Last weekend was the ABS junior nationals which I'm sure was a great show and the weekend before last I was down in Colorado Springs competing in the adult bouldering nationals. This year's field was probably the strongest yet with many seasoned veterans and a host of super-strong graduates of the ABS junior program. Each year the junior events get more and more competitive and the kids coming out of these are mutants. It's cool to see the progression of competition climbing, especially with the looming possibility of joining the olympics, but it makes my job harder and harder each year I decide to compete again.
I probably trained more this year than any past year and it payed off. I finished with my best final result yet and I broke the top ten with my qualifiers result. It's funny, though, for me training is just climbing on plastic as much as my body can handle. Although I'd like to campus and push myself more with supplementary training, it has always led to injury for me. I've found that the best course is for me to climb as many new gym problems as possible, often forcing myself to read them quickly, and train myself to be used to the rapid pace of climbing required in these comps. When you're climbing outdoors, you generally rest at least 5-15 minutes between serious burns (except for quick beta-figuring-out attempts). In the comps, however, you have only 4-5 minutes per problem to get it done and only 4-5 minutes of rest between problems. The pump loads up in your forearms quickly.
In the qualifiers, I climbed the first three problems fairly efficiently flashing each one. Even still, I was quite pumped after the long, steep third problem. I came out to the fourth with intensity, but I think I was lacking a bit of confidence that can be so necessary at times. I got to a hard move on the problem, I faltered. I know I was capable of doing the move and in fact I did it on my third try, but I didn't have that absolute belief in my ability when I was staring down the hold on my flash go. This is the mental aspect of comp climbing that is so essential and separates the best of the best from the rest. I was a bit disappointed that I flubbed the move twice. By the time I stuck the crux move, I was running out of time and was too tired to crank the finishing move. Still I had a good high point and was confident in my performance going into the final qualifiers problem.
The 5th problem was a slab which generally suits my style of climbing. That said, indoor slabs are quite different than what you encounter on real rock. Generally, when the route setters make these slab problems, they use the slopiest holds they can find for hands and feet. In contrast, outdoor rock tends to be more edgy in nature. Nevertheless, the technique for both requires balance, finesse and good use of your feet. On my first two burns, I didn't trust my feet enough and they popped both times. Often, your feet stick better if you apply more pressure (i.e., trust them fully) than if you just put them lightly on the holds and try to hold most of your weight with your arms. With just a little time left, I was able to sneak through the sequence and top out the 5th problem for a 9th place finish.
Going into semifinals I was confident though slightly nervous and a bit shakey. This didn't help me on the first slab problem where I shook myself off before I could grab the second finishing hold. It didn't help me either that there wasn't a single less-than-vertical wall in the warm-up area to get used to standing on foot holds. The next two problems were challenging for me, but I was happy with my ability to stick the holds I did (of course thinking back I wish I could have done better). The final problem suited my style well and I managed to flash it. All in all, I made some mistakes in this round that I shouldn't have but I was happy with my end result which was a solid 14th place.
The worst part about these comps is that you can't go back and try the problems again. They are up for a moment in time and then gone forever. As I think back through the comp and go over some footage of myself climbing, I just keep feeling the desire to try the problems again and correct my mistakes. One of the things I love about these comps is how aesthetic the problems are. Generally they are striking singular lines and the moves are really fun and interesting. This makes for a great climbing experience; too bad it's so ephemeral. Talking about aesthetics, I think the route setters took things a bit too far this year. I really appreciate the improvements in route setting over the last 5 years... especially the use of volumes. That said, I think the attempt to make many problems appear symmetric is misdirected. Climbing is not about symmetry and these problems just aren't as fun to climb because the problem is held back by a silly constraint. Additionally, I don't think they are as good for the viewers because they are confusing (do you climb it with your right hand leading or your left hand leading?) An occasional point of symmetry is interesting and OK, but it was far overdone in this comp. Routesetters, strive to make every move the coolest you can and don't get caught up in trying to make your problem into a system board (otherwise, great job at the comp).
Here is some video footage I edited together from me climbing in the comp. A few problems are missing but this pretty well captures the important (and mentally painful) moments in the comp for me. With a 14th place finish, I should be invited to climb in the Vail world cup again which I think I'll do. That comp is always fun and a great challenge. Perhaps I can even make my goal of qualifying for semis in that event. It'll be tough this year though because I will be traveling a bunch right before the event and will have less time to train.
ABS 2013 Nationals Recap from Matt Wilder on Vimeo.