Marina Inoue on Short-Person Training and Body Image Issues
Date: November 27th, 2019
About Marina Inoue
Marina Inoue is a 33-year-old climber and tattooer who lives out of her van and travels all over to climb. She’s a friend of mine and when we first met, I remember immediately bonding over how short we both were. That’s why her accomplishments as a climber, having sent 5.13d and V11, are so impressive to me. She’s 5’2″ and has gotten a lot stronger in recent years, so we talk about the specifics of her training and how she stays strong even while living on the road. She also talks about training with Nate Drolet and how some of his drills made her a more dynamic climber. For more details about her training, Marina wrote an article for us: How I Trained for Dark Age V11.
As a short climber, she struggles with a lot of the things I struggle with, including getting shut down on moves that normal-sized people have no issues with. That can sometimes lead to ego bashings and anger, and she talks about how she stays positive out there, and how she’s sent some routes that were categorically not short person friendly.
Marina is also very open on social media about some issues she has with her body image. Since I can relate with her on that, and I know that many other women can as well, I asked her to talk about those things on this episode. We do a bit of a deep dive on this topic and I really appreciated her willingness to be brutally honest and say things that aren’t normally said publicly. Hopefully this conversation will help others open up and have conversations themselves.
Marina Inoue Interview Details
- Why she loves living in her van
- Things she’s most proud of in climbing
- How she trains to overcome height
- Getting shut down due to height – how she deals
- How she navigates ego as a short climber
- Some of her struggles with body image and weight
Marina Inoue Links
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Photo by Matt Pincus @mpincus87 of Marina in Nurse Ratchet V7 in Hueco Tanks
Neely Quinn: Welcome to the TrainingBeta podcast where I talk with climbers and trainers about how we can get a little better at our favorite sport. I’m your host, Neely Quinn, and I want to remind you that the TrainingBeta podcast is actually an offshoot of a website I created, trainingbeta.com, which is all about training for rock climbing.
Over there we have regular blog posts, we have training programs for boulderers or route climbers, or people who just want to train finger strength or power endurance. We also have online personal training with Matt Pincus as well as nutrition consulting with myself. I’m also a nutritionist. Hopefully one or more of those resources will help you become a better rock climber.
You can find us at trainingbeta.com and you can follow us on social media @trainingbeta.
Welcome to episode 138 of the podcast. Today I have Marina Inoue on the show, which I’m really excited about. Marina is a friend of mine and when I met her five years ago I remember bonding with her over the fact that we’re both short. She’s 5’2” and in recent years she’s gotten a lot stronger and better at rock climbing and we’re going to talk about how she did that. It led to her climbing 5.13d and V11 and she actually wrote an article about how she trained to send Dark Age, that V11, on TrainingBeta. If you go totrainingbeta.com and search ‘Marina’ you’ll find that article there. She describes in detail her finger training and some other things that she did.
This episode is interesting also because in my last episode with Kris Hampton we talked a lot about movement drills. Marina actually trained with Power Company, with Nate Drolet, and she describes some of the drills that helped her and how much they helped her. I think that that’s a really good lesson for all of us because we all think that we know a lot about movement and technique and it turns out we can all probably improve that, so she’s going to talk about that.
We also talk about some of the emotional and mental components of being a shorter climber and what it’s like feeling frustrated by moves being so much longer or harder for us than taller people. She talks about how she deals with that, like how she deals with anger, how she navigates ego, and all those things. She definitely has some nuggets of wisdom in there and that’s not just for short people. We all see people succeeding on things that we fail on and so I think this conversation is pertinent to anybody, even if you’re not short.
We also talk about body image which is a topic that is not really super openly talked about and I think it should be. She’s actually really open about body image stuff on Instagram and for that reason I thought maybe she would be a good person to have on the show because nobody ever talks about it. I think a lot of women struggle with not liking how their bodies look, not liking the weight of our bodies because we’re trying to pull it up a wall. I know that I struggle with it every day where I don’t love my body and I think I’m not the right size or whatever. We talk openly about those things. I just thought it would be good to get it out there and maybe show some other women that they’re not alone in feeling the way that we do and throwing out what needs to change in order for us to feel better, whether that’s internal or external.
Those are the things that we talked about. You can find Marina on Instagram @marina_inaway. I’m just going to let her take it from here. Here’s Marina. Enjoy and I’ll talk to you on the other side.
Neely Quinn: Welcome to the show, Marina. Thanks very much for talking to me today.
Marina Inoue: Thanks so much for having me, Neely. I’m excited and honored.
Neely Quinn: For anybody who doesn’t know who you are can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
Marina Inoue: Sure. My name is Marina Inoue. I’m 33. I’m going to be 34 in December. I’m from New York City originally, born and raised. I lived there until I was 25. I am a tattooer. That’s my profession and I’ve been doing that for I think 12 years now.
I started climbing when I moved to Richmond, Virginia from New York, kind of by chance, when I was 26 so I started climbing as an adult. Now I live on the road and climb most of the time and work when I’m not climbing. [laughs]
Neely Quinn: Right. Your setup is really unique to me.
Marina Inoue: It is.
Neely Quinn: Basically you travel around tattooing, as you say. You’re pretty coveted in the tattooing world so you just travel around. How does that work?
Marina Inoue: I do spend the majority of my time working in Richmond, Virginia still which is not technically a home base but I’d say it’s my home work base. I don’t have a house there. I don’t have an apartment or my stuff there but I go back for sometimes a month, sometimes just a couple weeks, sometimes a few months at a time. It’s usually when I want to take a break from climbing outside and train. It’ll correlate with that and then I’ll work as much as I can, basically to make enough money to climb for a couple months after that.
Neely Quinn: So it’s not feast or famine. You work for a given time, you make enough money, and then you go live on that and then you go work again.
Marina Inoue: Yeah, basically. I also work a lot in Salt Lake City so I’d say between Richmond and Salt Lake are the two places I go the most, where I have the biggest clientele base, where I spend the most time. Richmond a little more than Utah but I also go to other places: Chicago, I go to Dallas every year, I go to Pennsylvania every year, for tattoo conventions that I’ve been doing for a long time that I’m quite busy at. Sometimes I’ll go other places as well.
Neely Quinn: Like you go work at those conventions?
Marina Inoue: Exactly, for a weekend.
Neely Quinn: Where do people find your tattoo stuff on Instagram?
Marina Inoue: It’s my name @marina_inoue. That’s how you actually spell my name. It’s pronounced in-a-way. It’s a lot of vowels.
Neely Quinn: What is that, by the way?
Marina Inoue: It’s Japanese. My dad is Japanese.
Neely Quinn: Then your personal Instagram, which people really love as well is…?
Marina Inoue: It’s @marina_inaway, which is the phonetic spelling.
Neely Quinn: So that’s kind of your work/climbing life and you’ve been doing this for how many years, living out of your van?
Marina Inoue: I’ve been living full time on the road for four years and I’ve been climbing for seven years, but I also spent about seven months living on the road before I was in the van. I had a Chevy S-10 for a little while.
Neely Quinn: Nice. Very dedicated.
Marina Inoue: Very small, very different. It was my first on-the-road living situation.
Neely Quinn: It takes a special person to live out of a van for four years.
Marina Inoue: It’s been a while.
Neely Quinn: What do you like about it so much?
Marina Inoue: I love the flexibility of it. I also, with my job, don’t need to be in a home and have a home base at this point. I do miss it for sure but I love climbing so much and I love being able to spend big chunks of time somewhere. A month, a few months, whatever, is definitely what I like to do and I can so I try to take advantage of it for as long as I can because it’s finite. I can’t live like this forever. I won’t want to and I have the opportunity in a way that a lot of people may never get so I feel like I need to run it out, basically.
Neely Quinn: So you do see yourself stopping.
Marina Inoue: Yeah, I think in the sense that I definitely would like to have a place to go back to, have all my stuff, and just a home base for sure. I miss that a lot. I’m not sure that I’ll ever want to live somewhere 365 days out of the year because I’m so flexible with work. I think as long as I can I’ll continue to take big trips in the summer and in the winter, like go somewhere else. Nowhere is ideal all year round, obviously.
Neely Quinn: Unfortunately. I almost just asked Alexa today, “Where in the world is it 65-70 degrees all the time?” [laughs]
Marina Inoue: I think it’s San Diego, right? But I don’t want to live in San Diego. I can’t afford it. But if you get an answer, let me know.
Neely Quinn: I’m sure she’ll let me know in the middle of our conversation.
It’s cool that you’ve made this work. I’m like you. I’m a wanderer myself so it makes sense but living in a van is also really difficult so you must really, really love climbing.
Marina Inoue: I do.
Neely Quinn: Let’s talk about climbing a little bit. I know some of the things that impress me about your climbing but tell me some of the things that you’re most proud of in your climbing career. This is a time for you to brag.
Marina Inoue: [laughs] There’s been a few things that I was able to do that were really meaningful for me. One of the most standouts is a route at the New River Gorge called Dial 911 which was the first 5.13 I ever saw in person.
I started climbing at the New. That’s where I basically learned how to climb outside. It’s notoriously blank and vertical and technical and reachy. The whole area, not just that route, but that route especially is one. It’s a Doug Reed route. He was a giant human being, really tall, and I’d always thought it was impossible for smaller people. I think it’s quite difficult. There are different cruxes if you’re short than if you’re a normal, say 5’7” and up height. I’d always really wanted to try it for some reason. Maybe because it was the first 5.13 I’d ever really seen outside.
I got really shut down on it the first season I tried. I tried that instead of Quinsana, which is another really famous 13a at the New. Really crimpy and lots and lots and lots of sustained moves. For some reason that one has never appealed to me as much as Dial.
I tried it and I got through what the standard crux is and there’s a move that I just could not figure out that nobody who’s tall has a problem with. It’s just a really big foot, big hand, big lockoff but there’s only a left foot, there’s no right foot. You’re above a roof so your right foot is just dangling and you can’t push with both your legs. I could not do the move.
I was pretty frustrated, pretty bummed, but getting shut down at the New as a short person is not something that is unusual, but I went back the next fall and I ended up doing it. I figured out this crazy beta where I touched a weird sloping thing with my thumb, like a thumbercling, and got my right foot up on this little pebble over the lip. It was such a hard foot move. I had huge bruises on my knees from bumping them so hard on the lip of the roof. That beta somehow worked and I was able to do the route in a surprising – like maybe three days or something.
It’s like one of the most memorable experiences. Everybody said like, ‘Eh, it doesn’t go if you’re short. It’s almost impossible.’ I think a couple other shorter people have done it but I’m not actually quite sure how tall they are. I also don’t have long arms or anything like that. I’m either negative or I might actually be even.
Neely Quinn: And how tall are you?
Marina Inoue: I’m 5’2” and like a quarter inch or something, so a little over 5’2”.
Neely Quinn: So you basically overcame the odds.
Marina Inoue: I feel personally that yes, I did. It was one of the most exciting routes I’ve ever been able to do. Not the hardest route I’ve ever done but definitely one of the most exciting.
Neely Quinn: It sounds like it wasn’t about – well, maybe it was – you going off after failing on that route the first season and training harder, it was just you having some ingenuity and thinking outside the box and figuring out some different beta.
Marina Inoue: Yeah, at that point I had never trained. I just wanted to do the route so badly that I figured out a way, which obviously isn’t always possible. Some things are just so morphological that it would be so hard but I was able to figure it out which was so awesome. It was a great time.
Neely Quinn: Good job.
Marina Inoue: Thanks.
Neely Quinn: When you were describing, ‘Like I had to use this weird thumbedercling and my knee was bashing,’ I was like, ‘Yep. I know those times. This isn’t normal beta. This isn’t what everybody else does.’
Marina Inoue: Not normal, I know, and other people who are like 5’4”, 5’5”, 5’6” have tried to do it that way and actually can’t use the foot because it’s so heinously high. It’s just a weird, hard, short person squeeze box.
Neely Quinn: Are there any other routes or boulders that you want to mention as things that you’re proud of?
Marina Inoue: Yeah. I had an amazing season in Rifle not this past summer but the one before. I climbed my first 13c’s and a 13d. You know the route very well, Tomb Raider.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, congratulations.
Marina Inoue: Thank you. It was such a great time. I love that route so much. I did Apocalypse and Cryptic Egyptian that summer and it was the best sport climbing season I’ve ever had. It was an amazing season. I love Rifle so much.
Bouldering-wise, I did a boulder which I actually wrote an article for you guys about training before going to Hueco. I did a boulder called Dark Age in Hueco which is my first and only V11 boulder. It’s really long, highball, and I was really excited to do that one. It took like seven days of effort. It was a lot. That was a proud moment for me.
Neely Quinn: Congratulations.
Marina Inoue: Thank you. There’s also easier routes and easier boulders that I’ve done that have been so hard for me that I was so proud to have done them. There’s a boulder in Rocktown called Golden Shower that is V5 that took me a lot of tries, like many, many tries to do. It’s really wide compression. There’s another route at the New called Slash and Burn that’s 12d that took me so many seasons to do. Man, there are some boulders that I’ve never done that are like V4 and if I ever could do them I’d be so psyched.
It’s just different as a shorter person, I think. You have to be able to take pride in things that are maybe not grade-wise so hard but just physically difficult. I get excited about those things, too, you know?
Neely Quinn: Yeah, overcoming a big challenge. I think it’s difficult sometimes on your ego to be like, ‘Well, everybody else can do this and I can’t so there must be something wrong with me.’ How do you navigate that? Or do you ever feel like that?
Marina Inoue: I definitely feel like that. I’ve gone through a lot of different phases where it’s just a bit of a different game. No matter how much stronger I get, things are still going to be different and hard because of height. You see somebody who’s taller and maybe not as good of a climber, or weaker, just be able to do things and I have to do something so complicated and difficult through it but at the end of the day, if something takes me more tries or even if I just can’t do it, honestly, other people doing it doesn’t actually have anything to do with me.
It’s so mental. I go through a lot of different thought processes and also, you have to allow yourself to be frustrated. Yes, of course you want to think, ‘Okay, I can’t do this. It’s too hard so I’ll get stronger and maybe be able to do it,’ which definitely is the case but also, in the moment, I’ve had to take a step back and be like, ‘It’s okay for me to be angry and frustrated and feel bad about this,’ because otherwise I’m just pushing it down and not really allowing myself to feel frustrated.
Neely Quinn: Right. So will you take a moment at the cliff or the boulder and feel that for a moment? Or is this something that you do on your own?
Marina Inoue: In general I try to have a good attitude as much as I can all of the time. I think faking it till you make it is actually helpful, especially at the cliff. I don’t like to have big sads climbing outside. At the end of the day I’m still lucky, you know, but I definitely will take some time like walk away or just be quiet for a little bit and then try to reflect on it a little bit more later in the day if it hasn’t passed.
Neely Quinn: It’s tough sometimes.
Marina Inoue: It is. It’s frustrating. How tall are you? You’re shorter than I am, I think, right?
Neely Quinn: I’m 5’0”-5’1” with a -1.
Marina Inoue: So you get it. It can be very frustrating for sure.
Neely Quinn: I get it, yes. So we could sit here and talk about how frustrating it is all day [laughs]. I’m sure people love hearing about that. They’re like, ‘Shut up.’
Marina Inoue: ‘We get it. You’re short.’ [laughs]
Neely Quinn: Right, but it seems like you use a positive attitude. Some people would just be like, ‘I’m too short for this. I’m giving up.’ Or, ‘I’m too short for this. Screw this and screw whoever put these bolts like this,’ or whatever but what other kinds of things do you feel have helped you get through this, whether it’s training or just thinking outside of the box and stuff like that?
Marina Inoue: Well sometimes I think it is okay to say, “Screw this route.” I’ve gotten shut down a lot at a lot of places. Two places that I find that I don’t ever get shut down at because of my height are the Red and Rifle, because there’s so many options. But the New and – I went to the Bow Valley this summer, which is still limestone but much less featured than Rifle – I’m in Utah right now, in the Utah Hills, and it’s also less featured. I’ve gotten on a lot of routes that are definitely grades that I’ve climbed before where I just haven’t been able to figure out the boulder problem. I’ll try 3-4 times and if I can’t figure it out, I just move on to the next route.
I find that if I’m getting shut down on a 13a or 12d or 13b or whatever, it doesn’t mean that I can’t climb that grade and I’ll never climb it again. It’s just that that’s not the route for me and that’s okay, I think. Then I’ll get on another route that’s the same difficulty or technically grade-wise speaking, harder, and be able to do it so it’s just a matter of finding something that suits me a little bit more as far as climbing outside goes.
I have spent, in the last year, a lot of time training. I guess two years now. I did not train for the first six years of my climbing career and then I started training a lot and a lot of the things that I did made a huge difference as far as overcoming issues of being on the shorter side.
Neely Quinn: How’s that? What did you do?
Marina Inoue: Besides just doing fingerboarding, which really helped me as far as finger strength goes, I did a lot of movement exercises to help me become a more dynamic climber and more confident being dynamic. I used to only be able to do high foot, lockoff. Maybe I could throw myself at a dyno every once in a while but training my movement really helped me an incredible amount. Now I am confident doing big deadpoints or even just straight up double-clutch, all points off dynos. I’ll be willing to try them nowadays, which I wouldn’t even know where to begin confidence-wise before. I feel a lot more comfortable and that’s opened up a lot of doors for me.
Neely Quinn: How did you train that? Like who did you train with and what kinds of things did you do?
Marina Inoue: I trained with Nate Drolet through the Power Company. I’ve known Nate for a long time. I’ve climbed with him a lot so he knew me quite well as a climber. He had me do stuff warming up like climbing boulders with only one leg, like one boulder with just the left leg and same boulder with just the right leg. That taught me a lot about using my legs. Like pogo-ing, basically, and being able to use them as momentum and use my hips a lot more in a dynamic way. He had me do rooting exercises, which I think are pretty standard for training programs, which helped me a lot with snappy contact and really pushing with my legs.
Neely Quinn: Can you describe a rooting drill?
Marina Inoue: It’s been a while since I’ve done them but really focusing on pushing with your feet and when you grab the next hold, kind of moving dynamically through to the next hold but then maintaining total tension when you grab it so your body doesn’t bow out at all. There’s no loss of tension between your hands and your feet. Then when you do the next move, still continue to focus on pushing with your feet.
When you do rooting with your hands, when you grab the hold you focus on that hand all the way through until you have your next hand on the wall and then you focus on that hand on the hold all the way through.
When you do full body it’s a combination of both, sort of coordination but also just teaching your body how to really follow through. That’s how I perceived it. I don’t know if that’s actually what it does but that’s how it felt for me.
Neely Quinn: And you would do these in the gym on boulders?
Marina Inoue: Yeah, in the gym on boulders. I’ve actually never trained on a rope, ever, because I don’t ever have a really consistent training partner.
Neely Quinn: So you did one-leg bouldering, rooting, anything else?
Marina Inoue: He had me just campusing easy boulders instead of campusing on rungs, although I did some campusing on rungs as well. There’s another one that they do called Sloth Monkeys where you climb one boulder really slow, super static, never cutting your feet and then the same boulder super dynamic, intentionally cutting your feet, jumping and skipping holds and stuff like that.
I think that I did them enough that my body adapted quite a bit and it really did change. I climb so differently now. I’m a much more dynamic climber. My comfort position is still foot at my face, hand at my waist, lockoff, square to the wall but I’m so much more dynamic in general. It’s been incredibly helpful.
Neely Quinn: That’s awesome to hear. We think about these drills as, ‘Yeah, yeah, I get it,’ but to hear that it changed your climbing…
Marina Inoue: It did. It felt so silly at first. I felt so silly in the gym, especially climbing with one leg because it feels like it looks ridiculous, you know? [laughs] But after a while I really noticed it at least widened my abilities, my bag of tricks.
Neely Quinn: For sure. You just have a bigger repertoire. Instead of going into the gym and just bouldering around, you would do these drills.
Marina Inoue: Yeah, I would do these drills as part of my warm up and then depending on what program I was doing at the time, I would do some limit bouldering maybe or some power endurance exercises or some fingerboarding. Then I would have a day of strength conditioning. Shoulders, working on the rings, doing pull-ups or dips or rows or ring flies, stuff like that.
My shoulders have always been kind of an issue for me as far as compression goes. I’m quite bad at it, or I have been historically quite bad at it, so I really wanted to work on that as well.
Neely Quinn: So what helped? Are they better now or are you better now at that?
Marina Inoue: Yes, I think so. As far as compression goes you can’t really cheat it. You can’t just jump or find alternative beta through wide compression but I would say within my literal reach I’ve definitely gotten better. My shoulders are a lot stronger and my core tension is better.
Neely Quinn: And that was from ring work. Anything else?
Marina Inoue: I did a lot of core, a lot of stability core with a ball like doing pikes and pot stirs and stuff sort of like that. I’d never done core work like that before. It was so brutal at first but it really improved, especially, I think, my side body like my lat and oblique area.
Neely Quinn: So you weren’t doing TRX stuff, you were on a ball?
Marina Inoue: Yeah, a ball and gymnastic rings and doing a couple of other things like renegade rows with light weight work. I’ve never actually lifted weights on a bar or anything.
Neely Quinn: Oh, like just some dumbbells here and there or something?
Marina Inoue: Yeah, like a kettlebell here and there.
Neely Quinn: It sounds like living on the road you’re not constantly training, right?
Marina Inoue: No. I will go and work for a month or so and make it so my schedule allows for night gym sessions. I’ll work from maybe 10-5 or 10-6 or something like that and go to the gym from 6:30-8:30/9:00.
Neely Quinn: Then you go climb for a few months and do it again?
Marina Inoue: Basically.
Neely Quinn: So it’s like quarterly you’re training.
Marina Inoue: Usually I’ll do two or three training cycles. For the last couple years that’s what I’ve been doing. This year I’m taking a little bit of a break from it. I got a bit burnt out just working too much and training too much. It left me feeling a little overextended and not that psyched. I trained a lot and worked a lot this spring, too much, and I needed to take a step back.
I went to the Bow Valley for most of the summer and I did do a little bit of training in September, but pretty casual. I hangboarded and did some core, did some shoulders, but when I wasn’t feeling like I was having fun or motivated I just stopped and bouldered.
Now I’m in Utah climbing. I’ll work at the end of November and climb in the gym for a couple weeks but nothing serious before the winter, before December, when I’m going to go to Mexico for a couple months.
Neely Quinn: It’s so cool because even I think that I should be training most of the time and that’s what’s going to get me stronger but it seems like having a more minimal approach to it might be helpful. What do you think about that?
Marina Inoue: I think that if you can spend more time climbing outside rather than training, for me personally, that’s a lot more fulfilling but obviously it’s not realistic for people that have regular lives. If I was living in a city full time and climbing on the weekends and then maybe taking a trip or two a year, I think I’d be training a lot more.
For six years I didn’t train at all. I learned how to climb and was able to climb the things I was doing, which was like 13b and maybe up to V10, just by climbing outside.
Training definitely gets you strong. There’s no doubt about that and I believe in it very much. I think it’s effective and efficient but it doesn’t teach you how to be a better rock climber. I’m still learning how to be a better rock climber all the time, constantly. Sometimes I have to learn the same things over and over outside but for me, climbing outside definitely takes a higher place than training does.
Neely Quinn: When you’re climbing outside all the time do you do certain things that are specific to keeping your strength up? Or are you just always projecting?
Marina Inoue: No, I don’t. I love to project. That’s definitely my favorite way to climb but it’s really important to me to also climb the classics. I think it’s worth it to take the time to climb things that aren’t going to be my hardest routes, otherwise I feel like I’m kind of missing out a little bit. Climbing for me is not just – obviously I love to try my hardest and do things that are at my limit, successfully, but that’s not just what it is for me at all.
I climbed a route the other day that was one of the best routes I’ve ever climbed out here at the Grail. Have you ever done Vesper? Have you ever climbed on that route?
Neely Quinn: No, I’ve never been to the Grail.
Marina Inoue: Oh my god, it’s a 160-foot 12b. You’re supposed to climb it in two pitches but we did it in one pitch. It was one of the best, maybe the best, rock climbs ever. That was all I did that day. I actually haven’t climbed very much for the last week but that was my only climbing day in the last week and it was incredible, like so worth taking the day to go do that one. That was as satisfying and as memorable as any of the hard things that I’ve ever done.
Neely Quinn: I feel like sometimes when you’re climbing for long periods of time and you’re just projecting, it’s such a treat to just go out and do things that you can do first or second try.
Marina Inoue: Such a treat. It’s amazing. I try to not just climb on a project. I made that mistake in the Red last year and I didn’t do the route that I was trying. While I definitely don’t regret having only tried it, in hindsight if I was to get stuck on a route like that I would break the days up. I wouldn’t just go every day to that route, which is what I definitely did. It’s good to learn that kind of stuff.
Neely Quinn: And it’s like that’s where you were at that time and then maybe now you’re not in that space at the moment.
Marina Inoue: Totally. I think variety is good, also for keeping up strength. Climbing on one route you definitely get fit and strong for the route but maybe you’re neglecting other things physically but also mentally.
Neely Quinn: I wonder – you live in, well, maybe you don’t want to say this but you live in your van by yourself, right?
Marina Inoue: I do, yeah.
Neely Quinn: When you’re not working and you’re just climbing every day or every how many days do you get bored?
Marina Inoue: I don’t. I am lucky in the sense that I have so many other things that I can do on my rest days. I’ll paint on my rest days a lot. Sometimes I’ll get commissions to do paintings for people. I’ll spend a lot of time drawing, getting prepared for my next work trip. I like to have all my drawings done, just to be time efficient, because I try to pack in as much work as I can when I do it. That takes a lot of time and effort so I’ll sit and draw. When I don’t have those things to do I’ll read. I love to cook and bake so I’ll spend big chunks of the day trying out new recipes and stuff. [laughs]
Neely Quinn: That sounds so lovely. For me, when we were living on the road I was working all the time and I had to have internet and I had to have my computer. It sounds really lovely to just sit and be quiet in a place that doesn’t even have wifi and just work how you work.
Marina Inoue: It’s nice, especially now. I have an iPad which has changed my drawing situation. I just sit in the van and draw on my iPad and listen to podcasts or music or whatever.
Neely Quinn: That sounds amazing. You’re making me want to change my life. [laughs]
Marina Inoue: [laughs] It’s never too late. You’ve done it before.
Neely Quinn: Another thing I wanted to talk to you about is you have been vulnerable on Instagram several times that I’ve seen, where you’re not having a good day or you’re going through something. You’re more willing to share about that than other people sometimes, including things like body image and how you feel about yourself as a climber or just as a person, like self-worth. I think that these are things that most of us struggle with, we just don’t talk about them publicly. I was wondering if you’d be willing to go into that a little bit.
Marina Inoue: Yeah, definitely. Of course.
Neely Quinn: What are some of the things that you struggle with that you share about?
Marina Inoue: I definitely have body image issues, for sure. I try to be very aware and self-reflective on them and look at them from a logical standpoint but it’s hard as a climber. A lot of emphasis is put on weight and while I don’t personally think that my weight affects my climbing that much – like at my heaviest I’ve been really strong and at my lightest I’ve been really strong; at my heaviest I’ve been really weak, at my lightest I’ve been weak – it’s more about how I feel than what I weigh.
I was really skinny growing up. I maybe weighed 100 pounds and then as I got a little older I weighed 115. Before I started climbing I was pretty out of shape at 130 pounds. Then I started climbing and it was like, ‘Oh okay. I’ve lost body fat but now I feel too muscle-y. My clothes don’t fit me in the same way that they used to and now I’m self conscious about the way that I look in dresses. My legs feel too short and too big and I don’t look like a skinny ballet dancer-type and I never will.’
That definitely created a lot of anxiety around food and how much I was eating and when. It’s something I definitely had to work through. Sometimes I’ll make jokes about it but actually, at the end of the day, it can be quite painful feeling like I’m not skinny enough. I’d like to be skinnier. My logical side knows that it’s so irrelevant and it actually doesn’t matter how I look as long as I feel good, but it still feels like it matters and I still feel like I’m eating too much food or the wrong food.
I do not diet. I do have dietary restrictions as far as my digestion goes but I don’t count my calories and I don’t eat small portions of food. I definitely eat a lot of food but sometimes I feel guilt about it and worry that I’m eating too much, that I’m gaining too much weight. It’s an anxiety that I feel like is obviously not healthy. I have constant guilt about it and not enough to starve myself. I’ve definitely restricted calories to see what would happen and I got skinny and weak and it was terrible but it’s something that’s on my mind a lot that I struggle with. It’s hard.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, it sucks.
Marina Inoue: It sucks. It does.
Neely Quinn: Do you think you’re alone? I hear you. I feel the same way a lot of the time but do you talk to other women who feel similarly?
Marina Inoue: I don’t know that I really have talked to other women, not as candidly as this, but I think a lot of climbers, not just women, in general have anxiety about their body weight and what they’re eating. It’s a constant struggle because everybody wants to be as light as they can but being as nourished as they can.
Actually, Mina Leslie-Wujastyk – I think I’m saying her name properly – she’s so lovely and she wrote a really interesting article about something she’s been struggling with. I read that and I think the conversation is important because it’s really helpful to read other people’s experiences with stuff. Then you don’t feel as crazy. Everybody is so concerned with performance that weight certainly tends to be at the forefront of people’s minds about it.
Neely Quinn: Do you think that you felt like this before you were a climber?
Marina Inoue: Absolutely not. No. Never. I definitely knew right before I started climbing that I was not in good shape but it wasn’t until I started climbing that I was hyper aware of what I looked like and how much I weighed.
I’ve heard people say terrible things about other people’s weight, too, like catty talk like, ‘Oh yeah, when she weighed 25 pounds less she was climbing so much better,’ or, ‘If she lost 15 pounds she’d climb 13c again,’ or, ‘He’s gained so much weight and he’s not…’ All of these people, every single climber is so fit no matter what you weigh or what you look like. Everybody is fit but just hearing that, not necessarily about me, in conversations with other people is just sort of a negative reinforcement.
Neely Quinn: And that’s kind of what I’m realizing, too. I’m trying to take a more objective look at the conversations I hear, the images that I see, the articles that I read, whatever. I’m trying to figure out what created this in me, why I have this ideal image of what a body should look like as a climber, and I do think that what you just were talking about has a lot to do with it.
My close friends, the people that I respect, have had conversations where it’s like, ‘Well, if she weighed less or if she hadn’t gained all that weight then she’d be a good climber.’ Basically making fun of people as people, too, it’s not just as a climber. It’s like if you gain weight you’ve lost control of yourself and you’re no longer respectable. Do you feel like you’ve heard things like that and that that’s been internalized at all?
Marina Inoue: I definitely have heard things like that. I’ve felt that way myself. My weight fluctuates. I can weigh anywhere from 118-128 at any given point in time and when I weigh more I think, ‘God. You’re out of shape. You need to watch what you’re eating. You’re eating too many sweets,’ which admittedly I do have a serious problem with sugar. A serious sugar addiction. [laughs] Not even a funny joke. It’s something that I definitely struggle with.
And then you hear people talking about when people are really skinny. It’s hard to win, you know? ‘Oh yeah, they’re so skinny. Of course they’re climbing well. She has an eating disorder,’ like discounting their abilities due to having low weight.
Neely Quinn: I feel like I hear that more about women than I hear it about men. I don’t know why but that’s kind of how I feel about it.
Marina Inoue: I think just societally, women’s bodies are always talked about and picked apart. It trickles down to the climbing community for sure.
Neely Quinn: It’s so crazy, too, because rationally you’re like, ‘I know that when I have lost weight due to calorie restriction I felt bad and I didn’t feel strong.’
Marina Inoue: Yes. I felt bad. Really bad.
Neely Quinn: So you have this motivation to be thinner and not eat as much but then you have this definite motivation to not do that so you’re stuck and that’s where the anxiety comes from.
Marina Inoue: I don’t even necessarily want to be thinner. I don’t need to lose weight. I don’t want to eat less but I’m also just constantly concerned with it which is just a weird stalemate. I know that I can’t restrict my food intake so I don’t restrict it. I try to not eat an entire sleeve of Oreos or whatever but sometimes I do and then I feel bad about it but I think I have a pretty balanced, healthy diet. I’m just constantly thinking about it all of the time.
Neely Quinn: Constantly thinking about wanting to eat?
Marina Inoue: No, like constantly thinking about how my clothes feel on my body, like if something feels tight. If I’ve been working and training a lot I won’t be in the same shape as I am if I’m sport climbing all day everyday and hiking into the crag. Then I’m conscious of that or conscious of making sure that I’m not bingeing on sugar. Then, if I do binge on sugar I feel really bad about it, like worse than I probably should since I don’t do it that much anymore. Just constant anxiety about food without actually changing anything about it. I don’t not eat and I don’t eat too much but I’m always thinking about it.
Neely Quinn: It sounds really painful.
Marina Inoue: It is. It’s a weird place to be.
Neely Quinn: I really don’t think that you’re alone. I think that a lot of people feel this way. I guess we can just sit here and describe how we feel but also I think it’s an opportunity for it to be a PSA. What do we do about this? What do you think can be changed from the inside so it doesn’t so much permeate our thoughts everyday?
Marina Inoue: I don’t know. I think it’s a lot of personal work, taking the time to appreciate your body for what it can do, especially as athletes. We push so hard. Climbing is such a physically extreme sport. We’re asking our bodies to grab these tiny holds and lift over 100 pounds and stand on these small things or contort into these relatively unnatural positions and do move after move. It’s pretty incredible what your body can do as a climber. Just take the time to appreciate that.
I have to take a step back a lot, especially when I’m feeling tired or feeling heavy or feeling frustrated, to change my perspective a little bit. Food and weight and the way I look has nothing to do with how other people perceive me. It has nothing to do with how hard I’m climbing or if other people think that I look a certain way. I oftentimes just try to remove myself from the situation and look around at where I am and what I’m doing and what my life is like and appreciate it and take the time to switch my viewpoint a little bit when I’m feeling extra weird.
Neely Quinn: Do you think that there’s anything that others could do differently around you or when they’re in conversations about this kind of thing? What changes would you like to see in our community, if any?
Marina Inoue: I don’t know. I just think everybody should just try to do better. I’ve got to say that I’ve definitely made jokes and commented on other people’s appearances, commented on my own appearance being self-deprecating, or on other people’s performances. I’m not exempt from bad behavior but taking myself out of it and realizing how I feel about it and how – I don’t know. That kind of stuff is just important to think about what you’re saying, you know?
It is just an issue. I think body image is big for climbers in general. It can be hard. I’m not sure what needs to change. I’m not sure that I have the answer for that. I think people just need to be kind to themselves and others, I guess, as much as they can be. Everybody makes mistakes or says weird stuff or acts in weird ways but I try to remove myself a little bit from it – from my own behavior, I mean – and look at it analytically and sort of learn from my own mistakes.
Neely Quinn: Well I appreciate you being so vulnerable. It’s something that I’ve been working on a lot this year, too, just trying to accept myself as I am.
Marina Inoue: It’s so hard.
Neely Quinn: It is. It’s super hard and even with the help of my therapist, basically what I want from this world is respect and acceptance, and I think most of us do. I’m trying to get it from outside of me. If I can tell myself those things and really mean them, like in a really vulnerable way, that’s when I can come back to my center and tell myself that I’m loved and I’m good enough and I’m respectable, I’m a good person, and I will be loved no matter how I look, etcetera, etcetera. Also realizing that when I feel the worst about my body is when I’m feeling out of control about something else in my life.
Marina Inoue: Totally, like projecting.
Neely Quinn: Or like trying to take control of something that I can take control of, which we think is our bodies, which is not so easy to do, actually, [laughs] instead of dealing with this family thing that I don’t have any control over. Things like that. I think it’s just good to start this conversation and be really honest in a public way like this. It’s hard. It’s hard admitting these things about ourselves so thank you.
Marina Inoue: It is hard and it feels embarrassing. Also, sometimes people are like, ‘But you look fine,’ and it’s not about that. It’s not even about that. For me it’s just having the anxiety in general.
Neely Quinn: When we are talking about this, you and I, my inclination is to be like, ‘Marina, you’re gorgeous.’
Marina Inoue: I would say the same to you, completely!
Neely Quinn: But I know that’s not going to fix it for you so it’s like why even bother? Those are the kinds of things where it’s hard to know what to say to each other to help build each other up. It doesn’t matter what I think, it matters what you think, so how can we help get each other there?
Marina Inoue: I think just talking openly about it with people who can relate is helpful. I think having a therapist is such a great thing but as far as talking to each other, starting the conversation is nice because it feels like you have support of people who understand you and you don’t feel so crazy, so isolated, and so alone.
At the end of the day I think most climbers know that these are irrational anxieties. You can feel like a lunatic being so anxious or obsessed with body image and weight and food. To know that you’re not alone feels really nice. To know that you’re not alone in having these anxieties makes you feel less crazy but somebody else can’t fix it for you. I think you have to be, or I at least have to be, super self-aware and really reflective about not just this but life in general. In regards to this I think I’m probably the only person that can alleviate these sorts of issues. I’m the only person that can change it and knowing that is actually sort of empowering. You think you can’t do things or you can’t change things or things can’t be different all the time but it’s not really the case. It’s just figuring out a way to be able to work it out. It just takes time and patience, I think.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, a lifetime of time and patience.
Marina Inoue: That’s okay, though.
Neely Quinn: It’s fine. We have the time and I think that the better we get at loving ourselves, the more that it impacts every other area of our lives. I know since working on this I have become a better climber because I can accept my progress more instead of feeling like a failure all of the time. Not all of the time but a lot of the time.
I think that those were all the questions I had for you about the struggles that you have and the things that you’ve been public about. Is there anything else that you wanted to mention?
Marina Inoue: I don’t know. I don’t think so. Well, I will say one thing just in response to what you just said about feeling like a failure. I think one of my favorite things about being a climber is that it teaches you how to be a failure and how to actually glean lessons and successes from constant failure. That’s one of my favorite things about it.
Neely Quinn: I think that’s very quotable.
Marina Inoue: [laughs] The success is nice, too, when it comes but it’s so infrequent that failure is one of the biggest strengths that you gain from climbing.
Neely Quinn: Totally. One of the biggest strengths that you gain from any sport or endeavor that you take seriously because you’re always going to fail, whether it’s chess or gymnastics or rock climbing. It’s true.
Marina Inoue: It builds tenacity, which is so worthy.
Neely Quinn: So now what? You’re in Utah for a little bit and then you go to Mexico?
Marina Inoue: Yeah. I’m in Utah till the 18th and then I go and work in Richmond for a couple weeks and then I’m going to El Salto for December and January. I’m very excited. I’ve never been and I can’t wait.
Neely Quinn: Well have so much fun. Thank you so much for sharing your life with us today. I really appreciate it.
Marina Inoue: Thank you.
Neely Quinn: Take care. I’ll talk to you soon.
Alright, thanks for listening to that interview with Marina Inoue. You can find her on Instagram @marina_inaway. I just want to thank her for her vulnerability and her honesty about a topic that’s tough to talk about. I know that I struggle with these issues and I know that a lot of people do and I think that bringing these things out into the open and talking about them can be really healing, so hopefully this conversation that we had will spark other conversations with you.
Moving along, I have a lot coming up on the podcast and I’m not sure who I’m going to have next week. It’s either going to be Mercedes Pollmeier or Brad Hilbert. I’m not really sure yet. I have a lot of recordings in my cache ready to be published so you can look forward to having an episode probably every week for the next month or so.
If you ever need any help with your climbing training you can find tons of resources on trainingbeta.com. We have subscription services for boulderers and for route climbers, we have ebooks for people who want to do power endurance or endurance or finger strength, and then we have online training with Matt Pincus and nutrition consulting with myself.
You can find all that at trainingbeta.com and you can follow us on Instagram or Facebook @trainingbeta. We have a Facebook group all about training for climbing. You can find that at trainingbeta.com/community and that link will take you directly over to Facebook.
Thanks so much for listening all the way to the end. I hope you have a really fantastic Thanksgiving if you celebrate. I’m going to be with my husband’s family and they live in the same town as we do which is really convenient. I love Thanksgiving. I’m going to eat so much food, which is perfect because I’m on a rest week so I just get to sit around, eat food, make food, watch TV, it’s glorious. I think we all need a break sometimes so enjoy and thanks again. I’ll talk to you soon.