Control Your Breath...Control Your Fear: BlocFest Rocks RCC
By Jen Wilby
"So much of our suffering - as individuals is caused by fear and fear is at the very root of our ego"
When using the word "fear" in the climbing environment, most will talk about a fear of physical pain related to hurting themselves, falling off etc. Whilst physical pain is part of climbing (I'll talk about the pain BlocFest caused my entire body later), there is also a mental pain within climbers, the pain of fear which is common amongst women climbers, although I am sure it's common within the male climbing community but many won't admit it and that's the fear of people watching you climbing, of people judging your climbing.
Whilst this fear is in the mind, it can have huge physical side affects, including:
2) Rapid heartbeat
None of these, as you know, will have an positive affect on your climbing and unless controlled, will have a spiriling negative affect on your progress and will probably stop you from enjoying it - it needs controlling!
A story most folk don't know is that when I was first introduced to climbing approx 8 years ago, I could not get to the top of my local wall, on top rope on rainbow (using any holds any colour) and this frustrated me immensly. I was also climbing with an experienced climber, proficient in the 7's along with many of his friends and I knew many of those (mainly the women) revelled in me not being able to do anything. The more I climbed the more scared I got and the more I hated it. However, due to personality
defect attribute, I was determined not to let it, "it" being my fear of my ability, get the better of me. Therefore I accepted I may never be as good as those looking down on me and to just keep trying. The acceptance meant I no longer cared how I did, as long as I tried and enjoyed it. This was the ultimate change, now 8 years later I'm where I am, and couldnt be happier that I stuck to my guns and accepted that I was never going to be a climber of any level.
Anyway, I digress...whilst most folk see me climb and compete, they believe I have no fear, that I am at one with the heights, the falling off and the crowds. This is a total false reality. Those who have stayed awake throughout these blogs (well done!) will know that I struggled for months last year with vertigo, I've hurt myself many times falling off (hospitalised a couple of times) and I'm totally pertrified of folk watching me climb.
I have found the first two fears easy to control:
1) Fear of heights - I knew this was irrational and was making me hate climbing routes. Therefore I battled against it and just kept going until it went away.
2) Fear of Falling - all climbing circumstances are different, its a risk, if I didnt control this then I would't climb.
3) Fear of crowds / climbing in public - well...this is a different matter...
When I first really commited to bouldering in 2010, it became apparent that I was terrified of climbing in front of people. I have the physical affects described earlier, sweating off holds, a sense of weakness (yes! that excuse is in my little book) and lactic acid pumping so hard through my arms along with a general inability to co-ordinate my movements. I was so fed up of this I decided the best thing to do was enter a series of bouldering competitions :- People watching your every move, some willing you to fail, flashes requiring me to stay calm and think things through - yup indoor comps should make or break me... on to SIBL, the Southern Indoor Bouldering League (Replaced by the amazing BlocFest now).
After 6 rounds of SIBL, I came 2nd over all by 1 point. This 1 point still pains me and if I had an ounce of comp knowledge in me during round 1, I would have won. Shouda coulda woulda. During the time I also competed in CWIF, HSBC and local WIBL leagues, making finals and semi finals. You'd believe that all these rounds would have sorted out my fear, it did. Until I went away for 12 months to remote places climbing mainly in a pair and didn't have a care in the world!
Until BlocFest came to Reading Climbing Centre and I managed to scrape through to the finals (I believe the snow was an influential factor). I was once again, tired too quick during qualifiers, something I need to work on. The qualifers were OK, focussing on the moves everything else fades into the background so knowing people maybe watching dosn't affect me in that respect. To overcome this its about having the mindset of being in the moment wanting to complete the bloc more than thinking about people watching.
Once I'd finished the qualifiers, I didn't have an ounce of energy left in me, no fluids and no food all day was not my best move. I'd been helping with registration since 9a, started the qualifiers and hour late, and didnt warm up correctly. On my last bloc, I just stepped off, knowing I was done. I was broken. All comp tactics have gone since the trip.
When I heard that I had scraped through to the final in 5th place, the fear kicked in, my heartrate went through the roof and I'm pretty sure if the DJ wasn't kicking out those tunes my heartbeat would have provided some base. After ensuring all the girls had handed in their scorecards it was time to face it. I had 1 hour before finals started, first stop, coffee and lots of it! A double expresso later I was in the Iso area. I must have come across as very unsociable because I didnt talk to anyone. My mind was so consumed with "what the heck am I going to do about this? How am I going to try these blocs and not make a total idiot of myself?". There it is, the fear at the root of my ego. I cared about making a fool of myself in front of people. Mistake.
Since returing from the trip I have made some significant life style changes. I've become a Veggie (I can hear the hisses !) For those interested check out Rich Roll's book Finding Ultra, its am amazing story of an amazing life change and provides fantastic material of food for life to help with training and recovery.
The 2nd chance I've made is the taking up of Yoga, not just because of the physical benefits I hope to gain but also because of the spiritual benefits it offers. The ability to control the mind and relax.
This was my only option - to stop my heartbeat from adding to the base and to control the fear of being in front of that crowd...a home crowd who I am sure had more expectations than I did. So whilst everyone else warmed up, I decided I needed to save every last bit of energy so threw my jacket over my head and concentrated on controlling my breating and relaxing my entire body. WHOOP! It worked. Out to view the blocs...WHHHOOOOMPH...heart rate back up.
Back into ISO , being the lowest qualifier meant I was out first, added pressure - from me - no one else. The first bloc was a doube dyno - my nemesis. So I spent 3 minutes throwing myself at that wall with no success. "Well at least I have nothing to loose now". There is that acceptance, I had accepted I had made a fool of myself, so I had nothing else to loose. Back into ISO, down jacket back over head. Time for the 2nd bloc, I felt calm, thought the bloc through and before I knew it I was matching the final hold. Flash. Looking back the interesting thing is that I didnt hear anything whilst climbing it, I was totally focussed on the moves, nothing more. The first I knew of anyone being there was when I heard " She still has to match it" but by then it was all over. (I've since tried this bloc again and can't do the rock over at the top!).
My tactic was clear - try to fall asleep and lower that heartrate, empty the mind.
I tried this again for Bloc3 but the events of the day got to me, no power, so I just went out and enjoyed trying to bloc, regardless of the outcome.
Despite the fear, I had a fantastic time qualifying 5th and coming 3rd this I count as a success. Top effort to Molly - total inspiration, Audrey and Jon P, who all did well and were a pleasure to watch.
The comp has left me with knowledge of huge gaps in my climbing, endurance for qualifiers, my fear of people watching, my dynamic ability...all to be worked on. However I now know, that when I control my breath everything else will fall into place.
I know I climb my best when I dont think about whats ahead, when my body climb without my mind. Have a look at how you perform best, when do you enjoy it the most and how you can replicate this when you are feeling nervous, when you are facing a fear of some kind.
BlocFest was an awesome event, I was a broken girl the day after, unable to move most muscles in my body! I went to the wall to attempt some active recovery but it was soon clear the best thing was to totally rest. Well done blocfest guys - you beat me!
A few photo's from blocfest:
Before the snow hit England, we saw the temperature drop and the sun was shining up in the Peak District so we headed on up with the hope that conditions were perfect and they were. So I managed a few long standing projects and also tried Brad Pit - my long term goal!
Not sure what the next month has in store, constantly checking the weather forecast in the hope to get outside, moving house and starting work, its going to be tough!