There are so many different ways of thinking about yourself.
This past summer I was injured. Achilles tendinitis, nothing dramatic, but it cut out all hiking, running and climbing. I spent the summer working out in the weight room, listening to everyone’s adventures. It was frustrating but I was getting strong in the gym and slowly learning my way around the weights and machines.
As my Achilles healed, slowly, I stopped working with the online trainer I’d found and started to get back to climbing. Hiking and running still took a backseat—I was nervous about stress and pain and I didn’t want to wind up back in a place where I had to take the summer off. I slowly started to climb strongly in the gym, but my cardio was untested and I stopped working in the weight room entirely.
Then WAC started back up and I ran in to Peter. Peter led our team up Rainier two years ago and he looked at me and said, “I’m doing the Emmons route again. You have unfinished business there.” As soon as he says it I can feel the fatigue of that climb—how exhausted I was descending back to base camp and how scared I was because of that exhaustion. Sitting on the rocks at Camp Schurman, my neck aching from looking at my feet for so long, having to tell my brain how to take off my crampons. And while we did summit successfully, I do have unfinished business there. I need to do it again, and do it stronger.
So I emailed Audrey Sniezek to see if she could put a plan together for me, and she agreed. So she’s putting it together now but, in the meantime, she sent me a list of exercise. Do these, 2x a week. 3 reps of 15-20. Ok. That shouldn’t be hard. Here we go.
When I got to the gym, the weight room was mostly empty. I set up for squats and by the time I finished the room had twice as many people in it, all men going through their reps. No one was mean to me, no one looked at me funny, but I felt the anxiety building. Next set- dead lifts. More guys. My boyfriend and his climbing partner walked in and set up by the hangboards. More guys. A girl and a guy—she started to pedal on a bike and he started doing pull ups. Finished with dead lifts, moved on to lunges. I didn’t want to take up the space in the squat area with the bar, but there wasn’t anywhere else to go. The 10 lb weights felt like too much, the 5 lb too light, but I didn’t bring my 8 lb dumb bells and once I picked up the 10, I didn’t want to go back and swap out again and have to find space again. I wanted to cry.
By the time I got to pistol squats I was losing it inside, staring at my reflection in the mirrors, watching myself waveringly lower. My form was terrible but any correction sent me out of balance. There were people everywhere and any movement felt like I was careening in to space that was being used by someone else. I stopped, walked over to my boyfriend, and just started babbling. “I can’t do it, this is awful.” He thought, at first, that there was a machine I couldn’t figure out. I meant this, the gym, the people, the movement. I’m not strong enough physically and I’m not strong enough mentally and I wanted to cry and go home and just forget about it.
But the thing is, I also want to climb Rainier again. And Audrey told me to do this list of exercises and I don’t want to say I stopped because the gym is intimidating. And it won’t get any easier until I get strong and I won’t get stronger if I stop. My boyfriend stood there, looking at me, uncertain how to help. The gym isn’t an uncomfortable place for him and I can’t explain to him just how awful it feels to be there for me. And I wasn’t going to be able to explain it then, and there wasn’t anything he could to fix it anyhow. So I went back to my little area, wobbily did my sets, and kept going.
It’ll get easier, and it’ll suck until it doesn’t. And then I’ll probably add new exercises and it will suck all over again. There will probably be a day that I won’t hate the weight room, but I suspect that’s a long way off. Until then I’ll try to remember that no one is being mean to me—this is all in my own head.