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‘leap of faith' Hamish Potokar

In January I took a leap of faith. Perhaps not the sort of ‘leap of faith’ you’d expect on a climbing blog, instead it was a leap distinctly in the opposite direction of anything to do with climbing. But let me put it in to context.

I’ve been climbing now since the age of around six, and since that time it has be something invariably woven in to the fabric of my world. I really don’t think that I’ve ever had more than three weeks off since those early days, the odd injury being the only thing I have really let disrupt the habit. I have been lucky in that I’ve never been seriously hindered by any kind of injury and so coping with prolonged periods of abstinence has never been a battle I’ve had to take on. But of course this always isn’t the best way. You’ll hear it from all coaches out there- pulling on tiny edges and battering your body day after day, week after week, year after year- isn’t natural. Bouldering isn’t natural. And sometimes this is something we need to realise when we nurse yet another popped pulley or done in elbow and question ‘why me?!’

This is something I have always been aware of and has been drilled in to me from quite a young age. I always try to me mindful of how my body is feeling and responding to training, and endeavour to vary what I do as much as possible. Sometimes I’ll have periods of mixing it up eg tying on, trying to give my body a break from the high demands of bouldering, and often I’ll have periods of ‘lowering the intensity’, and not pushing things as hard as I usually would during a normal training session. I remember a talk by Mina Leslie-Wujastyk to the GB junior bouldering team, and one thing she said which stuck with me was how many climbers often have this unrealistic expectation to perform all year round. If we look at all the top athletes, both within and outside of climbing, their whole performance fits round the seasonal basis of the sports they partake in. They don’t expect to be the best they can be all year round. ‘Off season’ isn’t a term that we are so familiar with in the modest realms of our sport and the explosion of indoor walls is offering us the chance to climb all year round as an end in itself. Instead of pushing ourselves and expecting results all year round, we need to know when to build fitness, when to train maximum power, when to pull on the smallest holds we possibly can pull on, and perhaps most importantly-when to stop. When to take a step back and give our body the break it deserves.

So this is what I decided to do for a while. At least, I decided to stop completely. For three and a bit months. And go and teach English in Myanmar. Perhaps it’s misleading to suggest that my only motivation for doing this was to give my body a rest. I also wanted to do something different from climbing for a time. Since I began, it’s been both the most incredible addition to my life, but also perhaps the most dominating. So much of my energy so far has been channelled in to this game and whilst I’ve got so much back, this felt like a chance to channel my energy in different directions. So rather than just a ‘body break’, this was in a sense a ‘body and mind break’, and offered me the opportunity to turn in a different direction for a time.

Of course I couldn’t completely keep away, and I don’t think that doing so would have been a good thing anyway. I wanted to make sure I maintained a good basic level of fitness and mobility, and even perhaps make improvements in some areas. Rock was substitute for a goalpost I found in the monastery I was teaching in, and many hours in the evening were spent doing pull-ups and muscle ups on that bar, often amidst a hovel of excitable young onlookers. Yoga was another thing I decided to experiment in whilst I was out there, providing a great basis for improving my flexibility and movement, and just generally learning to better understand my body through a different mode. In doing so I came to appreciate a lot of parallels with climbing, with its method centred towards perfection of movement and a synthesis of body and mind, this which I feel are very valuable when climbing. I set myself lots of small goals and challenges, and it was refreshing to see quick improvements in areas I have previously not given so much focus. It was not uncommon for me to be seen staggering back to my room in the 40+ degree heat, sweat dripping down for my face and looking like I had just endured a half an hour of flogging. Motivating me when it was that hot was certainly not easy, especially when I spent much of the time nursing a dodgy tummy from the dubious street food we were forced to eat. But I’m glad that I persevered.

And now I’m back. After nearly four months of not climbing I had my first session a couple of days ago. After half an hour I was completely done. My skin was burning, my muscles aching, and my fingers were uncurling from holds I would have previously considered jugs! My shoes don’t even fit me any more, not having worn anything on my feet but flip flops for that whole time. But it was really nice to be back. I didn’t feel too annoyed or frustrated, as its completely what I expected. I’m looking forward to slowly getting back in to the swing of things over the next couple of weeks, and redeveloping from the bottom up all the things I know I need to be a better climber. Fingers, I think, are going to be a priority. Best of all I was greeted by a grand new moon board recently put up at my local wall, The Climbing Academy. I can’t wait to get stuck in (when I’m strong enough again to pull on the holds of course). For now though It’s going to be building back in to things slowly without getting too carried away, and leaping back in to the world of climbing which I have missed so much.