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KATIE FISHER’S APPROACH TO COMPETITIONS

I first started competing about 8 years ago at a freezing climbing centre in Sheffield. There were 8 climbs in the qualifiers, and I didn’t manage to get off the floor on any of them and finished last!  

I’m not quite sure why I carried on after that, but I soon became a regular at what many will fondly remember as the Nukids competitions at Highball. Slowly my scores began to improve and all I wanted to do back then was ‘Top Gun’!

It was still some time before I felt brave enough to enter the Highball ‘Boulder League’ but as my confidence grew, I started to enjoy this event too eventually making a few finals along the way.

With the help of my parents, I started to compete further afield in 2018 and for a while I was almost getting there but not quite with my results until a major breakthrough winning the Scottish Youth Lead Climbing Championships in 2019. This is just what I needed to start believing and I went on to a number of other more promising results before the COVID pandemic struck bringing all indoor climbing to an abrupt halt in 2020. I remember being devastated at the time as things had started to go so well, but we ended up building two separate home climbing ‘walls’ in the garden and I started training harder than ever.

Things didn’t really kick off again with climbing competitions until late 2021 and to my relief it was clear that all my hard work had paid off with some great results in National competitions which eventually led me to finishing 2nd in the Junior British Bouldering Championships in 2022 and being selected to compete 6 times for Great Britain in my final year as a Junior with the highlight having the opportunity to compete in the Youth World Championships in Dallas, Texas in August 2022 reaching the semi-finals which I will always remember.

I started working full time about a year ago but have continued to train or climb 6 days a week and compete regularly across the UK with 6 appearances in finals over the last 3 months alone, including 4 podiums.

So, what is different about climbing in competitions, what have I learnt on my journey and how do I approach things now?

Bouldering competitions are generally about topping problems in as few attempts as possible with 10 points being awarded for a ‘flash’ down to just 1 point for completing a problem on the 4th attempt. Most competitions run by climbing centres have between 20 and 30 qualifying problems to be completed in up to 3 hours ranging from easy to hard with BMC national competitions having just 8 normally very hard qualifying problems. It is usually the top 6 athletes in each category from the qualifiers that make the finals which normally consist of 3 or 4 very hard and often more dynamic problems with just a few minutes to complete each one.

Here are 10 things that I now do every time I compete and hopefully, they will help you too:

  1. Plan ahead – there are competitions running almost every week, so I focus on key events that I want to do planning months ahead and give myself enough time to recover and train too.
  2. Train weaknesses – I’ve always been a naturally static climber, and this definitely held me back in the past, but I now focus heavily on improving both my dynamic and slab climbing in my training sessions. This has made a huge difference to my results this year and with a lot of hard work I have turned slab climbing from something I feared into a strength now.
  3. Climb at my limits – competition climbing is all about testing yourself so I try to replicate this as much as possible in my training sessions by tackling the hardest problems I can and pushing the boundaries of what can be achieved. This helps to give me more confidence when competing and enables me top more hard problems first time for the maximum points.
  4. Eat well before the competition – diet is important generally, but on the day of a competition I try to have a pasta type meal and drink plenty about 2 hours before the start time. During the event itself I drink water regularly and tend to have at least a couple of short breaks for light snacks like bananas and to assess how things are going and what I need to concentrate on next.
  5. Focus on my own performance – it’s very easy at competitions to become intimidated or distracted by what everyone else is doing. In my early days of competing, I found this very debilitating, and it had a negative impact on my own performance, so I now try to concentrate much more on executing my own plan.  The only thing I can control is what I do myself and worrying less about others has had a big positive impact and improved my confidence when taking on the hardest climbs.
  6. Grading the climbs before I start – it really helps to arrive at the venue early so I can walk around and look at all the climbs. I just use a simple easy, middle, and hard grading system and this helps me focus on what needs to be done and in what order. In the qualifiers you can watch other people climbing so by identifying the more difficult climbs before the start I can often get a bit of beta on my way around the centre about the best way to tackle a difficult climb.
  7. Warming up properly – when climbing in competitions it’s natural to be more tense and to push that bit harder that you would normally as every attempt counts. Without proper warming up, this can often lead to injuries, so I always thoroughly warm up all my muscles and joints before starting with some light climbing gradually increasing the difficulty over a dozen climbs over about a 15 minute period. If the competition itself has some easy climbs I sometimes also use this as part of my warmup and to help get me settled into the event.
  8. Don’t put off the hard climbs – when I was younger, I would generally increase the difficulty of climbs I tried as the competition progressed, but this was definitely a mistake as I was often too tired by the end to give the hardest climbs my best shot.  Nowadays as soon as I feel ready, I will get onto any big overhangs whilst I am at my freshest and tackle tricky slabs early to avoid the inevitable long queues that can build up towards the end for the climbs that everyone has left until last.
  9. Think clearly and be efficient – my first goal with every competition is to make the final and finish as high as possible in the qualifiers as countback to the qualifying results sometimes comes into play.  This has to be balanced carefully against trying climbs over and over again for perhaps just one more point which can waste a huge amount of energy and at the same time wreck my skin, all of which are likely to have a negative affect on my performance if I do make the final. 
  10. Coping with pressure – especially in finals, being able to cope with the pressure of competition can be a huge influence of performance and ultimately winning or losing.  Like all sports it often comes down to very fine margins and over the years I have learnt to deal with this better.  Enjoying the moment more and concentrating on doing the best that I can rather than worrying about others in both my training and at big events has really helped me enormously get so much more from the sport.

I love competing and doing well, but most important of all I try more and more to just enjoy it.