Eight years ago I started my journey into OCR.  I was trained by a retired Marine.  So for the next few years, that’s how I trained myself.  That was all I knew.  At the same time, I was getting back into running again.  I knew very little about that, but I loved it all.  It was extreme.  Unfortunately, I paid the price with injuries.

You want me to fall backward from here?

I tell you this because I observe myself in many of you as I read stories online.  You’re injured, but still training, still signed up for races, still working through the pain.  Last season was my first injury-free season since 2012.  One of the things I did differently was to learn how to run from professional coaches.  The other thing I’m doing right now is focusing on active recovery.  So I went to Tufas Boulder Lounge this weekend to chill out on the walls.

Tuck and roll!

What is Bouldering?

Two of my sons joined me for an afternoon at this massive gym just a mile or so north of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge in Philadelphia on 5th Street.  There’s plenty of free street parking.  The place is like a giant open cave where one entire section of the wall is covered in bouldering problems ranging from V0 to V8.  The rear area has a strength, cardio, and yoga setup.  The other wall has two magnificent programmable walls and a gigantic campus board.  There are ample facilities for everyone including lockers, changing areas, restrooms, and spectator areas.  The vibe is really Zen here with cool music in the background.  The manager was happy that I noticed as he was particularly proud of this style that makes the gym special.  The name Tufas reflects some natural geological protrusions (not stalactites or stalagmites) on rock formations.

Our Instructor Rico met us up front and started us with the basics of problem rating and why we’d start on V0 and most likely not get beyond a V3 unless we were really good.  We weren’t.  Didn’t matter.

Learning the V system from Rico

Then he taught us how to fall so we wouldn’t get hurt.  We fell a lot, we didn’t get hurt– the mats are eighteen inches thick.  Finally, he taught us how to read the route description cards.  Then it was onto the walls.  This is where I learned my first real physical bouldering lesson. My boys and I love to boulder when we go on vacation.  Turns out I’ve been doing it all wrong for quite some time.  Rico taught us all about efficiency by using our bodies, grips, and gravity.  Until now, I tried to keep all the effort to my upper body.  That explains why, in past experience, my arms were totally Popeye’d in about ten minutes.  This new method, putting the work in the lower body, allowed me to climb all afternoon.

Straight arms = efficiency


One by one, Rico had us go up and down the routes.  The first one was all vertical where we learned how to fall.  The second one had a big turn to the right.  Here we learned about gravity, leaning, and following hand position to ensure proper alignment with the wall.  Each route tested our knowledge and skill.  We ended our tutorial on a roof route, only a V2, but still a ton of fun.  My boys could not get to the top.  I had no problem.  That, despite my advanced age, was attributable to my years of skill and experience on OCR obstacles.  All the more reason for my boys to push me and themselves harder to keep trying to best me on the other routes we tried.

“Mud”mastering the V2 roof

As the afternoon progressed, a lot of climbers came and went.  The place was clearly popular and for good reason. They cater to a wide capability range of climbers.  Novices like me can start here using a Groupon for a very reasonable price.  That included a one-hour tutorial, a pair of climbing shoes, and a bag of chalk.  Rico ended up giving as about 90 minutes because we were jamming so well.

Cardio, yoga, and weights included

Memberships are equally enticing.  We were very interested in their current offer of $100 for four weeks of progressive classes to help advance your technique a few ranks on the V-scale.

Programmable routes and campus board

Bouldering is an awesome off-season active recovery option.  After the tutorial and another two hours on our own, my boys and I were totally Popeye’d.  We had a great full-body workout.  My youngest, the real runner in the family, was surprised at how sore his glutes were the next morning.  I shook it off with foam rolling and a four-mile easy run.  Must have been that Marine training. I hope the Philly Spartans make good use of this place.

Share this post!