The Beatdown

The beatdown began in late October, coinciding with our arrival in Hueco Tanks for another long winter of training and bouldering. After finishing our route season consisting of predominantly steep endurance climbing in Maple Canyon, we knew we had our work cut out for us. It’s a long, slow process for geriatric class climbers to rebuild lost muscle mass and extremely depleted power. We were keenly aware of the sadistic punishment that lie ahead. We accept the reality of the tried and still true old adage; no pain, no gain.

The beatdown is humbling, humiliating, hurtful and sometimes hateful. It brings a whole new meaning to the 4-H moniker – head, heart, hand, and health. A real 4-H member is taught to patiently care for one’s self as well as a variety of farm critters. My personal version of 4-H is slightly more masochistic. If I were to subject agricultural animals to the same mistreatment I force upon myself, PETA would come down on me faster than a cheetah in pursuit of fresh kill.

During the beatdown process, bouldering sessions consist of three days a week of hard pulling on steep stone. Sounds fun, right? Sure, but, that’s not the full picture. My body has been around for 67 years and I’ve been hammering it hard for… hmmm… 66? Most of my bouldering sessions are followed by additional training on the tower-of-power tripod back in camp. Pull ups, chin ups, abdominal abuse, ring push-ups and/or dumbbell workouts. Off days include Ashtanga yoga and additional core training. Sometimes I rest, usually when the pain level exceeds seven-ish.

I’m fortunate to have a body that has always appeared, and occasionally performed, at a level younger than my true age despite years of masochistic treatment. This can often be a double edge sword. Once in a while I have to show identification to prove I’m eligible for senior discounts, for instance. Younger climbers frequently want to compete with me, not realizing they’re dealing with a senior citizen. This often leads to embarrassing moments when Maggie enlightens them. I don’t mind, typically, since not throwing the age card pushes me to perform more like a youthful athlete, sans the anxiousness and neurosis common to still-wet-behind-the-ears whippersnappers. To put a positive spin on it, it ups my game.

Working out the beta on the classic Dragonfly. 📸 Maggie Odette

When describing the beatdown to others, I typically begin by explaining where my body doesn’t hurt. My lower left earlobe, for instance. The rest of physical me experiences some degree of pain or discomfort pretty much chronically. Fortunately, I can ignore most of it, depending on the day. Some days are better than others. I can honestly say there is, on average one day per week, whereby a majority of my internal body parts are without pain. I relish those days and look forward to them when trying to get through a period of successive days that are dominated by age related, self-abuse nurtured, agony. As mentioned in previous blogs, pain makes me acutely aware that I’m alive and therefore grateful of the reminder!

The beatdown is much like a horse twitch. For those who are unfamiliar, a twitch appears to be a cruel device. Not so. The horse twitch is a rope loop on a stick which is placed carefully over the upper lip of the equine. Gentle pressure is applied by twisting. It immediately causes the release of endorphins which help calm and distract, thus allowing the handler to go about caretaking activities like hoof cleaning, hoof trimming, mending a cut with stitches, etc. The beatdown serves as my personal horse twitch. While in the process of difficult climbing movement or hard anaerobic training, muscle contractions are releasing endorphins, making me feel pretty damn good for the duration. Sometimes it’s better not to stop, at which time the beatdown pain returns, often with a vengeance!

There’s no alternative to the beatdown, other than to acquiesce to the discomfort. Giving up is not really a viable option. At least not yet. I can empathize with fellow seniors who’ve chosen to dial it back and shy away from the beatdown. Occasionally, I’m even mildly envious of those who are capable of enjoying more leisurely retirement pursuits. Whatever brings happiness. For a tortured soul like mine, and so long as the reward continues to exceed the pain threshold, I’ll endeavor to pursue the bliss of continued muscle engagement, denial of pain and the occasional random success associated with scaling a silly rock or boulder on terra firma. Embrace the beatdown!


Sport bouldering on Snake’s Deception. 📸 Tara deCamp

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