The slow-ticking clock of summer is anticipated in the drip-drip of snow-melt and the trickle beneath the ice fall. Winter is over. To what depths will you now sink?
Ernest Runaway offers a chink of solidarity in his searing confession.
Those few degrees of tilt put an end to your season. And as you hang up your tools, several months separate you from a few weeks grace in Chamonix later in the summer, and those sessions at some crumbling quarry come autumn won’t last because drytooling is, in fact, no fun.
And your plans of getting strong will mean a week in Spain and a few half-arsed sessions down the wall while the British summer makes a mockery of what’s left.
So, as inevitable as the buttresses schucking their winter coats, you will turn to something else to stave off the summer glut.
And I know what it is. I know what you’ve done.
I know, dear reader, because I too was once you.
You went for a run didn’t you?
You went for a dirty little run.
I too hung up the tools, pulled on some shabby, grotty trainers, last seen on the walk-in to a rain-aborted day’s cragging, and went for a run.
And you enjoyed it didn’t you?
You hated it, admitting defeat.
But then something happened. Your lungs began to burn, the bile rose, your quads flamed and you had a little glimpse of that winter glory; of fiery calves, seared lungs and self-pity.
And so, you did it again.
You found with every lost day of climbing, you turned to those shitty little trainers.
And you ran further. You began driving to find new routes to run.
And so as spring turned to summer, you began turning down sessions at the wall to go running.
I bet you bought some new shoes, didn’t you? You did. You dirty little runner.
And then what? Pay to enter a race?
Just as some animals will eat their weakest young, so that the strongest may survive the winter, your body devoured its own biceps to feed your growing quads, so that they might survive the summer.
But think of those walk-ins. Think of those CV gains for touring. And calf pump, that will be a thing of the past. Digging into the little pain well, bringing up a bucket full of lactic, what better training for swimming up through some spindrift-soaked couloirs?
And while you may lose those pecs, that shadow of a rib, that outline of a vein can only mean one thing, you are getting lean. You are getting light. Rather than cutting your Z-Lite in half or not brushing your teeth for 5 days to save a few grams; your body is becoming the lightweight bit of kit. You may be shedding insulation but you’ll be shredding the ascents.
Take warning by me however, if you start taking those trainers with you on your Spanish sport trip, or worse yet, to Cham, your defences are crumbling.
You watch the leathery-skinned, visor-bound, gel-guzzling hordes line up on Place Triangle Amitié to begin the UTMB and what’s that? What’s that little tingle? That my friend is the tingle of curiosity, of jealousy even.
You begin to wonder whether you could maybe, one day, run a race like that. But think of the training. Think of the atrophy, your poor sweet biceps. Like fruit withered on the vine, while your calves knot and quads swell.
The time between hanging up your tools and sharpening them again for the season ahead will stretch. Your crag bag will no longer be a permanent fixture in the boot of your battered van, instead you will have bought some kind of sports-bra-cum-fanny-pack designed to carry disgusting little packets of jelly and weird floppy little water bottles with weird little teats that you will suckle from like the grateful little piglet you are. You are disgusting yet you are me.
That scorch of breath in the throat, the swimming head; all just a few miles from your own front door, starts to seem a lot more attractive than the four hour drive and two hour kip in your mate’s car before an hour’s walk-in to some forgotten buttress to find it’s dripping wet, lichen infested or just fallen down.
You will start cultivating weird tanlines. Ensuring the shape of your vest becomes embossed against your sharpened shoulders.
I tell you all this from the other side, from across a divide of some years now.
This tale comes to you from a place where days on rock or ice are now no longer the rule but the exception. A place where pull-ups are to be feared more than ever before. Where a fingerboard is gathering dust under the stairs and fucking therabands hang from the doorframe instead. It is a dark place friends. A place filled with foam rollers and vaseline.
There is hope however. Scraps like motes of dust, lit by shafts of light in an old attic. Days where routes take you over ground once the preserve of red-socked scramblers. And beyond that, a pair of old rock shoes may find their way into your pack. You may even touch the occasional route. Routes once dismissed as too easy for a day’s climbing, become blood and gut-gurgling exercises in fear and control as your withered T-Rex arms quiver over bucket-like holds. Your eyes water as drops formerly thought tame now prick your sense of mortality.
That rush of alka-seltzer blood fizzes down to your fingers and into your toes as you pull onto the summit. Sat panting against the cairn, a flare of dormant synapse reminds you of what climbing once gave. Those occasional days where it all goes right; stringing pitch after pitch, route upon route. Link-ups and integrales; days to be remembered.
And that is where your running will meet your climbing, in the bright, oxyacetylene realisation that it is all one and the same. Getting out, getting scared, getting tired, getting high and getting back late. Just don’t mention the chafing.
Ernest Runaway boasts a mountain CV to make even your grandmother weep. He has raced and climbed all over the world with several FKTs, FAs, FFAs and many FFSs to his name. In the interests of safety his identity has been protected. Some of the names, places, events, facts, opinions and words have been changed and/or fabricated, because we can.