Thursday, 19 February 2015

Youth Boulder Nationals

Hello again! Two posts in two weeks? Pretty crazy. This is another long one, and it gets a little sappy. You have been warned.

Well, the first ever Canadian Youth Bouldering Championships came and went last weekend, and it was quite an experience. It was hosted by Climbers Rock in Burlington, and it was one of the most professionally run and organized competitions I've ever been in. All of the volunteers, judges, and scorekeepers worked together with clockwork precision, despite Canada never having hosted an event like this in the past. They definitely established a standard to aspire to.

Qualifiers ran on Saturday, and with 176 athletes ranging from 12-18; it was a pretty big day. The youngest categories climbed first (with ISO opening at 7am), so I had the entire day to chill out and relax before my first climb at 5:30. Surprisingly, nerves were pretty low which I wasn't complaining about too much. Minutes took hours to trickle by, but finally it was time to get into my warm up routine. The ISO area was as perfect as it could possibly be, with plenty of wall space and virtually every angle. My nerves were slightly higher than they had been that morning, but I still felt pretty relaxed. Finally it was time to climb. I knew the first problem went, given that the person who was supposed to be climbing was back in his chair resting, but I didn't focus on it much. I told myself just to go out and crush some boulders, just like I'd been doing all year. The first problem looked pretty cool and pretty tricky, with one distinct crux halfway through. After the first minute, I wasn't able to find a perfect sequence, so I decided to just get on and see what happened. Fortunately, the holds were all pretty good, so I was able to just bear down a bit and get the flash. Back in the chair, all nerves were gone. I was psyched to pull hard.

Qualifier Number One! Photo: Shane Murdoch

The second problem looked substantially more difficult, but quite powerful and my style. The finish move involved a blind throw to a sloper over the lip, and I almost stuck it on my flash go but I missed most of the hold and couldn't quite reel in the swing. After resting for a couple minutes, I got back on and finished problem two off. The third problem looked like the most technical one (it was slopers and crimps on an almost vertical wall) but it climbed pretty simply, and then the third problem was flashed. The fourth problem looked really awesome; big, powerful pinch moves up an overhang. As it turned out, the problem revolved around a mediocre toe-hook, something that I have been working on but still really struggle with. After a few hard goes, I had to walk away from the problem without even getting bonus. As it turns out, only one person got bonus (who also flashed all the qualifiers) so getting shut down there didn't really affect my score. The fifth problem was steep and powerful, and I managed to flash it.

After qualifiers, I was sitting pretty in second place. After the scores rolled in, it turned out that you actually only needed to send one problem to get into semis. One thing that was clear to me, though, was that our category was incredibly deep. I couldn't pick any athlete in semis who didn't deserve a spot in finals, so I knew I would have to bring it during semis if I wanted to make it through. Again, I had the entire day to relax before I climbed in semis that evening. I was pretty nervous, as semifinals is where I usually screw up my competitions, but I was optimistic about my chances given the fact that I felt like I had an average day the day before. I got into the mindset of "just don't mess up too badly and then you'll be through". That was my first mistake, as it went against everything that I try and do mentally for competitions.

Last move of Qualifier 2. Photo: Shane Murdoch

Funnily enough, due to a couple minor delays, I ended up climbing at the exact time as I had the day before. As I sat in the chair prior to my first climb, I focussed on listening to the crowd, trying to figure out which problems were getting sent. I was pretty sure that the climber before me flashed the first problem, so arrogantly I assumed I would flash it as well. Without taking all the time I usually do to sequence it, I hopped on the wall. I got to the last couple moves, but I just stopped using my head and messed up the sequence, and I was back on the ground. My second attempt was sloppy at best, and I failed to replicate my high-point. Instead of focussing on what I needed to do, I saw another climber send number two. My third go, fortunately, was more successful. I got the sequence up top right, and I sent it with 30 seconds to spare. I was actually pretty tired after that first problem. In between the first and second problems, I was a bit too serious. I do the best when I have fun in competitions, but instead I was fixated on sending the next problem. The second problem looked hard. All the slopers looked pretty terrible, as did the body positions. I brushed the whole thing, and went to give it a go. I dry fired off the start holds. Obviously that's frustrating for anyone, but usually I'm good at putting that behind me and getting stoked about getting back on. I didn't really even try to bounce back from that mentally; I allowed myself to stay mad when I got back on. Then I fell off the finish hold. I gave it two more goes, both of them okay. I was pissed, and just wanted to send it. All I did was tire myself out really badly.

After my five minutes of rest (which felt way too short) I stepped out to the third problem. I was doing slightly better mentally than on the second, but I put a lot of pressure on myself to get this one done. It was a pretty easy few opening moves into a double-dyno to slopers, then a couple hard finish moves. I really struggled with the dyno. I felt like it was easy, but I just couldn't stick it. After a few goes I finally held the swing, and prepared myself for the top. I thought I had found really good beta with a heel hook. It felt solid, but as soon as I committed to it it popped. No send on third problem, and at this point I was pissed and really tired. Sitting in the chair before the fourth, I knew someone had flashed it. I was also pretty sure that I needed to send it in order to make finals. I actually managed to let go of my frustration, and get ready to go crush this next problem. That thing was one long, mean boulder. I was psyched though, and I needed to make my flash go count. I flashed to bonus, but powered out right at the crux on a pinch that just felt terrible. My forearms were sapped, but I needed that send. I was gonna have to dig deep to get it done. I went into pure desperation mode, climbing as fast as I could. I returned to my high point, but this time found a sweet spot on the seemingly unusable pinch. I gave it everything I had, but I just didn't have enough.

I was positive I wouldn't be through. Someone told me they thought I was around 9th or 10th, so close to finals. I went back into the now empty ISO, and couldn't believe what had happened. I messed up hard. Despite all my physical and mental preparation I had done in the month leading up to the comp hadn't been enough. I was still too weak mentally. I changed into my regular clothes, and went back out to the comp wall. I made sure I didn't take my anger out on anyone else, even though I was seething inside. After a while, preliminary results came up online and they had me seated in 8th. I was sure it was a glitch, and was just waiting for them to get updated and bump me out. After so many nationals of things not going my way, I didn't even allow myself to hope. But then the head scorekeeper came up to me and told me it was final, that I was through in 8th. Relief was pretty much all I felt, and even now I don't know what I would have done if I hadn't made it through. So now it was back into comp mode: I had been given another chance, and I couldn't let it go to waste.

I woke up on finals day after a fairly restless night. Usually I don't get bad comp anxiety, but I certainly had my fair share that day. I went and forced down some breakfast, and tried to distract myself from what the day would bring. Mid morning came around, and it was time to head off to ISO. I knew that in order to succeed in finals, I just had to go out and crush some problems like I know how. I had to focus exclusively on my performance on each individual problem, and not worry about anyone else or what they were doing. I felt quite good during my warm-up, but I could tell the previous couple days of competition had worn me out a bit. I would have to make each attempt count, have fun and leave everything I had out there.

As the timer started the round, I turned to the first problem. I was feeling super stoked and ready to go, almost care-free. It looked fairly long and powerful, but also my style. Mentally, I felt a lot clearer and quicker than I had the day before, and quickly decided on my sequence. I stepped onto the wall, ready to squeeze with everything I had, and found myself at the finish with a flash. I figured most of the other finalists would flash it as well, but I quickly put that out of my mind and allowed myself just to feel psyched that I was back in form. After a nice long rest, I began my second round. The next boulder looked really thin and hard, with very bad holds. Again, I was able to make quick work of my sequence, and without hesitating I pulled onto the start. The first few moves went easily, but then I found myself in front of a clear crux. I played around with my hands for a second trying to get into a better position, but to no avail. I would just have to try hard. The next three moves felt at my absolute limit. I was squeezing harder than I thought I could, and found myself sizing up the finish move. I told myself wasn't going to fall, and I guess that worked. With the second one flashed, I got even more psyched given how hard I had to try to get it done.

After another beautifully long rest, I found myself in front of a long, steep, intimidating, and beautiful boulder. I don't think I've seen a problem more my style, and I found my sequence immediately. I hopped on the start hold with a smile on my face. The first few moves felt really good, and I flashed to bonus. I set up for the next move, and knew it would be pretty intense. I went for it, and just stuck. Two more moves gave me my third flash. At that point, I was more psyched than I have been in a long long time, and I think I ended up making that pretty obvious. I only had one more problem, and then it would be all over.

The last boulder looked like a walk after the first move. Simple movement on big holds, once you stuck the dyno off the ground. I was a bit too hasty, and unfortunately wasted a few attempts on the first move. Once I stuck it, I cruised to the top, and just like that I was done.

Topping the fourth finals problem. Photo: Shane Murdoch

After talking to a few people in the crowd, I found out that no one else had done problem number two, other than the top two qualifying athletes who hadn't gotten to it yet, which meant that I was guaranteed a spot on the podium. The second place qualifier, Tristan, struggled with the second problem, and just when I thought it was over for him he secured the finish with 6 seconds left on the clock. Things were gonna get interesting. The first place qualifier, Sam, fell on his first go but topped on his second go. Sam proceeded to flash the next two, and took the well deserved win after being the only person to top all problems from the weekend. Tristan took a couple falls on the next two boulders but got them both done, so I ended up ahead on attempts to top.

Junior Men Podium. Photo: Shane Murdoch

The next while was a blur of talking to friends, coaches, and competitors, and I was just buzzing. We went back to the hotel for the awards ceremony, and it was incredible to see so many of the people I've come to know so well over the past few years reaching their goals and dreams, much like I was. More than anything, however, I was proud of the way that I pushed through the headspace issues I was experiencing throughout the event and performed at my best. Making the national team was just icing on the cake for me.

While this comp marks the end of the youth bouldering competition season, it does not mark the end of anything else. My training isn't stopping, and neither has my passion, ambition, or dedication to the sport. This is a huge accomplishment and milestone for me, but more than anything I think it's just another step towards me developing as a competitor and athlete.

The first Canadian Youth Bouldering National Team ever! Photo: Shane Murdoch

There are too many people to thank for helping me. Friends who have seemingly unlimited faith in me but keep me humbled, a Coach who never stops pushing me, and parents who have endless reserves of support for my own ambitions. You know who you are. Cheesey, I know, but I had to put it out there.

On that note, I'm hopping on a plane tomorrow off to Open Bouldering Provincials in Saskatoon! I'm psyched to see if I can replicate the feeling Nationals gave me. I'll make sure that I keep updating the blog as well as I can! If you're still reading, thanks for suffering through my rambling, you're awesome.

Goodbye for now!

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