foot wall for the likelihood of me getting over it. My upper body strength is virtually nonexistent.

Blondie and I turned to the race marshal and asked in disbelief whether people were actually getting over it unaided. With a nod and a smile she replied “Yes off course”, just as three competitors caught up with us and hopped over without hesitation.

HITTING THE WALL

We looked at each other. We looked at the wall. It looked impossibly tall. Blondie backed up several paces and took a running jump. She managed to get her elbows over whilst her legs flailed about beneath her. Several failed attempts and four grazed knees later the marshal conceded that we were allowed to take a short detour around the wall and go through the gate to rejoin the race on the inside.

Detour? That sounded like cheating. Blondie and I looked at each other and shook our heads. One way or another we were both getting OVER that wall.  

PLAN B…

Plan B: Blondie gave me a leg up. After the other obstacles we were both a little jelly-like so she manhandled me to the top in the least elegant way imaginable. Once I was safely seated on the wall Blondie took another running jump whilst I tried to pull her up from above. This clearly wasn’t going to work either so we embarked on Plan C: I dropped down the other side of the wall, followed the wall back around through the park and out through the exit, back to Blondie’s location to manhandle her over the wall. It wasn’t graceful but it worked.

Haystack wallCLIMBING WALL PHOBIA

After scrambling over a wall of haystacks and other random obstacles, prior to the two parked cars whose hoods we slid over Dukes of Hazzard style, we were suddenly faced with a climbing wall. My stomach clenched. My feet slowed.  

Ellie Howard on 40 degree board at Gorton Climbing CentreIt seems silly that I should be afraid of a climbing wall. The brightly coloured hand and foot holds are supposed to make it look easy and inviting but to me they look menacing.

With adrenalin pumping I barely had time to flinch: We both ran at the wall and were over it in seconds. I had no idea it could be that easy! All those years I’d wasted being afraid of climbing walls!  
 
I didn’t give the wall a second thought after that, until I came to write my Day Zero List. (The Day Zero Project is to complete 101 challenges in 1001 days). I added “Have a go at rock climbing / indoor wall climbing” to the list. I thought if I could climb a wall at the end of a 5 km obstacle course I could manage a nice easy session at a climbing club. I was wrong.
 
MANCHESTER CLIMBING CENTRES
 
Gorton Climbing CentreWe have fantastic indoor and outdoor climbing facilities in and around Manchester. The Manchester Climbing Centre in Gorton looks spectacular with its climbing walls against the backdrop of stained glass windows and gothic architecture.
 
In the city centre you’ll find Rock Over Climbing just a few hundred yards from Victoria Rail Station.
 
There’s also a climbing wall inside the Chill Factore, should you feel a sudden urge to hone your climbing skills between skiing, snowboarding and tobogganing.
 
You can even try a moving climbing wall in the Trafford Centre at Laser Quest’s ‘The Rock’ if you get bored of shopping or have time to kill before your film starts in the cinema.
 
101/1001 CHALLENGE
 
I completed my climbing wall challenge. It wasn’t easy and I don’t plan to return any time soon. Blondie ran up the wall like Spiderwoman but I got stuck. Repeatedly. My torso ached for days. I couldn’t lift my arms above my head without wincing in pain for the best part of a week.
 
It was fun at first but once the muscle fatigue set in I didn’t stand a chance. I made the mistake of trying too long on one particular obstacle which sapped all my energy and strengh. I would have been better off climbing back down and starting again. I suppose I know for next time, if there is one.
 
I should probably work on my coordination and strength before I try another hour session. It’s possible to book 5 minute taster sessions to help build experience and confidence – A great idea for people like me – as long as you don’t need to go out of your way to get there. (Who in all honesty is going to travel all the way to the Chill Factore just for a 5 minute climbing session? It’s a nice idea even if it isn’t practical).
 
LARGE OUTDOORS
 
I had considered joining Manchester’s new climbing club with Large Outdoors. (Started in October 2011). They run a weekly club in association with the Manchester Climbing Centre. It’s open to both experienced climbers and those wanting to learn. Although I was tempted I think I’ll stick to hiking instead.

What did you fear growing up? Have you faced any childhood fears? Have you ever run in an Urbanathlon? Do you share my fear of climbing walls?

All comments are welcome 🙂

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