Confused by what I’m on about? You’re not alone, I don’t really understand where I’m going with this but I’ll give it a whirl and if you’re still with me at the end then we should maybe see about becoming pen pals….that’d be nice wouldn’t it?
I had a watch of Autoroute earlier on today and it got me to thinking about style. In case you haven’t seen it, it follows Dave Graham and his chummy chum chums from across that vast ocean of water that we ironically call ‘the pond’ applying ‘the crush’ to a ton of routes and boulders in “Swizzy” and such. It was maybe the first climbing DVD I owned (I think I had Pilgrimage about the same time but don’t remember much climbing, though Katie Brown was in it wasn’t she?) and I used to watch it A LOT. Alas when you’re new to something, and have an impressionable personality like my own, you tend to latch on to those that inspire you, Villa’s Big John Carew in football, World Cup winning Jonny Wilkinson in rugby or, in our case, the rock gods like Sharma, Dizzy G, Beast McGod and Jonny G (hallowed by thy name).
It’s worth clarifying that I’m not talking about style in the headpoint way of things, more the deadpoint way of things…….to put it in less confusing terms, our specific way of climbing. Some climb dynamically with bags of aggression, others slow and sloth-like with just heavy bags. Taking heed of these different styles starts with simply noticing them in the first place, some are admittedly more obvious than others, take super techy Steve McClure and the-animal-within Lord Sharma for example, however it’s this acknowledgement that no one person climbs the same coupled with the recognition of your unique style that allows you to develop as a better climber. Doesn’t it?
I generally climb in what I like to see as being a controlled style, all slow, precise, steady and…slow. I’m not strong enough in the upper body so I twist a lot and give it some French every now and then with some poncey little drop knees, hoping that anyone foolish enough to be watching will be wowed by the ‘technique’ on display and fail to notice my withering arms. A lot of our personal style in such an expressive, freestyle sport as climbing undoubtedly comes down to individual personality, a confident person off the rock will more than likely be a confident person on the rock. That’s said by the way without any sort of proof to back it up, but it seems like it should make sense and like all my arguments I find facts to support my version of events/theory and doctor the answer accordingly.
Build and physique should have a bearing on a climbers’ style too right? Maybe, but then look at Fatty Dunne who was like a gorilla in a ballerina’s outfit as I’m sure he’d be the first to tell us, and the rest of the world, if he hasn’t already……oh he has. So where then does the climbing media fit into all of this? Ah yes – impression and imitation by those of us with a hero-complex. Cue Dave Graham and Autoroute. I try to climb very much like Dizzy G though it’s true to say he has a pretty inimitable style but as a good friend once said to me “persistence = winners”, so persist I shall. I guess some of it may come down to ego i.e. would someone who was watching me be impressed by this style too? Though by and large it’s those that you look up to in your formative years (months, weeks or days) in climbing that inspire your own ethics and style….with some minor personal tweaks. A lot of my friends have also influenced how I climb and it’s probably important not to be cart-horsed by this (NB: ‘cart-horsed’ as in ‘led around like a cart-horse’ – I just made it up) as “being yourself” is too in vogue right now to be ignored.
The mental aspect is a GINOCKAPOD component to becoming the climber you always dreamt of being. Remember we talked about confidence? Yeah? Well having faith in what works for you as in knowing that you can MacBurl your way through a powerful move or bend your hips round your face to reach a hold gives you the confidence to soar like an eagle – where else do you think Nelly Furtado got her inspiration from for the No.1 smash hit “I’m like a bird”? Some people say limbing to your strengths will never get you to be a better all-round climber. I say “shove it up your arse”. Who wants to be a better all-round climber when you can get rich and famous from doing hard headpoints on the grit or by pursuing the SINGLE hardest move ever? You don’t get rich and famous by climbing E76, V76, Fr76c+, Scottish LXXVI 76 and Alpine BastardeDifficile LXXVI unless you’re David Mc-bastard-Leod. Comprende?! Focus Daniel-san. You don’t see Jonny G (hallowed be his name) prancing about in the Alps like some ruddy Frenchman!
Which leads me nicely and seamlessly onto RUNNING.
I’d love to parallel the opening of the ‘climbing’ segment of this post by telling you that I’d just watched a formative running film but that’s just plain libellous. Running, aside from the 100m sprint in the Olympics, is boring as fuck to watch. There. I said it. That’s not to say there isn’t a good smattering of babble concerning the ‘correct’ style to run in. You see where the style debate in climbing suffers is that there is no real determining factor in what makes wads….well….WADS. Strong fingers sure but that’s not a question of style it simply shows a person who had the good fortune to have loving, kind parents.
The act of running on the other hand has many such determinates of mega-ness. Permit me, if you will, to list them:
- Breathing pattern(s)
There are, undoubtedly, more. I don’t know them. Frankly I was struggling with coming up with some of them, hence their flimsy link to what Haruki Murakami called “the noble art of fast, forward motion” (he didn’t say that). You get the idea though I trust. For two reason, firstly my innate bias towards non-track running and secondly my propensity, as previously discussed, to alter the facts and agreed logic to support my own assertions, this argument/reasoning will be entirely focused on my own niche within the sport – fell/hill running. With a dib-dabble in cross-country/long distance endeavours. /. \. Enough ‘slashes’?
Now then, there is NO feasible denial of the role that the media plays in influencing running form and style. You’d have to be a crazyman to think that this “forefoot”, “natural”, “barefoot” crap came about through word of mouth. Uh HEY-LLOOO have you not read ‘Born to Run’?!? Nah-ah girlfriend you’ve been suckered in with the rest of us. Anyone who’s anyone now pulls on those chad-as-fuck Vibram Finger shoes whilst trying to scran the last of their tofu and kale smoothie before running “on pure instinct” for 18 hours straight in an effort to “find themselves” and “connect with the landscape”. I don’t blame you. I put kale in my smoothie (along with raw seal meat and freshly caught sharks faces OBVIOUSLY). I’ve also spent the last 18 months trying to make the transition to a more ‘fore-foot’ style. I definitely don’t own Vibrams though.
My style has gone from a hunched over, arms swinging wildly across the body Romanian Communist march-esque, floppy upper body with my mind desperately willing my legs to stamp their way into the very core of the Earth to an arguably more graceful approach, everything aligned, feet landing squarely below the hips, head up, hips high, arms relaxed and cadence to the metronome banging out 85-90 steps per minute. It does work for sure but it’s not the perfect method that everyone seems to want to tell you it is. No sir. Ever heard of Haile Gabrselassie?! Might as well have cut his toes off, he never seemed to need them, choosing instead to run on the very stumps of his legs. LAD.
He’s a mutant – that’s not racist – and cannot be relied upon for objective evidence (because he doesn’t support my case). I’ve hinted at it, and books are written on it, so just look at that list up top again. ALL (minus his Haile-ness) elite, top runners run with a high cadence, the
theory fact being that the less time your feet are in contact with the ground the less frictional forces will be on them dragging them back towards the start line – yes that really is physics for spackers. Likewise leaning forward from the ankles with high hips and an upright posture means that you can a) tear the shit out of the lumbering opposition; b) look pro-as-all-hell; c) get all the cash/women/fancy cars/carrot cake you can fit into your mouth and d) FINALLY break Billy Bland’s Borrowdale record. Gawd bless ya Billy.
Weight is a big one. You don’t see any fat runners do you? I mean sure you may see some bimbling about the streets but c’mon….is that really running?! Look at Mo Farah and Paula Radcliffe. They look fucked. But they’re fast as shit. YOU WANT THAT. This ties equally well into diet. Everyone owns a blender these days huh? Everything is a superfood. Quel surprise it’s all stuff that tastes revolting but IT’S GOOD FOR YOU, PUBLIC. All of this is (depending on who you ask) either nothing without, or the pre-requisite for, gaining a light, fore-foot action. Yeah fore-foot style is great right? It prevents excessive loading of the knees and hips and the injuries that come from impact forces that can be measured in tons coursing up your legs right? What about the forces that are now coursing through your shins, calves and plantar-area from trying to adapt too quickly to the ‘must have’ methods that Nike et al. are pushing out? Whoops. Didn’t think of that.
There’s a lorra-lorra money to be made from running consumerism and the media provides the outlet for getting trends across. Trends that shoe companies – cos let’s face it, shoes directly affect how you run, how prone you are to injury, what you can run on comfortably and how fast, and you will pay dearly for the privilege – perpetuate in order to keep their business a business. Them’s the facts kids. Style in climbing, and I mean true style, is very much self-expression. Nicht nicht in running my children. It doesn’t have to be like that though. Wear what shoes you want, run how you want, chuck your arms about and swastika about like Coco the Clown, wear what you want and do what Haile does – smile.
A nice story I read in an interview with Big Bad Ron has made quite an impression on me. I’ll have to paraphrase but to our Ronnie style was EVERYTHING. If him and his mates weren’t happy with how they’d climbed something, no matter if it was a first ascent or not, and by this I mean whether they were in control on the route, not snatching for holds like a fat kid after some toffee, but climbing to the very highest standards of their style, then they wouldn’t claim the ascent until they had.
They had it right them boys.