when pain is a gift

September 18, 2014

There’s something uniquely liberating about being reset to a zero. For the first week of my neck injury I thought it was just going to go away. I’d fallen in front of the people I work and climb with, had a bloody fire engine outside the wall and a paramedic holding my neck, I’d cried in front of the people I work with. Mostly I was just embarrassed. I thought that I had massively over reacted and that in a day or two the pain would be gone completely.

A day or two later and the pain had gotten worse so I went to my doctor, got prescribed a metric f*ck tonne of painkillers and referred to a specialist. I kept relatively cheery, the pain killers made me feel like things were definitely getting better. And then two weeks in I came off them to find out there was only a tiny amount of progress.

I went about setting goals for the next week, month, year, decade, to keep me focused, but instead of focusing me they were disheartening. My goal was “full mobility with no pain”, I didn’t realise at the time that was a STUPID as all hell goal. I can’t DO anything towards that goal, in fact if I work too hard I get worse. After the first month was coming to an end and I had gone a few days without painkillers I went about re-reading everything I’d learned about goal setting.

My new goal is to walk three times a day, do my neck strength three times a day and attempt minor glute and core exercises. I could have success EVERY day with these. Success breeds success. This was a DOING goal rather than a BEING goal. Doing goals means I can wake up in the morning and have a job to do, a BEING goal means I can wake up in the morning and check if I’ve reached it and if I haven’t I get sad.

I have a weekly goal, a monthly goal and a mid-term goal, I also have a life time goal. That life time goal felt a million years away from where I am, but now, every time I have a daily success I can imagine it feeding directly into my lifetime success.

Most people have read about or talked about goal setting at some stage and come across the acronym SMART. Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time constrained. What I was missing was all of it. I thought full mobility with no pain was realistic and measurable but it’s not, I can’t measure full mobility. For years I thought I had full mobility until someone looked at my shoulders and more or less laughed.

I have had three years of stupid reoccurring injuries and never realised it all came back to a car crash five years ago. So here I am now, I can barely lift a water jug or a rope BUT I can lift them a wee bit for a short time, that’s progress in the last week! Most of the time when I’m not working, I’m lying down resting my neck and getting up to do some strength. I’m at zero. All my muscles are getting weaker from not being used, and there is something strangely liberating about that.

Previously I was trying to work everything or trying to identify what was the weakness I needed to work on the most to try and reduce all these tweaks and injuries I was getting. Now I have to just sit and push my head against my hand to build up the strength so I can hold up my own head for a whole day without painkillers. I have a tick list of stuff to do throughout the day and I have people I trust that will guide me to help me build my body from this point zero to a balanced body.

I should be completely devastated that I can’t climb, especially as the weather has just been a gift! the trad season seems never ending! But the devastation is gone, the majority of the frustration is gone, though occasionally I will throw a strop because I can’t just go out climbing. Instead I am left with this strange re-start button, like a complete system reboot. My return to climbing, which will hopefully happen in this month and not the next, will be on top rope, it will be 4s and it will be one route on the first day. It will not be triumphant, it will be slow.


I know there are people whose zero is much worse than mine and I am thankful for that.


March 18, 2014

A guy in work asked me the other day about a belay device and I waxed lyrical about the joy of the Edelrid Mega-Jul, only after I’d been talking for a few minutes did I stop and let him speak 🙂 He pointed out that I must really love it…and I DO. So I’m gonna tell EVERYONE!

Firstly, I have tiny hands and strange wrists and find the gri gri 1 and 2 don’t work comfortably for me when I use them the way Petzl says how to! I considered getting the trango cinch for my sport climbing trips but never really got the money together (or found a shop selling one) to get one!

I managed to get my hands on an Edelrid mega jul for very few euros and started playing around, this is by far the easiest, lightest, most…well….perfect sport climbing belay device I have ever used. It feeds out slack easily, it locks off perfectly, it can be used to abseil and is as trustworthy as a gri gri!

seriously though, it is lovely, light and easy to use 🙂 the only issue I have ever found is when the rope is thick and old 🙂

I can’t find anywhere nearby that sells them though, which is a shame but they are 30quid on V12 in wales 🙂

Coming up to the eve of my 31st birthday and I can’t help but look over the last decade of my life and wonder, how did I end up here

The Celtic tiger was my youth, we were promised a life of magic. Jobs were plentiful, wages were high and for my 20s I could do whatever I wanted. It was an employees market, I could easily leave my job and know I would find another. In this decade of prosperity I partied and travelled and bought anything I wanted.

I had been brought up in a household that eschewed the traditional materialistic needs, with parents that taught us to follow our dreams. I am one of three siblings who are independent, adventurous and excitable. We left school and went into university to do what are now affectionately called *Celtic Tiger Degrees*. Art, music and theatre were our choices, we followed our hearts and our dreams.

In a country where education was almost free and part time jobs abounded we were joined by thousands of others who would later join me and my sister in getting retrained for something slightly more workplace oriented. I left a job where my employer had offered to double my salary and returned to study in UCC.

In the four years I was in university the recession took hold, what was at first a mild annoyance and topic of conversation soon became a looming presence that poked at us through our university shield at each new budget.

But everything was going to be ok, my life was filled with abundance and gratitude, I chose how I spent my days and was surrounded by all my friends. And then I started climbing.

Climbing, within a month or two became the centre around which I organised my life. It was the last semester of my final year and I started to get distracted. I chose to go away to the Gap of Dunloe climbing instead of staying at home studying, I handed in my dissertation early to climb in Wales.

In the end I cancelled my masters degree and decided to work in climbing. Although the recession had hit, my core belief in following my dreams stayed strong. And for a while that was all I needed, but as the protection of university life disappeared along with all of my friends as they jetted off to study and work, I became lost. Bills became more expensive, food prices and electricity prices rose, I got injured and couldn’t climb.

This year, after climbing for about 2 years, plauged by injury and frustration I reached the heady realm of the *statistically average climber*. The joy I feel while climbing well reaches into all areas of my life, the sadness when I don’t does the same.

In the last decade I learned so much about life, but in the last year I have learned to worry. This constant worry of paying bills, of wondering for the first time in my life, where the future is going. And this worry has permeated every part of my life.

I am coming into my 31st year, the new year is coming and I have a choice to make. I can give up on my dreams and try and make money, or I can follow my dreams and learn not to worry.

Sometimes even failure is progress.

After months of turning up, just turning up, training, climbing, hoping something will change…months of hearing motivational phrases;

It’s not a breakdown – it’s a breakthrough
Just keep turning up and progress will happen
Pain is weakness leaving the body

Months of nothing but frustration, confusion, anger, sadness.

Too many times sitting in the car on the way home have I thought…that’s it, I’m done, I’m never going to get any better.

Looking at the climb, knowing I can do it…giving up before or halfway through because I’m afraid.

Failure after failure after failure. Everything affected how I climbed, the music, the people around, the food in my belly, the tea I did – or did not drink, the tshirt, the shoes…the knowledge I COULD do it, the belief that I could not.

Months of waiting to get to the point where I said…fuck it, I can’t do this anymore, I can’t keep giving up, moving from self loathing to anger

In that one moment I advanced three grades, just by being fucking angry.

My casual coach had told me that I needed to find the anger, channel the energy away from frustration and disappointment. I never thought it would come.

One, glorious week of progress.

And it is back again. A new benchmark of failure. A new grade to be angry I am not climbing.

Knowing that all this failure is progress

And that my frustration is fear leaving the body.

I’ve heard that my next lesson is patience.



I remember the day that it felt like magic and I flowed across rock, no fear, with joy. Afterwards I fell, crushing my solid foundations, destroying the mental and physical strength I’d just begun to develop.

Instead of building a solid foundation again I rushed forward to try and *catch up* to get *somewhere* *anywhere* that wasn’t where I was stuck.

Cracked toes, neck injury, dislocated fingers, months and weeks off climbing and I would run back straight afterwards to the gym, the wall, the rock, ignoring the pain or the mental difficulties, forcing myself to fall and jump and pull hard.

Somehow I made progress, I began to feel comfortable again began moving through the grades, began to feel more comfortable taking falls and then I got injured again.

I had to take the two months off before going to el chorro because I injured a finger tendon. I arrived in El Chorro for a two week climbing trip, psyched and driven.

Instead of spending the first week building up my grade and taking falls I took a back seat as we were climbing in a three, when the third left I decided to start projecting a climb on top rope, working out the hardest moves I’d ever climbed.

The last week was spent doing this (alternating with resting whilst belaying my climbing partner) until my last day came. After not leading a whole lot for the whole trip I got on the hardest route I had ever climbed and tried to push it. Unsurprisingly the world tumbled around me, the weak foundation crumbled and I failed. Too long spent looking forward instead of enjoying where I was, too much hoping and not enough stopping and looking around.

I was more than upset, I was decimated. I spent the night wondering whether I should just give up climbing altogether, whether I should quit my job in the climbing wall and the city and get a job in an office somewhere and pretend I didn’t care, thankfully I am more prone to melodramatic statements than I am to melodramatic acts and instead I decided to think a little longer!

I have to wash my foundations away, strip away the scrappy scaffolding and start again. Somehow find out where I *am* and enjoy if for a while before I start moving forward again.

And now a courtesy *normal* trip report…el chorro was hot and cold, wet and dry. the rock was stunning, Makindromo was breathtaking, the finca was full of smokers and the showers were cold, the train station cafe was like an episode of Eastenders only with tasty tortilla and tea, if I go again I will change only a few things.

I don’t know yet how to process this. Both psyche and hope, dismay and desire, feeling part of and separate from.

I have just returned from the female climbing symposium in Liverpool (pictures to come).

I imagine for male climbers it is quite normal to walk into a wall with lots of male climbers climbing at lots of different levels…but I was blown away. Girls, girly girls with make up and nail varnish and long hair, crushing. Climbing hard and psyched. I have never seen so much down in one place, I am pretty sure that the Climbing Hangar had the highest percentage of down per person in the world! Every girl and lady looked like a climber, the place was like an add for E9 and moon pants, hardcore girls with chalk bags and shoes hanging from hips and hands and from the back of bags.

On friday we had visited the wall for a bouldering session, Roofs and slabs and overhangs, crimps and slopers and sidepulls. Routes that I didn’t even understand and routes that were easy and technical. It is hard to be there and know that there is nothing like it to come home to.

It is hard to process, the talks were interesting, the coaching was fun but the information that I am processing is the climbing ladies. So many of them.

Role Models and Legends gave talks along side the practical and exciting. Lucy Creamer and Fran Brown both casually dismissed great trials and difficulties with compassion for themselves and understanding of the bigger picture. A great sense of optimism, drive and hope permeated the room.

From my little area of the world, the little corner at the end of Ireland there is something beginning…I hope. The girls in England are used to the scene, the psyche, the normality of women climbing, they are ready to push harder. In cork it is rare, indoors there are a handful of female climbers, when I am out at crags the ratio seems to be 20:1.

I am, by nature a type of pessimist. I believe everything is possible but in the midst of reality I lose hope. As I sat there, listening, I was wrapped in thought. A  noisy paradox, who thinks out loud, who looks to the women around her for some answer. Loving the wall, the size and scope of it, the openess and relaxed atmosphere, the normality of climbing hard…trying to find a way to return to cork and train, alone on a monday morning watching the sun rise and lighting up the 45degree board in the co-op.

climbing lets me forget

October 16, 2012

It is only when I haven’t been outside climbing that the news stories and history programmes and the world around me becomes like a sadness. It all seems to be death, pain, loss and fear.

When I stand at a crag, a mountain, beneath a blue, grey or cloudy sky I forget. Everything feels ok, everything feels possible.

When I stand inside the bouldering co-op alone on a grey morning and have to push myself to train, I don’t train for strength or glory, I train so I can stand beneath more crags, harder lines and longer days beneath blue, grey and cloudy skies.

When I stand inside the gym, with loud music and muscled men around me and I lift weights or pull up and I feel my muscles shaking I imagine a line. I imagine a crack system that I have fallen out of because I am not strong enough, I imagine a line that others have taken with ease and that I struggled with on second, and I do the last pull up in my set, shaking.

And I can’t tell if it is ok to forget, to turn the news off, to climb.

I have a list of reasons why I don’t want to go to the Irish Bouldering League and only one reason to go…because everyone tells me to!!!

My reasons included;1) I don’t like competition, 2) I don’t like climbing around big groups of people and 3) I don’t like bouldering!

1) I don’t like competition. I don’t know if this is a girl thing or not but people screaming at you and you screaming at yourself is at odds at why I climb BUT…

I wasn’t actually competing against anyone. It was so chilled out and I spent a lot of time with the other two girls in my category talking about how we would do certain moves, I also spent an insane amount of time chatting with the young guys from CYCC, spotting them and shouting encouragement. I also walked up to people during the day and said…will you shout sh*t at me to keep me going or point out moves…which brings me onto my second reason for not going

2) I don’t like climbing around big groups of people. I knew about 70% of the people in the place and the other 30% I had chatted to by the time we left. Nobody seemed to care how anybody else was doing except for to shout encouragement. Also…we were scoring ourselves and could do the problems in any order we chose!!! After I did the easy problems and realised I wasn’t getting to the top of the hard problems I had fun trying moves and having people shout at me to go for it. I went for it and failed…and never has failing been quite as funny.

3) I don’t like vegetables BOULDERING!

Bouldering is usually powerful, strong moves with lots of body tension and sloper strength. Precisely my biggest weaknesses. So half of all my training is bouldering, I am a member of a bouldering co-op and I have just taken part in a boulder comp. 

I have about a month before the the next IBL and I have a few things I can work on. Core strength to help with body tension moves, figuring out how to do power moves and TRYING to get the ladies of cork to come up and give it a go!



Having battled with injury and bad weather the summer began in August for me (and most Irish) and I celebrated by cracking my helmet open (with my head inside it!)

Apparently I need to learn lessons more than once! My trad gear has been poor, I didn’t understand why until there was an *intervention* style conversation with two of my climbing partners.

Years ago I was told I had mechanical dyslexia, I pretty much ignore it so my climbing buddies didn’t know. To them it is second nature that a nut goes in the lowest point in the crack, or that a hex should be deep, to me it has to be learned and (like a lot of trad climbers) I learned by just doing it. Unfortunately my *just do it* had resulted in two bad falls.

So, I decided to get some training to keep me safe and also to keep those safe that I climb with outdoors. Last weekend I did my Single Pitch Award training. Here is what I learned:

-Everyone learns differently

-Just because I read it in a book doesn’t make it right (or wrong)

-trusting yourself and having confidence in what you do know is half the battle

-having the knowledge to know you’re wrong is the other half of the battle

-lots of people lose nuts in Dalkey quarry!

The big lesson of the summer for me is how important training and knowledge are especially when they are combined with psyche. I started a strength training programme with a guy who not only has the qualifications and knowledge but the passion to work with me to find what I CAN do.

I started getting coaching on my climbing so I have a new training plan which, bizarrely  says rest more, train less, train smarter! Having felt exhausted for a year this is a welcome plan! My *coach* has the knowledge and enough enthusiasm for a world of climbers!

I also started seeing an Osteopath who said she could fix me. She is the first person to say that so…I am going with it! She is curious and passionate about getting me back to 100%!

After a summer of stalled starts and rainy cups of tea staring at routes out of car windows I have managed in the last month to improve my grade, just by the application of others knowledge and being surrounded by psyche!

I also teach rock climbing and have found a new passion that is driving me forward, teaching female climbers!!! In the last few months I have worked with Mammies and teenagers and children and it has been amazingly rewarding to watch women do their first leads indoors, girls get psyched for climbing outdoors and the new round of students push their grade (and men out of the way!) on the boulder wall.






July 5, 2012

Yesterday, I waited in Dublin Cities summer, outside a physiotherapists office. This guy comes very highly recommended by a climber, is the Irish Olympic team physio and has been for a long time.

I’ve been injured forever, I am sick of doing stretches and heat packs, I want to be strong. My plan is to walk in and get given a set of exercises that can help me get strong. The universe laughs when you make plans.

I go inside, there are Olympic medals on the wall, autographed kit from Irelands top athletes. He is not like any physio I’ve met before, his room is big, airy and full of exercise equipment and mirrors.

He has grey hair, dark skin and asks questions tersely as I try to constantly elaborate…saying way more than I need to in the hope that he will hear something that will make him say…ah…I can fix that.

He does ten minutes of stretching me, pushing, poking and moving and sits me down…the first thing he says is

“I’m sorry”

My insane emails and ramblings have shown him how much climbing means to me and he knows that everything he says after this point is going to break my heart.

I will never be able to train like other climbers…I know I am staring at him, and he is talking but already in my head I hear nothing. In my head I am cutting deals and waiting for him to stop talking so I can tell him that not climbing is not an option.

He keeps talking, I’m a difficult case, he has seen loads like me, Its congenital, my body would be in a heap if I didn’t do as much as I do…

Hold on…I stare at him

” do you mean…I have to keep climbing”

It’s not exactly what he means, I cry. I sit there, nearly 30years old and I’m crying like a little girl. I’ve missed the crucial points. He knows it. He starts again.

The car crash, the fall, it all just speeded up a process that was going to happen anyway. If I wasn’t such an active person I would probably be barely getting out of bed in the morning. The stretching, heat and hanging and strength building is keeping my body from just fusing all my joints together.

If I hadn’t  fallen or been hit by a car I would probably have just deteriorated slowly before I had a chance to do anything about it.

I am the opposite of naturally gifted, I have a congenital problem that means if someone else trained the
way I did for a year theyd be super strong and crushing

So…What is my plan?

Use Heat Packs
Take Pain killers when I need to
If it hurts stop
if it hurts afterwards don’t do it again
Throw away my weights and my theraband

But more specifically…
Fingerboards are GOOD for me!!!
As are pull ups 🙂
I am allowed to run for 30mins 3times a week

I almost cried again when he said I will never run a 10k again.

But then…he spent the last ten minutes of our session telling me what there was to be thankful for, that people with bodies like mine CAN reach the top, it is just about being different, being smarter and ignoring what works for most other people.

Everything he said makes sense. I am not injury prone, accident prone, careless or unlucky.

I spent a good hour crying and being angry.
An hour is plenty of feeling sorry for yourself time.