Mental Warfare

DISCLAIMER: This is a very climbing oriented post that will be very different from the usual peppy Meira post.

Climbing at your limit is a very difficult thing. When people watch someone climbing at a high level, the first thing that they notice is always the extreme physical abilities of the climber. “They are so strong!” is always mouthed between onlookers. There is no denying that climbing is a physical sport; It requires the human body to do be pushed to the absolute limits of what is physically possible. It takes top climbers years and years of training and climbing to condition the body to be able to do such impressive feats of strength and coordination. But the aspect that is often overlooked is the mental side of hard climbing. In order to truly climb at your limit, many factors generally have to align: the weather must cooperate by providing cold temperatures and low humidity; you must feel well rested and have eaten well; your skin must be in good shape; and you have to be mentally ready to send the climb. Of all of these factors the mental side of things can often be the biggest hurdle to overcome.

When you approach a climb for the first time that you know will be difficult, there are multiple stages that occur in the process of completing the climb. First, you try to figure out your sequence – chances are good you have seen a video of the climb before and you have a general idea for how it is climbed. After that you can either go ahead and give it a flash burn, or start working individual moves. The argument can always be made that if you can climb it, you can flash it, but when climbing at your limit a flash is a rare thing. Chances are that you start working the moves, putting together sections of the climb, and learning the body positions that are required to do the moves. Once all the moves have gone and you know your sequence, a switch flips and you know you can do the climb. Now, instead of working individual moves you start giving the climb send-burns from the start. This is where the mental aspect of climbing comes out. Technically all you have to do now is simply do all of the moves you have already done in a row without falling. Sounds simple enough, except that each move feels a bit harder when adding moves before it, and you only have a certain amount of energy and skin that you can use before you start going down hill and the send slips out of reach.

Everything comes into play at this point. You have to be confident that you can send but still force yourself to rest and relax in order to get the most out of each attempt. You have to not let the previous attempt get in your head if you got really close or if you fell on an easy move early in the attempt. Every go must be taken with a clear relaxed mentality and you just have to try really hard and think of nothing else. Some people put themselves in a bubble of calmness and don’t allow themselves to show any frustration while trying a climb, while others are a ball of emotion that yell and curse at every mistake and wasted effort. I find that somewhere in between works best for me. After a particularly hard attempt, it feels good to yell and release the frustration that comes from trying as hard as you can and failing. For me, this helps me to release the emotion that is attached to the previous attempt and start over fresh, instead of bottling it up and letting it affect me mentally.

The truth is that sometimes you don’t send. Sometimes it takes multiple days of effort in order to overcome the challenge. But frustration is the enemy of sending and no matter if it’s your first try or your hundredth, you have to approach it the same way.

I have gone out to Dayton Pocket twice now in order to attempt Capoeira (v10). It is a lower start to the super classic River Dance (v9) and adds a 4-or-5-move v7ish boulder problem into River Dance. I have fallen from the last hard move multiple times now from the start and can do the last hard move every time in isolation. It is difficult to not let negative thoughts creep up on me when I have driven all the way to Dayton for one specific boulder, and Meira or Andrew is there only to spot me. I know they want me to send, but I also feel their impatience as I fall off again and again. After a go where I get to the last hard move it’s hard not to question if I will have the energy to be able to get there again, and not have the fear that if I do I will fall once again in that same spot. I know I am capable of sending the boulder and hopefully the next session on it will be the one. Here are some pictures that Meira took of my most recent day of attempts.

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The first move of Capoeira
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The difficult match before moving left into River Dance.
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Capoeira (v10)
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Getting into the crux of River Dance.

We are heading back to Rocktown tonight and it looks like the weather is going to allow us a few good days of climbing. Hopefully we will all be able to finish up our projects since our time in the South is coming to a close.

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