Archive for the ‘Climbing’ Category

Performance Anxiety and Competition

Sunday, December 13th, 2009

[Ed: too many words and not enough pictures in this post. I’ll try to improve that in future.]

Yesterday I competed in the Dark Horse Bouldering Series at MetroRock. This was my first climbing competition ever, and really my first competition of any kind in many years (unless you count job interviews).

After the disaster that was the solo performance requirement during my brief stint as a music composition major in college, I really worked to avoid anything that involved people watching me. Co-workers at Amazon may recall shaky, stuttering presentations – even when the only audience was my own team, who were friends I spent all my time with.

I’m not sure where my performance anxiety started, but I remember when I was a high school intern where my Dad worked, I would watch him give talks in front of hundreds of people. He seemed so relaxed and confident and capable up there. I was waiting for the point when I would be like that. I wondered when the transition would happen, when I would suddenly no longer be nervous to have people paying attention to me. Of course, the magic transition never happened, and at some point it became apparent that I might have to actually work to overcome my insecurities. Well, that didn’t sound very appealing, so I avoided anything that involved attention being placed on me. Sometimes I’d use my performance anxiety as an excuse to try to get someone else to take over (this didn’t usually work, as it turns out not many people are actually enthusiastic about public speaking).

My panic about these things usually starts weeks in advance. I think I managed to avoid some of the panic build-up in this case since I really only considered doing the bouldering comp about a week before it started, when – flush from my recent NaNoWriMo success – I blogged that I was going to do it. Now, blogging about something you’re working on will have one of two effects. If it’s something vague with no timeline, your brain will equate the talking about it with the doing of it, and you won’t do it. If it’s something short-term and well-defined, the people you tell will ask you about it and the motivation to not have to say “I gave up,” will push you through.

I’ve tried to take both angles on this in various parts of my life. I have big open-ended projects, and I’ve started to be more close-mouthed about them – not through any attempt at secrecy, but just to avoid sabotaging myself. And I’ve become more public about things like NaNoWriMo and the bouldering comp, which I would have kept to myself previously, so I wouldn’t be too embarrassed if I fell short. The next step is to come up with more definite small steps within the open-ended projects, so I can be public about those steps in order to be motivated to complete them.

In both NaNoWriMo and the bouldering comp, there were various points at which I would have given up had I not told anyone of my plans. With the bouldering comp, I even avoided registering until I showed up at the gym in the morning – convinced I would find some excuse not to compete by then. It was only through the support and encouragement of people I told that I managed to stay in the game.

The bouldering competition didn’t exactly have a ton of public performance (at least not the part I did – the dyno comp and pro competitors are another story), but for each problem you climbed, you needed to get two other competitors to sign off that you completed it. So you not only needed to make sure a couple people were watching, but afterward have to ask them, “did you see me climb that?” without seeming self-congratulatory about climbing one of the easiest problems in the gym. That was kind of hard for me. Thankfully, everyone there was super-nice, and after my first three sends my anxiety about the whole thing was more-or-less gone (although it was more and more difficult to not sound self-congratulatory as I started climbing harder routes).

The way the competition works is like this: there are about 70 problems, each has a point value (from 25 to 1160) that relates to its difficulty (for the climbers out there, divide by 100 to get the Vermin grade – so from V0 to V11). You get unlimited attempts on each problem, and your 5 hardest problems get added up for your total score. There are some common strategies – since you only need five sends in the four hour competition, that’s one every 48 minutes, so take your time and work the problems (taking a few falls) so you can pull out some hard sends by the end. Some people really follow this, and head into the last thirty minutes with only four sends on their scorecard. I, on the other hand, had fifteen by that point. Dark Horse Series scorecard That is not bragging – it’s the result of not having any idea how I was going to perform. While I’ve been climbing a ton, I hadn’t been on a bouldering wall in four months and there’s definitely a different skill set than with roped climbing. So I started with the easy problems, and quickly realized I had underestimated what I should be climbing. I pushed a bit harder, and then a bit harder – it took a while to figure out exactly where my limit was. In the end I had 1910 points with three V3s and two V4s under my belt. All of my final five routes were harder than any bouldering problem I’d done before the competition – apparently roped climbing translates pretty well.

I was ecstatic for the rest of the event. I had far exceeded my expected score of ~700, averaging hard V3 rather than middling V1 – pushing past the performance anxiety that almost prevented me from entering in the first place. I was so excited, it was hard for me to sit still as we watched the dyno comp (I have no idea how some of those moves are possible) and pro finals (MetroRock’s own Francesca Metcalf kicked ass in the women’s final) – thankfully the free pizza and beer helped to quell my overflowing energy. The whole comp was a blast, and it was great to finally talk to a bunch of people whose faces were familiar to me from the gym.

Here’s hoping I’ve started to take some steps toward overcoming the debilitating fear I feel whenever people are watching me do something. I may never have to perform gymnastics with a crowd screaming at me as Francesca does, but hopefully some day I’ll be able to make it through a presentation without hoping that everyone is just staring at my slides while I hide behind the podium. In the meantime, I’m planning to enter MetroRock’s next competition on February 27. And now that I have some sense of my bouldering level, I can start working to bolster it – maybe even set a goal, like: I will climb a V5 at the February comp. Yeah, that sounds good. Let’s go with that.

Frustrated with Climbing Ratings

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

So, as everyone says, it\’s hard to transpose ratings from one climbing area to another. I\’m working on a solution to that, but in the meantime I figured it\’d be good to jot down some relative weightings. There aren\’t too many places I\’ve climbed regularly, but here\’s a simple chart to compare them. If you have climbed at one of these and have additional gyms to add to the comparison, please let me know.

MetrorockVertical WordPlanet Granite
Everett, MASeattle, WASunnyvale, CA

All ratings are relative to the hardest rated gym. EG, if the hardest rated gym (which has rating \”0\”) rates a route a 5.7, a gym rated \”+2\” would likely call that same route a 5.9. Likewise, a 5.10b at the hardest gym would probably be a 5.10c at a gym rated \”+1\”.

Harder, Better, Faster, Higher

Sunday, August 5th, 2007

Today was another great day of climbing, with us doing 27 routes in 2 hours and 15 minutes. Which somehow is exactly 5 minutes per route. We basically did the same as last time, but added some triple climbs, and I even did a quadruple at the end (ok, it was a 5.7, but it was fun).

I\’m actually surprised we climbed faster than last time, because I think we did some harder routes. I definitely spent more time on a few of them, but I guess the triples canceled that out ? and then some.

Our motivation for climbing faster is that Diana is super-busy studying for her MIT quals every day. We can\’t take long leisurely trips to the gym for a while. Also, it\’s a 1-hour commute to the gym as well, so that eats up a lot of the time. Of course, we\’re not going to stop climbing, but something had to change. We needed to squeeze in enough climbing to make the trip worthwhile, but not cause Diana to lose too much studying time. So far it has worked out great.

The only really frustrating thing about climbing to me is that it means I have to cut my fingernails. That plays hell with the classical guitar stuff. Not that I really play anymore, but I still like to sit down and relax with the guitar sometimes. Does anyone have any recommendations for climbing + guitar? I\’ve never tried fingerpicks, but they seem like they would suck compared to my natural fingernails. I suppose it\’s my only option, though.

Fast Ascent

Wednesday, August 1st, 2007

Diana and I spent a few hours climbing today. We both have a lot of other things to get done, so we didn’t want to be at the gym for too long. In the 2 hours and 20 minutes between the first and last climb, we made 26 ascents between us. That’s 5:23 per climb, or a bit faster than 11 climbs/hour. Granted, it’s probably not setting any speed records, but when you realize that includes tying and untying between routes, looking for routes to do, waiting for other people to get out of the way, etc., it looks pretty good. It’s definitely better than I’ve ever done in the past.

Here’s how we did it:

  • do multiple climbs once you tie in – either repeat the route or do different routes on the same rope (not only does it save time, but it helps with the endurance you need for longer outdoor climbs);
  • pick easier routes that allow you to focus on technique, rather than ones at your limit where you flail for each hold;
  • make a point of having someone on the wall as much as possible – a quick review of key moves is good, but the chalking, drinking and tying should all be happening at the same time; and
  • just climb faster – make yourself move a bit faster than you’re comfortable with (but not too fast to climb well), it’ll help you connect the moves more fluidly.

You might think that it sounds a bit draconian, but we both had a lot of fun. I’m sure everyone has had that day at the gym where a lot of time was lost on the ground – you leave feeling like you spent too much time not climbing enough. The reason you’re there is to climb, presumably because you enjoy it. Maximize that enjoyment and have an exciting 2-hour trip rather than a drawn-out yawn fest on the mats.

Also, if you spend too much time off the rock between climbs, your muscles cool. You’ll end up tired after less wall time. Tonight was a good workout, staying just below a pump with a lot of fun technical moves.

Boston Rocks

Saturday, July 7th, 2007

The longer I wait between posts, the harder it gets to post, so here\’s an easy one to break the silence.

I\’m in Boston and loving it. The weather\’s a bit hot, but my new apartment is amazing as is the fact that I\’m in the same town as my girlfriend again.

I\’ve been climbing a lot again (after taking a while off while dealing with moving, etc.). The gym here isn\’t bad, but ? despite the rave reviews ? it\’s a distant third (at least) on my list. Number two is the Seattle Vertical World, where I\’ve been a member for the past six months. Vertical World was for a long time the gym I rated all others by. It has incredible route density and variety. The routes are also fairly consistently graded. Recently I spent a day at Planet Granite in Sunnvale, California. That gym re-set the standard. They have indoor routes up to 85\’ and four or five different indoor cracks. They also have great outdoor bouldering and climbing. The routes aren\’t nearly as dense as they are at Vertical World (which is a shortcoming I\’ve noticed at every gym), but there are so many ropes you don\’t notice very often.

Anyway, the gym here … It\’s MetroRock. I have a lot of fun there, but the routes are rated all over the place. Some of the 5.8 routes are as hard as some of the 5.10a routes. There are plenty of 5.9+ routes that are easier than 5.8s, but if you kind of average out the mis-ratings, it seems like the routes are two levels harder than they are rated. This makes a bunch of the training exercises much harder than they should be. When I\’m doing a traverse or other aerobic stuff, I should end up tired ? not wishing my fingers could crimp just a few more times. And what\’s with \”5.9+\”? Is the current rating scheme not fine-grained enough? I mean, I could see adding in-betweens if your consistency was through the roof, but when you can\’t tell the difference between a 5.8 and a 5.10a? Not a chance. And there are other more confusing ratings, like \”5.10-\” and \”5.10+\”. Do those map to \”easier than 5.10a\” and \”harder than 5.10d\”, respectively? Or is a \”-\” like \”5.10a/b\” and a \”+\” like \”5.10c/d\”? Why make up ratings?

Of course, this ranting doesn\’t change the fact that I like the gym. I had a fun time with a couple of more experienced boulderers helping me through a V2 when I was there yesterday. It\’s just that I\’m used to climbing in what is apparently one of the premier gyms in at least the US, and it\’s a bit frustrating to move to one that is merely great.

In a couple months I\’ll probably be taking a trip up to the family get-away in Maine. It\’s not far from the Mt Washington Valley in New Hampshire, so I\’m preparing myself to conquer Cathedral Ledge. Taking into account the variances in rating here, I\’m working on red pointing the 5.10a routes. In Seattle I was on-sighting many of the 5.10a and red pointing the 5.10b. Hopefully I\’ll pull myself up one 5.10c here before September hits.

Ok, that was a big brain dump. I need to do more of those. Sorry for the extended silence. I\’m sure most of you had no interest in my climbing progression. Maybe the next one will interest more people. Although, if you\’re not interested in the climbing stuff, my guess is you just haven\’t tried it. Look up a local gym and drag a couple friends along. In fact, if I\’m coming through your area ever, make sure to drag me along.