Date: October 27th, 2016
About Beth Rodden
Beth Rodden is a climbing icon and absolutely a hero of mine. She broke barriers for women in sport climbing and big wall climbing, being the first American woman to climb 5.14b, the first woman to free 2 routes on El Cap, and one half of the 3rd team to free The Nose (with then husband Tommy Caldwell). She also put up what was, at the time, the hardest climb in Yosemite, Meltdown (5.14c).
She did Meltdown in 2008, and soon after started dealing with some major injuries, including surgery for a torn labrum, finger pulley tears, and a broken ankle. Then, after her body started healing up, she became pregnant with her husband Randy Puro, and she had their son Theo in the Spring of 2014.
Beth Rodden Interview Details
Beth is starting to get back into training and climbing a little harder, and I was honored to sit down and talk with her about where she is now as a climber, how motherhood has changed her, and how she used to approach training and climbing.
- Her most memorable climbing achievements
- How she trained with Tommy Caldwell
- FA’s, FFA’s (free), and FFA’s (female)
- Dealing with and learning from injuries
- Tough pregancy and post pregnancy
- How motherhood has changed her
- What her goals are now
Beth Rodden Links
- Beth Rodden’s website: www.bethrodden.com
- Beth Rodden on Instagram @bethrodden
- Video about Beth’s climb back from injuries
Training Programs for You
- Check out our Route Climbing Training Program for route climbers of all abilities.
- Our other training programs: Training Programs Page.
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Neely Quinn: Welcome to the Training Beta Podcast, where I talk with climbers and trainers about how we can all get a little better at our favorite sport. I’m your host, Neely Quinn, and today we are on Episode 65 of the podcast, where I talked with Beth Rodden.
Beth is an iconic climber, she’s definitely one of my heroes. She’s been climbing for about twenty years, she’s 36 now I believe. She’s a pro climber and she’s been in the spotlight for a while now. I’m going to go through some of the highlights of her career- this is just a few of many. She, in 1998, was the youngest woman at that time to have climbed 14a, and that was To Bolt or Not to Be. In 2000, she did the first free ascent of Lurking Fear, with her then husband, Tommy Caldwell. That was El Cap’s second free ascent by a woman, which is incredible. In 2005, she and Tommy were the third and fourth free ascensionists of the Nose, and that made her the first woman to have done two routes free on El Cap- again, crazy.
In 2005 again, she was the first American woman to climb 14b, and then in 2008 she did the first ascent of Meltdown, which is a 14c. That was, at the time, the hardest first ascent by an American female. So it’s pretty impressive- she kind of paved the way, at least mentally, for women to go out there and be badasses.
Since her ascent of Meltdown, the 14c in 2008, she’s kind of been a little bit off the grid, and that’s because she suffered a bunch of injuries- she had surgery on her shoulder, she had a finger injury- which she’s going to tell you about in the interview. Then she had a baby with her husband, Randy Puro. They’ve been living kind of quietly, raising their child, and she’s been healing from her pregnancy and being a mom. That’s part of why I wanted to talk to her, not only to ask her about her early accomplishments and how she trained for those, but also how being a mother has changed her climbing and training, and how it affects a pro climber to be a mother. We talk about all that- she was super candid and honest in this interview, and I really appreciated that.
Hopefully you guys will take something from this, and I was honored to be able to sit down with her. Here’s Beth, enjoy.
Alright, welcome to the show Beth, thank you very much for being with me today.
Beth Rodden: Thanks for much for having me, Neely.
Neely Quinn: For anybody who doesn’t know who Beth Rodden is, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Beth Rodden: Yeah- I have been a climber for over twenty years now, and I’m fortunate enough to be a professional climber. Through my time in the sport I’ve done some notable ascents, and most recently I have become a mom the past couple of years. It’s been a good adventure.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, it’s been quite an adventure it seems like.
Beth Rodden: Absolutely, yeah
Neely Quinn: For this interview, I want to get into you being a mom, and what that’s meant for you personally, and what it’s meant for your climbing. I think a lot of women, including myself, are really curious about how that goes for somebody who is so into climbing. But, I want to start off with maybe going back in time a little bit, to when you first started climbing, what that was like for you, and how things progressed.
Beth Rodden: Absolutely, let’s do it.
Neely Quinn: You started climbing at a pretty young age?
Beth Rodden: I started climbing when I was about 14, which back then was really young. I was kind of part of that first generation of kid climbers. Gyms were pretty new. You know, before gyms opened up it seemed like you needed to be the child of a mountain god or climber to become a climber. But with climbing gyms, it’s opened up to everybody. I started when I was in middle school or high school, which now kind of seems old actually [laughs]. Now it’s like kids are starting right when they can walk. I started in the competition circuit- I was always really into sports and being an active kid- but it wasn’t really until I found climbing that I really kind of found my groove. The local gym that I was at always had these fun competitions and back then all the gyms in the area kind of had fun competitions. So I just started entering those, and then got psyched on comps and kind of went from there.
Neely Quinn: So then you won a bunch of Junior Nationals?
Beth Rodden: I really focused on competitions, and I won a handful of Junior Nationals. I started competing a little bit in Europe, I think I went to a couple of Junior World Cups and a couple of Adult World Cups throughout my high school career. Then kind of once I got to the end of high school, a lot of the other first generation of kid climbers, like Tommy, and Chris, and Katie, and Dave Hume and all those people, they were all kind of wondering “How do I go forward and try and do this climbing thing full time, or do I go to college?”. And some went to college, and some went on to just go on the road. I wasn’t quit brave enough to go on the road, so I went to school. I lasted at school for an entire semester.
During that semester, I was like oh man, all I wanted to be doing was climbing, and kind of came up with this idea that if I could go up and really set my sights on doing a route and working hard on it, that maybe I could get climbing out of my system.
And so I went up and took the next semester off of school, and went up and really had my eyes on To Bolt or Not to Be. I was fortunate enough to do it at the end of that time off, and when I was there I met Lynn Hill and she invited me on this women’s expedition to Madagascar that next summer, and I kind of never looked back after that.
Neely Quinn: So tell me about that. It seemed like in your history- I’m kind of reading over things- it seemed like you did go from being a gym climber, a comp climber, and then sport climber. Then all of a sudden you went on this expedition with Lynn, and then you were this badass trad climber. What happened on that trip with Lynn?
Beth Rodden: I definitely wouldn’t say that I became a badass trad climber right away [laughs]. I would definitely agree with you that it was phenomenal that Lynn invited this skinny little sport climber on this amazing expedition with this talented group of women on the other side of the world. I think before I went to Madagascar, the highest I had climbed was To Bolt or Not to Be, which was 140 feet. I didn’t even know how to place a cam, I didn’t actually understand any of the mechanics of it. I was like “How do you keep going, and how do you get down if you need to?”.
I think what happened on that trip was my eyes were opened to this whole other type of climbing, and kind of this whole realm of climbing that I didn’t really know about. I always loved in climbing that self drive and passion it created in me, that other sports didn’t really have for me. It was like- you had a coach, you had your practice time, and they told you what to do. But climbing, at least at that time, didn’t have all that. So now, add in travel, and this adventure, and this exploratory element to it, and it was really pretty exciting to me. And let alone, these three women- Lynn Hill, Nancy Feagin, and Kath Pike- were all doing what I wanted to do, what I had dreamed of, which was make climbing your full time thing, you know? And they did it in different ways. Kath owned a guiding company, and Lynn and Nancy were sponsored climbers.
On that trip I think it not only opened my eyes that, wow, climbing you don’t necessarily have to go into the gym for it, or climb these pre-determined sport routes, but you could go and climb these virgin walls on all corners of the world. It also kind of gave me the confidence and to go pursue climbing full time. And it kind of left me hungry to learn how to trad climb. On the trip they taught me a lot, but it’s not like I went from zero to hero, by any means. I came back from that trip and went straight to Yosemite Valley. I packed up my two door Honda Civic with a bunch of canned soup and bagels out of my parent’s pantry and tried to learn how to climb on granite, and the in’s an out’s of trad climbing.
Neely Quinn: So then you did do a bunch of first ascents and second ascents and first female ascents while you were in Yosemite. Can you tell me about your most memorable times up there?
Beth Rodden: It’s hard to pick out memorable ones, but let’s see. Memorable ones of my notable ascents, probably, I mean Lurking Fear is hard to pass up. It was my second time on El Cap, and Tommy and I teamed up and it was kind of right when we started dating. So I think it actually helped us, because we were trying to impress each other [laughs]. Lurking Fear, Steve Schneider had kind of paved the way for us. He freed all but a couple feet of this route called Lurking Fear on the left side of El Cap. Tommy and I came a couple of years later and were able to work on it for a couple of months and eventually do it. It’s yet to see a second ascent, although I know people are actively working on it, so it’ll be pretty rad when that happens.
Neely Quinn: That was in 2005? That’s eleven years, jeez.
Beth Rodden: 2000. 2000.
Neely Quinn: Oh, 2000, whoa. That’s a long time. Why do you think nobody’s done a second ascent?
Beth Rodden: It’s some pretty hardcore slab climbing. I love slab climbing, I just love slab climbing. I think it’s super fun, and makes you think. But a lot of people love more gymnastic climbing, and not that free climbing on El Cap is gymnastic climbing, but you know, it’s pure slab climbing [laughs].
Neely Quinn: And how hard is Lurking Fear?
Beth Rodden: We rated it 13c, but again, I mean-
Neely Quinn: Who knows.
Beth Rodden: Grades are always so subjective, so somebody could be like “Oh, it’s 12b”, or somebody could be like “It’s 5.14”- I have no idea [laughs]. Lurking Fear definitely stands out in my mind.
Beth Rodden: Doing the Nose, because it was this lifelong dream of mine- I started climbing the year that Lynn did it. Every comp I went into, every gym I went into, had the poster of Lynn saying “It goes, boys”. Before I even knew what El Cap was, I was like “Oh, I want to be like her”.
Neely Quinn: It’s funny when you did that, the third and fourth ascents of the Nose, I was actually with Lynn.
Beth Rodden: Oh cool!
Neely Quinn: I was on a trip with her babysitting for Owen, and it was pretty monumental for her. She was really happy for you guys.
Beth Rodden: Ah, I mean it’s amazing. What she did was so far ahead of her time. I mean since she did it in the mid 90s, then Scotty did it, then we did it, and then it took ten years for another ascent. That just shows you how far ahead of her time she was. It’s incredible that she did that.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, yeah. Any other climbs that stand out?
Beth Rodden: Doing Peace in Tuolumne was another one of those routes that I grew up in the gym with posters of Ron Kauk on that. Iconic black streak of Tuolumne granite, and I was like “Ah, that would be so amazing to do that one day”. So Peace in Tuolumne was another one. Maybe flashing the Phoenix was pretty special to me, and then doing Meltdown was another one, just because it was something that I kind of beat my head against the wall for so long and then was able to finally do it.
Neely Quinn: What I’m reading here is 2008, you did Meltdown, which was a proposed grade of 14c. It was the hardest traditional pitch in America. Or is it still?
Beth Rodden: Maybe something on El Cap is harder than it now, I’m not sure.
Neely Quinn: And how long was that climb?
Beth Rodden: You mean how tall is it?
Neely Quinn: Mhm.
Beth Rodden: It’s not that tall. It’s less than half a ropes length, so maybe 70 or 80 feet. Something like that.
Neely Quinn: Tell me about that- it sounds like you spent a season working it.
Beth Rodden: Yeah, I started climbing on it right after I did Peace, so September sometime. Then I didn’t do it until February- that following February. When I first got on it, I couldn’t hardly do half the moves or something like that, but it totally inspired me. I really like climbing on routes that inspire me, and maybe that sounds cliche but it’s right next to this beautiful waterfall, and it’s in my favorite place in the world in Yosemite, and the movement is really cool. I just couldn’t really get it out of my mind so I just slowly chipped away at it for 5 or 6 months [laughs].
Neely Quinn: Then it became what was then the hardest traditional route led or established by a women. When that happened, how did you feel about those words and that accomplishment? What did that mean to you?
Beth Rodden: Oh man, I don’t even think I took that into account probably, because I didn’t realize that. For me, it was just the hardest thing that I had ever worked on, if that makes sense. The hardest thing that I’d ever worked on- single pitch- before that was this route in Smith Rock called The Optimist that I put up. It was always so nice- I have to say- so nice having Tommy around. Not only for support and motivation, but Tommy has just climbed so many hard routes that it helped with the grades, if that makes sense? So Tommy’s like “Oh, this is harder than The Optimist”, and I was like “Oh, that’s pretty cool”.
And so as far as the grading goes, I’ve only established a handful of hard routes, so to have Tommy and his background and really help with that- because I mean, I’m not sure if you know this, I’m sure you understand grades are so subjective. A 5.10 can feel just as hard as a 5.13 if it’s kind of your weakness- so I find grading really hard honestly. For me, I rated it just the hardest thing I’d ever done, which was harder than The Optimist. But to be able to work on something for that long and know that it was that hard for me, felt pretty rad actually.
Neely Quinn: Yeah. So that was in 2008.
Beth Rodden: Yup.
Neely Quinn: And then what happened?
Beth Rodden: After doing Meltdown, I felt like I needed a little bit of a break. My body was pretty wrecked after that actually. Probably halfway through I had some finger injuries that I kind of just climb through, and a little bit of a shoulder injury. And I was honestly a little burnt out on just projecting. After I kind of took a break and was just climbing easier stuff and just for fun, I got pretty psyched to start climbing harder again, and my body started to break down even worse than before. I tore my labrum, I popped a pulley in my finger, and then on top of that my marriage with Tommy started to break down. It was kind of this really hard time for me, because I didn’t really have climbing that I could go to, and I didn’t really have my partner, and so I was kind of in this spot where I was like “Ah, do I really want to keep climbing? It’s causing me a lot of anguish, and I can’t really climb because I’m injured all the time…”.
I took probably a year or two and just started climbing super easy, things I would have been embarrassed to climb before. Like 5.6 and 5.7. I started climbing with people that weren’t professional climbers, that weren’t part of my climbing circle before, like my neighbors, and really realized that I can’t really shake climbing and it’s part of me no matter what. It’s kind of woven into me, and so I just started trying to get back to climbing hard, but kept getting injured. Then I realized that that was okay, and I just climbed as hard as I could, and sometimes that was 5.8, and sometimes that was 5.13.
Neely Quinn: Did you have shoulder surgery, by the way?
Beth Rodden: I did, yeah. I had my labrum repaired in 2009 or 10, something like that.
Neely Quinn: I think I remember that. And then in 2010- wait- and then you got remarried, and when was that?
Beth Rodden: 2012. Randy and I got married in 2012.
Neely Quinn: So you were kind of struggling with some injuries, climbing here and there, climbing differently, and then you got married, and then you got pregnant.
Beth Rodden: Yeah, in 2013 we got pregnant.
Neely Quinn: Was that something that you always wanted to do?
Beth Rodden: You know, I was never one of those people that just grew up knowing that I wanted to have a family, if that makes sense? I’ve definitely met people and they’re like “I’m gonna become a mom and that’s what I made to do”, which is awesome because they know, right? I kind of vacillated back and forth, like “oh, it would be cool to have kid or family one day but I don’t know if I really wanted to give up my body, and give up my career, and kind of give up my freedom”, and back and forth.
I think I got to the point where I started checking in with myself, like “Okay how are you doing in life?”. And I really obviously wanted to get back to climbing hard, like free climbing El Cap and putting up 5.14s and stuff like that, and I think at some point- it was probably in 2012 or 13, something like that- when I asked myself that question of “In 40 years if you look back, which would you regret more not having a family, or not getting to the top of another El Cap free route, or clipping the chains on another project?”. For the longest time it was always not getting to the top of an El Cap free route, but at some point it changed for me, that I would regret not trying to have a family. So that’s when Randy and I started talking about it, and we thought we would try and see if we could start a family.
Neely Quinn: And then you did.
Beth Rodden: Yeah, it worked [laughs].
Neely Quinn: It worked! Good job [laughs].
Beth Rodden: I did, it totally worked. We were super lucky in that we were able to get pregnant.
Neely Quinn: That’s actually exactly the same question that I have asked myself recently, in actually it was 30 years, in 30 years when I looked back on my life, and the same thing happened. You were how old when you had him?
Beth Rodden: I was 33 when I got pregnant and 33 when I had him. 33.
Neely Quinn: So how did that change things?
Beth Rodden: Oh man, I mean [laughs]. It changes so much, it’s crazy. I don’t think you can probably research as much as possible and still not understand until you actually have a kid, what it’s like. And that probably sounds like something that every mom says, but I don’t know. At least that was true for me. I mean at first, for me as an athlete, and I’m sure you can relate to this, you know your body inside and out, right? And so, that’s why injuries were so- and are so- hard for me, because you’re os used to being able to count on your body as this vehicle to not only climb, but probably to enjoy a lot of things, and it’s yourself, and it’s something that you know so inherently well. All of a sudden, it’s not yours anymore [laughs]. So for me- I know some women don’t go through it- but I had terrible morning sickness, which I don’t know why they call it morning sickness, they should call it all day sickness. You feel awful for a couple of months, and no matter what you do you kind of feel awful.
Once you get past that, you kind of are starting to get excited, but then you’re also like “Wow, I’m gaining all this weight, and my body is changing”. For me, in general, I have pretty loose joints. But then, with getting pregnant, your body needs to expand to get ready to have a baby, so my joints got really loose. It was like this transformation. I mean in some ways, it was kind of relieving, right? Because I didn’t need to worry about being fit, because my job at that point was to try and take care of my body to grow a healthy baby, which was pretty cool to have a different job, to have a different role for your body. And I climbed, I climbed probably until I was six months pregnant, but really easy. Randy would just go lead up really easy routes in Yosemite for me, like After Six, which is 5.6, and Munginella, which is 5.6. It actually felt really therapeutic on my body, if that makes sense.
Then at some point in the pregnancy, climbing just didn’t sound right. It didn’t sound good to go climbing, so I just focused on walking and being outside. You get so big, at least for me, I was like “Ah, I didn’t think I would gain 35 pounds”, and you do, and it’s all part of it. It’s what you’re supposed to do. I found it really fascinating and really pretty cool and pretty exciting actually. At first I was like, whoa this is crazy. I was pretty apprehensive about it. And then I was like, wow this is pretty amazing what the human body can do.
Neely Quinn: Oh wow, so you were just awestruck by your body.
Beth Rodden: Yeah I mean, that you can grow a human- I mean it’s pretty unbelievable actually [laughs].
Neely Quinn: Yeah, I mean, it is a miracle.
Beth Rodden: Yeah, it’s a miracle!
Neely Quinn: Were you scared?
Beth Rodden: Oh I mean, I was scared of everything. Anxieties, yeah. I was scared of how I would be as a mom, how our lives would be affected. And then I was scared about eating the right things, and am I exercising too much, and am I exercising too little. I think anxieties for me in general are hard, and then they’re totally true when they say that hormones are pretty crazy [laughs]. I worried about everything.
Neely Quinn: And then you had him, and then how did your life change?
Beth Rodden: I had Theo, and I guess I was under the guise that I was this professional athlete and so I should be able to bounce back like all these women I’ve read about and were my friends. To be totally honest, I had a super rough physical post-partum from Theo. I feel incredibly fortunate with the pregnancy, I had a great pregnancy. Super fortunate with the birth, all went well. I couldn’t have asked for a better labor and delivery process.
But then afterwards, a lot of people don’t talk about what your body goes through to bring this human into the world. For me, I had several really bad bouts with mastitis, which is breast infections from nursing. I didn’t even understand that before, you know? I didn’t even understand that nursing could be an issue, I just thought that it was something natural. Theo and I really struggled to get that right, and once we did get that right it really worked great, but that was really hard. I had a slight prolapse of the bladder, so it meant that walking from our bed to the bathroom was incredibly painful- I couldn’t stand upright for longer than ten minutes for the first handful of months, let alone go on a hike or a run or anything like that.
Neely Quinn: Whoa.
Beth Rodden: Yeah. And then for me too, my joints stayed loose for a really long time, so I was pretty afraid to climb, because I was really worried about injuries. It took a long time, actually, Neely, to feel like “Oh, I can go for a run, or I can go climbing” or any of that. But honestly I looked back on that now, and it was probably a blessing in disguise a little bit, because I really got to focus on bonding with Theo. We really felt like we could learn to become a family, and really focus on this little baby that we brought into the world, which is a pretty special time to spend together.
Neely Quinn: Yeah. Your optimism is inspiring [laughter]. That would have been really hard.
Beth Rodden: Oh I mean, it was so hard. I definitely was not in a good mental spot. I’m saying that how two and a half years later, but during it, you know, so many tears, and why can’t I heal, and why aren’t I normal. All that sort of thing.
Neely Quinn: Do you feel healed and normal now?
Beth Rodden: Um, I mean, I don’t feel like my old professional climber self, but it’s just because I think a ton of my energy is still put into Theo. When you’re a professional athlete, or when you’re an athlete, you just get to focus on you and your body, and it’s this pretty incredible way to live. But it’s also pretty selfish way to live, self centered, because it’s all about- at least that’s how I felt like I was- it was all about my body and my projects. And now, at least right now in my life, Theo comes first. So if he’s having a hard day and I need to spend all my energy with him, then that’s what I’m doing, you know? At least for me, I’ve realized that the rocks aren’t really going anywhere, and Theo’s only going to be this age for so long, so I’d rather spend my time with him.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, that’s definitely a choice that you make, you know? I see some climbing women who had kids, and it seems- I don’t know. It seems like you can spend much less time with your kid and much more time focusing on climbing that maybe what you’re doing.
Beth Rodden: Absolutely, and I think that’s all whatever works best for that particular family, you know? For me, this is- you know we still go out climbing most days, but it’s just my climbing projects aren’t the priority for me right now. I think once Theo starts school, that’s probably going to change, because he’ll be in school for so many hours a day. But right now this works for our family, so that’s the best for us.
Neely Quinn: Do you still make you living as a pro climber?
Beth Rodden: I do, yup. I still have my sponsors, and they’ve been super great through this. When I haven’t been climbing really hard, I’ve been able to do other things for them, like speaking, and events, and product development, Kind of the myriad of things pro climbers can do.
Neely Quinn: And who are you sponsors?
Beth Rodden: Outdoor Research, Metolius, Sportiva, Blue Water, Climb On, Osprey Packs, and Cliff Bar.
Neely Quinn: Nice. I think that’s pretty awesome they’ve been loyal to you through all of this. It’s good to know that our pioneer climbers are being taken care of by our industry.
Beth Rodden: I mean, I feel super fortunate. I feel very lucky to work with the companies I do. It’s pretty great.
Neely Quinn: So now you’re able to climb a little bit more, your body’s healing. Tell me about what you’re doing climbing, and if you’re training at all, and stuff like that.
Beth Rodden: Right now we’re in Yosemite for the fall, which is awesome. I guess a typical day would be, we’d wake up and go down and if it’s just us, then we boulder because somebody needs to hang out with Theo. Unless there’s a super friendly cragging area, which there are a couple here, but usually we go bouldering. If we can meet up with friends of ours that are willing to kind of baby swap a little bit, then we’ll go out and do a route. And then we usually come back and if I’m totally spent from the day, I don’t train at night. But if I’m not totally spent from the day, we have a home gym in our garage here. I’ll usually climb on the wall a little bit, do some finger training, and then do a ton of shoulder exercises to try and prevent further injuries. And then do that again the next day [laughter].
Neely Quinn: So you are training a lot, it sounds like.
Beth Rodden: Yeah I mean, I’m not doing what I used to do. I used to wake up, go down and climb on my project for half the day, and then come into the garage and train for four hours and then go to bed. I’d say that I’m doing that same thing, but at a lesser intensity and less time if that makes sense [laughs].
Neely Quinn: I’m actually curious, because when you were with Tommy- I mean Tommy is super famous for how hard he trains, and how many hours he puts into it- and I’m curious, what did you learn from him if anything, and how did that affect your training?
Beth Rodden: God, we used to climb and train so much. I loved it, I mean, when we were training for the Nose, we would wake up, go climbing at the Monastery until the sun came, then we would go back to his parent’s garage and train in the garage for several hours, and then we would go for a bike ride in the park, and then we would go to sleep at dark. Training for an El Cap route, you just need huge days, right? Because that’s what you’re doing up there. I think we learned together just how far we could push our bodies, and it was pretty incredible how far we could push our bodies.
Neely Quinn: Where were you getting your information, how did you learn how to do that?
Beth Rodden: It was all just us. I learned some training from the guys at the gym when I was a kid. I learned some training from Robyn Erbesfield- she used to do these camps for the US climbing team. A then- at least for us back then- it was all experimentations. What works for our bodies, and what works for specific things. For me, at least, when I would be doing single hard pitch, I really learned that I needed a lot of rest. More rest than Tommy did. But then I learned on the days that I climbed, I could go huge, and then I just needed to rest after that. There was hardly any information back then, about specific training. Now I think people are taking it to science, which is pretty cool, but there was definitely none of that back then, for us at least.
Neely Quinn: You said you kind of figured out what worked for you. So what besides resting a lot- and what do you mean by resting a lot? How many days?
Beth Rodden: Mm, like two or three days. I’d do one day on, two or three days off, if I was trying to redpoint a route. But then on El Cap, you can’t really afford to do that, so El Cap would be different. It would be two days on, one day off, three days on, something like that.
Neely Quinn: Or when you guys did the Nose, it looks like you did it in four days?
Beth Rodden: Yeah. We did, and we actually budgeted in a rest day up there, because I knew that I was going to be pretty wrecked when I got to the base of the Changing Corners, and so I needed a rest day. We took a whole rest day up there, which definitely went a little slower than I thought [laughs].
Neely Quinn: The rest day?
Beth Rodden: Yeah, you’re like “hmm”. You can’t really go for a walk, you can’t really do much. You know, you’re just sitting in a portaledge.
Neely Quinn: Just sit there staring at each other.
Beth Rodden: Exactly. But yeah, on my climbing days, I guess if I’m doing a hard route, I would try the hard route as much as I could, but do a point of reason, right? Not just beat my head against the wall. And then I would come back in- I’m really not very good at power, I would say that’s my weakness. So trying to do power, like bouldering on my wall, or doing a little bit of finger training. But even in my peak of fitness I couldn’t campus for the life of me. It’s just something that my body doesn’t have. I totally rely on technique, and that sort of thing. So I would just try and build power and finger strength, and then if I did lift weights it would be opposition, because I tend to get injured a lot.
Neely Quinn: That was what you used to do, or that’s what you do now?
Beth Rodden: Both, it’s just now it’s at a much lower intensity. I’m not projecting a 5.14 right now. I think I’ve learned recently just to slowly get back into it, whereas before having Theo, even after every injury, I’d just want to just jump back into it. After shoulder surgery I was like “Well I’ve only taken four months off, so I should be able to climb hard right away again”, and then that led to re-injuring my shoulder and that sort of thing. I think learning that my body needs a lot of time to heal and recover has been a good learning process for me, albeit very slow [laughs].
Neely Quinn: Do you think that having such big days like you did- you’d go to the Monastery, and then you’d train at the home wall and all that- do you think that that encouraged your shoulder and finger injuries at all?
Beth Rodden: That’s a really good question. I think a lot of it came from me having pretty loose joints and not doing the proper maintenance. I knew that I had weak shoulders, and at least when I was in my mid 20s, I was like “My body’s like this thing and I can just abuse it and that’s how I’ve been able to climb hard, I just train as hard as I can and push as hard as I can”. I didn’t think I needed to do all this little muscle maintenance to make my shoulders stronger. When I hurt my shoulder, I went to see my doctor and he was like “Oh my god, your shoulders are so weak in all these other ways except for climbing”. And so, that’s what happened.
As far as the finger stuff goes, maybe it was the big days? I don’t know if I ever really thought of it that way. Maybe I’ve also always wondered about my diet. I ate pretty poorly when I was young, and I’ve really tried to clean up my diet. But maybe those big days really wreaked havoc on my body.
Neely Quinn: So when you say that your joints are loose, I just want to back track a little bit. I have a feeling that some people are like “What does that mean?”. How did you know that your joints were loose, what does that mean?
Beth Rodden: I think when I first would have some of my earliest injuries, I’d go to the doctor and they’d send me to physical therapy. My favorite hand therapist in Fort Collins was like “Oh you have really loose joints”. Which she said was probably a benefit to me, in that I’m pretty flexible. My arms can reach way back and it’s not a strain for me. But it also puts more strain on your ligaments, on your connective tissue, if that make any sense. I mean, you probably know more than me because you’re versed in this. You can probably explain it better to the listeners.
Neely Quinn: No, I can’t… I know my husband has the same thing, and you could push his shoulder out of the joint basically, before he had surgery. He could literally push it and it would kind of come out of the joint. Is that what would happen to you?
Beth Rodden: For me, I would always hurt my rotator cuffs, because my shoulder was so loose that it would put this undue strain on the rotator cuffs, these little tiny muscles and stuff. Whereas I think for other people, they would use their big muscles, because their shoulder would be firmly in the socket. One time when I was getting work done by Brenda, she was pushing my shoulder around and she asked “Does this hurt?”. And I would be like “No, that doesn’t hurt at all”. And she said “Whoa, you’ve got really loose joints” [laughs].
Neely Quinn: She’s got your arm all the way out of the socket [laughs].
Beth Rodden: Exactly [laughs].
Neely Quinn: I’m curious what those sessions looked like, when you guys would train. You’d do the Monastery, and then you’d come back and train for four hours in the home wall. Because back then there was no program for fingerboarding, there wasn’t anything, so I’m just wondering what you guy made up to do on the fingerboard and all that.
Beth Rodden: I’d say we didn’t spend a lot of time on the fingerboard. We’d come in and we’d probably boulder on the woody for two hours in general. I mean this is all summarizing, obviously each day was totally different. We’d probably boulder for two hours, and then I actually for the longest time had always system trained. My dad built me a system wall in our little house when I was in high school. That was one thing that seemed kind of known for training back then. I remember watching this German video of people system training when I was like 16. So then I might system train a little bit while Tommy campused. He campused a lot, but I could never figure out how to campus for the life of me. And then we would do pull-ups and push-ups and abs, and then we would do some weightlifting. His dad was this professional bodybuilder when he was younger, and so his dad knew a lot about weightlifting and taught us exercises. We kind of beat ourselves into the ground, and then we’d decide to go for an hour or two bike ride up Trail Ridge Road [laughs]. It was big days.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, real big days. So you were doing a little bit of weightlifting, a little system wall- so you weren’t on the fingerboard at all?
We didn’t have a fingerboard back then, nope. It was just the campus board and then the system wall.
Neely Quinn: So I’m curious, why do you think you couldn’t campus? What was holding you back? I have a feeling there are a lot of women who will listen to this and be like “Yeah, I can’t campus either, I just can’t do it” [laughter]. So what do you think- you don’t try to campus now, do you?
Beth Rodden: No, nope. I’ve kind of given up on campusing. It’s funny- even though Randy is really into campusing. At first I was like, the rungs are too small, I’m just not strong enough. So we put bigger rungs on, ones you can wrap your fingers in the back of- much bigger than the Metolius big rungs. And I could get up the wall on those, but it just didn’t flow or it didn’t feel right. It jus always felt thrutchy or like I was going to hurt myself, and it wasn’t really helping, you know? I think I’ve always just liked climbing because it always kind of clicked with my body. Campusing, I wasn’t that strong. I have really stick arms. And I couldn’t do many of the exercises that you read about, and I was like, “I don’t think this is working for me” [laughs]. I was like, “There’s a lot of other things that seem to be working for me, and I’m going to stick with those”.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, okay [laughs]. And it doesn’t seem like you ever really needed it.
Beth Rodden: I don’t know, I mean, I’m always looking for ways to get stronger. I even remember when I saw Randy campusing a lot, I was like “Okay, maybe I should give this a shot, I’m stronger than I used to be”. And then I would try and it just didn’t work for me [laughs]. Which is cool, I don’t think everything has to work for everybody.
Neely Quinn: No, not at all. Especially when you’re mostly doing vertical or slabby climbs.
Beth Rodden: Totally. I’m sure if I was living in Spain and trying to climb really steep gymnastic routes, maybe I would just beat my head against the wall to learn how to campus. But for me, I’m mainly climbing in Yosemite. I mean, I still go climbing in Spain, but I don’t know. I’m happy with what I’m doing right now.
Neely Quinn: So tell me what you are doing right now. Do you have any projects, or where have you been going?
Beth Rodden: We’ve just been climbing in Yosemite. It seems like every spring we make a trip over to Europe, whether that’s Spain or France or what not. To be honest, I always have a list of projects in my mind, and that can start at 5.10 and go up to 5.14. Right now, just because I’ve learned so much with my injuries and my body, I’m just trying to build a good foundation again. Basically for the entire time I was pregnant, I wasn’t training or doing any of that. For the first year or year and a half of Theo’s life, I was just trying to recover from all the complications I had after him. Right now I’m just going out and climbing at a good level, trying to train at a good level, and trying to build that foundation, so maybe one day I can get back to climbing really hard again.
Neely Quinn: Is that the hope?
Beth Rodden: I mean, I think I have a lot of hopes. I love pushing my body. I think it’s something that’s really fun for me, and I really love the problem solving aspect of climbing. Whether that’s on an easier or hard route. But I think the bigger thing is just to be able to have climbing in my life for as long as I can, because I’ve learned that I just love climbing for climbing. If I can climb hard, free another route on El Cap, or get to the top of another 5.14, that would be great. But if not, I’m actually totally okay with that.
Neely Quinn: That seems like a big shift from where you were ten years ago.
Beth Rodden: Oh, for sure. I mean ten years ago, I think that my only focus in climbing was projecting and climbing hard, absolutely. And now that’s a focus, but not the only focus.
Neely Quinn: I think it’s funny how you grow up. When I was young at least, and I’m assuming it was sort of similar for you, I would see these people who got older and had a kid, and think “How could they give that up? How could they give up climbing hard?”. And now, after some injuries, and seeing some friends go through being a mother, it’s completely different. I’m like, why would I be so obsessed with climbing hard, there’s so many other things in life.
Beth Rodden: Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s all part of growing up too, right? It’s all part of it. I look at myself when I was 20 and think oh man. If I could have just relaxed a little bit, I probably would have enjoyed things a lot more.
Neely Quinn: Maybe you wouldn’t have done such hard things, and impressive things. That’s the thing, that’s the trade off I guess.
Beth Rodden: I think you can achieve things with balance, but I don’t think finding balance comes really easy, and without hardship right? Or else everyone would have it right away. I think you need to go through these ups and downs, and realize that life is messy and the road is bumpy, but I actually think you’re stronger because of it in the end, for sure.
Neely Quinn: I think so too. I think that the injuries, especially, like you said. Sort of blessings in disguise.
Beth Rodden: Yeah, and it’s so hard to see it at the time, when you’re injured. When you’re laying on the couch and you’re laid up, you can’t think of all the positives, it’s so hard. But once you finally can, you’re like “Oh, okay. Maybe this is all part of it”.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, this 5.6 actually feels really nice right now [laughs].
Beth Rodden: Yeah, exactly, it’s so fun. And I think it’s totally possible to have balance and if you want to climb hard, climb hard with a family. Or climb hard after injuries. You look at some people like Ben Moon, he climbed one of his hardest routes just recently. I mean that’s cool, and especially if that’s something he was psyched to do. And then I look at other people like Tom Frost, and it seems like he’s so at peace with his climbing and his climbing life in his later years. That’s pretty inspiring too. I think there’s so many things out there that climbing can provide, whether it’s climbing hard or climbing easy, or who knows.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, being outside.
Beth Rodden: Yeah, friends, travel.
Neely Quinn: So I have a question about- because one of my biggest concerns about having a kid, is that I actually won’t be able to climb, like you said, when you want to go climb routes, you have to have other parents to baby swap with.
Beth Rodden: Yeah.
Neely Quinn: Can you tell me a little bit more about that? If you were to go to just a sport crag, what would it be like?
Beth Rodden: Go to a sport crag without bringing anybody to watch Theo, if it was just me and Randy? I don’t think that would really work, at least right now. Theo’s two, and- well I guess it depends on the crag. I’m thinking in Yosemite, a lot of the bases of crags are rocky, and cliffs. I’m all for empowering kids and having them learn their boundaries, but you also need to be the parent and make sure they don’t get hurt. Right now, unless it’s this completely flat place and there’s not a road right next to it, I don’t think you can really be tethered to a rope and not run off and be like “Don’t walk down that cliff right there, don’t fall down on accident” or what not. Logistically, there’s a lot more logistics involved in having a kid and wanting to rope climb. We’re pretty fortunate that a lot of our friends had kids around the same time, so we can kind of swap off if we want to. We can be like, well now it’s our day and we can go do a route, and our friends will watch Theo, and the next day we’ll watch their kid.
We’ve always fantasized about buying a ticket for my mom when we go over to France or something like that. But you know, when they’re really teeny, you could go off and do a pitch or two. But unless you’re gonna pump and dump on the side of El Cap, which I’ve met women who have done that which is super inspiring, I was just not fit enough when I was breastfeeding every two hours to do that. You need to be kind of close to the baby anyways. I think in the early stages it would work, especially before they’re mobile, you should totally go dragging if your body can handle it. They just lay there, in a down jacket or whatever. But it’s once they start to move and are mobile that it’s a lot harder. I think unless you have friends who are willing to watch them or unless you can bring a grandparent or nanny, it’s a lot more complicated than just yourself, or even with a dog. With a dog you can tell them to sit, or tie them up or what not.
Neely Quinn: Can you just tie your kids up?
Beth Rodden: You can probably tether them up somewhere, I don’t know. We have yet to do that. Once they form opinions and they can vocalize those opinions, it’ll make your life pretty miserable if they’re not psyched to be tied up [laughs]. We’ve never done that, we’ve embraced bouldering or swapping days.
Neely Quinn: Do you think you’ll have another kid?
Beth Rodden: I don’t know. I’ve always envisioned having two, Randy’s always envisioned having one, so we’ll see. I couldn’t imagine getting pregnant again right now, I’m just starting to feel like i can go for a run and go climbing and it feels pretty nice. I don’t think I’m even going to consider it for a little while, and cross that bridge later.
Neely Quinn: Okay, we’ll stop there with that. I wanted to ask you about your diet. You mentioned that you didn’t think that you ate very well when you were younger, but you’ve tried to clean it up now. We’ve talked about your diet before- I’m wondering what you’ve found works for you and doesn’t work for you.
Beth Rodden: I think I ate pretty poorly when I was younger. I can’t tell you how much diet soda I used to drink, it was unbelievable. And then I think just ate for calories sake beforehand. I’d be like, here’s a can of soup, here’s a can of chili, a bagged bagel, and I’ll just eat that. I don’t know, Neely, if I’ve found what works for me yet. I know what I’m doing now, and it feels okay, but honestly sometimes when I’ve been eating what I thought would have been healthy- like I thought I felt pretty good and I would have gotten injured later. I think I went through this slow transformation what really healthy. I would just eat a can of tomato sauce and pasta and throw in some steamed broccoli and I was like, that’s healthy, to really trying to eat more vegetables and eating local and organic. I actually thought I felt pretty good eating really quality meats and eggs and stuff like that. But then recently I’ve tried to follow a really reduced inflammation diet to try and curb injuries, so I’m basically just eating meat and vegetables and a little bit of fruit.
When I was in my early 20s- I don’t know if it’s an intolerance or an allergy- but I can’t eat dairy, so I haven’t eaten dairy in forever. And then I think I was super addicted to sugar, so I’ve cut out all processed sugars. Maybe at a birthday or at Christmas I’ll have a treat, but other than that I don’t eat sugar. The main reason I did that was for my sleep actually, it wasn’t because of climbing, I just wasn’t sleeping well when I ate sugar. Now I’m kind of eating how we talked about however many years ago. I eat really good quality protein, all pasture raised meats, good fish, a lot of vegetables. And I think along with that sugar thing I would eat a ton of fruit. Especially living in California, fruit is so good in the summer, I’ve tried to not eat 25 servings of fruit a day.
Cut it down, to you know, a couple. So that’s kind of my diet, and honestly, I don’t know if it’s working. I figure it’s worth a shot.
Neely Quinn: It sounds like you don’t eat any grains, either.
Beth Rodden: Yeah I haven’t been eating any grains, which at first was a big bummer, because I love pasta and faro- I was never a big rice person- and bread. There’s such good bread. It’s so hard to eat kind of a restricted diet living in the Bay area part time, because the food there is so good. But yeah, I figure I’ll try this for a little while and if I feel like adding some stuff back in then I will, and if not, that’s okay.
Neely Quinn: Do you feel like your sleep got any better?
Beth Rodden: My sleep totally improved when I nixed out the processed sugar. I would still say I’m not the best sleeper in the world in general, but it’s so much better than when I would have dessert every night after dinner. Baking was this huge passion of mine, I loved baking cookies and breads and pies and stuff like that, and I would sleep awful. It was pretty bad. And so cutting out the sugar totally helped my sleep.
Neely Quinn: Did anything else change with these changes in your diet?
Beth Rodden: I would say I probably lost a little bit more of the weight after having Theo. I was struggling to get back to my pre-pregnancy weight, and I’m still not even there. I would say that I’m not even back to my pre-pregnancy weight even after two years after having Theo. But not eating so much probably really helped. That was one of the hardest things for me with food, after being pregnant, was learning portion control again. When you’re pregnant, at least for me, I was hungry so much. I was like, oh wow I’m gonna go have thirds and I still don’t feel full. So learning I didn’t need to have a third serving of dinner was a hard re-adjustment.
Neely Quinn: Yeah it’s easy to get used to eating a lot.
Beth Rodden: I totally got used to it. So as far as changes, probably lost a little more of that pregnancy weight with this diet.
Neely Quinn: That was going to be my last question, how it was with the weight and losing it. I know that obviously as climbers we are concerned about our weight, so that was kind of hard for you?
Beth Rodden: Yeah, absolutely, and I would say that I am not back to my pre-pregnancy weight. But again I think it’s totally specific to the person. I have tons of friends who less than a month later looked completely normal. So I think they’re one end of the spectrum and I’m the polar opposite. It took me a year and a half or two years to feel like I could exercise because of my body, and with the weight and stuff. It’s hard, but also I don’t know if it’s like we just talked about, me just getting older and growing up a little bit. I still struggle a little bit with that body image, but I’m also less concerned about it. I’m just more, oh well it’s okay. I grew this human and I nourished it for however many years and my body did all that, and it’s pretty impressive. I’m sure I’ll get fit again, it’ll just take a little bit of time. Gotta be patient with it.
Neely Quinn: It sounds like a very self accepting way of approaching it.
Beth Rodden: Yeah, yeah. Which is kinder than the other way, I think for me [laughs].
Neely Quinn: It’s kinder and probably more productive than the other way. Cool, well I’m going to let you go back to Theo. I really really appreciate you being so candid and honest in this interview. I’m sure that it’s not easy to talk about such personal things like pregnancy and your body and all that, so thank you.
Beth Rodden: Oh it was my pleasure, absolutely. thanks so much for having me on.
Neely Quinn: Do you have any final words for anybody about climbing life in general?
Beth Rodden: God, I’m probably gonna sound cliche, but just enjoy it, and climbing’s amazing, whatever path it takes you on. And try to be as accepting with yourself as possible, I guess.
Neely Quinn: Good, that’s awesome, thank you.
Beth Rodden: Thank you.
Neely Quinn: Alright, have a good one.
Beth Rodden: Yeah you too.
Neely Quinn: I hope you enjoyed that interview with Beth Rodden, I certainly did. Like I said, I was honored to sit down with her and she actually made the time for this, so that was quite a treat for all of us. You can find more from her at bethrodden.com, and she’s also on Instagram as @bethrodden.
So coming up on the podcast, I have Esther Smith next week. She’s a pretty well known PT, physical therapist, out of Salt Lake City, Utah. She works almost exclusively with climbers, which is rare for a physical therapist. She’s seem hundreds of climbers for shoulder, elbow and finger injuries especially. This time we’re talking about shoulders, and I think I’m going to do a series with her where we talk about elbows, and then fingers in the last one. Hopefully you’ll get something out of that, and that will be next week.
The week after that I’ll actually be in the Red River Gorge, which I’m super psyched about that. I’m feeling pretty strong lately, I’ve lost a few pounds somehow, and my ambivalent attitude, my ambivalent mental attitude- AMA as we’re calling it- is helping my climbing tremendously. I highly recommend just not caring so much about the outcome of your climbing. Ill be gone the week after next and then I’ll be back with more interviews.
I am still taking more nutrition clients, and I’m having a ton of success which is awesome for everybody in involved, with people with their energy levels, their body composition, their ability to climb for longer- stronger for longer- because, turns out, food has a lot to to with all of those things. If you want help with that, I’d love to help you, and you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or email@example.com. And I think that’s it, thanks for listening all the way to the end, I really appreciate it, and I will talk to you next week.