Category Archives: Climbing

Goal Update: Was May Quiet or Loud?

The answer is, I don’t have a clue.

It was an eventful month, what with my second OCR of the year (and first where I was running with an eye toward doing it as quickly as possible). Almost immediately after that was another bit of travel, which lasted only two days but required two weeks of preparation and a couple solid days of recovery and which could be wholly lifechanging (and could be wholly depressingly life-keeping-the-same, depending on results that I won’t know for several weeks). So it’s been a month of high anxiety and high anticipation.

The goal front has been quiet, although there’s some good stuff buried under it. To wit:

Weight: The good news is, I’m at lows for the year, with my 7-day average down about 3 pounds from the last month. There’s some slight concern because the month as a whole was pretty lousy and the drop came entirely in the last week or so, but I shan’t complain.

Running: Even though I don’t have any specific goals for running apart from “run enough so I can run in races,” this is an area that’s going distressingly well. Last week I did a 5K training run in 26:37. That’s not a personal record but it is the fastest I’ve ever done a training run by a pretty long ways. It’s not really isolated; my training times have seemed to be faster this year than last. That’s pretty weird, because I’ve done less running training this year than last and I absolutely haven’t been feeling good while running. Confusing.

Monkey Bars: Well, not actually. One of the classes I take is the Weird Shit Workout (not its actual name) that involves all sorts of strange and hard and funky forms of movement. One of the more normal (though still not super-common at my gym) is upside-down pull-ups. From day one I’ve been able to do at least a few, but getting into the position was always tough—I’ve been able to do toes-to-bars for a while now, but I couldn’t get fully upside down without stepping on the bar mid-way for support. The teacher’s been cracking down on that, and this month I’ve finally been able to do it. Sometimes, at least. I’m not 100%.

Other Weird Shit: More nerve-jangling than a new physical skill: yesterday in said Weird Shit Workout we did a variation of box jumps with a Bosu on the box. Which I did, a couple times, and had several bails. The height was probably not much more than what I normally do (which, for all you accountants out there, is 24 in.; we put the Bosus on the 20-in. side of the box) but the apparent (but not really actual) instability was terrifying.

Climbing: There was a V2 that I made really good progress on, completing several tough swinging moves at the bottom but ending a move or two short of the top. Then I lost two weeks of climbing, and the route’s been re-set, so no more. (Also, in that two weeks, I seem to have lost every shred of ability I ever had, and that was never much!)

Pistol Squats: This is something I added to my goal list as an idea without any immediate expectation of putting much work into it. But one of the classes that I take regularly involves 1-legged burpees, which (if done at the hardest level) starts with a pistol squat. I’m not there yet, but I feel like I’m actually getting better, which is pleasing. This is also a class that usually has a crow pose section; that’s also showing improvement (or, at least, was; a 2-week gap seemingly erased all progress I made ever, but I’m hoping that was just rust on the first day back.)

This month has one or maybe two (or maybe 1.5) OCRs. The one is the Spartan Super in Chicago. The half or one depends on the precise schedule of a freelance gig I have at the end of the month; it’s a local one, the Winnetka Superhero Dash, which is mostly a 5K but it’s got a few additional obstacles or activities, plus it’s close enough to bike to. We shall see.

 

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Filed under Climbing, Goals, Obstacle Course Racing, Running

Goal Update: Mixed Results

April was… interesting.

A lot of the month was really rough—in addition to some general malaise, I had some shoulder issues that made everything pretty tough. Then I had a really good week, and then things kind of fell apart again but maybe not so bad.

Anyhow, the details:

Weight: Down about 2.5 pounds for the month.

Climbing: My tracking document says “#11 turned corner.” That actually means something. One of my current projects is from the recent competition that I didn’t do, but they’ve kept all the problems up from. It happens to be #11 and it’s a long and cool-looking one. You start on the inside of a cave, and then come out of it and turn onto an outer wall, but the grip that you’re holding on when you’re making the 90-degree turn is backwards at first glance. (The key is to swing your entire body around between moves, rather than trying to do it all at once, and I know that doesn’t really make sense, but deal with it.) Anyhow, I’ve got a bit more to do—the route has a few more moves and the top grips are a bit tricky for me, but it’s progress. Not that necessarily “counts”—the route’s just a V1—but I’m okay with it.

Cooking: In addition to the two recipes I already wrote about, I also tried and liked Curried Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes. I’m not paleo, although I think there are principles that are worth taking on board.

Running: Training’s going good, even though I’d like to be doing three runs a week and I usually only get two. My long runs are up to 9K, which I did last week in the aesthetically pleasing time of 48:48.

Crow Pose: I think this is dangerously close. There have been a couple times where I held it for a couple of breaths. Actual breaths, not like the super-quick huff-and-puff-because-you’re-panicking breaths. Before long, I may try timing it.

Other: I’ve started incorporating a small amount of yoga into my life. It’s probably simultaneously too much and not enough; I only do it once a week (in the sense of a full yoga workout, although the moves find their way into other workouts in a small way), and I don’t like it so I don’t want to do more, but I’m not sure I’m doing enough to really get any benefits. We shall see.

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Goal Update: I Guess I’m in Training Now

February went well.

I didn’t complete any goals, but there were sudden, almost disconcerting, bouts of progress on a lot of them. I think that might be because this month is when I started registering for races for the year, which starts to make it all real, so there was a bit more motivation to eat right and work out. More eating right than training, really, but still.

Some highlights:

Weight: My weight (on a 7-day average basis) dropped 7 pounds, which isn’t bad.

Climbing: This was the really weird one. I have not been climbing well this year at all. Then, about a week ago, things started clicking—there were about 8 problems that I’ve been trying and not been able to do, and I finished all of them over the course of a couple climbing sessions. And I even flashed (climbed the first time I tried it) a V1, which is above what I can typically do. (Although I might not have; I reached the top grip but it’s possible I was meant to grab the top of the physical wall to finish it, which I didn’t do. It was also a pretty short problem, but I’m still counting it as a win.) In fact, I’m sort of unsure of what I need to be working on next—there are only a couple that I’ve been working on that I can’t now do, so I need to figure out the next routes that I’m want to work on.

Trader Joe's Pesto and Quinoa

Trader Joe’s makes things seem practical that may not be.

Cooking: I added another recipe to the repertoire, Chicken Pesto Quinoa. Although I don’t recommend doing what I did, which is buying pesto mixed with quinoa and using it as the pesto. Just get regular pest.

Handstands: My gym’s got a class that I’ve dubbed “the weird shit workouts.” It entails a lot of quadripedal movement, inversions, jumping, and other nontraditional gym movements. I still can’t do a handstand, and I don’t know how close I am, but I definitely got better.

Running: Not really a goal, but the weather was decent for a couple weekends so I got started on training running a bit earlier than I expected. In 2 runs I’m up to 10 minutes of running endurance without any real difficulty. As I recall, last year it took a few weeks of running before I was able to get any kind of endurance at all. Based on the early runs, I’m planning to get up to a 5K in probably 3 or 4 runs and then build from there.

More weird stuff: The weird shit workout has included a few other things I’ll be incorporating into my goals. One of them is an upside-down pull-up: swinging your body up inside the bar and then doing a pull-up with your legs up and your head down. The other is jumping from monkey bar to monkey bar, rather than swinging—I actually managed a couple of these, but I think more are feasible.

(Edited to add) Stair Climb Challenge: This changed a bit. I originally planned to do a timed stair climb, three times at my gym (21 flights total) as a progress indicator. But that never wound up happening, since just climbing stairs is boring. But one of the trainers at my gym developed another one that fits well: a combination of rowing and stair climbs that totaled 3,000 meters rowing and 20 flights of stairs. My baseline time for that was 19:22; the goal I created after that is 19:00.

Creation: Dad’s Little Book of Rage is going well; I’m up to 43 of an estimated 49 pictures done. Well, “done.” A lot of them need some additional bits that I’ll be adding, or they’ll need some pretty significant changes because I wasn’t sure how I wanted to make things when I started and they need to be brought in line with how I’m doing them now. Still, several I’m pleased with. Or annoyed by. (I don’t know why WordPress isn’t letting me rotate them, so sorry about that.) Anyhow, the creation streak is at 65 days and counting.

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Trader Joe’s makes things seem practical that may not be.

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A rare four-panel image, involving parkour, watermelons, and persimmon attacks.

Tiger getting tranquilized

Some main characters fantasize about being tigers getting hunted.

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It’s a pain in the ass to try to make a construction-paper replication of a stained-glass window of Jesus, with a corpse’s disembodied head being kicked through his stomach.

 

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A Casual Climbing Competition

Today I (sort of) went to a climbing competition at First Ascent Uptown.

Ah, but I’m already getting ahead of myself. First Ascent is (I think) the most recent two entries in the climbing gym mini-boom that Chicago has experienced in the past year or so—first was Brooklyn Boulders, and then (if I’m remembering correctly) the outdoor climbing park operated downtown by the city park district (where I haven’t yet climbed), then First Ascent Avondale, and finally the Uptown location.

I went to the Avondale location when it first opened, and to be honest, I didn’t love it—the facility was big but the bouldering section didn’t seem to be, and the problems were rated harder than at Brooklyn Boulders (i.e., where I could do a V1 or V2 at Brooklyn, even the VBs were a struggle at First Ascent) so there weren’t many problems I could even do. Plus the geography is a problem—it’s probably actually physically a bit closer to my apartment than Brooklyn, but it requires two bits of public transport rather than one, and the second is a notoriously slow bus. It’s really not fair for me to be negative—there’s nothing wrong with the facility, but it really didn’t fit my needs as well as Brooklyn did. So I didn’t write about it, and I haven’t been back.

Uptown, however, is a very different animal. First off, it’s a huge amount more convenient for me—like a half an hour total of travel time, rather than an hour and a half for either of the other two. It’s also all bouldering—and since I’ve done no top-roping yet, that’s what I do.

Since it’s all bouldering, it feels huge. Which is a surprise, really. The facility used to be the second floor of a Borders bookstore, back when that was a thing. So it’s kind of hard to believe that a bouldering facility would fit. And to be honest, in my not-particularly-well-informed estimation, it does seem like the walls are a bit shorter there than at either of the other two places I’ve been to. But I suspect that effect is a bit less pronounced than it seems at first blush. The largest walls get respectable height, and certainly enough to be considered a full problem, even though you’ll be near the ceiling when you complete them.

A couple things stand out as impressive. One is the physical layout of the space. At the other climbing gyms, the climbing walls are mostly on the walls. Sure, FA Avondale has one sort of island crag thing in the middle of the bouldering section you can climb, and Brooklyn has two rooms and its bigger bouldering wall is on an interior wall, but at both of them you feel like you’re generally sticking to the outskirts. At the Uptown facility, almost everything you climb is internal. Most of the exterior walls are windows; the climbing surfaces are mostly islands or outcroppings.

Bouldering holds at First Ascent Uptown

Also, some of the holds have faces.

There are a few ways that FA Uptown compensates for the generally lower height of its walls. First off, a lot of the routes start low—like handholds below waist height-low. I’m often starting from a seated position with that pull-up motion just to get to the next one.

Second, a lot of the routes go at surprising angles, at least at the easy levels that I’m working. Whereas the taller problems at other venues are generally relatively straight verticals, several of the beginner routes here have handholds at what seems like about a 45 degree angle up from the footholds, forcing your body into a weirder position.

Finally, the walls seem to be a bit more craggy, if that’s the right word. All of the gyms I’ve been to have walls at various angles, but Uptown seems to have more where you’re climbing while leaning back at least a bit. And while both Brooklyn and FA Avondale each have a cave section where you can get fully horizontal while climbing on the ceiling, FA Uptown has several. They’re smaller, but that’s okay—you could only have one or two people at a time at the other facilities.

The harder route rating is still in place (though I’ve heard that Brooklyn has upped the difficulty of its ratings), but there are a huge number of problems, so there’s plenty that’s either doable or close enough as to be potentially feasible with practice. As a result, FA Uptown has become my go-to climbing gym. Not a dig against either of the other two places I’ve been, but it’s the one that’s practical for my life and situation right now.

So, onto the competition. But this will be pretty short, because I didn’t really compete. The rules were pretty straightforward: Climb as much as you wanted and could, and you get points for every problem you send—one point for every V level, and half a point for VBs or V0s. Much more casual than Brooklyn’s Windy City Gritty—no sections, no lines, and no judges. We were supposed to get a witness to sign off on our climbs. Most people had partners with them (it was called the V-Day V-Comp, after all), but I didn’t, and I wasn’t feeling particularly social, and I knew I wouldn’t be contending, so I didn’t bother to actually record anything. To be (dis)honest, I probably could have gotten away with just recording and not being witnessed, but why? Someone maybe could have cheated, but… the prizes were perfectly nice, outdoor puffy winter vest things, but they were on the scale that if you’re sad enough to cheat to win them then your life is sad enough that everyone would be okay with you taking them in hopes that you find some relief for what is obviously soul-crushing pain.

I have no idea how I would have ranked… no, that’s stupid. I would have ranked near or at the bottom, had I turned in my scorecard. Ultimately, though, I’m happy not to—I’ve been away from climbing for a few weeks while letting some shoulder and particularly back pain resolve itself, and I definitely needed a day where I could just have relaxed fun climbing rather than even thinking about a competition. But that said, I really like that the gym put the event on. It wasn’t precisely what I needed today, but there are plenty of times when I would have enjoyed it the way it was intended.

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Farewell 2015

Oh, golly gee, an end-of-year wrap-up. How original!

Nevertheless…

Looking back at my goals for the year, things didn’t go all that well. So instead, I’ll focus on the positive.

Some accomplishments for the year:

  • I learned to climb a rope. Not quite well enough to do it under muddy race conditions, but it’s a first time ever.
  • I added bouldering to my workout mix. It’s not my main gig, but it’s a lot of fun and good for my mental state to do something cool and learn a new skill. It’s hard to gauge precisely its impact physically, but I think there’s some benefit.
  • I did two Spartan Sprints, a Spartan Super, and a Badass Dash.
  • At one of those, I successfully climbed a 6-foot wall unaided. It’s not the Big Wall that gives the site half its title, but it’s a start.
  • I improved my 5K time by 15 seconds.
  • I upped my longest running distance to about 7.5 miles.
  • I was part of a team that completed a 200-mile running relay.
  • After a year, the blog is still going fairly consistently. I’m still trying to figure out precisely what the site is and what I want it to be. Originally I intended it to be a pure comedy site, and I definitely still enjoy that—but I also like writing legitimate thoughts (and even approaching journalism on a couple occasions) and event reports and using it for more personal goal-setting-type stuff. The multi-billion-dollar book deal that was supposed to come out of the blog (all of my publishing experience tells me that’s how things are supposed to work) hasn’t happened yet, but it will.
  • I’ve done some periodic contributions to a couple other sites, Obstacle Racing Media and Sportody.
  • I’ve demonstrated, without a doubt, that isolation isn’t a good environment (I work at home, where I live alone, so…) and am taking steps to fix that, though they’re slower than I’d like.

I’m sure you’re deeply excited to know that I’ll be posting goals for 2016 tomorrow, but until then, don’t be stupid and drive if you get wasted at a New Year’s party tonight. And don’t kiss anything at midnight that has visible sores.

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Liveblogging the Windy City Gritty

I’m on my way to the Windy City Gritty bouldering competition at Brooklyn Boulders. I don’t entirely know what that means—I mean, it involves bouldering, but I’m not sure about how it becomes competitive—but I’m doing it. And assuming my phone works the way I hope, I’ll be liveblogging the competition (at least, the bits that are interesting or entertaining to me) with updates throughout the day. So keep watching. Pad my readership stats!

Update: 7:44 am. I’m on the bus and my phone found this post, eventually, to edit. So that’s a good thing.

Here’s what I know about what’s going down today:

  1. It’s a competition.
  2. Bouldering is the skill that will be the subject of the competition.
  3. There are four divisions, and I’m entered in the beginner (lowest) one.
  4. Check-in starts at 9; instructions will be given at 9:45, and climbing in my division (and advanced, which is the 2nd highest division) will take place from 10-12.

Here’s what I don’t know. Or at least, what I know I don’t know.

  1. What problems need to be climbed.
  2. How many climbs make up the competition.
  3. How you get scored.
  4. Whether I’ll be close to other climbers score-wise or if I’m just there to provide a floor.
  5. Just how public it’s gonna be. Is there gonna be a crowd just… staring? ‘Cause, weird.
  6. Will the crowd be nice? Or hostile? Or worst, patronizing?

We shall, I suppose, see.

Update: 9:35 am

I’m here, and still confused, but I’ve got a guess. There are problems set up in stations around the gym, thusly:


My guess is that we take a turn at each station and get points for the problem we choose, if we complete it.

Beyond that: check in was fine, and the fee swag is good for a $20 event: a t-shirt, 2 water bottles, a backpack, and a bunch of paper ad things that I haven’t looked through yet.

Update: 9:55 am

 

Part of my scorecard. Apparently you get extra points for brief nudity.

Update: 10:52 am

Here’s how it works: you go wherever you want, and climb whatever you want, but you only get one attempt before you go to the back of the line. An hour in, I’ve got one easy problem completed, a stupid fall on another easy one where my foot slipped, the completion of that one, and a good fall on a harder problem because there was a hold around the corner that was less supporting than I expected.

Update: 12:18 pm

And it’s all over except the raffle.

I’m extremely confident in my nonwinningness, at least for the climbing. One more bit about the comp: your top 5 scores count. And I only completed 4 problems. (85, 140, 120, and 180 points, if you’re counting.) That wasn’t exactly a tragedy-once I realized that I wasn’t likely to compete for a prize, I focused on routes that looked fun but we’re probably a bit above my ability. (The “good fall” I mentioned above was one of them-I think I can get it eventually, but it’s a bit beyond me today.)

Due to the nature of the competition and the crowd-about 200 climbers and 8 stations, there was a real limit to the number of times you can climb. So strategy plays a role if you are trying to win. The one-shot-and-then-to-the-back-of-the-line approach was an obvious necessity for traffic management, although it also added pressure until I realized that was stupid and I should just enjoy climbing.

Which makes me wonder if I’ll do another event like this. It was put on really well, and I’m glad I did it, and I enjoyed it, but I don’t know that I enjoyed it more than my regular climbing sessions. Of course, my regular climbing sessions aren’t that regular, and I’m not really using them toward any specific goal, so there’s a limit to what a competition like this would do for a person like me.

Of course, now that I know what’s going on, it might be interesting to see how much I could improve my score. Numbers are numerical like that, aren’t they?

Update: 12:51 pm

Swag’s not the reason to do something like this, but I’m not unimpressed. (Though the chair is not included.)

Update: 6:55 pm

A few other things, now that I’ve had the chance to process:

  1. One particularly neat thing: There was a woman there climbing who brought her kid. The kid was still in his stroller, maybe a year or 18 months old. He was cute. I’m surprised he wasn’t competing too. Kids are annoyingly good at climbing.
  2. The atmosphere was a lot of fun overall. There was a big crowd, but there were lots of things happening—it wasn’t like everyone was watching you to see if you pass or fail.
  3. I hope the problems don’t get reset for a while. There were several that I really enjoyed trying and hope to be able to complete in the nigh future.
  4. I’m still not sure whether I like the competitive atmosphere or not. It certainly makes stupid slips a lot more annoying, since you can’t get right back up and do the problem again without going through the line. I think it’s probably good occasionally, but it’s definitely not healthy as a steady diet for me.

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Monthly Goals: Turning the Ship Around

As of the beginning of August, things had been sort of in free-fall for me for a couple of months. I feel like things have sort of turned around a bit—although the two races I did last month did take a bit out of me. Nevertheless: Here’s my review of my goals from last month.

Weight: Goal was a 7-day average of 253; I didn’t make that, but I did reverse the increases of the past couple of months slightly, with a drop of about a pound and a half.

Success at the Spartan Rope Climb: Being able to climb the rope in the gym didn’t turn out to be the key to success on the course. I wasn’t even able to get up out of the water pit.

Enjoying the Spartan Super: While the start of the Spartan Race was brutal, and the overall race was a bit more grueling than I absolutely needed, I certainly enjoyed it a lot more than Indy. I’ll count this one as a win. And as a bonus, I definitely had a lot of fun at the Badass Dash.

Climbing: Mixed to near-success here. My goal was to complete two of the yellow (easiest) problems in the cave, and to succeed at one green (the next level up) problem. I succeeded at one of the yellow problems, which really shocked me, and I was one hold away on each of the others. Considering I couldn’t get off the starting holds at the start of the month, there was a lot of improvement. The one slightly disappointing thing about climbing: It doesn’t really make a great goal. I only went four times last month, and that’s actually a fairly high number for me. For me, climbing is more of an extra thing—it’s a lot of fun, and it’s really wonderful to learn a new skill, and it’s great to work muscles in a new way, but it will probably never replace my normal workouts. Also, another new climbing gym just opened in Chicago, and I’ve got passes at it and the original one, so unless I develop a clear favorite I’ll be going to both. (I also should try the new outdoor city-owned climbing park before too long.) Which will mean that I won’t have a lot of chances to even identify goals, let alone work towards improving them. So probably no more climbing goals for a long while, which is too bad, because I really do enjoy it.

Monkey Bars: My goal was 40 rungs, but I hardly practiced at all. There’s a bit of defense for this: I usually try to do this at my gym before class starts, but if there’s equipment set up it often blocks the monkey bars, and this seemed to happen most days.

Dad’s Little Book of Rage pictures: Not even close. My goal was 15, and I only did 3. The central conceit of this work is that, due to a fairly cult-like environment in which the author has lived his entire life, there are rather a lot of flagrantly absurd things that he believes quite fervently. Such as that this:

Sermon on the mount from Dad's Little Book of Ragewas an accurate depiction of the Sermon on the Mount.

Goals for this month

Weight: A classic, a broken record, whatever. Goal will be a 252 7-day average.

Hills: The races this month exposed just how weak my hill running is. Ironically, it was the mostly flat Badass Dash that proved it: The Spartans were awful, but I assumed they were awful because of the mud and slickness of the hills. But the small amount of hills in the Badass Dash took way too much out of me, so that’s an area that definitely needs to be addressed. And the Bourbon Chase, coming next month, will definitely have some, so I’d best prepare. My goal will be twofold. First, after every class at my gym, run the stairs to the roof (a seven-floor run.) Hopefully I’ll find that I have to do multiple stair runs by the end of the month. Second, once a week, I’ll do a hill workout in place of my normal run. This is surprisingly difficult: The nearest hill taller than I am is about 5 miles from where I live. I did the first one yesterday, and it was awful. I’m not sure if it was because of the heat, or the bike ride there, or the fact that I’m terrible at hills (probably that one) but there’s a lot of work to do.

Burpees: September 26 my gym is doing a 1000-burpee workout. So I’m going to try to not die at that.

5K: My next race is a 5K to benefit the museum where I volunteer. My time last year was 26:24, I think. My goal for this year will be 26:00. I have no idea if that’s feasible or not. It’s technically October 4, but I’ll count it for this month.

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