Summer months can get be infuriating for the avid outdoor climber. It’s hot outside, you’re sick of climbing on plastic, and at about week twelve of being stuck in the gym, you develop a bit of cabin fever.
That was me in the summer of 2019, at which point I decided I needed to spice things up and do something I don’t normally do: a bouldering competition. My decision to do this was driven by a few factors:
- I needed a way to make indoor climbing more exciting
- I wanted a way to simulate a tough day of trying hard outside for an extended period of time.
- I really don’t like competing very much, and I thought it would be a good way to challenge myself mentally.
So if you’re a stuck-up outdoor climber – especially if you’re a sport or trad climber, consider entering a bouldering comp. Here’s a little run-down of how my second comp ever went for me. It might inspire you to try one too.
Pulling the Trigger
This all started when I saw the poster for this all-girls bouldering competition plastered in the stairwell of my local gym. I was excited that the ladies of climbing were getting their very own stage for a competition and excited to get to check out what the most hard-ass climber girls of New York City were made of. After all, Ashima started here.
Yet part of me was mortified at the thought of another bouldering comp. Summarily, my emotions surrounding this were the kind of nausea-stoke that usually results in me deciding that this is the perfect kind of discomfort and that I absolutely needed to do it.
A week later, I had garnered the support of my friends Steph and Liz and we were off to be the hardened competitors that we weren’t.
There were a few categories in the Iron Maiden competition: Masters (40+), Citizen – broken into beginner, intermediate and advanaced, then there is the Open category. In the open category, if you place top 8, you get to go into the finals in the evening. They set up new boulders, you go into isolation, there’s an audience – the whole 9. Which is really cool.
In my head, V0 up through V6/V7 makes you a beginner/intermediate climber. So I assumed that I’d be in the Citizen’s intermediate category and that was fine by me.
Additionally, to keep the competition organized and not overcrowded, there were three sessions of 25 competitors – “heats” if you will. It was great and there was plenty of room.
Each of the boulders was allocated a certain number of points. You were scored by your top 5 routes. You also were asked to record the number of attempts it took to complete the boulders.
I was not sure what I was getting into, but wow the setting was extremely fun. I discovered that I actually love balancey competition slab. And these were my highest scoring boulders.
However, I was super close to bagging this sexy roof problem and frankly I probably spent a majority of the comp working on It because it was so fun (also it was worth a lot of points).
Overall, the setting was challenging, interesting at many levels of difficulty, and there was a wonderful variety of problems.
Ladies Supporting Ladies
For me, the magic of this comp was seeing some really strong ladies crush. And even better was the fact that once we were in the swing of competing, the atmosphere shifted from competitive to collaborative. After the first hour, the sharing of beta and the cheering on of total strangers was in full swing. No matter if someone just topped your boulder, when someone topped something tough, they were greeted by strangers at the bottom with a fist bump or a high five from a fellow competitor.
I was especially proud to be a female climber that day.
The Mental Games
In Arno Ilgner’s famous book The Rock Warrior’s Way he cites an interesting exercise called “Foreign Affairs”. He recommends that you “put yourself in a climbing situation that you normally avoid or have never considered.” He goes on to instruct that you should “see if you react–by becoming frustrated, angry or blaming something such as weak forearms. These type of reactions indicate unconsciousness”. This exercise was the driving force behind me entering this competition and the results were compelling.
For the first two hours of the comp, I was exceptionally nervous and my own negative self-talk was rampant. It’s one thing to see someone top something that you’ve thrown yourself at 10 times already. It’s another thing to be competing against that person. Between that and the photographer that silent giggled at me eating shit over and over again, I felt like hot garbage. My ego was about as wounded as it could be – which I fully recognize is what I was afraid of.
At about the 90 minute mark I was seriously asking myself why I’d signed up for this thing.
Going Down Swinging
Then at the two hour mark I decided that I definitely was not going to do well in this. I threw strategy out the window and did the boulders that looked fun. The last hour was a blur, but it was also where I did my best climbing. My ego out of the way, I focused on climbing and not how much I thought I was sucking.
For reference, I spent about 90 minutes of the comp working on 3500 and 3600. More than 10 attempts each, probably. I didn’t get either of them. Failure reel below.
Then, in the literal last 15 minutes, I put up 3000 and 3200. At the buzzer I had one hand on the finish of 3300 and fell moving my second hand up – that was my second try on the route.
Needless to say, when I stopped letting my ego run the show and started caring about the process of climbing, my performance skyrocketed.
My experiment in making myself very uncomfortable was very telling and was overall a great success.
The Surprising Outcome
Remember when I started this competition? I didn’t even consider signing myself up for the advanced category; the Advanced and Open categories were untouchable to me. I had no aspirations of competing at that level.
The results were posted a couple of days after the competition.
Not only did I somehow qualify for the advanced category, I wasn’t so far off from the top finishers. My average score per route was about 2500. To place in the advanced category, I need to up that to about 3000, and qualifying for open required an average difficulty of around 3300. If I can get my head together an get a little stronger, I’ll have a better shot next year.
Either way, I ended up way better than I expected.
To the Bar and Onto the Next
Assuming there was no way that any of us placed, Liz, Steph and I headed out into the New York heat. We left the gym starving and ready for a beer. Fortunately as we wondered through Brooklyn, we waltzed into a Biergarten full of street art and burgers. We were by far the chalkiest, greasiest people there. But the friendly hipsters of Brooklyn didn’t seem to mind.
I am glad to have competed. Even though I was a mental blob for most of the comp, getting to experience the shift in performance with a shift in mindset was extremely interesting. It’s plenty of fodder to dissect for future performance climbing days and I’m glad I got to observe myself in that environment.
I plan to keep working to improve – who knows. Maybe I’ll actually set some real bouldering goals in the next year on top of the usual sport climbing objectives. This competition has left me inspired and hungry for more.
Thanks to everyone who put together the Iron Maiden competition! It was a great event and it was awesome to get to climb with such strong ladies!
Here’s a cool video they made out of this year’s event if you want to check it out! Would highly recommend to all my ladies out East!
Have you competed in a comp before? Do you like it or do you hate it? What do you do to get yourself out of your comfort zone? Leave a comment or shoot me a note at email@example.com! I’m here to support you getting out of your comfort zone!
**please note that there is an affiliate link in the Above for The Rock Warrior’s Way. It’s a great book and I would highly recommend it. Affiliate links help keep Senderellstory.com in existence and ad-free!