Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Cogitating Comp Climbing

As I cram in training sessions in preparation for my second world cup bouldering appearance less than 1 week away, I ask myself again, why am I trying to match myself with the monkeys of a younger generation? OK, at 33 I'm not totally old, but I'm likely to be one of the oldest in the comp. The age gap became all more apparant this year at the ABS nationals where I felt like the mean age was probably hovering just above 20. 

Still these comps appeal to me for the challenge they present both physically and mentally. I love the fact that you have to tap into your full potential while at the same time keeping a level head and making smart, quick decisions. In the past, competitions were often just about tossing your body from one sloper to the next like a ragdoll bouncing up a straight forward problem. However, recently the setting style has moved in a more technical, cerebral  direction, especially the European world cup style. Of course there's still going to be one or two thuggy problems to weed out the weak (myself most likely included). But to succeed in these comps, you have to be creative and open to a wide variety of potential sequences. This is probably what appeals to me most and keeps me coming back to these events. 

2012 ABS Nationals, Semifinals, problem #3 (I actually stuck this swing!)

Over my 2 or 3 years of competing in these sorts of high end comps, I've been constantly trying to improve my ability to read sequences and make good decisions while on the wall and in between attempts. An important part of building this skill is acquiring lots of experience with a wide range of comp problems set by many different route setters. However, there is a lot to be learned in the absense of pure experience. Because of this style of competition, where you get 5 minutes to inspect and climb a problem you've never seen before, I've started imposing these rules when I'm at the gym or even at an outdoor bouldering area. I'll walk up to a problem I've never seen before and try to read it as quickly as possible. Then I'll throw myself at it trying to optimize rests between attempts, continually brainstorming different possible sequences, and formulating a plan for the next attempt with built contingencies for when the plan doesn't work out. It's kind of a fun game to play. I also build this skill by watching videos of past world cup comps on the IFSC website. Mostly these videos get me psyched for a training session, but they also give me greater exposure to the extensive library of moves that can be created on artificial walls.

2012 ABS Nationals, Semifinals, problem #2

Ultimately, when it comes to comp day, I'll have to bring this knowledge to the table and mix it with as much power as I can muster up. However, there's another element that is perhaps even more important: confidence. To completely succeed, you need to walk up to every problem with the unwavering belief that you will top the problem on your first attempt with ease. Confidence is tricky though because it's a sort of chicken and egg thing -- you need to perform well to gain confidence, but you need confidence to perform well. I belief it's confidence and intelligence that separates the top world cup competitors from the rest of the pack. I see this for example in Kilian Fischhuber who won last year's Vail world cup (where I made my world cup debut finishing in 29th place). Kilian doesn't strike me as the strongest competitor out there, but he's smart, decisive and super confident and that's what consistently gets him onto the podium. At 28, he's also one of the older competitors in the field which gives me some hope, though I still have 5 years on him... and he doesn't have a 1 year old son.

Check out the video here of me climbing in the semi-finals at the ABS Nationals this February. Also, wish me luck!


  1. Good luck Matt! Represent for us 'older' guys :)

  2. Wait a few years and you can join the veterans division with me :)