A Look Back on 2017

GBDS Selection for 2017 took place in early December 2016. By the end of 2017 it felt like only a few months had passed but looking back now, the season itself was long and demanding, due to trying to get back to my peak performance and dealing with an unfortunate injury.

Looking back to the day of Dev Squad Selection, I felt confident that I had done well. I had been building up to it for a good few months to improve my core strength and stability to make sure I would do well on the various tests.

Just before Christmas, I received an email inviting me onto the GB Dev Squad for 2017. Since I started climbing, around 4 years ago, it had been an ambition of mine to make the GB Squad. Having not made the Squad last year (the first year that I had been eligible to join) under the old system, it was a mixture of happiness and relief that I had achieved one of my goals.

Everybody gets different things out of being part of the GB Squad, but I was too young to compete for GB in international competitions. This year was about preparing for the next season, when I hope to be reselected and be able take part in the comps. Out of all the things the GB Dev Squad had to offer, the most beneficial to me was the nutritional advice, the climbs set specifically for my age group and climbing with my friends from around the country on a more regular basis. Being able to compare what we do for our weekly training is really useful too.

Youth Opens at Reading and Oakwood – Coming Back from Injury

After Christmas I started a new training block leading up to the first national competition of the year; the Lead Open Youth Event and Boulder Open Youth Event. Training was going smoothly and I felt in shape. In late February, I competed in the Plywood Masters Juniors comp where I was 1st place in my category, but I felt tightness in my shoulder the following day.

I didn’t think it was a problem, so I didn’t tell my coach or my parents and continued to train. However, unfortunately whilst competing in a local WBL the following week on problems set for adults, I went for a very reachy move to an arête and got a sharp pain in my shoulder blade area. I knew straight away that it was more than a tweak and that it would need rest and physio to get it sorted. It was disappointing because my training was going well.

The next week, I went to see Tim Deakin at Sport-Med in Stockport. I had worked with Tim before to sort out some tendon impingement in my shoulder, but this time he diagnosed a general strain of the rotator cuff muscles in the same shoulder. As before, we worked on treating the injury but we also spent time looking at the reasons why it happened. Tim demonstrated to me I had a problem with shoulder engagement, even though I had been doing all the standard exercises that climbers do to help this. He also showed me that I needed to work on some very specific exercises to manage the effects of having a hollow back.

I saw him weekly and he slowly built up the exercises he gave me. I still do them every day and so far I have avoided any more injury which has allowed me to increase my training. A big change for me is that I now see Tim at least once a month to test and review. This allows me to deal with any issues very early so I am able to stay fit and can work well physically in every training session.

Sadly, however, I had managed two light climbing sessions, when we got the news that my Grandpa had died. It was a real shock because he was very active and lived a very full life. I pretty much wasn’t able to train for the last two weeks in March (due to my Dad not being around and our travelling to London) for the comps on the 1st and 2nd of April. My Dad suggested to me that it would be best not to compete in the OYEs as I had nearly 6 weeks out, but I wanted to do my best and get back into the swing of competitions.

We travelled down to Reading for the Lead OYE and it didn’t go too well. It wasn’t my fitness that was the problem, it was because I had only climbed 3 times since my injury in February and I wasn’t climbing with any flow. At the time it was upsetting because I was used to doing well, but it was a different experience to have a bad result and to understand why I hadn’t made finals.

The next day we went over to Oakwood and I felt a lot more relaxed. I knew I wasn’t likely to do well and I planned to just enjoy the day and follow my coach's advice to work on my bouldering comp process. The setting was good and I felt less under pressure compared to lead qualification at Reading. I finished 8th but I wasn’t upset about not making finals. I was proud that I had only made few mistakes and I had tried my very best.

Imst – Youth Color Climbing Festival

Having done the Imst Youth Color Festival the previous two years and not achieving the result I thought I was capable of, I really wanted to do well this time round. I decided, back in September 2016, that my season goal was to make finals (top 20) and then try for a top ten place on the 2nd day. 

Training went smoothly and I felt in shape. We arrived in Austria the Monday before the Youth Color so that we could spent some time relaxing before the weekend and to enjoy what Imst had to offer with my family. The definite highlight of the week for me, was going to the recently opened wall in Innsbruck. People say it’s the best wall in the world and the routes were really cool. The setting is very different to Britain and it took some getting used to. Routes in England are generally very crimpy, very face on, and reachy. I find that in Europe it is the complete opposite. They are very dependent on your ability to get everything correct; the sequence, how you take a hold and balance. Also, there are no holds on the wall that don’t serve a purpose and the moves are very technical and clever. It is routes like these that are set at YCCF.

At the start of my session, at Innsbruck, I was falling off the majority of hard climbs I tried but towards the end my body had adapted to the style of climbing.

On Saturday I arrived at the qualifiers feeling very awake, on the contrary to how I usually am in the mornings. I had seen the routes the night before, without knowing which ones were mine, so I was eager to find out which ones I’d be on. The format of the completion is as follows: Day 1 (Saturday) you have 6 routes to climb in jam format (no order, take your one attempt on each one when you want within the timeframe), from your qualifier you will be ranked and the top twenty go into the final. The final consisted of two routes which were both demoed.

It was a very long day. I felt very confident with my performance during the day, the weather was very good for the majority of my climbs with clear skies. I had 1 more route left and the majority of competitors were finished, but then thunderclouds started to fill the sky and I knew it would rain soon. I had a feeling from watching other climbers throughout the day that I would need to top it or get close. I gave it my best in the humid conditions and I got past where most people fell ; I felt I could have topped and secured my place in the final. However, I thought I had blown it until later that evening when I was very relieved to find out I had managed to make finals in 19th.

On the Sunday I woke up a extremely tired. This meant a lot of warming up. It had also started raining but it was cool unlike the hot, humid conditions at the end of qualifiers.

My first route was sheltered enough so the holds didn’t get wet but the route was exposed enough to feel little drops of rain lashing in from the side. F1 had lots of slopers and large pinches leading into a few tiny crimps in the last few moves. My friend Louis from France went first on the route, with me following after him (reverse order from qualifying place). He got very high on the route, but I fell a few moves below him. This disheartened me because I thought I’d dropped to 20th but more and more people fell off the route below me until I ended up in 13th place on F1. F2 was very different from F1. It had a wide variety of holds and the route was set over vertical, slab and overhang, but with tiny crimps at the bottom - the bottom section definitely wasn’t my style. I had read the route well and then managed to make some good decisions through the slab mid-section while climbing. I ended up really surprising myself and managed to come 5th F2, falling off in the last crux, only a few moves from the chains. Overall I managed to come 9th which achieved my goal of top 10. I was top placed GB climber in the category but it took me a while to feel pleased about achieving my goal as I was one point from 8th place and knew I could have got a couple of holds higher on F1. We had a long drive home straight after the presentation ceremony, sleeping in the car and heading straight into school the next morning.

Summer – Getting Outdoors and Arco Rock Juniors

I kicked off the summer with a satisfying result in the Junior British Bouldering Championships. The qualifiers and finals were absolutely horrible as it was scorching heat and, being British, no-one was really acclimatised to it. I managed to hold it together in the final, getting two tops and two bonus out of the four problems and managed to come 2nd. Only one move and attempt away from 1st placel.

With no more comps till September I had the chance to get outside more. I chose to focus on comp climbing but enjoy climbing outdoors too. The weekend after JBBC I went back to Curbar to have another go on Gorilla Warfare. I had worked it over 2 sessions the previous June, 12 months earlier, and had made good progress but training and comps took over as usual and I didn’t get a chance to get back on it.I then went to Spain for the summer holidays. I had the Arco Rock Juniors comp in Italy to prepare for at the end of August but the aim for that was to get some experience of combined comps. I knew that our plans for the summer wouldn’t allow me to prepare like I had for YCCF, but I was just looking forward to seeing Arco and giving it a go, so I trained indoors at Treparriscos in Santander a couple of times a week, did my conditioning at home and got outside a few times a week.

One of the highlights of that holiday was Josh Ibbertson and his family coming to stay. They had left England to tour Spain and had started with Viscaya and Cantabria so we showed them some of our local bouldering areas such as Resconorio, Ahedo and las Tuerces and the sport crag at Recuevas in Palencia.

I really wanted to try and push up my outdoor lead grade from 7a+, which was well below what I can climb indoors, while I was out in Spain so I started projecting Ticiano 7c+. By my third session, I started getting really close but there was one move in the crux that I just couldn’t get, so I decided to leave it for next time I was there in October.

The week went by very quickly and suddenly it was time to drive across to Italy. However, in the week leading up and during the Arco rock junior, I had very severe Gastroenteritis. I hadn’t eaten properly for days and this meant I had barely any energy and had lost muscle mass but I didn’t want to lose the last chance I had of taking part in a European Open. On the first day of the comp I managed to top 5 out of 5 boulders but the number of attempts put me 18th in the bouldering.

Thunderstorms and high wind caused problems for the setters which meant we only got one instead of 2 routes for Lead the next day. I came joint 10th in Lead, two moves away from topping it. I had a long wait after that for my turn on the Speed route. The route was a set of random jugs and I found it hard to be psyched for it. My time was OK, but I could have done better.

Unfortunately, because there were so many joint places in the Bouldering and the Lead, the Speed became the deciding discipline due to the combined format of multiplying your 3 finishing places together. This brought my overall position down from top 20-15 to 23rd overall. I was very surprised and happy with how well I coped for the two days competing without food during the day and overall it was a great experience.

After Arco, the next comp was BLCCs in October. I knew that I had to train hard for it so I went to Innsbruck on the way home from Arco and had a good five days there. I had got over the bug and was able to start eating properly again which made a big difference to my energy levels. I did 3 days at the wall working on movement and getting some volume in and spent the afternoons at the pool with my family. I also got the chance to watch some of the Youth World Championships qualifiers and it was good to watch GB Junior climbers competing.

BLCCs – Second Last Comp of the Season

We got back to Manchester in time for the first day of school and I got straight into my pre comp training. Getting back into my term time routine of early get ups and late training sessions, was very tiring, but I really wanted to make up for the disappointing start to the season and finish strongly at BLCCs. As part of my build up, I managed 3rd place at the Scottish Youth Climbing Championships which was held in early September up at Ratho, which was an encouraging result but I also managed a minor strain in my rotator cuff muscles. I was worried that I would lose the gains I’d made, but once I was back training I hadn’t lost much fitness and I was climbing well.

BLCCs weekend arrived and I felt ready, physically. I had come 2nd in 2016 and knew I had a good chance of doing well. On the morning of the qualifiers I didn’t feel mentally ready for the day. I got high up the route, but I forgot to work my feet up at a key moment and came off lower than a few of the other competitors, jeopardising my place in the final. I felt under pressure on Q2 but I managed to get to the last move, meaning I qualified in 7th place for the finals.

The final route was very bouldery with big resin volumes, leading into a crimpy last sequence. I was out third and got through the long bouldery section. It was hard physically and by the time I got to the crimps section I had to dig deep to make progress. I came off throwing to a crimp and maybe I could have got my feet higher instead. I was very pleased to be told that I had the high point but I knew there were some good climbers still to come out. I watched others fall below my highpoint, securing my place on podium. I ended up in 2nd place, only a few seconds off 1st place. It’s disappointing not to win when I was so close but I was pleased to have climbed well in the final.

That felt like the end of the season and I was ready to take a break and then focus on training without trying to peak again and again for different comps, but I knew that the changes to GB Development Squad Selection meant I would have to compete again in early December to keep my place on the Squad.

I had a week off and then got back to training for the Selection Event. This was a combined event involving Lead, Speed and Bouldering, so trying to get ready for all 3 disciplines at the end of a long season was hard. The event was well run but with places in the Squad to climb for, it was pretty pressured. I was competing in my new age category, Male B, and I placed 2nd in Lead, 2nd fastest on Lead but only managed 5th on Boulder after smashing my hip off a volume while falling. This gave me 3rd overall which I was happy with. A week later, I got the email telling me I was back in the Squad for 2018.

I’ve been training hard through the winter, building up progressively for the 2018 season. It’s gone well and I am really looking forward to competing in some EYCs and EYCh, starting with the Lead EYC in Voiron in early April.