ABOVE: Savannah tries for another attempt on tricky Problem Number 10.
by Savannah Cummins
Oh the nerves! Let me tell you…..
The day I signed up for the comp, I couldn’t sleep. It was a month away. I wanted more time to train yet I wanted every day to be THE day at the same time!
“USA Climbing, American Bouldering Series, Nationals” – I said it out loud when I was alone, I said it in my head everywhere else, over and over. For 30 solid days, “The Comp” was all I thought about, all I talked about, all I dreamed about, and all I wanted.
But I didn't want to succeed solely for myself. I saw the competition as more of a testament to everyone who had invested in me and my climbing career thus far. I wanted to make something of those investments.
I’d been told the routes in my Jackson home gym are sandbagged, but I didn’t believe it until the day I flew to Colorado Springs for the ABS. I can flash most v3’s in my home gym, project v4’s, have yet to complete a v5 and here I was at the ABS venue, flashing v4s no sweat! I even got on a v6, which I have never attempted at home.
I was shocked, but motivated - the nerves dropped, “I got this, I can do this.”
Comp Day. I’m watching the pro qualifiers, then semi-finals. My hands were dripping sweat and the crowd was full – I couldn’t believe the pressure these climbers were under.
This is what I wanted. To compete in the qualifiers one day, then semi’s, then finals. To learn how to handle the pressure, play to my strengths, overcome my weaknesses in the heat of the moment. To win, yes, but to inspire drive.
I’m inspecting at all the routes in my league now, visualizing the moves, waving my hands around, memorizing sequences.
Problem Number 10. I can’t figure it out. Slopers. I hate slopers! And no feet! Confusing start. My hands are dripping sweat.
The announcer, “You may begin climbing!”
I warm up on an easy problem. Then I start moving around to the problems I need to climb, flash …. flash …. flash. Only your top 5 problems count and I’m eyeing routes 6,7,8,9 and ….10.
I climb 6,7,8, close to falling on one, but I keep it together. I start problem 9 and fall. I didn’t read the problem or watch anyone else climb it first. Rookie mistake.
I sit back and watch a few others climb it, nab the beta, and try again. Another fall.
Rest … Try again…. Fall. Now I’m pumped.
So I leave and try number 10, this time watching someone attempt it before me. Again though, rookie mistake - I should of watched someone flash it or complete it before I my attempt. I fall on the second to last move.
We had 3 hours to complete 5 routes. In all of the competitions I watched obsessively online prior to entering one for myself, completing a route meant getting both hands on the last hold, and looking stable, not just slapping the top. Yet here completing a route required topping out, which was new to me. This threw me off a bit and psyched me out, but after the first climb I was able to calm down and realized it wasn’t that different than what I had always done, just one more step and the added pride of feeling as though you truly conquered the problem.
A bouldering comp is different than nearly any sporting comp I’d experienced. There is drastically less luck involved than in almost every other form sporting event. Unlike ski racing or gymnastics meets, where a single tiny mistake can topple even the most favored competitor, the strongest climber, both physically and mentally, will almost always place well in a bouldering comp, even if they blow a move here and there. Climbers have only themselves to compete with.
There is no ill will between competitors, if someone climbs better than you it is neither good nor bad luck, it is simply the fact that you have more training and more work to do.
I’ve competed before, on beam, in gymnastics, which has the same core concept; don’t fall. At first the anxiety and the nerves felt similar, but here we cheered for each other on and helped each other out, and I began to understand that all the climbers were competing far more for themselves than against the other competitors.
This eased my nerves, and made the whole experience feel natural and enjoyable.
Judging consisted of witnesses who signed your scorecard, either you flashed it or they tallied how many falls you took. Luckily I had no falls on the routes I completed.
Three hours later, I finished the comp not knowing where I would place, so I was happily surprised with second.
I learned valuable lessons. Be humble, stay patient and stay calm. Ultimately it’s not physical strength that determines your result, but mental strength - your headspace. Success comes from your ability to think clearly both before you start a climb and while you’re on the wall, and from your ability to apply technique where strength may fail you.
It was motivating to realize how much farther I can, and will, take my climbing career, and to realize that I am my only opponent on that journey.
Savannah Cummins a Mountain Athlete Lab Rat completing this spring’s Sport-Specific Bouldering training cycle.
Click this link and scroll to the bottom for Archived Q&As: http://www.mountainathlete.com/page.php?page_ID=18