Monday, 27 November 2017

Turnaround Year

What a weird and wonderful rollercoaster of a year 2017 has been. Somehow it feels as if I’ve actually managed to pack two years into one! When I think back to where I was in January 2017, so much has changed and so many exciting things have happened. This year has definitely been one of the most challenging years to date but also the most rewarding by far. 

To summarize it all will be a challenge in itself. Over the past 11 months I’ve learnt such a large amount about myself and especially how to ‘focus’, making it hugely beneficial for me to be able to look back on n the future. I hope that in sharing my story it might inspire a few others to face their fears and keep striving for their goals and dreams no matter what.

So let’s rewind back to what feels like an age ago when we were spending January trying to finish that delicious giant ham from Christmas Day 2016. 
Those close to me will know that during the first few months of 2017 I was tapering off a prescribed neurological medication I’ve been on since I was 7 for treatment of ADHD. I’ve written a whole separate blog about this difficult journey over the past 12 months which I’ve been hesitant to make public...but I think I will release it soon as a way of putting it in the past and moving on. To undertake one of my greatest fears and get to where I am today, to not have given up once, and now being medication free for around 9+ months makes me feel like I can conquer anything I put my heart and mind to. It’s indescribable. 
Lead World Cup Chamonix 2017 - Photo by Sheila Farrell McCarron
I decided I would tackle all the same competitions I had last year, but this time I would do it without my meds. It was unusual yet such a relief to finally not have to apply for a TUE (Therapeutic Use Exemption- WADA) to be allowed to compete. My first comp of the year was QLD State Lead. I was unusually nervous (for obvious reasons) but managed to take out first place. 
Up next was Australian Lead Nationals and I will be completely honest in saying I was scared of losing my title as Lead Champion and still nervous about how I would perform med-free. Of course focusing on this did exactly what you would predict; distracted me from what I should have really been focusing my attention on. It ended up being a very close finals, and although I still managed to make 2nd place, I was still very unhappy with how I climbed and my headspace throughout the competition. 

I moved on from this ‘disappointment’ and went on to spend 5 absolutely amazing weeks living with Alex in a van and climbing around the Grampians. I had such an incredible amount of fun over there and it was such a struggle leaving that magical rock wonderland. Being outdoors did a world of good for my stress levels. It really grounded me and reminded me of what truly matters. I was also really stoked to come back with a solid amount of ‘sendage’ under my belt, found a few projects for future trips and rediscovered a frothing passion for outdoor bouldering.
On the send of Monkey Puzzle (28) - Photo by Pat Banda
After 4 weeks back in Brisbane I then set off on another 3 month overseas IFSC World Cup adventure. I did 8 comps in total including 2 Boulder and 4 Lead World Cups, as well as The World Games (in Wroclaw, Poland) in both lead and boulder disciplines. I also spent 3+ weeks training in Canada and was really excited to make immense progress in my performance at the Chamonix Lead World Cup. It had been the place of my worst performance both of the two years prior, so it was fantastic to see I had been successful in strengthening my weaknesses. 
The World Games 2017 (Wroclaw, Poland) - lead Qualification - photo by Polski Zwiazek Alipinzmu

A week or so later I was absolutely thrilled to be one of 12 athletes selected to compete at the World Games in Poland in both Lead and Boulder. It was an incredible experience climbing against the best in the world in such a small field of competitors. I was lucky to share the experience with Campbell Harrison who also competed in both Lead and Boulder disciplines. I was absolutely thrilled to watch him make finals in lead! What an awesome achievement! 
I was satisfied with my own overall performance but was also quite upset that I got food poisoning right in between the two days of competition. It was terrible timing but I was fortunate to be well enough to climb when it came to my turn.
This put a bit of a dampener on my psych and also forced me to restrict my diet. I became slightly obsessed with over-controlling what I ate from then on and ended up accidentally losing a lot of weight I couldn’t really afford to lose. Later at another World Cup in Munich I somehow managed to get food poisoning again which only made things worse. I was doing my very best to stay as healthy as I could but things just weren’t working out entirely as planned. At the end of my 3 month trip I was really grateful to spend two amazing weeks outdoor climbing in Arco, Italy with Alex. It was a wonderful way to round out the trip and I had so much fun but I was also ridiculously exhausted mentally and physically. Realistically, I was just feeling completely burnt out. 

Qld Academy of Sport training
A couple of weeks after arriving home I was contacted by the Queensland Academy of Sport who wanted to interview me about a potential position in their P4G (Prospect For Gold) program. I leaped at the opportunity and they were excited to have me on board in preparation for the 2020 Olympics and the qualifiers in 2019. I became the first ever sport climber to be a part of their program. As a part of the QAS team we would be working to gain insight into the best training methods for the sport of climbing and I am positive that this knowledge base will help open up many more fantastic opportunities for climbers in the future.

With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics very much in the forefront of my mind, I was feeling a little stressed about my performance and head space throughout the year so far but knew I had to keep it together. The Oceanic Sport Climbing Championships (held in New Caledonia) were only a few weeks away and I was committed to going and making the most of the unique experience. Nerves rattled me almost every day leading into it. It would be my first ever time competing in speed, let alone all three disciplines in the one competition (the closest thing to the combined 3 discipline format required to compete and qualify for the Olympics). I would also me aiming to defend my 4 year Oceania Lead Champion title, so the pressure was on. 

Despite feeling exhausted I trained as hard as I could over the next month and went into the Oceanic competition with an open mind despite the pressure I was feeling in the background. I acknowledged the fact that I’d already had a challenging year and wasn’t feeling at my best so couldn’t really expect amazing results. I decided I would take the opportunity to really focus on myself during the competition and not give in to worrying about how all the other athletes were doing in comparison. I would set specific in-comp goals which would help me maintain focus as much as possible. 
It turns out that this relaxed yet intrinsically focused mindset is exactly when I perform at my best. 
Oceania 2017 Bouldering Qualifications - Photo by Structure d'Escalade de Noumea
Oceania Lead Finals top out smile - Photo by Structure d'Escalade de Noumea
Speed Qualifications Oceania 2017 - Photo by Structure d'Escalade de Noumea
I completely surprised myself by coming 3rd in speed, 2nd in boulder and 1st in Lead defending my 5 year Oceanic Champion title. I was absolutely thrilled yet completely blown away. Where on earth did that all come from? 
It’s such an indescribable feeling when you realise that all your hard work is finally paying off. The Oceanic Championships were a massive turning point for my headspace and motivation. Immediately my spirit was lifted and I was psyched to get back to training hard for the next one.

But the 9 month season was not yet over with the Australian Bouldering Nationals held just 5 weeks later. I arrived home and immediately focused my training to strength, power and bouldering and I was psyched to see how it would pay off. I had also been feeling far healthier after upping my protein intake over the past month. After a few sessions with my new QAS dietician I felt far more comfortable exploring a new eating plan and I very quickly saw massive improvements in my performance. Things were getting better and better and I felt stronger, happier and more motivated. 

I am still beaming from last weekend at the Australian Boulder Nationals held at Nomad bouldering gym in Sydney. After 5 years slowly making my way up the podium, I continuously placed either 2nd or 3rd at each national bouldering event, and everyone seemed to consider me more of a lead climber... but when I finally took out first place as Australian Boulder Champion last weekend I accomplished a massive personal goal and couldn’t even attempt to hide my excitement about it. 
As I stood atop the podium all I could think was “who would have thought that I would make it here... in the year I had almost labeled a complete write-off, I ended up performing better than any other year before”.
2017 Australian Bouldering Nationals Podium - Photo by Set In Stone Photography
Usually at the end of comp season each year, I am begging myself for rest, but this time I’m frothing for more. I am so psyched to knuckle down and work on my weaknesses before next season begins.

I am so incredibly grateful to all my family and close friends who have always stuck by me, loved and supported me every step of the way. When times are tough I can always rely on you all to encourage me to never give up, but also  support me along any road I decide to take. I would never have made it this far without you all. 

There are such exciting times ahead and I’m already planning out my adventures, training and comp plan for next year. 2017 will always be a year to look back on in happiness and wonder but I’m positive 2018 will be even more rewarding.
In front of the speed wall in New Caledonia. Photo by Tiffany Melius

Saturday, 3 September 2016

European Lead World Cups 2016

It is such an unusual feeling looking back over the last few months of travel, training, five Lead World Cups and one Boulder World Cup competition. In recollection, these last few months seem to have flown by so quickly, yet so much has happened that it also feels like an entire year has been packed into just 10 weeks. My trip however, is far from being over just yet, with my first ever Open World Championships taking place in Paris in only a few weeks’ time! I am super excited for this upcoming comp, but already I’ve had a tremendously successful trip and learnt so much more than I ever imagined.
Lead World Cup 2016 - Imst, Austria - The Circuit World Cup and Performance Climbing Magazine
I’ve been incredibly lucky to travel, train and compete with my fellow Aussie Team buddies; Campbell Harrison, Roxy Perry, Alistair Earley, Ben Abel and Yossi Sundakov-Krumins. Together we’ve shared so many awesome adventures, met so many interesting people, made new friends, discovered much about ourselves and acquired so much knowledge about training and our weaknesses. My headspace, mental approach and familiarity with World Cup level competitions are the most important things I believe I’ve gained so far. I’ve had highs and lows, good climbs and bad climbs but I can confidently say that the competitions I saw as ‘mistakes’ or ‘failures’ were definitely when I learnt and progressed the most.
Me, Roxy, Campbell and Alistair - Munich, Germany 2016
 Lead World Cup #1 – Chamonix, France

Back in Chamonix, when the lead World Cup season kicked off in July two and a half months ago, it felt like my first ever World Cup again back in 2015. Last year I was fortunate to be able to get a small taste of the World Cup Circuit atmosphere after competing in my first two World Cups ever (Chamonix and Briançon, France). It was however, a relatively short month-long trip and I unfortunately had a minor shoulder injury which definitely complicated my headspace leading into the first competition in Chamonix. The trip was incredibly beneficial, but I felt so incredibly overwhelmed and intimidated by it all last year that it was hard to comprehend what I had learnt, and where I needed to go next with my training, etc. All I knew was that I needed to come back for a full European Lead World Cup season of comps and training to really see significant gains in my performance at an international level. So here I am now, doing exactly that…
Lead World Cup 2016 - Chamonix, France - Sytse Van Slooten
This year, the first Lead World Cup in Chamonix was again the most overwhelming. I was a bit of a nervous wreck and although I knew I needed to relax to perform well, I had no idea how to let go of the pressure and expectations I’d inadvertently put on myself. I didn’t feel at all like myself on the wall... I over-gripped the holds, restricted my breathing and in turn, fell off only a few quick draws from the start. As devastating as it was at the time, the shock of my performance did however make me come to terms with the reason I am over here in Europe, which is to learn and improve my competition mindset through experience and familiarity.

Lead World Cup #2 – Villars, Switzerland 
Lead World Cup 2016 - Villars, Switzerland - Eddie Fowke

After my ‘low point’ in Chamonix I was better able to let go of my ego-driven expectations and climb the qualification routes at the second Lead World Cup in Villars, Switzerland, without as much pressure clouding my head. I guess I had already hit what I felt was ‘rock bottom’ in Chamonix and I knew I had so much more to give. My climbing performance improved significantly in Villars and I actually surprised myself with my ability once I committed to every move and accepted the ‘negative possibilities’ as having little to no significant consequence. I could finally just climb my own climb. Unfortunately, I made some mistakes with my foot sequence on both routes that I was unable to recover from and I fell off… But I was stoked to have felt relaxed and more like myself on the wall. I managed to make it a lot further than expected on my second qualifier, boosting my confidence significantly. I began to recognise that I actually had the strength to do the routes. Acknowledging this progress in itself was enough to keep me in positive spirits for the competitions ahead of me. It would be a long road ahead but I was ready to take it one step at a time and enjoy every moment. I also had an unexpected yet absolutely awesome opportunity arise in Villars helping Charlie Boscoe do the live streaming commentary for the Finals round of the competition. Although it was way out of my comfort zone, I enjoyed it so much and was incredibly grateful to have been offered such a rewarding opportunity.
Lead World Cup 2016 - Villars, Switzerland - Sytse Van Slooten
Commentating the Lead Finals with Charlie Boscoe in Villars, Switzerland - The Circuit World Cup and Performance Climbing Magazine
Lead World Cup #3 – Briançon, France

My performance at the Lead World Cup #3 in Briançon was just as positive as Villars, but with even more progress. I had begun viewing the routes with more self-confidence and visualised the majority of each route as achievable before I’d even hopped on the wall. I found this visualisation technique to be very beneficial and gave me more of the confidence I needed to commit, fight harder and put that extra ounce of effort in to every move. My ranking against the other athletes was improving slightly over the course of the three comps so far, but this was not something I wanted to concern myself with too much. I decided it was important for me at that stage to not pay too much attention to my ranking after each qualifier, but to measure my progress on how I felt on the wall and whether the main reason I was falling off was mental or physical.
Lead World Cup 2016 - Briançon, France - Sheila Farrell McCarron

Lead World Cup 2016 - Briançon, France - Sheila Farrell McCarron
Lead World Cup #4 – Imst, Austria & Boulder World Cup – Munich
Training in Munich - Kletterhalle High East

There was a fairly long break between Briançon and the next Lead World Cup in Imst, Austria which we spent training in Munich. I also competed in my first ever Boulder World Cup which was an incredibly amazing experience and because of its significance to me, I have to dedicate another whole separate blog. But in short, I went to the next Lead World Cup in Imst with a newfound confidence in my physical strength and ability to commit to dynamic and bouldery moves. My new approach was to tackle every climb like a really long boulder problem. 
Lead World Cup 2016 - Imst, Austria - The Circuit World Cup and Performance Climbing Magazine
Unfortunately, I didn’t have the best of ‘luck’ in Imst however… I managed to time out on my first qualifier which was heart-wrenching to say the least. I had finally found a route I felt I could possibly top and all of a sudden I was pulled off the wall just when things started to get interesting. It messed with my head a fair amount after that, and although I was happy to have had the strength to do the route, I was angry that I couldn’t ever have the chance to prove myself on it again. I tried my best to not let it affect my second qualifier but hoped that I could use my frustration to fuel my power and commitment for the next route. This technique didn’t work very well for me however, and I was over-psyched and probably rushed at the route with too much confidence, making it easy for silly detrimental mistakes to happen like my foot popping off at the third quick draw. I was devastated immediately afterwards but it didn’t take long for me to pull myself together and focus on the positives.

Visualising with Roxy Perry- Imst, Austria - Photo by Rick Perry
Roxy Perry, Eddie Fowke and I in Imst, Austria - Photo by Rick Perry
 We were incredibly lucky to be able to come back and climb on some of the routes after the competition which was a really beneficial experience and confidence-booster for me. I got back on my second qualifier and did significantly better and I even took the opportunity to have a try on the Women’s Finals climb. I wasn’t expecting to do very well on it, but I fought hard and ended up surprising myself by making it about a third of the way up the insanely long route.

Lead World Cup #5 – Arco, Italy

After a few busy days of post-comp Austrian mountain adventures, we began our beautiful journey of transit over the Italian border and across alpine passes, around endless fields of beautiful apple and grape plantations and through a huge mass of skyscraper limestone cliffs. This beautiful drive lead us into the romantic cobblestone town of Arco, Italy where we competed in the last IFSC World Cup of our trip and was the best performance I’ve ever had in a Lead World Cup before. I was really excited with how I performed on both qualifier climbs, making it up most of the way on both routes, but especially because the reason I had fallen off each route was primarily physical rather than mental. I had finally gained enough familiarity with the competitions that I had found an optimal headspace to perform my best physically. Overcoming these mental barriers meant I was relaxed and ready to just fight hard and climb my own climb, leaving everything on the wall. I was able to recover from small mistakes and continue climbing, focused on the route ahead. I climbed so much further than I’d ever expected to and was pleased to maintain my positive headspace into the second qualifier as well. It was difficult for me not to notice the sudden jump in my ranking against the other athletes in the competition... I placed 36 out of 57 females which was a very pleasant surprise after an already rewarding two qualifier routes.
Lead World Cup 2016 -Arco, Italy - The Circuit World Cup and Performance Climbing Magazine

Lead World Cup 2016 -Arco, Italy - The Circuit World Cup and Performance Climbing Magazine
It’s taken a fair while to untangle it all within my mind, but after all the World Cups this year I’ve finally prepared a personal list of key words and phrases that I believe will help trigger my own best mental approach for optimal climbing performance. It summarises most of the things I’ve learnt firsthand over the last 6 World Cups of 2016. These particular words mean so much more to me now and trigger significant experiences I’ve learnt and drawn from not only in the past few months, but my entire climbing career so far.

Lucy’s Mental Approach to her Best Climbing Performance:
1.       Let Go of expectations
2.       Accept “negative outcomes” as inconsequential
3.       Embrace uncertainty
4.       Believe in your strength for the route as a whole and for each individual move
5.       Cease comparing yourself to others. How they climb is irrelevant to your performance.
6.       Picture yourself just at training
7.       Have Fun and Enjoy the route. Be Yourself on the wall
8.       Commit and pull hard!

Now I only have one competition left before I head back home to Australia… The World Championships in Paris! It’s the biggest event I will have ever competed in and I’m registered for both Lead and Boulder. I can’t explain how excited I am for the Paris World Championships… It’s going to be such a massive event and I just hope I can steady my nerves enough to maintain my optimal headspace from the last comp in Arco.
Lead World Cup 2016 - Briançon, France - Sheila Farrell McCarron
I am so grateful to have had this incredible opportunity to travel, train and compete Internationally this year. It’s been such an amazing trip so far and I’ve learnt and progressed so much more than I ever thought with my climbing and headspace. A massive thank you especially to Flight Centre Sports & Events for their incredible ongoing sponsorship support and for making these amazing opportunities achievable for myself. I am also tremendously grateful to have CLIF Bar, Pinnacle Sports, REVIVE Ashgrove, Climb ICP, Evolv and Osprey supporting me every step of the way. Their sponsorship makes such a huge difference and I can’t thank them enough. But none of this would be at all possible without the amazing support of my amazing friends and family… Thank you all so very, very much, you mean absolutely everything to me. :-) 
Lead World Cup 2016 -Arco, Italy - The Circuit World Cup and Performance Climbing Magazine

Monday, 25 July 2016

2016 IFSC Lead World Cup Chamonix – A Turning Point

When you’re a big fish in a small pond the transition to becoming that same fish in an entire ocean is by no means easy. It’s a physical, mental and emotional battle, and can be a very humbling experience to say the least. It is a test of character, passion and your ability to pick yourself up after failure, learn from your mistakes and to have the maturity to accept that ‘no true success comes without failure.’ That saying is easy enough to understand, but the very meaning of it signifies that actually going through that failure is easier said than done.

Failure itself can make or break anybody. It would be so easy to quit when you’re the only one pushing yourself to begin with… To just throw the towel in and say “I’m just not good enough for this.” But I believe that true success is understanding that failure is actually just a stepping stone from which you can learn and become stronger. The more ‘failures’ we pick ourselves up and learn from, the stronger we actually become. These past few days over the course of my first Lead World Cup for 2016 in Chamonix, France have certainly been a test of my maturity to overcome such ‘failure.’ I can say with all honesty that to begin with I wasn’t very mature about it at all...

Chamonix IFSC Lead World Cup 2016 Qualifiers - Photo by Campbell Harrison 
I went into the Chamonix comp this year with the same nervousness as if it was my first ever World Cup again. Without meaning to, I had built a massive cloud over my head full of intimidation, self-doubt, lack of self-confidence along with very high personal expectations and pressure. I could somewhat sense the cloud’s presence but didn’t do a good job at all of removing it. Instead, I tried to force myself to relax for the climbs ahead without changing my mental approach. How can one possibly relax when an ominous cloud looms above, making you question whether you deserve to be there, whether you’re at the right level to compete or even just strong enough to do the moves? Hindering questions begin to pop into my head like; “What happens if I fall off too low and embarrass not only myself, but my country?” I’m not entirely sure how I’d managed to develop such a horrible storm of self-doubt, but as I climbed my first qualifier climb at the Chamonix Lead World Cup, the first comp in the Lead World Cup circuit, that storm of doubt did nothing but rain on me. Every move was hesitant, every hold was over-gripped, every breath was swallowed and before I knew it I was off the wall.
Chamonix IFSC Lead World Cup 2016 Qualifiers - Photo by Campbell Harrison 
Initially I was incredibly upset with how I had climbed and my first thought was that I was just not good enough to do the climb. The initial shock of it all took a little while to wear off and for the feelings to mull over before I could gain some clarity and perspective. By the time my second qualifier had come around, I managed to let go of my ego-driven expectations and embraced a ‘nothing to lose’ mindset. I also now had a point to prove to myself that I was worthy of the climb and had the strength to do it. I took a moment just before I hopped on the wall to close my eyes and just picture myself at training, where no pressure or expectations exist… just myself and the wall. I began the climb so much better on that second qualifier, but there was still a lingering cloud above my head with a touch of disappointment added to the mixture. As I climbed and approached a big intimidating move, I had a momentary lapse of doubt and hesitated, almost making all the same mistakes as I had done on the first qualifier. I’m quite proud to say that in that moment however, I managed to pull myself together, take a deep breath, relax and clear my head. I committed to the move completely and believed in my ability to do it. I kept going and managed to do a lot better than quali 1, but I knew deep down I still could’ve done a heck of a lot better. I just had to believe in myself... I know it sounds ridiculously corny but I honestly just had to truly believe in my ability to do the moves and fully commit with no hesitation or self-doubt.

Even after the comp was finished for me the initial feelings of disappointment still took a little while to wear off. However, by the next day the cloud had finally cleared and I was ready to make a fresh start. We decided to head to the gym in Les Houches and I was sick of the self-pity I had been mulling over since the qualification round the day before… I knew I was better than that. I evaluated my weakness and concentrated on what needed to be done. I decided the whole climbing session would be focused on committing to moves completely, getting on the routes I had previously thought too difficult and believing in my strength to pull every single move. I was incredibly excited to immediately see a massive improvement in my climbing and began to recognise the strength I forgot I had, just waiting to be used.
Chamonix IFSC Lead World Cup 2016 Qualifiers - Photo by Sytse Van Slooten
Changing my attitude and mental approach to climbing such elite level routes amongst World Class athletes is going to be a massive turning point and learning curve in my climbing and competition performance. The most important thing I’ve learnt from my first World Cup of 2016 in Chamonix is to stop comparing myself to other competitors. Yes, the routes and the climbers can be intimidating – they’re the best in the world… But I can use this to inspire myself to push harder, learn from my mistakes and recognise that I am there for a reason, I deserve to be there and compete with the top climbers in the world. I am competition. Once I had let go of those hindering thoughts and expectations and climbed my own climb with purpose, determination and just enjoyed the climb, I amazed myself with what I could do.

I cannot wait for the next competitions and the long, exciting journey ahead of me. 

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Nationals & Oceania 2016 and Onwards to Europe

I’m sitting in a plane en-route to what will be the longest overseas trip I’ve been on…ever. Am I excited? Yes. Am I nervous? Yes. Do I actually have any idea what emotion I’m feeling at the moment? Not a clue. The truth is, I’m about to embark on a huge journey which is way out of my comfort zone... Away from my family, Alex, and the emotional security of those closest to me. Let’s be honest, I don’t like the idea of change that much. I am a creature of habit, but was also born with a thirst for adventure… It is an odd combination, I have to admit. I am however, really lucky to be travelling with fellow climbing and comp buddy, Campbell Harrison who has become a great interstate friend after the years of Aussie comps we’ve been in together.

This plane will (hopefully) be landing in Munich, Germany where Campbell and I begin a 3-month trip across Europe. We will be training at all sorts of cool gyms across the continent and competing in 5 Lead World Cups, 1 Boulder World Cup and both Lead and Boulder at the World Championships in Paris…that’s 8 comps in total!!

One of the goals I’ve set myself for this trip is to work on controlling my nerves and head-space by doing as many international competitions as possible. I figure the only way to better my performance at an international level is to expose myself to that type of pressure and atmosphere as much as possible and gain the experience I need to make the unfamiliar, familiar. Basically my aim is to transform what is out of my comfort zone, into familiar turf where unfamiliarity can no longer hinder my performance. It also excites me incredibly to have the time and opportunity while on this trip to train really hard between comps and learn as much as I possibly can through talking to other climbers and also by experimenting with trial and error.
Chamonix World Cup 2015 - Photograph by Ciro Tracey
The adventure ahead of me is really only just beginning to sink in as I’ve been so focused on Nationals and Oceania Lead Champs (which were only 2 days ago at SICG Villawood, Sydney). It was another great comp and I’m really happy to come away from it as the Open A Female National and Oceanic Champion. While I’m incredibly thrilled about the title, I’m not 100% pleased with my performance this year. I feel I did not climb as well or as confidently as I did at last year’s Nationals and for some reason my head just wasn’t in the right space. Although it’s been a clean sweep for me this year, winning every Australian Lead State Title in Open A’s, some comps have definitely been better than others in terms of my performance. I understand it’s crazy to expect my best performance at every single comp… but as an athlete, I feel like I have no choice but to put that pressure on myself. I believe it is a healthy type of pressure though, if I continue to go about it the right way. It’s just important for me to remember to understand and continually focus on how I can always improve even if I won the comp. Likewise if I were to not win at a comp, I would focus constructively on why I fell off as opposed to dwelling on the lack of title.

I am really keen to work on my self-confidence over the next 3 months and return to Australia not only stronger, but mentally refreshed, confident and as psyched as ever! I can’t wait to see what awesome things Europe and these next few months have to offer.

James Kassay and I on podium as Australian National and Oceanic Champions for 2016 
Chamonix World Cup 2015 - Photograph by Rob Parer

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

A Year In Review and The Journey Ahead

2015 in Review                                                                                           March 2nd, 2016

It’s that time of the year again! It’s the week before the first Lead Climbing Comp of 2016 and I have to keep reminding myself to take it easy over the next couple of days. I’ve just been in constant training mode for the past five months, and it’s so easy to forget I have to zone into comp mode again. I know that rest and recovery should be two of the most important aspects of my training program at this point in time. However, the subtle ache of muscle fatigue in my arms right now tells me I should probably be focusing a little more on this before this weekend comes around and brings with it the Tasmanian State Lead Titles.

It’s funny looking back to this time last year. It seems like so long ago because so much has happened since, yet for the same reason, the time has passed by so quickly.

"Sail Away" (26), Blue Mountains 2016.
Photo by Cuskelly Photography
Tasmanian Lead State Titles 2015. Photo by
Cameron Johns Photography

For me, 2015 was a big one. I competed in all five Open State Lead Comps across Australia and was really happy to place 1st in every single one of them. This put me in a fantastic headspace for Nationals and my upcoming international competitions.

Open A Females Finals Climb at Lead Nationals 2015. Photo by Climb Media
Lead Nationals in June was an amazing event and definitely one of the highlights of the year. I had an incredible amount of fun at this comp. I felt absolutely top of my game and everything seemed to just fall into place. It’s hard to describe the ecstasy I felt as I topped out on that Finals climb. As I came down, my heart was racing with excitement and happiness, being the only person to top the Finals route at Nationals by a fair way. However, unfortunately I was called off on a technical error which meant I could only place 2nd in the Open Women. As devastating as it seemed at the time, I grew a lot from retaining perspective and shifting my focus to the international World Cups ahead of me.

World Cup Chamonix, France 2015. Photo by Ciro Tracey
In July, just a week after the Nationals competition, I left Australia for a month in France. While here, I competed in two of my first ever Open Lead World Cups! It had been a huge goal of mine to make it to that point and I really wanted to just know that I was at the right level to compete against such strong athletes. Of course it would have been a dream to go into my first World Cup and surprise everyone by completely blitzing the climbs and making top 3… but that’s just not how things work, and putting those expectations on myself would have been naïve and hindering to my performance. Unfortunately I was also carrying a bit of a shoulder injury in the week leading up to the first World Cup, which shook up my confidence a fair amount. My primary focus was to get a general idea about where I was standing amongst it all and learn what I need to train the most to raise my level on the international stage.

Realising I was definitely on the right track and not way behind the rest of the athletes was a huge confidence booster for me. I felt strong enough physically, but my headspace needed significant improvement. I’ve now come to the conclusion that if I want to get better, I will need to compete in as many World Cups as possible and gain the experience necessary for me to compete confidently in that environment.

So, what’s coming next?

I remember in the month before I left for Europe last year, I was so focused on getting myself to those World Cups that I had no idea what would come next. I didn’t even know what I was going to do for the rest of the year, let alone in 2016. But upon returning home and over the past five or so months leading up till now I’ve had a huge think about my long term plan and goals over the next five years.

On hearing that Sport Climbing is almost definitely going to be in the 2020 Olympics as an invitational sport, and realising that I won’t be ancient by then (but 27 years old), my long term goal has been set. What athlete wouldn’t be excited to represent their country at the highest level of competition the world has to offer? 
Opening Ceremony at World Cup Chamonix 2015. Photo by Rob Parer

It does scare me a little how much work I need to do over the next 4 years to make this goal of mine happen… But my determination and excitement for this challenge overrules by far.

Similar to 2015, this year I plan to compete in all the interstate Lead Competitions and Nationals and then head to Europe for the Open Lead World Cups. This year however, the plan is to live, train and compete there for three months as opposed to one. This time I will also be competing in five Open Lead World Cups and will finish off the trip with the World Championships in Paris in September.

I thought 2015 was big… but this year is going to be massive! Every year that follows is going to be bigger and better than the last and I am determined to push through all the obstacles and challenges I may be faced with.

I am incredibly excited to have such an amazing group of sponsors to support me along the way. I really can’t describe how grateful I am to Flight Centre Sports & Events, CLIF Bar, Pinnacle Sports, Evolv, Revive Ashgrove, Climb ICP, Feeney Family Law and all of my amazing friends and family for their support… Because without them, none of this would be possible.

 
"A Space Odyssey" (30), Mt Flinders. Photo by Set In Stone Photography

Sunday, 17 January 2016

The Annual Blueys Trip (2015-2016 Edition)

January 2016


What better way to round up one awesome year and begin another, than with a trip to the good, old Blue Mountains? Over the last few years it’s become an annual road trip event for Alex and I to join the hordes of Queensland climbers doing exactly the same thing. It’s such a great vibe with everyone there simply to have fun, celebrate the coming of the New Year and climb as much as physically possible… Which is generally until our fingertips bleed, tape becomes our best friend and yet we still refuse to stop climbing.
Me working on "Hairline 2000" (28) at Diamond Falls. Photo by Slavik Titov

At just under two weeks, this year’s trip was a slightly shorter one for Alex and I, but we had an incredible time regardless. On the morning of our arrival (a few days post-Christmas) like keen beans we headed straight to the nearest crag, Centennial Glen’s Main Wall to get some much craved rock under our eager fingertips. After a half day of climbing, we set up our tent in the Blackheath Caravan Park. The place was packed to the rafters with all sorts of caravans and tents, some small and modest and some which looked like the size of a small house. With many young families around the place it certainly wasn’t the quietist of campgrounds, but the hot showers were amazing!
Rainy day at the crag with Alex Turnbull

Sore hands!
Week one of our trip brought perfect weather with sunny blue skies and cool breezes which was a stark contrast to the weeks before we’d arrived. Lucky us! …or so we thought. Our luck seemed to run out as week two came around with torrential rain and strong winds diminishing our climbing area options and making the campground drenched and miserable. The creek behind our tent was rising, things were leaking everywhere and tent pegs were pulling out of the now soft, muddy soil. All of a sudden the once packed campground was now almost completely empty, with only our tent and one or two others sticking it out in the miserable conditions. Amongst all this, Alex and I were unfortunate to catch a vomiting bug which seemed to be making its way around Blackheath. As unpleasant as it was, it kept us occupied over the two worst days of weather, and thankfully we were back to our old selves once the rain began to recede. 
Me on the onsight of "Paint God" (25) at Bell Supercrag. Photo by Sam Cujes

Throughout the trip I was really keen to head to some new areas we’d never been to before and just have fun pushing ourselves to onsight or flash as many routes as possible. It’s my favourite type of climbing, onsighting… I find that I use my whole body and mind as one element to keep myself on the wall, and everything seems to just fall into place. I push myself harder and I seem to be able to hold on for that little bit longer. It’s those magical moments when you seem to pull strength out of nowhere and pull a move you never thought possible, or when you happen to catch a dyno in the perfect spot, as if you knew the climb without ever even seeing it before. It never ceases to amaze me how much strength your body still has in reserve, even when you think you can’t possibly hold on any longer. The more I challenge myself to push past this mental barrier, the more I understand myself better as a climber and what my body is capable of.


Cuskelly Photography: One rainy day at Sublime Point, Binary Cave

My most memorable climb of the trip was a long, tough route called “Parallax Error” (27) at Bell Supercrag. I didn’t onsight the whole climb as one because I had some insight into possible beta for the boulder crux start. Past this point however, was another 25 metres of completely new rock for me to work my way through. This was one of those magical climbs that just happened to all fall into place, where my mind and body were challenged to their limits to keep me on the wall, and somehow I managed to pull moves I didn’t think were possible for me…

It was our first day at Bell Supercrag, and also Alex’s birthday!! Alex had just managed to strongly onsight “The Reality Dysfunction” (25); a very long pumper of a climb with a tough finish. I was very pleased to flash it before we shuffled down a few climbs to the left where the daunting yet alluring “Parallax Error” stood before us with what looked like a very bouldery, cruxy start. Warning: Beta alert ahead! Alex jumped on first and tried working out this difficult boulder problem which began the climb. He managed to pull the massive move after only a couple of attempts and put the first couple of draws on, but decided to come down and rest for a bit so I could have a go. He pointed out a few small crimps which might be useful to get through the cruxy boulder problem… So I whacked another 10 or so draws onto my harness and decided to give it a try. To my delight, I managed to get through the bouldery start on my first attempt with some sneaky, crimpy short-person beta. Now with very pumped arms, I continued battling for the next 25 or so metres of onsight climbing ahead of me. Once I was past one crux, there seemed to be another just ahead. It was the climb that just kept on giving. At one point I was sure it would have to ease off in difficulty, but instead I was confronted with a crazy slab with no foot holds and tiny crimps. I don’t know how long I was stuck at the next undercling trying to figure out how I could possibly reach the next slopey rail way above my head. Eventually I figured the only way would be to do a full cut-loose dyno from a slabby undercling to this diagonal slopey rail. With feet numbing and arms screaming, I managed to stick it. It felt absolutely amazing! There was no giving up now… the thought of having to do it all again after this much effort and desperation was almost more painful than my forearms at the time. Thankfully there were some larger holds after this crux but the climb had not finished with me yet… Just before the anchor, with a tremendous amount of rope drag almost pulling me back down the climb, I was forced to do another full cut-loose dyno to reach the clipping ledge. I couldn’t believe I had actually stuck it and was thrilled to clip the anchors bagging a flash of this epicly awesome fun climb.
Going for the dyno on "Hairline 2000" (28). Photo by Slavik Titov

We ended the trip on a high, spending our last day at the lovely Porters Pass where we jumped on a few of our past projects and spent the day hanging at the crag with a bunch of our lovely Queensland mates. I was super happy to find some new but very painful beta for the crux of “Sail Away” (26), and managed to tick it on my second shot of the day. After bruised knuckles, bleeding fingers and a profound lack of energy left, we decided to end the day and head to the pub for a beer. It was a stunning evening and a lovely way to round up another awesome trip and another incredible year.
A very sore and exhausted me after the send of "Sail Away" (26) at Porters Pass

Thanks so much to Flight Centre Active Travel, Pinnacle Sports, ICP, Revive Ashgrove, CLIF Bar, Feeney Family Law and all my amazing friends and family for supporting me through 2015. It was a massive year for me and I could never have done it without the incredible support from you all. I have very exciting plans for 2016 underway and look forward to spending 3-4 months training overseas and competing in 6 World Cups across Europe, finishing with the World Championships in Paris this September!

Sunday, 9 August 2015

World Cups 2015

Holding the Aussie flag at my First Open Lead World Cup in Chamonix, France. Photo by Rob Parer.
“Lucinda Stirling de l’Australie!” The French MC announces my name as the girl before me unties her rope and walks away having attempted the route. I take a deep breath and I step out onto the open stage in front of hundreds of people in the middle of the beautiful Chamonix, France. As I walk forwards, holding my rope like a leash in my hands, I am shadowed by a huge wave of a competition wall which holds the first Open World Cup lead climb I will have ever done. An epic train of thoughts and words rush to my mind. It feels like a dream to finally be here and as I approach the starting holds I am using every second I can to bring myself back to reality and focus on the task at hand. “It’s just another climb.” I step off the ground and the climb begins...
Tying in to begin my first climb in Chamonix, France. Photo by Rob Saunders

My second qualifier climb at the Chamonix World Cup 2015. Photo by Rob Saunders
What an awesome experience it all was. My first two Open World Cup Competitions were a mixture of nerves, excitement, intimidation, mental numbness and just not knowing what to expect at all. I learnt such a huge amount and I’m incredibly psyched to keep pushing myself to improve at an international level and become the best climber I can possibly be.

Just after my onsight of 'Makach Walou' (7c+) in Ceuse. Photo by Ciro Tracey
Before the comps I spent two weeks outdoor climbing and camping in Céüse. I had so much fun, met so many wonderful people and the routes and limestone rock were absolutely awesome. In my first week there I was really happy to get my first ever 7c+ (28) onsight on a super fun climb called ‘Makach Walou.’ And also tick my favourite route at Céüse called ‘Mirage’ 7c+ (28) on my 3rd shot. I was really happy with my resistance at this stage and felt very ready to tackle my first two World Cups in what would have been in a week’s time. I was also really keen to spend my second week trying few of the harder routes… but instead I was devastated to have to call it quits and stop climbing a week before the comp!


It happened just after I ticked ‘Mirage’ and later I found out it was an impingement caused by muscle imbalance. One minute it felt strong and perfectly fine and the next minute I couldn’t lift my arm above my head without painful clicking and crunching. I was absolutely devastated and after it didn’t improve at all the next day, I was sure my dreams and plans for my first two World Cups in a week were over. I was lucky to find a physio in Gap (the nearest largish town to Céüse) which I visited as soon as possible (4 days later). It felt like an absolute miracle the day I woke up and could lift my arm above my head again without any pain. I almost cried in happiness… Chamonix might actually still happen!
Climbing on Cascade wall, Ceuse 2015. Photo by Secretspots.

It improved even more over the next few days and by the time the comp came around it would only occasionally twinge, but nothing a good warm up and stretch couldn’t fix. The devastation that the shoulder injury caused made me realise something really important though. I had to accept the fact that I might not have been able to compete at these competitions I’d been working towards for so long. I had focused so much on actually making it to these competitions that I had forgotten the reason I was truly there. It made me look at the bigger picture and realise I hadn’t been training all this time just for one or two comps… they were simply a stepping stone and valuable learning experiences in my goal of becoming the best climber I can possibly be. I was grateful to have gained that perspective before the comps came around.

Chamonix has got to be one of my favourite places on Earth. Nestled in the heart of the French Alps and on the doorstep of Mont Blanc, it really is overwhelmingly beautiful. There are so many adventure activities to do, and no matter where you are, you feel like you’re in the centre of a postcard.
Chamonix, 2015. Photo by Lucy Stirling

It’s hard to describe my feelings leading into the Chamonix comp. I just had no idea what to expect but was so happy to be there and wanted to learn as much as I could. The warm up area was my first challenge. Almost every section of wall was taken up by a climber. No one seemed to care if they were above or below or almost completely on top of you as you bouldered. I knew I would have to be stubborn if I wanted to get a solid warm up. I was pretty proud of myself for managing to stay on the wall as climbers ‘attacked’ from all angles, putting feet on holds I was using, almost kicking me as they blindly dyno to a hold above my head. It was quite a funny experience seeing everyone silently battle it out for warmup space.

I couldn’t help but feel quite intimidated by the girls I was up against. They’re all such lean mean fighting machines and each one of them looks very confident in themselves, like they’ve done it a hundred times before. I attempted to look confident as well, hoping it would change my state of mind… maybe the other girls were trying to do that too.

When the moment finally came around and it was my turn to climb, I felt strong on the wall and ready to give it everything I had. There must have been many things going on in my head but I tried my best to hush them and let my body just climb. There were a few sections on the route I was a little unsure of as I saw a fair few girls struggle and fall off. I wondered how I would feel getting through those moves and it would be interesting to see what level I’m at amongst such a strong field of climbers. I was incredibly happy as I got through these moves with relative ease and it boosted my confidence to know that I’m actually at the right level for these comps and I’m not far behind the rest of the world. It’s something I’ve been intimidated by for so long.

Second qualifier climb at the Chamonix World Cup 2015. Photo by Ciro Tracey.
On both routes I was really happy with how I climbed despite how I ended up ranking against all the other climbers. I was pleased that after each climb, I clearly understood the main reason I fell off and could easily recognise areas I need to work on in my training.


Before the climb. Photo by Sheila Farrell McCarron
The next weekend brought along with it my second Open Lead World Cup. This time in Brianҫon, France. It was much lower key than Chamonix but I could certainly still feel the pressure. At times I almost felt more pressure than at my first World Cup, as everybody said it would be easier. So in my mind that means the expectations are higher after the first one’s over and done with. I know that’s not what they meant, but it’s crazy what pressure does to your logic and sanity.

Just about to watch the finals at the Briancon World Cup 2015
I was quite happy with my efforts on the first qualifier climb despite getting a little confused with my feet and the rope. I was a bit devastated by my second qualifier though. I felt so confident as I got on the wall and the first few moves felt perfect. But I got a bit stumped and hesitated at a big move with some tricky holds and my confident headspace went out the window. I was flustered and had lost focus. I tried to relax, recover and rethink but was incredibly pumped and could not latch the next hold long enough in order to stay on the wall. At the time I was devastated as I hadn't seen anybody else fall at that point. But I realize now where I went wrong, and that I can learn from it and it can only improve my climbing in the future. I guess I felt a little more confident in Brianҫon but my headspace has a world of room for improvement which will stem from experience at this level of competition.

These first two World Cups have been amazing and essential learning experiences in my climbing career and I am so very happy to have finally reached this big stepping stone.
I am incredibly motivated to continue training and pushing myself harder each day to improve my climbing in every way I can, and each year improving at the World Cups. It is a long road ahead, but I'm looking forward to every step of the way. 
First Qualifier Climb in Briancon, France. Photo by Sheila Farrell McCarron

I am so incredibly grateful for all the amazing support I've had from friends and family back home and across the world. It means so much to know you’re all behind me. An especially big thank you to Flight Centre Active travel, Pinnacle Sports, ICP and Feeney Family Law. Without you, none of this would be possible.


Back home now and already I’m planning for the next one. I can’t wait for next year with my plans to compete in more World Cups, train a bit over in Europe and also compete in the World Championships in Paris! Another stepping stone in my goals and plan for the many exciting years ahead! 
Emma, Mum and I at the Briancon Open Lead World Cup 2015