Last week, I was exuberant about my impulsive decision to jump on the cheap last-minute airfare from Aspen to El Paso for three glorious days of bouldering at Hueco Tanks with my robo-girlfriend JEN-tron 3000. These types of hasty decisions are gambles, and just like in real gambling, say roulette, the instant you actually commit to the game by tossing all of your money down on number 23, you’re suddenly filled with the thrilling sensation that you might be handsomely rewarded for taking a risk.
Succeeding at this type of karmic business involves having a strong and viable set of instincts that can tell you when to play and when to sit on the sidelines. These instincts come in the form of soft and genuine voices, which you might not always be willing to listen to, and which are easily and often confused by the voices of anxiety and desperation.
I hadn’t bouldered or climbed in the sun for nearly 6 weeks, and in retrospect, I should’ve taken that as a clue not to listen to what my “instincts” were telling me. I was obviously in a serious state of withdrawal. My judgement was fucked, my clarity clouded, no doubt about it now. I was in a dry spell of climbing, which is no different to when you’re in a dry spell of sex … everyone starts looking attractive, even the cow-faced swamp donkeys who’ve been saddled up to the local watering hole bar since 3 p.m. That’s how you get herpes, which I hear doesn’t hurt as bad as a torn hamstring.
To cut to the chase, I tore my hamstring within the first three hours of bouldering at Hueco last Saturday–basically, I had just finished warming up and began “trying hard” when I heard the pop that felt like my ass was being ripped apart by hip breaking free of its socket. And that’s more or less the whole story. But the finer points of the experience are worth exploring.
I made a few calls, and got on a tour of East Mountain with a crew of typically stronger-than-me dudes. I didn’t care where I climbed, per se. I was just happy to be outside climbing in 65 degree weather while the rest of my friends in Colorado suffered. I hate to say it, but the thought of them suffering while I basked in the sun filled me with great joy, if only because normally it is they who are off somewhere sunny, climbing hard, while I am suffering forever behind a computer. It felt as though there was some sense of restoration, balance and fairness made in my favor by the universe.
We warmed up at Hobbit in a Blender, lapping the problem a couple of times, and then, one guy wanted to go work on Slashface. Our guide let JEN-tron and I hang out by the other warm-up boulder, whose name I can’t remember (I think it’s called the Warm-Up Boulder), and we did some fun problems, culminating in a send of Li Stand, a two-move V7 that got my core working and my muscles warm.
This guy, I think his name was Mike, made some good links on Slashface, and then, his turn was done and the tour moved on … 60 feet away to this problem called Mojo. It starts on a trailer hitch hold, and makes one move to a bad right pinch; then, do a really awkward heel hook on a miserable sloper and try to pop your left hand up to a bad sloper. Trade the heel for a toe, and make a big move to a jug. From here, I guess some people drop off, which seemed silly since there were obvious holds all the way to the top of the problem. They give Mojo 10 points, and even though I didn’t do it, I think that’s way too generous. But I don’t have an 8a.nu scorecard, so it doesn’t really matter.
I tried Mojo twice, only falling because my heel was sliding out of my Soloution. I felt like I could probably do it on my next try if I tightened down my shoe. I cinched the strap and gave it my all, focusing on using my high/awkward knee-flaring-out heel hook. The heel stayed and I stuck the left sloper, but right as I stuck the move, I felt a sick pop in my ass. As I said, I thought my hip popped out of its socket.
I dropped to the pad, writhing in pain. I was F’d in the A. Then, a weird flood of emotions followed–embarrassment for showing weakness in the form of being affected by pain, denial that I was actually hurt, the realization that I couldn’t walk, the realization that I had blown my trip, and finally, true and lasting embarrassment for actually injuring myself in front of a group of strangers.
I bid the tour adieu, and crawled down to the car, Joe Simpson style. It was a haunting display of courage and willpower, and I’m sure one day I’ll be able to fully come to terms with my ordeal and subsequently write a best-selling book about it.
With nowhere to go, and 36 hours left in El Paso, I decided to check into the La Quinta Inn, where there was a bed, an ice machine, wireless and a TV. All the things would help me weather an injury, and I strongly felt like this was a place where I could try to come to terms with the steep and tumultuous tumble from feeling as though I was climbing so well and strong (my training has been paying off, by the way) to being forced to hobble around like a gimp for, as far as I knew, eternity.
As I sat in the La Quinta Inn in my underwear with a bag of ice under my sore-ass ass, I thought about what, if anything, I had done wrong. I’m not sure if there is a correct answer here, but I recognized a familiar pattern to other times I have injured myself climbing. The recurring common factors in the annihilation of muscle and tissue are: Bad night’s sleep. Probable dehydration. Not warmed up enough. Trying way too hard.
That’s the recipe for injury, at least for me. Though I had warmed up my fingers/core, now that I think of it, I didn’t stretch my legs and groin well enough. I’m also super flexible normally, so it is even more surprising that I injured my leg … and it goes to show you how easily it could happen.
Since that day, I’ve been slowly improving my range of motion. My leg has stopped buckling when I walk, and I feel as though my recovery is well on its way. I saw a chiropractor on Wednesday, who did some ultrasound on the hammy, and also, aligned my back, which I was actually more concerned about. Because I’d been favoring my leg, I could feel my back getting tense on the opposite side, and my spine being pulled out of alignment. I’m trying to stay on top of this stuff to prevent more injury in the future. All I can say is that staying healthy and being a climber, especially a boulderer, is fucking constant war and vigilance.
Though I’m bummed I can’t climb, or really train, I’m using this opportunity to do some hangboarding, which I typically hate because it sucks like torture. But this week has been different, and while it’s hard at first to get motivated to do a hangboard workout, once I do one, I feel pretty good afterward. Here’s my hangboard workout, in case anyone is interested:
- *3 sets of 10 pull-ups on jugs
- *3 sets of 10 pull-ups on slopers
(Notes: I do pull-ups very slowly, with control. I don’t rip them off fast, or use momentum to get myself up. In between pull-up sets, I massage my forearms at the tendon attachment points in my wrists and elbows to warm them up. I also stretch my fingers by pulling all four fingers back, and then, by pulling only two fingers back at a time).
REPEATERS: This is the work-out I prefer on the hangboard. A repeater means you choose a hold, hang on it for a certain number of seconds, then rest a certain number of seconds, and repeat this for a minute to two minutes at a time. With some, I’ll hang a 25 pound weight off my harness. With others, I’ll subtract 25 pounds off myself by using a pulley. In every case, it’s important to use proper form–arms slightly bent, fingers straight (not crimped).
Here’s the basic formula for how I’ll write the exercises out:[Hold type] [#sec on hold] / [#sec rest] | [reps/duration] | [#sets]
- *Four-finger edge 10s/5s | 10 reps (2.5 min) | 2 sets
- *“Inner” 2-fingers (- 25lbs) 10s/5s | 8 reps (2 min) | 2 sets
- *“Center” 2-fingers (-25lbs) 10s/5s | 8 reps | 2 sets
- *Three-finger edge (+25lbs) 8s/6s | 6 reps | 3 sets
- *“One-hand” hangs 8s/6s | 10 reps | 2 sets per hand. (Note: by one-hand, I pick a high edge on my hangboard and hang from it using all four fingers. I use my other hand on a lower pocket because I’m not strong enough yet to hang by one arm)
- * Push-ups 3 sets of 20.
- *Wide push-ups: 3 sets of 20
- *Typewriters: 3 sets of as many as I can do. (A typewriter is a pull-up where you pull up and move over to one arm, locked off, and hold for 3 seconds, then move over to the other arm, locked off, and hold for 3 seconds. Come down. That’s one typewriter)
In terms of rest between exercises, I try to rest until I feel ready to go. I don’t rush. I think you want to be recovered as much as possible in order to give your best effort to each exercise. Get after it!