Sunday, 24 March 2013

Rock ‘n Roll vs Plastic Fantastic (by Karen Varga)

That is a question I can answer without any hesitation - rock! Although I must admit my ultimate first choice is sunny rock :)

I started climbing quite late in my life - when I was at university at the age of 21. My best friend climbed and kept trying to get me to give it a go. Eventually I went with him to the university wall and loved it. I climbed for 3 months on plastic and then did a week-long trip up to Waterval Boven (Mpumalanga, South Africa).  It was after that week of climbing on rock that I was downright hooked :)

Jacobs Ladder - Table Mountain, Cape Town
We are super spoilt in South Africa with there being so much really amazing rock, and often no more than half an hour from your doorstep. I'm not sure if it’s because of this, but the South African mentality toward climbing back then was very laid back, the focus being on getting outside and having fun, with very little emphasis on plastic or training.  Almost every weekend we were out climbing on rock, and during the week sessions at the wall were light-hearted and just for feeding the addiction until the next rock adventure. There was never much structure or training focus. I am talking 14 years ago now and this has definitely changed since, but that was the vibe that I came into when I started climbing.

I sometimes wonder what might have happened if I had started climbing in a place where training was given more focus - would I have had the mental maturity to follow that approach and push myself, and ultimately achieve more with my climbing. Maybe, maybe not. But what I did get was 10 years of fabulous and memorable weekends spent with friends sitting round the camp fire, and climbing in some of the most spectacular locations on awesome rock!

Building a training frame in my garage
My first ever training session was 10 years into my climbing career after I had come over to live in the UK.  My first year in England was spent recovering from back surgery, so when I could finally climb again I had lost all of my fitness and needed time on plastic to slowly build this up in a safe and controlled environment. It was also going into autumn and I struggled massively with not being able to get out on rock due to wet and cold weather. 

It was hard to adjust to being limited to plastic though - this was completely different to the climbing lifestyle that I was used to.  Autumn came and I struggled massively with not being able to get out on rock due to cold and wet weather.  I soon realized that I needed something to keep me psyched through the long winter season and so decided to try do some training and a few competitions.

World Championships 2011
I absolutely loved applying myself to a training programme, feeling and seeing the improvements in my climbing.  I also thoroughly enjoyed competition climbing – I found it challenging to break into the correct mind frame for competition, having come from a long background of working routes for red-pointing.  Competition requires a lot more give-it-everything-you’ve-got-and-never-give-up attitude, as well as learning to control your nerves, and climb calmly but aggressively at the same time :)

Just 2 weeks ago was the start of a 7 month round-the-world traveling adventure for me!  It involves mostly just traveling, but of course there will be climbing.  The main climbing destination is USA, but we’re hoping to do a bit in New Zealand and Brazil too.  However there will be some very long breaks between climbing which I am still finding extremely hard to come to terms with.  And in the next 7 months I will probably only touch plastic a handful of times, if at all, which another fact that I am slowly working through - the main source of panic comes from worrying about how much strength and fitness I will lose.  On the flip side of course, when we do climb, especially in the USA, it will be continuously for a number of weeks so I’ll build up more specific fitness at the crags.

Happy on rock!
Overall I will always be a rock person - this is where my passion lies.  However, I do really enjoy a good session at the climbing or bouldering wall, and for training I find plastic very convenient and specific, so it certainly has its place :)

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