Dawn Patrol, exit stage left

Where did the summer go?

I wake up and it’s no longer bright out. The rain has been pounding the pavement outside of my window and it’s been torrential all night long. I’m driving in the dark to the last morning training session at Stone Gardens (SG) in Bellevue, WA. Sunrise is nearly half past 6 and I’m wondering has summer really ended already? I can hardly believe I’ll be ending this 3 month long training class I’ve been leading.

Dawn in July

Dawn in July

My summer long stints in WA have been a mixed experience for me. Leaving my home in Las Vegas for this long means I lose touch with friends and begin to miss the many things I have come to enjoy about living there. Seattle has long been my home and with it’s familiarity comes the reminder that there are just some things I wish I could never return to–such as the epic and constant rain, the hour long congested commutes combined with the increased number of bad drivers on the road, and the short days and long nights of winter (coupled with the rain and you can see why suicide rates are so high here). Climbing in a gym takes the edge off but does not replace my desire to get outdoors. 

The need to be in the NW for long stints is because of my job. With yet another restructuring of our team, it behooves me to be in the office regularly to get to know the new structure and people. Also, the new work I am doing encourages face time to gain rapport and build a foundation I can take with me when I leave. This is nontrivial, takes time and has been the number 1 inhibitor to my ability to get outdoors much this summer. That said, I’ve made the most of it by creating this summer training program to help keep me engaged and psyched. Now that it’s over, I’m sad to see it go.

Dawn Patrol, missing Jacob, Pawel, Marcin, Gavin, and Clare

Dawn Patrol, missing Jacob, Pawel, Marcin, Gavin, and Clare

Today was the official last day of Dawn Patrol, the name given by SG employee Jeremy Bowler when he ran the adult morning training session this past spring. As with any new program, there is usually a large uptake then a slight ebb as people’s interest wane or the morning commitment wears in. I was fortunate to have a particularly committed group of people throughout the entire 3 months of training.

Having fun

Having fun

more fun

more fun

The program was setup to take them through a strength and foundation building phase to a power then power endurance phase. I had mapped out the program from day 1 with minor tweaks along the way based on their progression and feedback. It was meant that everyone should stay the entire time but since I had no idea if that would happen, I left enrollment open to make sure the class was full. When I realized everyone was moving forward month to month, I had to take the newcomers and adjust to the larger class size but cap further enrollments. Only three people dropped due to circumstances. Even though the class size grew, the curriculum adapted and I found the forethought training plan effective in that people simply knew what they needed to do and set about it straight away. I only needed to be sure they knew what was coming and how to get that information. It worked beautifully! Further, I am impressed by the adaptability of the new comers late in the program.

Intent on the exercise

Intent on the exercise

Jumping straight into boiling water, these newcomers had to adapt quickly. They lacked the foundation work we had done prior but were able to hang in and do what they could. That’s the beauty of the training; you can get the most out of it by participating through the full cycle but you can still get gains by coming in mid or late cycle–although you probably take a beating and have to temper your ego as you watch others climb circles around you to start. By the end, I saw vast improvements in everyone no matter when they joined.

Testing skills

Testing skillz

One challenge with training is skin. Another is measuring your success. Because they had me guiding them the entire time, I was always challenging them and pushing their limits. First, that meant using gloves whenever possible to protect the skin. We’re not taking down proud sends, yet, so why waste skin on plastic or workout equipment? Gloves really helped make achieving the climbing and training mileage possible. Next was the gauge for improvements.

When training and climbing, you get tired. You feel a little more worked coming into your regular, ‘fun’ session. It’s expected but it’s also the breaking point for most people. Climbing tired is a skill that is widely overlooked. Tearing yourself down to build yourself up is a skill that is not easily attained. It feels hard, it’s hard work, and the reward is not immediate. Further, when you have someone like me always making success fleeting by changing the elements to push your limits even further, you can finish the training and wonder ‘how much have I really improved?’

Hard at work

Hard at work

The good news is that once the throttle is pulled back, all of that strength and power become available. The last piece of the puzzle is mental. Unfortunately, unlike the physical training undertaken all summer, the mental aspect varies widely from person to person. Bringing the two together is when you see the biggest gains. This means testing yourself past pre-conceived limits. As you do this and you realize what you are capable of, your confidence will improve and you will naturally begin to migrate towards these more challenging climbs. Btw, more challenging could mean climbing angles that you are not good at vs. just climbing harder grades on angles you are really good at already. Success might look like holding smaller holds with more confidence and making moves off holds that were difficult in the past. Now is the best part of the training–when you can begin to learn or refine your climbing technique, which takes you back to June—the start of the class where we started with technique and foundation building.

Keen observers

Keen observers

This is the endless spiral of training. To keep it fun one cannot and should not attempt to train back-to-back. Now is the time to put the training into practice. Have a maintenance plan but go out and climb…a lot! Test your new skills and keep the psyche high to return to training in a few months. This time your foundation will be elevated and you can begin your work from this new level. With this in mind, the ending of the class is a good thing.

My signed shirt

My signed shirt

My time in the NW is coming to a close. I hope I had an impact on the people I’ve had the pleasure to get to know over the last few months. Their enthusiasm and commitment have been contagious and I’m proud of their hard work and excited for their progress. This class definitely made my mornings and lack of outdoor climbing more than bearable. It’s time to run free, get some sleep, get outdoors before the rain settles and daylight escapes you. I’m hoping for the same.

Farewell summer and the Dawn Patrol, a new season awaits.

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About Audrey Sniezek

Audrey Sniezek is a rock climbing athlete, climbing coach, computer software/technology enthusiast and occasional enjoys baking, cooking and fine wine.
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