Before I started freerunning I hadn't realised how much of the challenge was going to turn out to be mental rather than physical. A lot has been said and written on the subject, and me being me I probably watched or read most of it before I ever jumped over a wall, but apparently I hadn't really understood it.
On Sunday I suddenly felt this aspect of freerunning slot into place for me, and it was fascinating, and exciting, so I'm going to ramble about it now. :)
I was out with Supa XXL, jumping around near Caledonian Road. Unusually, we went back to a spot that we'd been at last week, a children's playground on a council estate.
Last week I tried my first rail jump here. I didn't break my leg or anything, but it certainly wasn't a resounding success - I landed on the rail with a lot of forward momentum and had to jump very swiftly down to the floor in front of it, trying not to bounce my face off a wall as I did so. It was a bit scary, and I didn't try it again :)
So of course, this week I carefully ignored that jump, and instead wandered around doing some balancing (very easy on these flat rails) and some other stuff that I'd done the week before - like this post->step jump, which is far enough to feel like quite a nice achievement without being so far as to be terrifying.
While I was doing this jump for the third time, I remembered that last week I'd had to be talked into it. I was scared of all the angled hard surfaces around the landing spot - fall short and run your shins down a big brick step, land with too much forward momentum and run your shins into a different big brick step - I looked at it from the floor and decided not to try it. Someone noticed me looking at it and talked me into trying the jump the other way, down from the step to floor level beside the post, to prove to me that the distance was okay, and after I'd tried that a few times I got up on the post. People made more encouraging noises, I jumped, and it was fine. After that I did it a few more times (there's a general rule of thumb that you can't really say you've done a jump unless you can do it three times in a row), and it was actually easy - all my landings were pretty much spot on.
So I remembered all this, and I remembered the rail jump, and I remembered how impressed I'd been by Helen's determined attitude at this spot the week before (her first freerunning outing, and she tried loads of stuff) - and I went back over to look at the rail jump.
Someone else was looking at it too. He looked about as unconvinced as me :) We both stood there looking at it, sat there looking at it, and walked around it looking at it from other angles. Every now and then we got out of the way while other people came bounding through, making jumps twice the size of the one we were nervously contemplating, and landing them as lightly as butterflies. Bloody ninjas ;)
Eventually, with Helen's good example still in mind, I started trying the jump. I must have tried it 40 or 50 times in a row, bouncing back off the rail every time. Last week's near-head-first incident had left me very reluctant to commit to the jump, unsurprisingly. The other guy took a few stabs at his variation of the jump too, but mostly it was just me going round and round and round, failing in the same way every time.
The other guy was really encouraging - he could see how close I was to getting it, even if I couldn't - and slowly we picked up other spectators who also gave me tips and encouragement. Finally, after dozens of jumps, I got brave enough to take one higher, and come down on top of the rail instead of bouncing off of the front of it. I didn't stick the landing that time, but I knew I'd figured it out, and a few more tries later, I was landing on it safely.
That was when I got a little surprise from my hindbrain. There's another rail beyond the first one, so in theory there's a nice little double jump from wall to rail to rail. As soon as I started landing the first rail reliably, my eyes fell on the second one and a very very confident voice in my head said 'yes'. I wasn't convinced :) but I went around a few more times, and each time all the bits of my brain that evolved for swinging around in trees or whatever knew, absolutely knew that I could make the second jump. The top level of my brain meanwhile was making a lot of noise about how solid metal railings and walls are and how much it would hurt to fall on/off/over them.
Which all sounds very convincing, but not quite as convincing as the absolute certainty that my hindbrain was giving me, each time it quietly said 'yes'. So eventually, I jumped, and then jumped again. And I landed it just fine.
I went around a few more times, and never had the slightest problem with that jump. After a while my head stopped saying 'yes' each time I landed the first one, apparently I didn't need telling any more.
We went to a few more spots that day. The last one had a staircase, a rail, and a wall with a big fence on top of it. Bigger gaps, round rail, constrained landing zone. Initially I was just trying the stairs->rail jump, and not doing very well - but I remembered the earlier success that perseverance had won me, so I didn't stop trying and I was landing securely on that rail much sooner than I expected. And then that quiet confident voice came back. As I landed on the railing, my eyes swung up to the wall on the other side of the gap and the voice said 'yes'. And it was right.