This year for me has been a bit up and down when it comes to performances. After six months of project-specific training, i ticked my two hardest problems to date in March (Carnage 7b+ at Curvier and Rock Attrocity 7c at Parisella’s Cave) and was in the form of my life. I was strong, fit and psyched to get out and was one session away from getting my first V10 at Parisella’s and planning on getting started on my next long term project, Diesel Power 8a at the Cromlech boulders.
Then i got a bit arrogant. I went to the Peak for a weekend with my girlfriend and her daughter, with my personal climbing far from the focus of the weekend. At Burbage South, Ffion was trying and struggling to cope with the grit. She soon wandered off to go and play on little rocks with no particular lines on (just having fun on the rock which was the whole point and something often missed with kids in my opinion but that’s another rant and another article) so i looked around for a suitable problem to tick off in the mean time. I quickly found Crash n’ Gurn 7a – not long, a one-move-wonder in fact, starting on an undercling on the left hand and a small pocket on the right. Believing myself to be some sort of uber-wad, i ignored my own common sense that told me to warm up, knowing it would probably go wrong and got on it. Something did go wrong: an annular ligament (i think) on the ring finger of my right hand tweaked slightly and that was me done. For about six weeks. With my big summer trip looming. I felt like a real fool.
By the time i went to Spain in June, i had lost all of the strength i had spent the winter training to get. What should’ve been another impressive ticklist soon turned into a list of 4s, 5s and 6s with only the occasional grade 7 thrown in. I enjoyed it nevertheless but have been kicking myself ever since for being so stupid and not listening to my own sound judgement.
Not literally kicking myself mind, which brings me onto the next injury. My finger had healed enough to not cause me any more pain and allow me to climb for twelve days straight, which was great but that didn’t help the rest of me. While topping out a problem called Dos Mandingas y un Destino 7a+ at Entre Aguas in Albarracin, Spain, i threw a left heel over the top, pulled and tweaked my hamstring. This one was just one of those things; i was warmed up, i was all good to go and to be honest, other than taking a rest day or two there was no way it could be avoided. What could be avoided was allowing myself to be talked into another problem, also involving a left heel hook, later on that day and making the whole thing worse. Some four weeks later, it is still giving me grief.
I kept climbing, avoiding anything that put any pressure on that left hamstring. On the penultimate day, i got an unnamed dyno at La Fuente and decided to jump off the top. It wasn’t that high after all and i landed in between the pads, surprisingly causing no pain at all. I did the problem again for the camera and jumped off again, wary of that gap and of learning lessons this time. In the air, i straddled the pads, only for my left foot to land on a rock small enough to be perfectly hidden but just big enough to twist my ankle ever so slightly. It was a nothing, i barely noticed at the time but two weeks after i got home, i found myself having to get it x-rayed to prove i hadn’t broken my talus. Needless to say, i rested it out again and am now so weak, last night i struggled on a V6.
So not a great Summer so far, after the most incredible Spring you could imagine. But how much of this comes down to resting injuries? When at University, i damaged a tendon in my finger and opted for the old Just Climb A Little Easier technique of recovery. It took years to heal, cost me a fortune in finger tape and i maintain it would still be problematic now if it weren’t for a forced hiatus from climbing due to moving back to Birmingham. Still, i am left wondering if applying a bit of this tried and tested formula would leave me in better shape now.
Instead i opted for the Don’t Use It For Anything technique, which worked wonders when something popped in a different finger years after that first finger injury. Then, i was even lifting boxes at work without using the aforementioned digit. That one took 10 weeks but was perfectly healed by the end of it. With the finger injury in April, that wasn’t as effective. I spoke to Andy and Tim at work (not medical professionals by any stretch but they are ardent boulderers) and they suggested to climb through it. While i had to bear in mind their keenness to get out as soon as possible, they did raise a good point about the build up of scar tissue where i’d damaged myself.
While i’m certain that taping and using that finger wouldn’t have let it heal, i do think that pushing it a little would’ve been useful. It only stopped aching after my first session back, lending credence to Andy and Tim’s theory. The ultimate question remains: when is the right time to start climbing again? I don’t think there is an ultimate answer.
With serious injuries, like a broken leg for example, the first that comes to mind is “when the doctor tells you it’s okay” but even then, i’ve met plenty of people who have been told they’ll never walk/climb/whatever again, only to stubbornly prove the physician wrong and be out and about quite quickly. Even then, the question still looms – you might be okay to walk again perfectly well but what about impacts, excessive stretches, strains and all that sort of thing. How do you know when it’s healed enough?!
One theory is to get out and use it, carefully, and see what happens. I’m skeptical, and have come to the conclusion that you rest it a set time, add a little bit and then get out and try it. Medical advice is always useful but should be taken with a pinch of salt, dependent on the practitioner. We’re all individual and it’s important to listen to your own body and pay attention to the messages that it’s giving you. But it all comes back to that first problem back in April: heed the warnings of the past. I knew i shouldn’t be doing it, did it anyway and have now lost a season to my own stupidity. Push the limits, and yourself – just make sure it’s not to breaking point. The road back is a bit unknown.