Strength is my Weakness

Alex on a trail run in La Grand, Oregon

Today we feature a guest post from Ultra-runner and climber, Alexis Crellin, pictured above in La Grand, OR.

It was mile 29 and I was lost. The trail that I thought led to the top off Grove Creek Canyon had taken me to a literal cliff side high above it. “What an idiot.”  I said out loud to myself as I peered down into Utah Valley. I absentmindedly sucked on the tube of my hydration pack and was quickly reminded I had been out of water for the last two miles… It was the first time running this trail backwards and I clearly hadn’t paid enough attention.

Alex on a trail run at Eagle Cap Wildnerness area, OR

On a trail run at Eagle Cap Wilderness area, OR

“Why did you want to do this again?” I said aloud again. I’ve picked up the habit of talking to myself when I start to get nervous. I was far off the original trail and the words from my friend Seth came echoing back to me…”Now make sure you keep an eye out on the top of Grove Creek, I’ve tracked two cougars up there for the last 3 years.” I heard a branch snap somewhere in the trees to the left of me, probably just a bird, but I would have peed my pants if I hadn’t been so dehydrated. I had started that morning deciding to do a 20 mile training run, but it wasn’t until 33 miles later that I ended up on my back porch, dehydrated, irritated, and questioning why the hell I like ultra running. But every time lingering right behind that question comes the answer as evident and simple to me as my existence. I like it because it is challenging, and the places you see and go through along its venue are usually nothing short of beautiful. It’s honestly been this principle that has motivated me throughout my life…It’s also what led me to climbing!

Alexis doing that crazy trad climbing thing, Go Sparky, 11+, Sparks wall, Indian Creek

Doing that “thing they called trad climbing”, Go Sparky (5.11+) in Indian Creek

I remember about 10 years ago hearing my older sister tell an epic story about a terrifying and stressful experience on Castleton Tower outside Moab Utah. While on all accounts the story should have deterred me from having any interest in desert climbing, its affects were the opposite.  I found myself deciding that some day I would climb that tower, and learn to do this thing they called trad climbing. At the time I wasn’t even a climber, but 4 years later after moving to Utah and having infiltrated the climbing community here with the initial help of my sister and brother in-law, I found myself summiting Castleton. It was an event that initiated what I believe will be a life long love affair with desert climbing.

It can be easy to make excuses for not improving at climbing, like this beautiful little one!

It can be easy to make excuses for not improving at climbing, like this beautiful little one!

Had school, work, or being pregnant affected my ability to run and race? Hardly. It’s then that I realized I was my own road block. And I was afraid. I had never before trained for climbing because I was afraid that I wouldn’t be that much better if I did. Also I knew it would be hard, but not the long endurance hard – not the 70 mile a week, 7 hour training run hard. It would be the short distance sprint hard. The hard of maxing out reps in the weight room, the hard of working a move or a problem over and over again and not just moving on in two goes because I couldn’t do it. Essentially, I knew it would test my strength, and in that department, I was weak.

Alexis climbing at SuperBowl wall in Rock Canyon, Utah Valley

Recognizing the need for strength training, at SuperBowl wall in Rock Canyon, Utah Valley

And it has been hard. I know it may sound ridiculous to some people but I would take running a half marathon over a 5K any day only because I don’t have to run as fast in the half as I would in the 5K.  I much prefer exerting less energy over a longer time frame than maximizing effort for a short time duration.

It’s for this same reason that I have found strength training for climbing to be so hard. The workout is over in 16 min, but I have to work harder in those 16 minutes than I ever have before. But the truth is if you want to climb harder, you have to work harder, and you have to become stronger. It’s been amazing to me to feel more tired after doing a lifting session that only lasted 25 minutes than I do after running 10 miles. But the gains I have seen are real. I do feel stronger. I’ve seen improvements in everything from bouldering to climbing finger cracks. It’s only been a month so I am really just at the beginning of the process, but I am excited to see what I am capable of.

Alexis at the top of Fine Jade on The Rectory, Castle Valley

It’s views like that on the top of Fine Jade on The Rectory, Castle Valley that make the hard work worth it!

It’s been hard but I’m still working on the act of letting go of the fear of what “I am not” or “won’t be” and instead trying to embrace who I am. Because just like ultra running, climbing isn’t just a physical endeavor, or else why would we do it?  It’s through experiences and efforts in the physical realm that we build internal beliefs about ourselves. And I’ve found that I want to change some of those beliefs.

So for all those ladies out there who poo poo strength training because they say they “don’t want to look like a man” I guess I would say neither do I. I want to look like a woman, more importantly I want to feel like a woman, a strong, beautiful woman, and my reasons are my own.

Thanks Alexis for sharing your weakness, and in doing so, helping us all become stronger! Take a look at our earlier post on strength training, written by Steve Bechtel

Climb on! ~Cate
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