Friday, 17 October 2014

The ups and the downs

I’ve had a tough one in the last few months. After finishing last year on a high with a 5th place in the Norway EYC, I was psyched for this year. I was in the first year of A in Norway, and had a great final. Granted the field was small, but I beat people who had previously been beating me, and I came away psyched. Even the one bouldering European I competed in, Laval, was good, where I came 14th. At the time I was frustrated, and went away to train bouldering for the winter, so came into this year stronger and more ready to compete in the higher level.

The first chance to test this new strength was the second round of the Junior BBCs, but unfortunately, I was taking a US university entrance exam on that day so had to miss it, so the first national comp for me was the Senior BBCs. I went in with absolutely no expectations, almost hoping to miss out on semis so I could go on the grit the next day, but I had one of my best sessions of my life, where I topped 4 of the 5 qualifying problems and made my first senior semi-final in 10th place. This was a great boost for me, and had the problems been more to my style the next day I could realistically have made a final. I came away psyched, but concerned about some lack of strength still, so upped the number of training sessions with my coach, Mikey Cleverdon, hoping it would give me more focus in my sessions.

Doing my best Jan impression in the senior BLCCs

In July, I went to the first bouldering EYC of the year in France full of confidence, honestly believing I could make a final if I climbed well and the problems suited me somewhat. This competition marked the beginning of the worst week of competition in my whole 5 years of climbing.

France was a competition of power and squeezing, and it seemed to pick out my weaknesses on the first 2 moves of every problem. I topped the 2 sympathy problems and picked up a popular bonus, but I was absolutely shut down.

I came 39th (if I remember right, I don’t really want to check), 4th from last. I wasn’t entirely sure how to react. I’d never really finished in the lower half of a European, never mind in the bottom 5, so this wasn’t a failure I’d had to deal with. This wasn’t just missing a final, or being beaten by a rival, it was total, complete and utter failure and embarrassment in front of the best climbers in Europe as well as my friends in the team. I went for a little walk after that one.

It was ok though, I was to return to London to compete in the final round of the JBBCs that weekend. I had a realistic chance of making the overall podium if I won, despite missing a round. The blinkers were on, and I felt good in the warm up. Then, I’m not entirely sure what happened, but I didn’t top 3 of the harder problems, and was out of the final. There are many excuses I could use: the BMC rules mean just 3 attempts at a problem, one of them had a crux move with my weakest hold type or I was just having a bad day – but the fact is even on a bad day I should be making national finals, and I hadn’t missed out one for 4 years.

I was devastated. I said about 3 words to anyone for days, barely left my room and the one time I attempted to train I did about 4 problems before I couldn’t be bothered to try and left. I lost motivation for 2 weeks, climbed once with Jim in London, getting burnt off on every problem and really didn’t want to go to the wall.  I had a session with Mikey, he knew I wasn’t psyched so we just had some fun, tried some problems and campussed some stuff with the rest of the guys there. I was being burnt off, but I was having fun on the wall for the first time in weeks.

Then it was off to L├Ągenfeld, Austria for the second bouldering event of the year. This was far, far better, and I actually came away with a result I was happy with, inside of the top 20 and with multiple flashes. It was progress! With only a few weeks to go until the worlds it was back to training hard on a rope, but I was given the opportunity to attend the European Bouldering Championships in Arco, which I went for, taking the risk that it could detract from my worlds training.

Getting wet at the UK's first DWS competition at The Quay

I went in with minimal expectations, knowing it couldn’t get much worse than the first, so jumped straight onto the slabs! I knew I was good at them, and as 3 problems (2 slabs and a jump start) crossed over each other the queue was 3 times longer for each climb, but as I was the only one in the queue for each of the slabs I was getting attempts every 3 people, so I could crack them quickly and move on. I ended up doing one slab second go, and another third, which turned out to be the one only one other climber topped! I was in good shape, so moved across to the corner climb, which I cracked on my third go after some funky foot above head beta to get around my lack of shoulder strength. I moved over to the “easy” problem next, but this was part of the crossover so the queue was huge, but I flashed it after a wait and knew I was in good shape.




Bearing down on slabs, courtesy of thecircuitclimbingmedia


The round was one of the hardest I had competed in, with few getting more than 2 tops, and I had 4! I was ready to retire and save my strength, without even trying 3 of the problems, but decided to give one of the steep ones a go. I was called off twice for touching my foot on the wall before the starting foot, but after a shout to the team management the jury president was called and the attempts were reimbursed. I ended up pulling my way through using a high heel, screaming my way to the undercut top. I knew I had secured my first bouldering final, and I was ecstatic! I didn’t even try the last 2 problems, and ended up qualifying for the final in 2nd, my best result in Europe, even on an individual route! Although I ended up 6th in a tough final, I was happy to make it, and the result doesn’t show how close I was on some of the problems!#

The team: thecircuitclimbingmedia


When I returned home from Italy it was 3 days of school and hard training before heading off on the mammoth journey to New Caledonia for the World Youth Leach Championships. This was the climax of the year, and a special event for me as I had the hopes of the hundred people who pledged to get me there, to whom I am extremely grateful. The flights themselves took 21 hours, but with transfers in Finland and Japan, as well as getting to and from the airport it was more like 34! I’ve never been travelling for that long before, but felt some lucky sleeping times and good films made it a rather pleasant experience. We arrived late, but from what we saw of the island on our way to the apartments it was going to be a good week!


We had travelled out early to account for jet-lag and other problems, and when we arrived in Noumea to find our bags had not made it onto our rushed connection in Helsinki we were glad of the buffer! All we had to do was survive a couple of days with just an airline provided t-shirt and we’d be fine! As a result, the first couple of days were mainly spent chilling out and relaxing on the beach, but when they arrived we could access the full potential of the island!

The first thing we did was get the Beastmaker, hung it off a tree and had a training session, it’d been so long since we’d climbed and it felt good! We then used the pool, throwing coins in and racing to collect as many as possible. Over the next few days, we visited the wall, had a boulder session and (my highlight of the whole trip) went snorkelling. Snorkelling in an ocean I had never swam in a half of the world I had never stepped foot in was absolutely incredible, and seeing masses of multicoloured coral, lots of unbelievable fish and I even got the opportunity to swim with a wild sea turtle which I spotted, which defined the whole trip for me.

View from the apartment

Alas, the fun was over and the bigger fun was just beginning! The opening ceremony was interesting, but did drag on a bit in the way these things do. I also attended my first technical meeting, something I had been badgering to do for the last 3 years. It was everything I dreamed it would be, but there wasn’t enough argument about the rules which was rather a disappointment……

Opening ceremony

This year’s competition was different to all the others previously in that both the qualifiers were on the same day. This didn’t suit me perfectly, but I had to push through regardless. The first route was wonderfully set up high, but was a bit easy before the roof. In the roof though, there was a 360 spin, a bicycle and a huge drop knee! I made it through it all, only to pump out on the headwall. It was good enough, top 26 and in a comfortable position for semis. The next route was late in the evening, so we headed back to the hotel to relax and refuel.

The next route looked my style, technical with lots of crimps and rockovers. I was around 5th last to climb, so had to wait until 10pm until my turn, which was new! There seemed to be a hard “drive-by” move low down, but when I was there it felt fine. I relaxed on the hold, adjusted my foot and went for the long rockover out left. Normally, rockovers are my thing, but this time wasn’t to be. My foot ripped off of the hold and I was off, only a few clips up. I was devastated; convinced I wouldn’t make the semi-final, and went for a little wander…

Somehow, when the results finally came out, I was sitting in 24th (just into the semis, a minor miracle). I was psyched out of my mind to make it, and felt great warming up in isolation the next evening. The good thing of being out early is that you know almost exactly when you’ll be climbing, but if you’re too early you have to go for observation and then sit straight in the chair, which can cool you down too much, but I was lucky enough to be one off the chair so rushed to re-warm with the image of the route in my mind. It began up a vertical wall, until about two thirds height where it steepened out into the horizontal roof, barrelling to the top.

I waited for my turn in the chair, waiting for the two climbers who had qualified below me. Tying in, I walked out to below the wall and re-read. I had read the move into the roof, which looked huge, as an all points off dyno, so was particularly worried about that. The first move was also a bit sketchy, a long move off a horrendous foot. I opted to ignore the foot altogether and give myself no illusions by smearing on the panel, and it ended up being rather easy. The start panel was pretty steady, and I climbed well to the roof. The dyno was in fact not very far at all, and I reached it with extreme ease, resting on the move. I was in the roof, and using a funky combo of heels and toes made it too a big move from a jug, which I dropped. I made 19th place at the worlds, not bad and an improvement on last year, but definitely could have gone better in the end! Next year in Arco is going to be big!!

Off in the semis, courtesy of Nicolas Huet


More recently (and a lot closer to home!!) was the British Lead Climbing Champs. I took part in both the junior and senior events, as they both were in Sheffield over the same weekend. In the juniors, the final route was going well until my feet cut on the lip of the giant AWCC roof while resting, and just throwing them back on pumped me out. I ended up in 4th, not a bad result but definitely potential for better…

On Sunday was the senior competition, and I went in with the goal of making the final. In the qualifiers I had the vertical route as my first, and ended up being the first climber to top, which was nice. With a reasonable second route, on which I got incredibly pumped, I made it into the final in 3rd place! This was my first British senior final, so I was happy with my result already, but came away with an 6th place on one of the harder final routes I have climbed.

After the amazing dyno in the senior BLCC final


Overall, it’s been a year of ups and downs, but the trend has been rising of late! Hopefully this is a good sign for the winter season of training in preparation for the European circuit starting again next spring. I’m currently on a rest period after the year’s training, but am looking forward to returning to the wall soon and getting strong!

Happy Climbing,

Alex