A suprisingly quick drive took me to the Lakeland Climbing Centre aka Kendal Wall where I had an appointment with the acclaimed coach, Neil Gresham, to do a 1-2-1 assessment for a personal training plan. I parked up outside a tall building wondering if this was all in use. A friendly welcome and a minimum of fuss upon entry got me inside with lots of time to spare. I could see Neil working in the main hall, but as I was early, I had a look about. The cafe was self service, novel and quick. Extensive changing rooms and lockers. A short beginners wall in one room, bouldering upstairs, a funky diagonal wall bouldering section for a very long roof was reminiscent of Wolf Mountain.
After a quick carbs hit of porridge I entered the main hall and wow! Shorter walls of 15m flank a very impressive 25m wall. Roofs and stalactites, cracks and corners blended into the big wall. Its height was split into near vertical/slightly overhanging at the bottom, a steep section in the middle, and back to vertical for a short headwall, with a lower off at the top of each section.
Whilst waiting for Neil to finish off with his previous client I did a couple of laps on the auto belays to warm up. He was soon over with a smile and a handshake, confirming Neil was still full of enthusiasm. I had completed his online questionnaire and he had obviously read it as he knew what I wanted to do and when, where I was at, and what I thought my weaknesses were.
The session was less about coaching and more about assessment so he could put together my training plan. First off we talked warming up, I was already ready to go after a few laps but he set out his thoughts which I recognised from his articles, no problems there. He wanted me to boulder but was concerned about my ankle – he had remembered my profile – I assured him it was OK if I was careful.
Easy problems to start with and I could tell he was concerned – I had to repeat a problem whilst he filmed. Then another. Discussion followed. In the first few problems he thought my footwork was poor, but as I went on it improved, not concentrating on the warm ups he guessed, but he went over what I needed to be doing anyway, and now it was tidy.
The bouldering room had got busy so we went down to a private training room. The door opened onto a plethora of weights, finger boards, rings, balls, arrangements of slings, and at the end my nemesis a ‘woody’.
A bouldering board about 3m wide by 3m high, overhanging at an angle of 30 degrees, covered in small wooden holds at all angles. I struggle on these, I can barely get off the ground, I have to find the biggest of the small holds to make any moves at all and rarely progress to the top despite grunting and straining. And so it was, Neil pointed out the sequence of holds I should use. I settled down and clutched the first holds, feet on nubbins. My fingers pressed desperately trying to keep in place on the shiny holds, muscles strained and I slapped wildly out to the next hold. Clinging and wobbling, breath squeezing between clenched teeth, I focus on the next hold. Alas fingers uncurl and I am back on the mat. This is repeated several times with only marginal progress.
Next up the fingerboard and it’s many sizes of holds. Dead hangs, pull ups, and leg raises followed, I felt comfortable with all the times and reps Neil requested. There was a suggestion of doing a front lever, where you hang from your hands and raise your torso so that it is perpendicular to your arms. No chance! Neither my tweaked shoulder nor general strength were going to allow me to do that – but we figured I wasn’t going to need to reach my objective.
Finished in the training room we at last went to climb in the main room. Neil asked if I wanted to get on the big wall, I sure did. At 25m it’s twice the height of my local wall and looked to be a challenge. The big wall has three progressively higher lower offs on each panel, at around 12m, 20m, and 25m. He suggested a route that would be a challenge at 6c+-7a-7a+. I wondered if I would finally be found out, lacking in stamina. In fact I cruised the first section and came within one move of finishing the second section before falling. I got back on and made it to within a couple of moves of the final lower off before falling again. Happy, I quit there. With very little rest I got onto another route at a similar grade fading at the half way mark.
Neil was satisfied he had seen enough, and I was wasted after 2 hours of being tested. Good news, he was certain I could do my objective, Right Wall. My stamina, technique, and head game were good and my strength was not far behind. Effectively I needed to raise my bouldering grade a notch or two Just as I had thought. He said I could have got away without a 1:1 but agreed a professional assessment was a good sound base for a programme and paying out cash was an extra incentive to keep at it. We discussed what kit I had and what facilities I had available – he knew Creation and I told him I had a new bouldering wall opening up 5 minutes from home. All good. I raised the issue of dietary supplements, he suggested when during the training cycle would be appropriate. He would send through the programme in three or four days.