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 Briançon 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.

Friday, 25 January 2019

My Top Training Tips

My Top Training Tips

Having not written in a blog post in a long time I felt it was time to resurrect what I started with a few tips which I think could be helpful for a lot of people! I get asked all the time about my training and though there’s no secret key to inevitable success, I do have some advice which can be used whether you’re a complete newbie looking to start a hobby for the new year, or an experienced climber who has hit a plateau.

Train in the right environment

Probably the most important element of training is that you want to do it. There is no point in setting out goals which you aren’t motivated to achieve because you won’t be enjoying the process of achieving them. If possible, try and find a training partner-I always climb better when working with someone of a similar ability to me or better. This way you can learn from each other and take it in turns to train and rest, making the process more sociable. Everyone’s bodies are programmed to work best at different times, so try varying when you train to find what works best for your body-maybe you feel freshest first thing in the morning or maybe you need time to fully wake up and prefer evening sessions. Finally, if you can afford it (and if it’s not too inconvenient) try and visit multiple centres to train at. You will be varying the holds, setters and angles, making training more interesting and helping you learn much more quickly.

Make a training plan

If you can’t afford to purchase a tailor-made plan from a coach, experiment making one for yourself. Books such as Training for Climbing by Eric J. Hörst can help you with this, but the idea is to work different energy systems, thereby ensuring that your body is well balanced and fit to achieve your personal goals. Start by writing down specific goals you want to achieve (e.g. a competition you want to perform well in; a route outdoors you want to project; a trip you’ve got planned and want to climb well for; or maybe you want to have climbed a certain grade by a certain time) as this will help you figure out when you want to peak for. This will tell you when you need rest weeks and when you need to change phases in your plan. If you have a clear idea of what you are doing for every session, you are much more likely to actually do it and you will make consistent progress.

Be creative

Sometimes it isn’t always possible to climb on new problems all the time or problems which fit the exercise/style you want to work. Get used to making up your own problems as this will not only be more specific and thus more effective for your needs, but it will always develop the creative side of your climbing brain, helping you with problem-solving and it will keep your sessions fun. Always start sessions working your weaknesses as this is when you will be physically and mentally freshest, and thus able to learn more. For example, my biggest weakness is dynamic climbing, so I always like to try a few dynamic blocks before I get stuck into the rest of my session.

Combine climbing specific strength training with gym work and technique drills

Make sure that you are not letting aspects of your climbing fall behind. I was once told to ‘train my weaknesses until they became my strengths’. It’s good to do some work in the gym to gain power and strength but you can also work these on the wall, making more climbing specific gains. These exercises (e.g. doing pull-ups on climbs rather than just on a bar) can be more fun and make your strength more specific to the sport. Never forget to train technique along the side as you will reach a point where simply ‘powering through’ won’t cut it!

Stay fuelled

One of the main causes of feeling unmotivated to train is simply not feeling energised. It’s really important to never go to a training session feeling hungry and to refuel after (if not during) your session. While you don’t want to feel bloated and heavy on the wall, you do need the energy to focus on what you are doing and to be able to perform to your potential. A personal favourite snack of mine is banana with peanut butter. Super simple to make, nutritious and filling, this combo gets me through training and it tastes great! Obviously everyone has their own food preferences and needs but try and find something which works for you. Never forget to bring a water bottle to the wall-dehydration effects your precision!