My First Bouldering Comp: A Lesson in Fortitude

Earlier this summer, I noticed a flyer at my gym advertising an upcoming bouldering competition they were sponsoring in early September. It was 50-boulder problem competition and climbers could register under different categories of difficulty. Despite spending most of my gym time in the bouldering cave, I still do not really consider myself a “boulderer” per se. Most of the time I’m not trying that hard. And there’s just something about boulders that just don’t get me as excited as long, pumpy enduro routes. Additionally, I had an assumption in me that comps were only for strongman boulderers, not the average v4/v5 climber like myself.

However, this particular comp depicted itself as friendly to “all levels”. It even had a v0-v2 category. I figured I might as well challenge myself. I also considered the fact that my gym is largely comprised of dudes (or at least it feels like it is), and that the female bouldering categories could likely be far smaller fields to compete against. So, I paid the entry fee ($45) and registered as an Intermediate (v3-v5) competitor.

The comp format was as follows:

There were, as mentioned, 50 boulders. Each boulder was numbered in level of difficulty (ex: #1 was easiest, and #50 was most difficult). Each boulder also was assigned a certain number of points. Climbers were given a score card, and each time they sent a boulder, they had to record the number of attempts it took them and have 2 other competitors sign off that they did, in fact, send. The judges took the top 5 hardest boulders for each climber and judged them against that total score. The comp was scheduled from 12pm-4pm, and during that period climbers had the opportunity to attain as high a score as possible. As mentioned in a previous post, I spent most of this summer training power endurance. Little did I know this training actually probably served me well during this arduous 4-hour comp.

Getting another competitor to sign off on my scoring sheet

Surprisingly, over 130 climbers turned up for this event. The bouldering cave was PACKED. I knew immediately that I probably would take the entire 4 hours to climb since I’d have to stand in line to climb each problem. That was generally true, which was somewhat stressful at first.The first hour of the comp was very crowded, but people did start taking breaks from the cave as time went on.

My strategy:

Nutrition:

⁃ I ate a filling but carb-heavy breakfast at around 8:30/9 am (Oatmeal, nuts, banana, berries)

⁃ Right before event, I ate some fast carbs (cantaloupe and a homemade energy bar).

⁃ I actually forgot to eat again for a couple hours, but around 3pm I ate a protein bar and a peach and I definitely noticed a re-surge of energy

⁃ After comp, I made sure to consume at least 20g of protein for recovery.

⁃ Next time, I will probably make a concerted effort to take a break each hour and consume at least 100 calories/carb-heavy snack (ie, fruit, granola bar, etc).

⁃ I also made sure to consume plenty of water during this event. I ended up drinking 2 Nalgenes (32oz each) that also had BCAA’s and electrolytes. Despite this, I still ended up feeling dehydrated next couple days.

Climbing:

⁃ I warmed up on approximately 5-6 problems. Typically, I like to take 20-30 minutes for a nice, slow warmup but the crowded cave made it difficult. Next time, I will probably spend some time on my gym’s systems board or auto-belays to ensure I’m completely warm prior to event.

⁃ As an intermediate-level climber, I tried to spend most of my time working problems in the #20- #30 range (ie, problems in the v4-v5 range). I also tried not to get too tired on a single problem. This tactic proved challenging for me on one particular problem, which I was SO close to sending. I probably tried it 6x and fell at the topout hold each time. Most of the climbs I ended up sending were more technical than powerful (ie, catered to my strengths).

⁃ By 3:00 or so, I noticed that the 4 hardest problems I had sent were in the #20-#25 range. I realize that to be strategic, I had to try a problem harder than #20. Luckily, I was able to pull out one last send before calling it quits around 3:30. My hands were torn up and my muscles were sore. I should also mention that with all of the people, the bouldering cave felt literally around 85 degrees and humid. It was depleting!

⁃ Next time, as mentioned above, I will try to be better about taking breaks each hour. I did try to take breaks between each boulder (~3-5 minutes) but in the end, I ended up climbing a LOT which was hard on my body. It definitely took me a couple days to fully recover and feel like a normal, hydrated human again. Additionally, I will definitely take my time starting out the competition. Once the cave started clearing out a little, it was way more pleasant to climb.

Results: I did not win anything, but I did learn a lot. Mostly I learned that despite my aversion to climbing in crowded spaces, there can be exceptions. Sometimes it CAN be fun to climb on a beautiful September day with 130+ other people in a hot, sweaty bouldering cave. Only sometimes 😉

Sooo close to sending

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