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

Tuesday 19 May 2015

World Cup Trip Approaches

World Cup Trip Approaches

QLD Lead States 2015. Open A Finals Climb. Photo by Climb Media.

I’m so excited! It’s exactly a month away before I leave for my trip to France in late June where I will compete at my first two Open Lead World Cups (in Chamonix and Brianҫon, France). Registration is now open and the competition program has finally been released for the Chamonix comp on 10th-12th July and I’m just busting to get my name on that competitors list. It’ll be a big moment for me as one of my biggest dreams and goals finally becomes reality. Two years ago I got a bad wrist injury which forced me to stop climbing for 6-8 months and destroyed my plans of competing internationally that year. But after recovering from that I spent last year building back my strength to where it was before and beginning my plans for the World Cup comps this year.

QLD Lead State Titles 2015. Open A Finals Climb. Photo by Climb Media.

I've had an awesome year so far. I've dedicated the majority of my time to training every day of the week, pushing myself harder than I ever have before in preparation for these upcoming World Cups. Last weekend I managed to win the NSW Lead State Championships after topping out on both my qualifier climbs and slapping the last hold on my very long finals route. It was great to be back at what was my home gym (SICG Villawood) when I lived in NSW during 2012 and catch up with a few of my close friends again. I have to admit I was very intimidated by the famously long walls at that Villawood gym as my memory hadn't quite done them justice. I began having doubts about whether my resistance training would have been enough. But I was incredibly happy when I realized how much my training has paid off and I was able to tackle the walls better than ever before.  
NSW Lead State Titles 2015. Open A Female Podium. 

Competing at every interstate comp so far (TAS, SA, QLD, NSW (incl. ACT)), I've managed to take out 1st place in Open A at all of them, putting me in a good head space heading overseas to represent my country. It’ll be a whole different ball game over in Europe however, with very high standards, hard comp grades, different route-setting styles and crazy weird holds I've never even seen before. I’m incredibly excited to soon be a part of it all and have the opportunity to put myself completely out of my comfort zone and experience climbing with the best in the world.
QLD Lead State Titles 2015. Topping out the Open A Finals climb. Photo by Climb Media

The months have flown by and all my travel plans are nearing completion. Next week I will fly to Melbourne to compete at the VIC States. Two weeks after that, Queensland will hold the Australian National Lead Climbing Championships at Urban Climb in West End! I cannot wait to see the awesome event they put on and climb on some stellar routes. If it’s anything like the QLD State comp they held, it will be an absolutely amazing weekend.

Barely two weeks after Nationals I’ll be on my way to France! In the first two weeks of my trip, I will be camping and climbing outdoors in Ceuśe with my friends, Tom and Nate. I can’t wait to climb on the amazing limestone rock that everyone talks about. It’ll be so much fun and the long, pumpy climbs will also be perfect resistance training leading into the World Cups.

Exciting times are ahead! What an amazing experience it will all be. Looking forward to sending updates in the next few weeks!

Tuesday 24 March 2015

A Note on Nervousness

What I've learnt about Controlling Nervousness during Competitions 

No matter how many climbing competitions I go in (whether it be a World Cup, Nationals, States or even just a local social comp) I have to admit that I get nervous at every single one. It’s not a bad thing… in fact, I believe nerves are an incredibly important part of our competition preparation and mindset. As we all know however, if misunderstood and left untrained, nervousness can be detrimental to our performance.
I’ve read a few books, studied a little about it at university and even chatted to a sports psychologist about the best way to deal with nerves and performance anxiety. It’s all well and good to recognize what causes it and why it’s good or bad, but the only way to properly learn how to deal with your own personal stress and nervousness is from experience. Learning to understand how your body reacts to stress/pressure, when do you perform at your best, and what was difference in your mental state that made you perform so well?

Open A Females just before finals at Tasmania Lead State Titles 2015. Cameron Johns Photography

Why am I Nervous?
I believe it all comes down to pressure. We all have our own reasons for being nervous, thus putting pressure on ourselves to do well. For me, it is a very personal battle. I have a habit of putting enormous amounts of pressure and expectations on myself despite the level of competition. It means I always try my hardest, but it also means that if I don’t remember to control my nerves, I can easily fall victim to performance anxiety.

The Fine Line
As I said before, I think it is important to be a little nervous and put this pressure on ourselves. It keeps us in check, it pushes and motivates us to try harder, but if not handled correctly it can easily shake us off the wall. It is a very fine line between being under-excited and over-excited for the competition. It’s that tricky middle ground we’re looking for if we want to achieve optimal performance. How we achieve this optimal state is different for everyone, and something personal I learn more about with each competition I go in.

But When Am I Ready?
Part of why it’s so difficult to find this optimal middle ground is because there’s obviously no personal gauge telling you when you’ve reached it. How do I know when I’m in the best mental state to climb the wall? Do I need to relax more… or am I not excited enough? I ask myself these questions at every competition. The best way to know is to think back to your mindset throughout past experiences. When have you performed really well in a high-pressure environment and things just seemed to come naturally?
Despite the amount of pressure and expectations I put on myself… from what I’ve learnt so far, I perform best when I try to let this pressure go for a moment. By the time I’m at the comp and ready to climb, the pressure and amount of psych I need to push myself for the climb will always be there, whether I think about it or not. My best and most natural performances have come from when I focus on relaxing a little, having fun, thinking back to all the training I’ve done and just letting all that hard training and preparation show something for itself.

The Zone
The circumstances are different at every competition and rarely do they run just as we’ve planned or visioned. Sometimes you’ll be waiting all day to finally climb and by that stage you’re motivation is incredibly low. Sometimes it’ll be colder than you’re used to and it’s difficult to warm up. Maybe your competitors won’t stop mentioning that sausage you ate for lunch and how much it’ll weigh you down. Maybe you’re flight was delayed and your hotel was terrible and you had an awful night’s sleep, or you came down with a cold that morning and you feel on the edge of death! 
Whatever the unexpected circumstance, if you want to perform optimally it is important to stop for a second and find your zone, rather than letting it throw out your mental game. Don’t let the unexpected circumstance make you fall off the wall before you’ve even begun climbing! Instead, see them as challenges which give you more motivation to reach the top. This type of thinking, for whatever reason has been one of the most effective ways at getting me in the best zone to climb. I want to be able to perform my best, even when I’m at my worst… What greater challenge is there?

Preparing for my final's route at Tasmania Lead State Titles 2015. Cameron Johns Photography

Friday 20 March 2015

TAS Lead State Titles 2015

First comp of the year! I was so excited to fly down to Tassie for the weekend. It had been so long since I had competed at Rockit Climbing Centre in Hobart and I was also really excited to get a taste of some outdoor Tassie climbing after the comp as well. Unfortunately not many interstate climbers could make it down for the weekend, but I was excited to see a few of my old buddies there and I also got to meet a bunch of new people too.
Cameron Johns Photography. Preparing for the climb
Saturday (comp day) was a very long day. I arrived very early to help set up, watch the youth categories compete, hang out with a few old friends, and meet some of the other local Tassie climbers. All the routes on the comp walls looked really cool and very technical, I couldn’t wait to try them out. I also couldn’t help wishing I was still young enough to compete in the youth categories as well… that way I would get to climb some of their cool routes! Open A registration wasn’t until around 2pm so I was well and truly itching to climb by the time it got around to us.

During the first qualifier climb however, I felt quite shaky. I rushed it and managed to get flash pumped in the roof and fell off a few moves before the top. I could possibly blame it on not being warm enough… but I think I was feeling a little jittery and not quite in the right mental state. I was more focused on wanting to top the climb and have it over and done with as opposed to focusing on what I needed to do to get there. I guess it’s a very easy thing to do on your first comp climb of the year, but something I should probably have prepared myself a little more for mentally. 
Open A females Qualifier 1 climb
The second qualifier climb looked like so much fun and I felt like I could top it before I’d even got on the wall. An orange streak of crimpy, slopey and funky holds snaked its way up the super long, steep wall with very technical, sequencey sections… I couldn’t wait. As I climbed this route, I felt far more relaxed, natural and confident on the wall and I managed to top it! The climb was really enjoyable and put me in a good mindset leading up to finals that night.

Qualifyer 2 mid climb. Cameron Johns Photography

Happy thumbs up after topping my second qualifier climb. Cameron Johns Photography
When finals came around, I was out third. I was disappointed to not have done so well in the first qualifier, but incredibly happy to not have to wait as long in isolation because of it. The Open A females finals climb was such a cool route, but very tricky to visualise. It was like a whole lot of technical boulder problems linked in to one long, green, pumpy confusing climb. Going over the route during our visualisation time, I had a lot of; “well…I’ll have to figure it out when I get there” moments, but it all seemed fairly straight forward once we finally got to climb it.

Heading into the steep wall on the Open A Finals Route. Cameron Johns Photography
Before the first draw, there was a very balancy section with two tiny crimp underclings on the vertical wall which I think everyone felt very close to falling off on. The climb then traversed into the left steep wall which had three large slopey pinches, a sketchy heel hook and a big strengthy lock off move (just to make sure you were getting pumped).The route then went straight up into a terrible slopey ball in the roof which you had to press up into before heading out through the overhang and finishing just over the lip.
The awkward reach back through the roof of the Open A Finals Route. Cameron Johns Photography

Just before the roof, I remember being super pumped and slightly confused by a terrible distractor hold out to my left which I thankfully decided to ignore. I was so tired but managed to get my feet up high and used every muscle I had to press up into it. Surprised, I had actually managed it and was wedged up in the corner between the hold and the wall, awkwardly trying to look behind me for my next hold and how to get to it. I was so exhausted at this stage, that I thought I had no hope in actually doing the next move… so my best bet was to at least try and grip the next hold. I reached back awkwardly to find an in-cut jug, but if I didn’t control my swing I would be flung off the wall. With every ounce of strength I grabbed the hold and tried to control my swing, almost forgetting about the rest of the climb ahead. To my surprise I actually held and matched it and was hanging with my feet dangling in the air, desperate for another footer when I remembered one on the wall behind me. I quickly swung my foot over just in time to keep me on the wall. I was only two holds away from clipping the anchor and was pleading my arms to last a little longer. Thankfully the last hold was fairly positive and I was finally able to clip the last draw. I had topped! What a battle!
Finally secured that footer on the Open A Finals Route. Cameron Johns Photography

Topping out with the final hold on the Open A Finals Route. on the Open A Finals Route. Cameron Johns Photography
It was really cool watching the other Open Finalists that night. The girls were climbing really strong but didn’t manage to make it past the mean green ball in the overhang. The Open A Male route was super funky and balancy and made a great show for the spectators. After presentations we all went home for some much deserved rest.

I spent the next two days climbing outdoors with Roxy Perry and a few of her climbing friends from the Rockit gym. Sunday, we spent the afternoon climbing at a really awesome little hidden treasure called Sandfly, which had some beautiful and really fun routes.
Me at Sandfly crag, Tasmania
Monday night I had to fly back home to Brisbane… but we spent part of the morning climbing at the beautiful Mt Wellington Organ Pipes which was absolutely amazing! I flashed my first climb there which was called “After Midnight”; a mega-classic, 50m, one pitch, stunning 24. We had perfect weather and the absolutely amazing views and exposure made it a really awesome way to round up my little Tassie trip.
Me abseiling back down "After Midnight" at the Organ Pipes, Tasmania
I would like to send a huge thank you to Flight Centre Active Travel, Pinnacle Sports and ICP. I am so grateful for their ongoing support this year and I am so excited to have this opportunity to share my adventures, journey and dreams with them beside me. You guys are amazing :-)