Don't Squash The Banana: Commitment

In the spring of 2011, while queued up beneath "Ultraperm", I witnessed the very definition of commitment.  No, it wasn't someone skipping 2 bolts and risking a ground fall just to send.  That would be stupid.  Instead, it was an act so casual that it didn't catch the eye of any of the 16 other people waiting for their burn.  My friend Nate Drolet, in line just in front of me, asked his belayer if she wanted half of his banana.  Of course she did.... who wouldn't?  Rather than peel it and break it off with his chalky, dirty fingers, or dig in his pack for a knife, Nate.... wait for it..... snapped the banana in half.  Clean break, right through the middle.  Like a ninja.

My first attempt at snapping a banana ended in, well, banana pudding.  It wasn't even a very ripe banana.  Problem was, I didn't commit.  I didn't go for it.  I backed off at the last second.  You can't half-ass it when you're banana snapping, or you end up with unappetizing mush.  No bueno.

You can plan every move you make.  You can train harder and longer than anyone else.  You might be the first person at the crag every day.  None of this matters if you don't commit.

It's not uncommon to see climbers squash the banana on a difficult onsight or redpoint attempt, and it's easy to spot.  The climber gets to the crux move, looks up, looks down, looks up again, sometimes shakes their head no, and they're off.  If your partner says, "Take!" in the middle of a redpoint attempt for no apparent reason, they might be a chronic banana squasher.  It happens everyday on tall boulder problems.  These are the lapses in commitment that are readily apparent.  This doesn't mean that they are easier to fix - just that you're more likely to get called out on them.  It's the harder to spot lapses that are the most dangerous, and these generally follow a never-ending path paved with excuses.

 "I don't have the time."

If you've made this statement concerning training more than a handful of times in the last year, you are definitely squashing the banana.  You and most other people.  I'm sorry, but I have to call bullshit.  More likely, the truth is that you can't bear the thought of missing out on time spent playing video games or watching videos online to actually put in a little hard work.  You've got a lot to get done this week?  Better get to it!  I'd rather work a 60 hour week and climb on the weekend than stretch that work out over 7 days.  Doing anything well will require sacrifice.  If it comes so easy to you that you don't have to sacrifice anything, then there is a good chance you aren't trying anywhere near your potential.  If you're one of those people who think that you REALLY don't have time to do enough training to get strong, there are a few things to consider.

  • Less time can mean more focused training.  Throughout the majority of the year, my training time is only about 8 hours a week.  5-6 hours in the gym, over two or three small sessions, and an hour spent hangboarding in the early morning before work twice a week.  You could easily get by with less, and if you have a small home wall, things get even easier.  4-5 hours a week is plenty to make small gains, if it's focused.  That means stop hanging out at the front desk or chatting the night away and get it done.
  • You're probably training too much anyway.  Work + Rest = Training.  Without sufficient rest time, you are essentially moving backward.  If you're in the gym 5 or 6 days a week, for several hours each session, get a hobby.  One that doesn't require working out.  If your muscles never get a chance to recover, how do you suppose they'll ever get stronger?
  • While you're sitting here browsing the internet, there is someone out there, who is busier than you, training hard.  Get your priorities in order and make a schedule.  If getting better at climbing is a priority, then schedule it as such.  When you learn to schedule around training time, rather than trying to fit training time into a busy schedule, you'll find that you're less stressed, more fit, and have far fewer excuses.  If you keep it up, you won't need those excuses anyway.  
  • A tool as small as a hangboard can go a long way.  If you really can't schedule any training time - you're absolutely maxed out - then get up an hour earlier and do a quick hangboard workout a few times a week.  Finger strength is one of the cornerstones of climbing hard, and when not used, will disappear pretty quickly.  You have room in your house for a small wooden hangboard, so build one and put it in.  Otherwise, you're squashing the banana. 
  • Committing the time to get outside, particularly if you're a good distance from climbing, can be a little tougher.  Again, the solution is planning.  My friend Yasmeen and I, though we rarely climb together, start emailing plans on Monday for the following weekend.  Changes and updates continue throughout the week, but by Thursday, I know where everyone I train is climbing for the weekend.  Make plans.  Make backup plans.  Have a third option in case of Superstorm Sandy.  Then stick to it.

"I never even got to get on it." 

Your day didn't go exactly as planned.  Let me guess.  You had every intention of getting on your hardest route yet, but a whole host of issues teamed up against you and kept you from it.  You didn't bring enough food or water, and felt hungry or dehydrated.  It got dark too fast.  Your skin hurt.  Somebody was projecting it and hanging all over, and you just couldn't wait.  You forgot your good shoes at home.  You didn't get to bed until too late the night before.  You forgot your coffee that morning.

Maybe you just need to change your diaper.

  • Add accountability.  Tell your friends about your plan.  Post it on facebook.  Mention it to your partners that day.  Maybe then it won't be so easy to back out for ridiculous reasons.  You'll have more people to answer to, and possibly more reason to go for it.  
  • Stop giving yourself excuses.  This requires some planning ahead, but if you take care of your skin, you can't use it as an excuse.  Pack your good shoes the night before.  Never leave home without your coffee.  Good preparation will leave you nearly excuseless, and will almost always leave you with a better chance to send.  
  • Make a list.  For some people, checking off little boxes is a powerful reason to go do things.  If it helps you, make a list, complete with little empty boxes.  Hang it on your refrigerator or on your bulletin board at work.  
  • So it's scary.  Ok.  I get butterflies in my stomach every time I step on stage, and before most hard route attempts.  That isn't fear... it's just anticipation.  Once you step on the wall, let your training take over.  The butterflies will disappear and soon there will be a great story to tell, whether you send or not.  The only real failure is in never trying.

"I just couldn't get psyched."

I'm not even going to legitimize this one with bullet points.  Fact is, if you need to seek outside your own self to find your motivation to rock climb, it's gonna be a rough ride.  Maybe your partners weren't that psyched.  Maybe they were moving too slow for your liking.  Doesn't matter.  It's up to you to set your own pace and make your own plan.  It's great to have a psyched belayer, but a competent one will work just as well.  Next time, look for partners who don't end every climbing day with a list of excuses longer than their brand new, never fallen on, 70 meter rope.

If you can't get psyched to train, then climbing harder isn't that important to you.  Assuming that's the case, you should exit this blog and go back to facebook.  Facebook is way friendlier than I am, and it won't tell you that you're lying to yourself.

"I'm trying to get back in shape."

C'mon now.  I've seen you in the gym every week for the last 6 years, and you've always been climbing at this level.  Forever.  Exactly what shape are you trying to get "back" into?  Maybe this only happens at my gym, but I doubt it.  There are always a few people who are perpetually "getting back into shape" before they really start training hard and pushing into the next level.  I understand.  You've found your comfort zone, and it's hard to leave there.  Do me a favor and try it a few times.  Do it when the gym is empty, so there are no judgemental eyes on you.  I bet you'll do something you didn't think you could, and you'll want to tell your friends about it.  You might even want to spend a little more time on it to get better.  Then again, maybe not.  Comfort zones really only exist for lazy people anyway.  You should just stay there.

"My elbows/shoulders/fingers/skin hurt too bad."

This isn't a new thing.  You've been using the same excuse for 6 months now.  Do something about it.  Commit to the solution.  Try everything you can to heal whatever problem it is you're having.  If you had started when the pain did, you'd be fine now, you'd know how to remedy it next time, and you wouldn't have this excuse.  Yes, I understand that the pain is real, but you're still out here climbing or in the gym, so it isn't bad enough to stop you entirely.  In fact, didn't I see you campusing problems in your flip flops with no warm up?  Uh huh.  You get no sympathy.  Do something to remedy the issue, or just shut up and push through.

Geez... I'm getting angry here.  Is it obvious that I just can't tolerate slackers for long?  So here's my point...

If you don't commit to putting the time in, you'll never get the chance to have to commit to that crux move at the top of the hardest route you've tried.  You'll never have the satisfaction of knowing that you pushed through the nerves and the fear, went for it, and took the fall.  You'll never do that rockover move high above the pads and topout your first highball.  And that's perfectly ok... if you don't want those things.  But if you do, I suggest you take a deep breath, commit, and don't squash the banana.

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