Off season cross-training for the brain


Clearing your head in the mountains in winter is relatively easy. Look out the window and go for a quick lap. It’s astonishing how the environment you’re in (when it’s that extraordinary) supports your well being. 

I am no longer up a mountain full time and whilst life is pretty good at the moment, I still want to be able to clear my head of all the normal day-to-day stuff every now and again. I live in my workshop - it can be full on.

Nice though Brighton is, when I’m tucked away in my city centre alleyway, I just can’t stare at a vast beautiful mountain whilst eating my Alpen everyday any longer. Yeah, we really did used to do that. 

I’ve always linked the outdoors and exercise to my mental well being and riding is great for headspace. But, time is like rocking horse shit round here just now and the bike takes a back seat till I take a day off. Bikes don’t build themselves. 

However, customers still expect me to be in beast-mode when I get back to the Alps though, so training is important for the business and I’ve resorted to doing other stuff. Swimming has helped a bit - I’m on a triathlon training fad right now so I’m forcing myself to do that - but I’m finding swim training is just so boring it’s just giving me more time to worry about the work I’m missing when I’m floating around in the pool. 

Then, I discovered Boulder Brighton, my local Bouldering centre. Which is basically a cross between a soft play park and a gym. 

I was a bit rubbish at it to start with - no grip strength and I’m probably not the right shape - but I’ve persevered and now it’s fitting in perfectly around everything else. It feels like messing about so it is excellent for dissolving the stresses of the day, it is more snack size too and you can go in your jeans and civvies, without loads of lycra.  

Boulder Brighton

Boulder Brighton

The place is a big colourful playground for grown ups, basically. So it won’t be a surprise to anyone that its a fun thing to do, but the big surprise is the way it helps you focus. You have to think, in a really singular way. 

The first couple of warm ups are always rubbish and that’s simply because I’m not switched off yet. I’m not concentrating on the task literally in my hand; still thinking about work or whatever. A couple of routes in and something changes. The noise of the day disappears and you are on your own, with nothing to worry about except the wall, and how you’re going to drag yourself up, round or over it. 

It’s like a puzzle and demands full concentration, to the exclusion of anything else. 

Sometimes you just can’t reach a hand hold but it’s usually just because you’re approaching the problem in the wrong way.

You make a tiny change to your approach - your body position or your hold - and you’re on your way again, leaving the previously impassable problem beneath you. 

It’s also become an amazing discipline for reminding me the importance of thinking things through properly when I get back to the workshop. Without overdoing the mindfulness stuff, it seems to help you look at problems objectively, till the answer becomes clearer. 

And I run a small business, so the analogous nature of knowing you’re doing something precarious where you might fall down if you cock up, is obvious. Not that I need many reminders of that. 

A bit of stretching at the end, and I’m back to Zen status. It’s cheap. All weather and mercifully don’t need much kit. Get it done, and go back to work.

If you’re struggling to find headspace just now and need any proper mental health advice (instead of my half-arsed ramblings about messing about whilst everyone else is doing a proper job) there’s loads of info and resources over at Mind’s website

If you’re interested in the benefits of bouldering, either to de stress or add into your winter training there’s a stack of resources and a map of local centres at UK Climbing

Andy Carr