I started out planning my training program for the US Sport Nationals by taking stock on where I thought I was today and determining what I could focus on to be ready for the competition with the time I have to prepare. I know my fitness is good and being free of major injuries, I need to decide where to start. Some reflections on past training and competitions was necessary for me to understand this.
There are many places where I am weak and it’s impossible to work on them all at once. In fact, some of the things that stand out about competitions that are completely opposite to why I say I climb are the crowds (in isolation and in the audience), high profile nature of being in the spotlight climbing, high pressure (climbing on demand), structured (climbing within constraints), contrived (interpreting problems based on the setters intentions), intense (trying not to compare myself or be intimidated by anyone) and every bit like gym climbing (it’s plastic). I call it out, but not as a bad thing. I liken competition as its own sport and with that in mind, I have to learn to approach it differently from the outdoors and further find a way to be competitive at it. I’m not known to enjoy climbing at cliffs with huge crowds and prefer the more isolated locations with fewer people and more nature to enjoy. I know I’m a sport climber, but the less the outdoors feel like a gym, for me, the better.
I started competing regularly in winter 2005/6, forced into the Open category, which turned out to be a blessing. I had no real competition experience before that. I did a couple local comps in the years before, back when the boulder walls had top ropes on them and high ball bouldering simply was called soloing. I remember back in 2003 when I was travelling to San Francisco on a business trip. I heard there was a local competition in Sacramento and thought it would be fun to drive out and participate.
It was a USAC sanctioned event where I got to compete along side Hans Florine. I drove out there for the day, didn’t know anyone, and was psyched to have met this legend. One of the problems in the competition had a trick to it (the competition was a red-point format) and I happened to be there when it was unlocked. This one problem boosted my overall score that put me at the top of the Advanced category (not significantly outscoring the 2nd place person), which was the category I signed up under; except, for some reason, the judges decided to bump me to Open and I ended up coming in last.
Disheartened by the result, it was the first of many lessons I would learn about myself and competition climbing. It’s easy to get wrapped up in results as a reflection of your capability and ability. This is a notion not easily curbed but necessary to come to terms with. There’s a dark place you can find yourself, if you get caught up in this idea, otherwise.
Since I prefer climbing outdoors, and since I never grew up climbing in a gym (there was no climbing gym in my region when I started climbing), it took me awhile to understand how to use the gym to enhance my outdoor potential. It also took me awhile to separate that climbing on plastic in competitions does not correlate to how I will climb outdoors. For this reason, it is helpful to remind myself that competition is its own sport.
The number one thing I learned in order to be competitive at this sport, is that you need to train in its element, meaning, in the gym and on plastic. No matter how much you climb outside, without that indoor base, you can’t anticipate the mind of a routesetter and may miss the intricacies that become part of the route. The more time I spent training in the gym, the better I was at reading routes and understanding sequences and tricks. I missed many (sequences and tricks) during my competition bouldering time and I know that this is still a weakness of mine. But, I’m getting better because I am focusing on it.
It’s true what they say: outdoor climbing does not correlate to indoor climbing, but indoor climbing does translate to outdoor climbing.
Therefore, the first part of my training plan was to decide to 1) stay put (no travel), 2) climb in the gym (prioritize over outdoor climbing), 3) work on my weaknesses (see future posts), and 4) have confidence in my strengths.
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