Written by Tiffany Melius
Photograph of final problem one by Stephanie Larbalestier
It wasn’t a great start that I was sick off work the day before the comp. Or that I had trouble getting to sleep the night before. Or that I had to get up at 5:30am to make it into Iso in time. But none of those things were getting to me because my body felt OK. Not amazing, not terrible. Just fine.
Then our car wouldn’t start. That’s OK too - nothing we can do about it, jump the car and get underway. Roads are ridiculously snowy and slippery; but Si is a good driver and we made it to Iso in one piece and with 2 minutes to spare.
Warm-up was fine. Fatigue was in my eyes, and in my head, but not where it counted.
I climbed OK on problem one, but after watching others on it later I realised that I had just not thought outside the box on where my feet could go. I was mad. But I cleared it and focused on the next problem.
Easy flash. Think about problem one. Clear it. Refocus.
Problem three - underestimated the final hold and off I came. All good. Sent second go. Think about problem one. Clear it. Refocus.
Problem four flash. Think about problem one. Clear it. Refocus.
Problem five flash, but not without some real try-hard to stick an out of control cut-loose spin off a sloper.
Not happy. Not happy because of problem one. I should have known better. But results were OK and I was finals in 5th.
I tried to sleep in the break but couldn’t. It’s OK. I rested well.
Finals. Two clicks of hyperextension in my left elbow on problem one. Pain. Seems less dangerous to finish than to move out of position. Flash. Len the physio-coach works on my elbow and gives me the all-clear to continue to compete. “You won’t do it any more harm, it will just hurt.” I can do pain. I move through pain in training all the time.
Problem two flash. No pain while climbing, only afterwards.
Problem three I can’t do the first move. It’s OK. It feels totally OK. I just can’t do it. It’s not my style, or my strength and I give it a pretty damn good shot.
The thing about the 4+ Finals format is that it is much more social than the 5 on 5 off. With 5 on 5 off you only have to focus on yourself, on what’s going on inside you. Your intentions, your internal messages, your tools and strategies. It’s easier to remain focused on what matters, and on all the good stuff you’ve done in training inside your head.
You could shut yourself off in Iso in 4+, but you’d have to be doing it for half an hour in between each climb. That’s a long stretch to stay within yourself. But you also wouldn’t talk to others and second guess your beta.
I walked out to problem four and decided to do what someone else had suggested. Because I didn’t trust myself. After 20 years of competing. After winning Australian Bouldering Nationals. I still didn’t trust my own opinion on how to start the problem. Because well, they could be right! But this time around they were not. I gave it one hell of a good fight and managed to stick bonus. But I had just spent too much energy on the beginning of the most powerful problem of all the final problems. I rested. I knew that I only had one more attempt in me and so I rested.
I re-started the problem the way I had originally intended and it was so ridiculously much easier that I almost laughed. As I moved towards the finish I grabbed a wrap hold and felt a nerve twinge in my hand. My two smallest fingers went numb. It’s OK. It happens sometimes. But I felt a panic - I didn’t have much time left! This was my second and last attempt and I had rested too long! I wasn’t going to make it! I threw for the finish and the two numb fingers didn’t close. I had failed.
It was only once I got down that I remembered that in the 4+ format if you are on the wall when time ends, you can keep going.
Then the ‘if onlys’ started. If only I hadn’t been so stupid to forget that I had endless time - I could have shaken out my fingers, regained feeling and completed the problem. I certainly had the energy left. If only I hadn’t second guessed myself and had used my own start beta on my first attempt, I am sure I could have flashed it.
And in the end, if I had flashed it, I would have won.
But it was not to be. And so I’m sad, and mad, and in awe that this sport, that I have done for so long, can still defeat me. That I can still care so much. Even in a comp that I went into not caring much about at all.
My mum pointed out that even though I didn’t necessarily feel it, my underlying fatigue probably played a large role in the little mistakes I made. Because they were all brain mistakes:
For me this just reaffirmed how important it is to keep all parts of the machine well oiled - we can’t perform to our best without all systems on go. We need to pay attention to sleep, nutrition, self-belief, strategy, as well as the body (strength, power, flexibility), in training as well as at performance time.
So I will spend the rest of the night being kind to myself. Forgiving myself. Letting myself being upset, and maybe crying a bit, because it means that I still care passionately about this sport and the pursuit of excellence. I am proud that I didn't let any of the mishaps and misfortunes of the day get to me. And curious as to why I did when it was my own shortcomings at play.
And I am also hoping that maybe I have helped someone else by writing this and making it public. That I have allowed them to be upset, and love and forgive themselves too.