The Covid-19 pandemic has affected so many of us in different ways, changing many people's lives forever. As climbers we were all forced to give up our favourite pastime during the three lockdowns the UK has had so far. With indoor walls closed and travel to the outdoor rock banned, we all had to be creative and it forced some of us to examine what else we have in our lives other than climbing that can fulfil us. Huge thanks to Seb for this guest blog that gives an insight of life as a climber in lockdown. We love how he got creative and also learnt about what else he could do to broaden his horizons when he was forced to stop climbing...
"Hey everyone, I’m Seb, an 18-year-old climber from Dorset. I love climbing, whether it's bouldering, sport climbing or deep water soloing, and have missed it an awful lot during the pandemic. This is my personal experience with lockdown and what it taught me.
Firstly, I still live at home and I’m part of a wonderful family, so I’m so fortunate to have no stresses like money or not having any company. Hearing people spending Christmas alone was devastating to me. I’m so lucky that this year has actually been alright personally, but I’m aware many people haven’t had the same experiences with lockdown. It would have been very different if it weren’t for those people supporting me, and I’m truly grateful for them.
It’s funny, I vividly remember this Saturday just before lockdown, a great group of us went climbing, and then sat on the beach drinking and joking together, it was honestly such a good day, and I was under the impression lockdown was going to mean we could all just go climbing everyday… obviously I massively underestimated the whole situation.
Before lockdown I was taking an Outdoor Adventure course at college and was ready to start a work placement at an outdoor Activities centre in April 2020. I would live on-site and begin running activities like kayaking and high ropes with my college mates. I was pretty excited!
Photo credit: Murray Freestone - of me on the comp wall at Boulder Shack
There was also an opportunity for me to work at Morrison’s in March 2020, but I turned it down because I was expecting to start the outdoor activity job in April. I sent the lady that interviewed me an email explaining the situation, but I made it ‘funny’ by making it inappropriately informal. When out of nowhere the pandemic changed everything and I had to email her asking for the job back. She could have easily said no because of my unprofessional email but thankfully she didn't!
First lockdown lesson; never burn bridges, even when you think you're certain you don’t need them!
Like most others I was obviously pretty bummed out to begin with. I had just realised I wouldn’t be living with my mates and becoming an outdoor instructor, but I realised it was also a brilliant opportunity to train lots so I focused on the positives. On 22nd of March I wrote some optimistic goals and decided on some new habits. I wanted to do a one arm pullup, side splits, get my 8th ab and one-arm-hang a pretty large edge.
Since big shops now also needed more staff, I got the job at Morrison’s that I was offered the month before and began working there pretty much immediately. This was a blessing because it meant I was able to contribute to something bigger than myself during the pandemic.
Whenever I felt at my lowest, there was an element of aimlessness or not providing value to something other than myself. So having the job stacking shelves helped me massively in staying sane. I realised my dream of being a dirtbag and just climbing was not exactly what I wanted after all… I want to contribute to society and specifically help other people. I really enjoy it and it gives me such a great sense of happiness being able to positively impact others.
Tim from Boulder Shack kindly lent me a hangboard to keep up my training and my dad put it up in the loft. For the first two months of lock down I was up there pretty consistently just training pullups and doing hangs non-stop, constantly thinking about getting out of lockdown and how nice the summer was going to be! Until the end of April 2020 I trained really consistently and stayed positive we'd be out of it soon. I had always wanted to train but until then just went through the usual ups and down of being mega motivated and doing loads of training, then stopping not that long after.
Me hangboarding when climbing wasn't allowed
In June 2020, I ‘fell off’, losing that motivation for training as lockdown seemed to go on forever. I got back into Minecraft and spent HOURS each day on my laptop, not doing much at all. I stopped even getting out of bed for almost the whole month. It’s so hard to continue doing productive stuff when there’s no definite end, I’m sure you all felt this too!
This taught me the importance of having a ‘North star’; a goal you have that gives you a sense of direction and end point. It has to be a big goal though, something you might not even reach, like the stars, because it’s just about having an aim and something to guide the decisions you make. The kind of goal you're kind of intimidated to admit to yourself.
Having a destination is essential but it’s about the journey, I kept loosing motivation and not enjoying the day to day, and I realised it’s not really about reaching the goals if you're not enjoying the journey. Thinking of the satisfaction you get from climbing a project, it lasts me like… half hour maybe?
When we came out of that first lockdown Boulder Shack in Southampton needed lots of extra staff to fill all the additional covid jobs and I was blessed to be able to join the team in July. I had always wanted to work there because I love the people and environment there so much, it still doesn’t feel like a job. This is the single best thing that has happened for me because of Covid.
During the second short lockdown, I didn’t actually do a great amount. I didn’t train anywhere near as much as I could have and got into some pretty bad habits. I'd stay up late watching YouTube and bingeing food, along with some other things I can’t really mention.
I guess by this point I was pretty pandemic-tired like everyone else and felt like I hadn’t socialised with my old mates for YEARS. The lockdowns had made me feel super distant from everyone and I got into this unhealthy thought process of ‘cutting people off’. Its almost a trend similar to on social media, like keeping your circles small and when people don’t bother with you, you just remove them from your life. I actually believed in it for a while too because my old mates wouldn’t have the time to see me.
Lockdown 2 was only a month, but it made it so clear to me how important it is to remain social and keep in contact with your mates. I'd started feeling pretty distant and it didn’t do my mental health any good.
When lockdown 2 ended and I rekindled some old friendships, I had the most fun I have had in a long time. Having friends at Boulder Shack is pretty different to your old mates from school or wherever because they helped me feel connected to who I was as a climber. These people I'd grown up with helped me feel myself and it taught me you really can't just work and hustle, you need to go and mess about with some friends!
For lockdown 3, I quarantined with a friend in Plymouth. It’s beautiful there and the change of scenery was definitely welcome. What’s better is Plymouth has some bouldering just a 10-minute walk from the house I stayed at. This meant I was able to go and climb some chossy boulders and a couple highballs, things I'd not tried before. Most of the walls along the coast are granite so we could go and traverse on some tiny edges and keep refining our footwork. Something I couldn't do on the hangboard.
Me bouldering in Plymouth. I took a big fall on this one when a jug came off in my hand at the top!
I read about accountability and the power of becoming someone who sticks to their word. I think we are generally all pretty soft on ourselves and we take some pretty flimsy excuses for why we’re not doing the things we know we should because were all wired to avoid discomfort.
My ex got me into sea swimming in this 3rd lockdown and it was so valuable for training accountability. I find sea swimming pretty uncomfortable, so it became the perfect test to ‘stick to my guns’. I bailed on more swims than I managed to complete by the way, I’m not good at it but it was a great start to doing the things I know are beneficial for me in the long term.
Accountability training means I’m getting better at making sure I actually do the training sessions I said I would. Some of the times I failed to get in the sea I almost felt powerless to walk into the water, even though I had control of my body. Getting in, despite your mind telling you not to, is so freeing. It gives you a sense of control of yourself and your future; it feels amazing!
In January 2021, I began a blog which you can view at asendingblog.com. It's a website where I can reach hopefully thousands of climbers and share my experiences with the aim of helping others. Check it out if you want to read up on climbing technique, training and How To’s. I post articles and videos on there a couple of times a week, covering everything from clipping technique to movement initiation for efficient movement (NB - disclaimer - These contain general advice as I am not yet a qualified instructor, so always ensure you have received adequate training prior to starting climbing).
In addition to this, currently two friends and I are creating a local climbing community shop which were very excited to have launched on April 12th. Keep your eyes peeled on our website for more info.
Photo credit: After the Send - Me on Hurricane on a Millpond, 7c+ at the Cuttings, Portland after the first lockdown
This past year has taught me so much about myself and what I really want and need in life. I think having so much free time allowed me to better understand what I want to create in the future. I realised how important it is to stay social and keep in touch with people, and it showed me what I actually care about; climbing, the people I have in my life and what I want to do with my time here on earth.
I understand it’s been a bad time for lot of people and I wish everyone a happier, more fortunate 2021.
Thank you for reading this blog, I hope you enjoyed it and I look forward to seeing all of you down at a crag somewhere, sometime!
Thanks to Katie and Rob for having me, I feel pretty honoured to be given this opportunity."
By Seb Miller, April 2021.
Banner photo credit: Compilation of images taken by After the Send.
Comments will be approved before showing up.