It’s easy to hate competitions. When you don’t do as well as you wanted especially when it’s because of the routes somehow. If they are too steep, too long, holds are greasy, not your style, etc. It’s much harder to learn from competitions than to be disappointed in yourself.
When I came down from my attempt on the 2nd qualifier I wasn’t feeling that great. Two of the setters Brett Johnston and Jeremy Hardin both said I had done better than a lot of the people who had gone before me. I didn’t believe them one bit at that moment, but I thanked them anyways. Over my years competing I’ve seen this happen to a lot of people including me. I’ve seen it make people stop competing altogether because of it. For me this is where I have to learn something, the why of what went wrong, so I can fix it or at the very least work on it for next time. I’ve been doing route competitions for 6 years now and they still find things to teach me, sometimes the same things over and over again until I understand…
In years past I have pushed aside some of the reasons why I failed at a comp and clumped it in with inexperience. I don’t believe in that anymore, for reasons I’ll try to explain later. This year the reasons why I didn’t do better became very clear very quickly. 1) I’m nowhere near as good at pinches and slopers as I am with crimps. 2) I have okay “rhythm” but bad “tempo” 3) When I’m on a route I don’t use my body positioning as well as I should and 4) choice of shoes matter.
1) For everything that I’ve ever read about training has always told me to work my weaknesses. Even as a coach I try to do the same for the kids and adults I’ve taught. But for myself I’ve never really tried to train on pinches and slopers more than remedial proficiency. The more I think about this the more I remember that all the V10’s I’ve done in Joe’s Valley are all crimp problems. you might say that all the V10’s I’ve done in Joe’s are crimpy because that’s the style there, but it extends all the other forms climbing I do, the majority of the routes/boulders are crimpy. This gives me another reason for redoing the system wall upstairs at spire; so I can train on more slopers and pinches. My hope is that the next time I do a major competition I don’t get horribly pumped from all the repeated pinches that happened to be the hold type of choice for this years SCS Open Nationals.
2) My Coach Aaron Hjelt taught me the concept of rhythm while climbing a few years ago when I first got to Bozeman. I really like the theory and the practice of climbing with good rhythm, especially on steep routes and onsighting at your limit. The theory as it was presented to me is that there are easy sections and hard sections to all routes. You should therefore try to climb fast through the easy sections and slower through the hard sections. This enables you to keep your strength for the hard sections. At SCS Nationals I found I could blast through some parts but slow through a tough part and then get stuck in that pace even through some easier sections that followed (particularly during finals which I believe was a major factor in my fall not quite half way through the route). This gave me the idea of both Tempo and Rhythm. Your climbing “tempo” I believe is your ability to keep a relatively constant pace throughout an entire route while you are moving. Whereas your climbing “rhythm” is your ability to change from climbing fast to slow or resting, how each move flows into the next.
My reasoning for this is that in the first traverse transitioning around a corner on a Teknik ‘Fat Sloper’ I slowed way down and started getting more pumped than I wanted to be for the down-climb at the 4th bolt. My inability to punch through this section, wasting precious time building lactic acid in my forearms, made the down-climb moves that much harder for me to hold onto and subsequently I fell. I would say that this is a failure of both my tempo and rhythm. First in my tempo I was considerably slower climbing after the transition on the sloper than I was before. And in my rhythm I was unable to keep the rhythm and move quickly through the transition.
3) A very simple observation of everyone that moved past my highpoint on qualifier number 1 was that I used a heel hook to move out to the teknik ‘Pinchtite’ used a toe down move to pull their hips over to reach farther with an easier move. I tackle routes and boulder problems differently and I need to combine the two to improve my onsighting.
4) During the competition, in isolation, and the day after the comp I noticed that I good edging shoe would work wonders for the thin sloping feet that movement tends to use for all their footholds. I’ve seen this before back in New Hampshire at Vertical Dreams where they use small ‘crisp’ footholds like those found in Pawtuckaway and Rumney due to the granite and schist. But never before have I run into this in a competition. Where most people could choise any type of shoe and it wouldn’t matter (downturned, edging, smearing, etc.). On the final I was having difficulty with some of the small footholds with my Evolv Tallons that I like for bouldering, steeps, and sensitive smearing on nothings.
I need to thank DJAJ (my coach), George and Josh (friends from Spokane) for talking to me about how I did because they helped me see the errors I made much more clearly than I would have without them. Aaron in particular really helped me regain my confidence after the qualifying round, and was nice enough to let me ride along down to Boulder with him.
After all was said and done I’m very glad that I competed again this year and with how I placed 12th out of 33. It was my first time making it to finals in this event and also my first time climbing under a spotlight. It reminded me why I love high level competitions too. I like getting to climb handcrafted routes just for you, but I also feel that my climbing improves the most when I compete. After trying to onsight three 13+/14- routes over the past few days the 5.10 jug hauls in the gym feel that much easier today.
I guess that leads me to my last conclusion about competition climbing and my validation of the place I gained. I have only ever redpointed 13b outside. Yet, I can compete with people who have onsighted this grade and still somehow best them inside at a comp. The following statement is unconfirmed but with relative assurance I can say that everyone who placed above me has climbed 5.14 and some have climbed hard 5.14 and 5.15. The hardest thing I have ever tried is a 13d. So I find it interesting that without the experience on hard routes and hard moves I can do so well against people who have been doing these things for years in some cases. You might say it’s because I know the holds, while this may be true many of the Teknik holds I have never used before this comp. The setters try to use holds most people have never used before to remove this prejudice. The only reason I can think of that makes any sense to me is that I try my hardest every time I climb, and/or that I make few mistakes when climbing (since a few people slipped off the chalk caked teknik holds at the end of the qualifier round). The only other option is that I have learned how competitions work so that I can do much better than my ability level would suggest. I have had this thought for a few years and I always wonder, what makes someone better at competition climbing than other people of the same or higher ability level (redpoint level)?
This competition pretty much wraps up the competition season for me. I going to compete in the annual Spring Fling at Spire Climbing Center next week to uphold my title of Champion for the third year in a row. After that the next climbing festival competition I’ve decided to attend isn’t until august. So what to do now? I need to focus on school a little bit more, but after I finish and the good spring/summer weather finally starts in Bozeman I’m not sure what I’m going to set for my next goal. Repeating the harder routes in the area, putting up new routes/boulder problems, or working on my gear climbing in the canyon again. I haven’t decided yet, Most of it will hinge on how my shoulder recovers and when I finish PT. It’s a huge weight lifted off my shoulders now that SCS Open Nationals is over but I don’t regret it at all, I’m excited to see how I’ll do next year!
The Male results can be found Here, and the Female results Here. A play-by-play of how finals went can be found Here. And a nice write-up of the finalists can be found at the Spot setting blog Here (I like being the unknown guy) 🙂
Thanks for taking the time to read my rant.