Wednesday, 26 August 2020

 Climbing in Croatia

After months spent training at home I finally had the opportunity to travel this summer! As someone who is very used to living out of a suitcase going between comps, the prospect of spending summer at home did not fill me with joy, so when some mates asked if I wanted to join them on a climbing and scuba diving trip to Croatia, I didn’t hesitate to book my ticket. Paklenica may not be as well known as some other European sport climbing destinations, but it certainly has a lot to offer.

I have always focused primarily on indoor climbing, following a busy training schedule which over the years has given me little time to get outdoors. However, with the competition season as good as cancelled this year, I’ve spent lockdown transferring my skills to rock. Before going to Paklenica, all my trips have been performance focussed-not what you’d exactly call a ‘holiday’, but rather an opportunity to show how my training had paid off. For this trip I decided to adopt the mindset of wanting to climb hard, but not letting this get in the way of simply having fun. I love competing, but a break from such a high-pressure environment was definitely needed.

The first couple of days were a shock to the system; in such high temperatures I adjusted my ambitions and mentally prepared myself for not sending anything hard. However, spending a rest day scoping out cool climbs reignited the desire in me to push my limits. Hram, a natural archway hidden away from the main path, immediately caught my eye and I decided to get up at 5am the following day to make the most of slightly cooler conditions.

Hram in all it's glory

Admittedly it wasn’t the easiest to get out of bed but once I was at the crag I knew I had made the right decision and within 15 minutes of arriving I had flashed my first 7c+/8a (without a warm up-yes, I got stupidly pumped). With this under my belt I knew I couldn’t leave without trying the hardest route in the arch-Mrakan (8a). To my disappointment, this one didn’t go down as easily and after a couple of attempts I realised it was getting too hot for me to have a good attempt. Luckily, my mate Jack had found his own project and was keen to return the following day at the same time for better conditions.

Post-flash of Funky Shit (7c+/8a)

Waking up the next morning was a lot harder. I was sore, tired and doubting my ability, knowing that if I didn’t send that day, I would likely have to wait for another trip to Croatia. A few attempts in I had lost skin and the day was only getting hotter. Despite this, I managed to flip my increasingly negative mindset after watching Jack top his first 7a. The following go I was clipping the chains knowing that I had overcome a mental barrier I had placed on myself.

Working the moves on Mrakan (8a)

Unfortunately, with only one more day of climbing, my skin was in no position for trying anything harder, but I was able to leave Paklenica happy and ready for a well-earned rest week scuba diving with the boys. Reflecting on the trip, I feel more confident on rock and ready to project some routes in UK once I’m allowed out of quarantine. Thanks to Wes, Jack and Luke for making it such a fun holiday!

Full crew after qualifying as Open Water Divers


Thursday, 9 April 2020

Lessons from the Lock-Down

So as you all may have noticed, I haven’t written on this blog for a long time, mainly due to the fact that I’ve been focusing on my studies at uni. With the very weird situation going on, I’ve decided, as I’m sure many others have, to rekindle an old hobby-blog writing!
As someone who is used to and enjoys a very regimented, busy training schedule (and life in general), I have struggled to adapt my lifestyle but I feel that in the days that have already passed I have learnt some lessons about myself and the way I live. My family home is in London, but I decided to stay in student halls in Leeds during this period as my family and I felt that travelling to the hub of the virus didn’t seem to make sense at this time and, being the outdoorsy person that I am, I felt it would be better for me psychologically and physically to be near larger green spaces for my single daily exercise. I miss my parents and sister, but I also appreciate the time I have spent getting to know myself! Below is a list of things I have learnt from being in isolation so far; I would be interested to hear if others feel a similar way or have had very different experiences.
Endurance training around the table has become part of my regular training schedule!
(and no, I don't eat off this table anymore)

·        If you want to train, you can almost always find a way
I say ‘almost always’ because I don’t want to claim that I have experienced all scenarios where people want to train. What I mean by this point is that you don’t need a lot of space and equipment to stay fit and strong. I am definitely guilty of scrolling through Instagram stories of other’s home boards (nothing against this, all respect to those who have put the time and money into making their own facilities) and feeling helplessly envious because in halls this is simply not an option for me. However, I have found creative ways to push myself and am a firm believer that attitude to training plays as great a role as equipment.
·        Life is not all about climbing!
Wow, revelation. But seriously, before all this happened, I thought I would go crazy if I couldn’t get to a climbing wall for more than a few days. It’s true, I’ve been climbing tables, levering off my desk and hiding in cupboards, which may well seem like attributes of someone who has lost their marbles. However, I have found so many other ways to have fun-cooking, juggling (or in my case just dropping things on the floor), doing yoga, to list a few-and am appreciative of having some time away from the pressure of performance in training and competing.
·        Human contact is valuable
Yup, I think my whole life I’ve been underrating the importance of seeing others face-to-face. When you do a lot on your own (training, studying etc.) I think it’s very easy to take for granted the fact that you can take a break at your convenience and see whoever you want, whenever you want. Now that the highlight of my days is spending the evenings with the two people I live with, I have come to realise quite how valuable it is to have company.
·        Spending time by yourself is also kinda cool…
By this, I mean time spent doing nothing other than relaxing and thinking. I think in modern society there is a lot of pressure to always be working towards something-achieving goals, meeting deadlines, looking after others etc. I know I’ve never dedicated much time to just reflecting on my own thoughts and ideas, but it turns out it’s a pretty good way to kill some time. It took me a few days in quarantine to realise that I don’t need to be constantly training and trying to maintain peak-level performance standards.
If you’ve read this far, I hope you feel it was time well spent and have a few more ideas/questions to think about whilst in lock-down.
Stay healthy and happy everyone ๐Ÿ˜‰

Friday, 30 August 2019

My First Senior World Champs

My First Senior World Champs

I feel honoured to have competed alongside such a strong team of athletes
 (photo by Band of Birds)
Finally I have found time to sit down and write again! It’s been a very busy couple of months, with a Lead World Cup taking place on almost every weekend in July and the World Championships filling the majority of August. This has been the highlight of my year and what I have worked so hard to enjoy and while I am relieved to have some time at home with family, I have relished the chaos and commotion of my travels.
I did not get the results I was hoping for at the Lead World Cups, feeling that I had only fought hard in Chamonix, while in Villars and Brianรงon I felt that my results did not reflect my ability. However, in hindsight, I realise that my preparation for these comps had been far from ideal and the process of competing and being out in Europe for a month was nonetheless a great learning experience.
Being selected for the Senior Championships in Hachioji, Japan, was a dream come true for me. I have always been fascinated by Japanese culture and Tokyo has been top on my list of places to visit since I was very young. At the same time, one of my life goals was to compete at a Senior World Championship, so this invitation ticked a lot of my boxes. As the first Olympic selection event for climbing, this event was also particularly symbolic and I know that I will always be proud to say that I was a part of it.
It was with this sense of excitement that I entered the competition, but after failing to achieve even a zone hold in the bouldering qualification, my confidence was knocked to rock bottom and my enthusiasm turned to embarrassment. I had trained to pull hard on holds, but had instead been confronted with a series of coordination moves, jumps and presses that felt alien to my body. Why on earth had I saved up all this money and trained so hard, thinking I could contend with the best in the world? The evening after that first round was a struggle, but I knew that the fight was not over as I had two disciplines to come.
Fighting my way up the second qualifier in Lead
(photo by Band of Birds)
Having watched some of my teammates compete in the semi-finals and finals for bouldering, some of my enthusiasm was reinstated and I entered Lead with a fresh mindset-I would enjoy the routes, no matter how I performed and a good result would not be the principal goal, but a bonus to a fun experience. With this attitude I felt good on the routes and was pleased with the fitness I had retained through injury in previous months. The margin for error was fine, and I found myself very close to making semis. Of course this was in some ways frustrating, but on the whole I was just proud to have bounced back from bouldering.
In speed I had little expectation; this has always been by far my weakest discipline and I had only had time to train it for a week before travelling to Japan. However, I had made gains and was expecting a personal best. This I achieved on my first run, but my excitement to cut down my time even more got the better of me and I false started on my second run, discounting my first time. Obviously I was gutted about this, but I can still walk away knowing that I have made progress in speed; the training and experience was not for nothing and it will have helped my climbing and attitude in less obvious ways.
Reviewing the experience as a whole, I have learnt so much both in terms of strengths and weaknesses in my climbing and with regards to my ambitions moving forwards. Watching Shauna Coxsey qualify GB’s first spot at the Olympics struck a chord in me. This is a woman who has put so much into a dream and though it has not been a straight forward journey, she stuck with it and was rewarded. It is with this mentality that I wish to pursue my own dream of competing in the 2024 Olympics. I am excited for the journey ahead and can’t wait to see what the future holds.

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Competing and Training with an Injury

Competing and Training with an Injury
A close-up of my pre-injured hand (photo by Leo Cackett)

With the Boulder World Cup season done and dusted it should be time to start getting ready for the lead season, my stronger discipline. However, sometimes things don’t go to plan and you can find yourself sat in bed, nursing an injured finger and wondering why such bad luck comes at the exact wrong time! I recently found myself in this situation (and am currently still recovering and unable to train at the level I would normally) after damaging a vein, whilst fingerboarding a couple of weeks ago. I’ve had my finger scanned and the injury could have been a lot worse-instead of spending months without climbing I am expecting for my finger to be healed within another week or so.
The experience has given me a lot of time to reflect about the priorities in my life and the importance of climbing in it. My initial fears that I would be unable to compete in the Lead World Cups this year have now been consoled, as I know now that I will be able to compete, even if I am unable to perform my best. However, these thoughts were enough to make me feel desperate and even a couple of days off training made me realise that climbing has become so important to me that I can’t function without it.
These thoughts were a little scary. Of course you have to care about something a lot to be able to succeed in it, but relying so heavily on one element of your life in order to be happy does not seem healthy to me. In hindsight, I think the scare of injury was good for me as it forced me to look to other activities I had an interest in and I now feel that if I were to suffer a long term injury, I would be able to cope with it better.
Now able to climb on big holds, I am looking to make the most of what training I am able to do before the first comp at the start of July. I have made the decision to compete and I knew I was making a choice between competing when I knew I might not be on my best form and pulling out completely to wait for a time when I would be at peak performance. This was a hard decision for me, but in the end it came down to the fact that I want to compete for the full experience-to feel the adrenaline on the routes; to spend time with my teammates in cool and interesting places; to see how I compare to the top climbers in the world, even when not at my peak. I do not simply compete to get good results; I compete to enjoy myself.

Friday, 10 May 2019

Finding my feet on the World Cup Circuit

Finding my feet on the World Cup Circuit

As many of you will know my schedule has been rather busy lately as I’ve been competing in my first ever Boulder World Cup season! As a result, this is m
y first post in a while, but I’ll keep it short to give a quick insight into my experience so far.
Last year I represented GB in a couple of Lead World Cups but as I was still a junior, my season was focussed on the junior comps. Now, having stepped up into the seniors, all my training is orientated towards those comps and I have had the chance to try my hand at the bouldering circuit. This is something I’ve always wanted to do, having watched many a live-stream where the athletes leap around in a more parkour style than what I thought of as ‘climbing’. This comp style has never been my forte; I’ve always been stronger at the basic, board-style problems. However, I have learnt so much already from this season that I’m psyched to work on my biggest weaknesses-dynamic movement and coordination.
My first event was Moscow and I went to this with no particular expectations; I simply wanted to have fun and come away knowing that I had given it my best shot. I enjoyed the boulders as they varied in style so the most successful athletes were also the most well-rounded. I came away happy with how I had climbed (two tops and a last move dropped) but more importantly motivated to put what I had learnt into practice at the next World Cups. After reflecting on my mistakes, I concluded that my main point for improvement was to spend more time reading the problems and less time trying them. I had become over-excited on some of the blocks and spent the 5 minutes throwing myself at the wall, hoping that the right beta would come to me on the wall. This meant that I wasn’t resting enough and was taking too many attempts to achieve tops and zones.
Literally 'finding my feet' at the World Cup in Moscow (photo by Sergei Komlev)
A week at home was barely enough time to make real gains in terms of strength and fitness, but I was able to mentally prepare for the next two comps in China. The first comp in Chongqing was my best result; a 27th place finish in a field of almost 100 was enough to give me World Cup ranking points and almost enough to put me in semis. I climbed with good composure and was careful about using my attempts wisely. The problems generally suited my style (they tended to reward good static strength on tiny crimps) so I was able to top 3, which was a nice confidence boost.
Moving on to the next event in Wujiang, the style of boulders changed completely. The set was far more dynamic and relied much more on leg power (something I lack!). I finished the comp hot and sweaty and feeling rather defeated with only one top. I had thought after Chongqing that I would be able to keep improving with every round. However, after reflecting on my performance it became clear to me that I could not just rely on my strengths to get me through the comps. In order to be the best, you have to be the best at everything, because the setters constantly change the style of blocks and at such a high level of competition, you need to be able to adapt with the style.
Overall I am glad that I had one comp which played to my strengths as this gave me the belief that I can do well at this level and that I had one comp where I got shut down. Wujiang highlighted just how polarised my strengths and weaknesses are and was a valuable lesson in continuing to try hard, even when the going is tough. This has left me excited for my last Boulder World Cup this season in Munich next week. Whatever the result, I want to try hard and have fun!

Friday, 1 March 2019

Finding the Balance: Life outside the gym

Finding the Balance: Life outside the gym

Up until now my blog has served to guide people through my climbing experiences; people know me as an athlete and that is all. However, for this post I want to write more about myself and how I strive to find balance in my life. For me, climbing is the most important aspect of my existence, but equally, it is for this reason that there have been times when I have felt on the verge of break down because all my self-value relied on climbing and my performance in the sport. I cared little about anything else-my social life, my studies, my other hobbies, even my family. In saying this I may sound like some cold-hearted climbing machine and in many ways that’s how I saw myself, but it is my belief that this mind-set is not uncommon among individuals who dedicate the majority of their life to achieving and mastering a single activity.
I am by no means a changed person from the Jo who isolated herself from the rest of her life in the pursuit of being the best. I still struggle to find a balance where I devote enough to climbing that I can fulfil my goals but enjoy the process and don’t neglect the other aspects of my life which are so important for my mental wellbeing. However, I have made significant progress in finding this balance and I would like to share ways in which I have done this. As it has turned out, sharing some of my devotion to climbing among other parts of my life has actually helped me become a more successful (and happier) athlete as I no longer feel the need to place as much pressure on myself to succeed all the time. If I don’t perform as well as I wanted, I can learn from the experience rather than allowing it to destroy me.
Having this year off (I’ve now finished school but won’t be starting university until next September) has enabled me to take time to invest in other hobbies. My plan for next year is to study German and Japanese at the University of Leeds as I have always loved learning languages. I decided at the beginning of this academic year to try teaching myself a language so since then I have been studying Spanish for around half an hour each day. It’s not very much time so I can stick to it, but the regularity gives me a sense of satisfaction when I can see my progress. For anyone looking for a pass-time to add to a fairly monotonous schedule, I would definitely recommend learning a language! For athletes in particular, having a daily activity which uses a different part of the brain keeps you feeling engaged and motivated in whatever you’re doing.
For A Level, I studied art for the simple reason that it was so different from my other studies. While the subject is by no means easy, and a lot of work is required (as with all A Levels) to achieve good grades, I found the work completely different and in this ways it provided a kind of rest from my other studies and training. During the course of this year I have attempted to feed my interest in art, attending local Life Drawing classes and frequently visiting exhibitions around London. I think it’s really important to get out of the house and do things which aren’t related to training. Sitting at home on rest days may rest your body, but your mind, not being stimulated in any way, remains focused on sport so when you do train, you aren’t as psychologically ‘fresh’.
I realise this post is very different from anything else I have written but I hope it highlights to people that the most important thing you can do for your climbing is ensure that your life is balanced. If you’re not enjoying the process there’s really no point in training because winning trophies and titles only brings very superficial happiness; you will always be looking for the next step to achieve.

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Warming Up

Warming Up

One of the most important factors in pushing your grade in climbing is getting into a warm-up routine. This routine can be so useful for developing mobility and strength, enabling your body to unlock its potential during training, but the most important thing is that you find a routine which you can stick to. I have included a number of steps which I have used in warm-ups in the past, but the key thing to remember is that different exercises work for different people. The three essential stages are a pulse-raiser, dynamic stretching of some kind and easy climbing. However, you must be able to be flexible with your routine, adapting it for different places and time-frames.

Pulse Raiser

The purpose of a pulse raiser is to get the blood flowing through your muscles so that oxygen can reach even your extremities and you can make full use of your muscles. You can have a lot of fun at this stage, playing games if you are training in a group. One main reason why lots of people miss this stage out is because they can’t be bothered and feel sluggish when they arrive at the wall. For this reason, it’s good to keep the exercises varied. My normal routine is as follows: 20xstar-jumps, 10xburpies (with press-ups), 20xstar-jumps, 20xmountain climbers, 20xcross-mountain climbers, 20xstar-jumps, 20xmountain climbers, 20xcross-mountain climbers, 20xstar-jumps. If you are short on time, it might be worth trying to run or cycle to the wall, but bear in mind that you must be out of breath.

Dynamic Stretching

The word ‘stretching’ has, for most, connotations of sitting in contorted positions for extended periods of time, with the purpose of improving flexibility. This is static stretching, something I do at the end of every training session but avoid completely at the start. If performed properly, this type of stretching can be beneficial at the start, but I find that it increases my risk of injury and makes me weaker as my muscles have been elongated just before I need them to be contracting. Dynamic stretching is a way of loosening all the joints to improve mobility. You should go through the whole body, from the toes to the neck, gently moving each part (e.g. rolling back the shoulders, circling the ankles).

Mobility Exercises

This part of the warm-up is not essential and can be skipped if you are short on time. However, performing some of these exercises several times a week can improve strength and movement in the long term. Shoulder shrugs are a favourite of many climbers. These involve hanging of a bar or a pair of jugs and performing the first stage of a pull-up. By this, I mean alternating between pulling the shoulder blades down so that the neck is raised and allowing the shoulders to relax so the ears sink into the arms. The elbows do not bend at all. This warms-up the shoulders and develops the strength for the first stage of a pull-up. It can also be performed on one arm once you have developed the strength on two. A lot of other mobility exercises can be performed with a theraband. These are easy to purchase and come in many different strengths so you might want several. They are great for working the antagonist muscles and ease your body into strength training, providing a little tension.


Self-massage can be done before or after training (or both) or even on rest days and is a great way to reduce muscle soreness. By massaging out knots in the muscle fibres, you can increase their mobility and can ‘access’ more of your own strength. In other words, if your muscles are knotted, you can’t use their full potential. There are specific tools for self-massage, such as foam-rollers, but you can also use objects such as tennis, lacrosse and golf balls. I would recommend mixing and matching, depending on which muscle group you are massaging.

Easy Climbing

Before getting on any hard projects it’s important to start on big holds. You can use this time to work on technique (e.g. precise and quiet footwork, with no readjustments) and, once you move onto harder climbs, your weaknesses. I always train my weaknesses at the start of sessions as this is when my mind is at its sharpest and my muscles are fresh so I am more able to learn from the movements I’m performing. Whether your weakness is dynamic movement, volumes or bad footholds holds on slabs, dedicate some time at the start of your training to addressing these areas. If, at the end of your climbing warm-up, your fingers are still cold, I sometimes perform a few repeaters on crimps on a fingerboard (7 seconds on, 3 seconds off for a minute), but only do this if you are a relatively experienced climber.