I like puzzles. Logic puzzles, crossword puzzles, 2000 piece jigsaw puzzles… But most especially, climbing puzzles… Bouldering has always intrigued and stimulated me because of the difficulties of solving these puzzles. It seems impossible, to promising, to doable. It’s like working on a physical puzzle between only you and the rock.
Then there are competitions. They too are a puzzle. I find them interesting as well; to the point that I haven’t been on rock much because I want to get better at figuring out this puzzle. But it isn’t so much the physical side that confuses me. Nowadays I can read a route accurately almost 90% of the time. Physically, I am training smarter than before. The confusing part is the mental game. It’s stupid hard.
The Squamish Bouldering Co-op.
Thanks for supporting the members of the Canadian National Bouldering Team!
I thought I had it solved earlier this month after attending the BC Bouldering Provincials at the Edge climbing gym. It took failing on the first two problems in finals and some rush of emotion to get it out of me. Walking back into iso I sat down in a fury and screamed inside my head. Why why why??? Why do I hesitate? Why do I second guess? Why didn’t I freaking go for it like the others do? This intense infliction stirred something inside of me. I was tired of failing. I wanted to do better. I knew I could do better. Realigning my focus with that energy of wanting to do the next problem, I turned inward and upon arriving at the problem, I read it, walked up to it, and climbed it. Just like that. No doubts, no hesitation, no falls. And although I fell off the last move of the next problem, I climbed it well, with focus and no doubt. I was elated with having broken what felt like a downward spiral trap of when it goes bad, it continues to go bad. The spell was broken. I could do this. I can do this. I did do it. And so… happy with the break though and the fact that I only trained two weeks for this comp, I walked away feeling more confident for the Nationals which were coming up in a month and a half. Plenty of time to prepare…
And so, between the various gyms in Vancouver and the Squamish Co-op, I followed religiously the training program Steve Maish ad made for me. I climbed, trained, lifted weights, did mock comps, weighted best bouldering, finger hangs, core, hell, I even did one day of cross fit. Through his guidance I managed to avoid all the small tweaks and injuries that have plagued me in previous years. By the end of it I felt healthy and my training numbers had increased so apparently I was stronger. I even quit sugar and caffeine for the last two months and ate to just 80% full like the Japanese. My obsessive personality poured into books on mental psych and performance. I downloaded countless guided mediations and visualizations pertaining to sport and practiced mindfulness meditation daily. I told myself I was ready. The little pieces of post it notes plastered over my computer told me I was ready. Positivity gets results one says. By the time the day came around, I start feeling like I could actually do it.
Then it came and happened in what seemed like a flash. Nationals, here, and now, gone. Things… did not go so well… If time machines existed I would gladly jump in one and rewind a few days to the moment right before qualifications. I would align my head space with the mentality I had at the Edge. I would try and remind myself of what my own sticky notes told me. I am ready. I am relaxed. I am calm. But it was a lie. I was not calm, relaxed or ready. My warm up was too short. As I was packing my bag I was being hustled to go out front while behind me my belongings fell to the floor. My bib number wasn’t yet on. Everything was moving too fast.
Thanks for the support Dan Poggi and Climb Base 5!
Despite some mistakes I qualified into semis. I was rather psyched because even though it was small, I did the dyno! I made a rookie mistake and misread the beginning of problem four thinking the taped volume wasn’t in. I walked around and felt the holds, staring in wonder of how the I was gonna match my feet or hell, even pull on onto the wall. After trying what seemed like the impossible, I eventually asked the judge and my v12 project suddenly changed to a v4 volume problem. Phew!!
Semis were a little different. Warm up was better and my bags were packed in time before heading beyond the black tarp towards the lights, music and people. The gym itself felt warm and stuffy. The other competitors looked serious and flushed. Suddenly it was happening. My thoughts remained positive but there was a deep feeling of fear growing in side of me. My mouth felt dry despite having drunken plenty of water. I glanced at Stacy Weldon standing next to me. She had her eyes closed and arms up in bear pose. Considering the wealth of experience Stacey has in comps I guessed she had it figured out so I decided to copy her. The five minutes of waiting time passed quickly and before I knew it I was running towards my first problem through a zig zag mash of climbers who were coming and going.
Problem one was straight ahead of me. Even as I write this I feel my brow rising, my hearts palpitations speeding up slowly, my tips sweating. If I had taken a moment to breath perhaps I would have been more aware of where my mental state was going. The start of the problem confused me at first. I faced my back to the crowd and tried the impossible. Changing beta, I turned around and faced the crowd. The glaring lights and staring faces freaked me out. I got just before the top and tried to put my heel up but with my unusually greasy skin, I just popped off. The whole dry mouth, sweaty tips thing was freaking me out and the idea of focusing back on my breath went out the window. I was a deer in headlights.
Thank you Aidas Odonelis for the photo
To avoid a replay of each and every problem, it basically went like this… a stressed Thomasina steps up, gets on the wall, hesitates, climbs to top, hesitates some more, gets distracted some and falls off at the last move without finishing. Four bonuses in five tries; falling off every last move, ending in 14th place. No finals and maybe, no qualification for the World Cups. It was over. I was devastated. I sat in the back corner trying to hide my tears smashing my head with questions like how could I have been so stupid? How could I have been so prepared and yet, unprepared? Why did I mess up? What was I thinking..? Why was I thinking?! Bruce Lee doesn’t think. He’s like water. Like water my friend. Like freaking water…
I wanted to quit. I decided I lacked the right mindset for comps. I couldn’t take it anymore. I was climbing to ‘not fall off’ instead of ‘climbing to top’. The setting was really good with no big shut down moves like last year. My fighting spirit just wasn’t strong enough. My mind was too heavy. I thought I had it figured in Vancouver but apparently not. Talking about it later with a friend who watched me, he said he didn’t understand why I didn’t top anything. He thought perhaps I have some unfinished emotional business which interfered with my performance. Another described me as "going up full strength and confidence to clash on a fogging cloud". All that mental training did no help.
I left the gym in minus 12 degree temps and walked to the metro crying. Somehow I got lost. So, there I was, wandering Montreal in the cold winter after a devastating competition, crying and freezing cold. I didn’t care. I would just walk and keep walking until I found a metro. I was hungry but I refused to eat. It was like that for now. I just didn’t care.
Thank you Aidas Odonelis for the photo
The next day I woke early and went to the gym. I finished all four semi-final problems with much more ease thanks to a few breathes. It was somewhat gratifying yet frustrating at the same time. How could I have messed these up? Why didn’t I just breathe and calm down? Why did I question myself and hesitate? Again the frustration set in of not being able to do it. You know: the puzzle; the mental game. It was too hard. I have been trying for the last three years to figure it out and it hasn’t happened. I just blew a very important competition that I had invested so much in. It seemed the more prepared I was, the worse I did. I questioned if it was worth it anymore; was it even any fun at this point. It remained a poor play of some sort of sadistic enjoyment. I know I am just as good a climber as the girls who made finals; but when it comes to the mental game, clearly not so much. They are there, in the zone, ready to bleed for it, fighting, taking chances... The mental game is like a complex puzzle and I was missing the most important piece.
I decided I would quit. It was fine. I missed the rocks anyway. Rocks. Climbing. Sore skin. Crash pads. Dirt. Fresh air. Friends. The road. Good old clean fun. Fuck it I said. I’m done.
Then I met Lyma. Lyma is this pretty little brunette who I met in 2012 at the Climber’s Rock competition. It was the first comp I had done in years and I got second to her. She knew what she was doing. I didn’t. I just showed up with no training fresh off the boat. If I had won that comp I don’t know if I would have kept at it. It would have been too easy. Although losing can suck, it pointed out my weaknesses. It showed me that I had a few things to improve on. It gave me a new challenge.
I told Lyma about the comp. I showed her the text I wrote stating that I was quitting. She leaned in closer, listening attentively; her brown eyes becoming bigger and clearer. Her black eyeliner and mascara became more and more in focus. She swore at me to not quit. She threatened me with trouble if I should post that. Then came her why; her story. She too had the same problem with competing. She’d try and try and fail over and over until one day, something clicked. Just like that. Like a switch. Easy. Simple. She told herself, ‘climb like no one is watching’. It worked. From that day on, she had focus and the Zen master power in competitions. She started to win and if she didn’t, she knew she honestly gave her best with freedom. Competition became fun again.
Thank you Aidas Odonelis for the photo
Oh, how envious I was. Like a switch I asked? Yes, like a switch she replied. Jason Holowich said the same thing but in different words.Unfortunately he mentioned that it can take a long time to find this switch, and finding it in the dark isn't easy. He said, guaranteed, the competitors who make finals at big events have been doing it for years. They have grown up competing on youth teams and are now adults. They already found their way, be it a word, a physical cue, some sort of shamanic summoning…
For myself I obviously haven’t quite figured it out. At an event like Nationals, as much as I don’t want to, I buckle. So what’s the trick? Not care, relax and have fun? But I do care. I care a lot. I understand relaxing is super important but it’s so hard to do especially after investing so much time, effort and money. And despite what it seems, I am having fun, but for sure, it’s a weird kind fun. And in a way, I like the stress and intense emotion. Unfortunately, I just happened to screw up my response to it this time round.
Despite saying that I want to quit, the ironic thing is, the worse I ‘fail’, the more I feel this thing inside of me burning for another go. Jason advised if you are not enjoying it at all, quit. But if there is a part of you that does enjoy, no matter how small, keep trucking. Let the experience come with a blind faith that the missing piece of this intricate puzzle will eventually reveal itself. Everyone tells me it will come, and so, I guess I’ll continue because they wouldn’t lie now would they?
Thanks for reading.
PS. Besides the results i send props to BlocShop and the setting crew for setting some really good problems. This has by far been the best Nationals ever, even if i missed out on finals and a few tops..!
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