6 Months Later…

It’s been about 6 months since I was selected for the GB paraclimbing team and started to train for competition climbing. A lot has happened since then…

It was clear that I needed to start training seriously. I needed to be stronger, lighter, and able to go for longer. I didn’t really know where to start. With the support of a grant from the Arctic One Foundation, I was able to employ the much needed knowledge of a climbing performance coach.

Training session at Awesome Walls, Sheffield
Training session at Awesome Walls, Sheffield

Adam Harrison (the local beasting guru), based at The Climbing Station in Loughborough has created a personalised training plan for me and I’m making huge gains in my climbing. Coaching a blind guy can’t be easy, but Adam took on the challenge and I’m hugely grateful. I’m unable to train on my own and am very much reliant on others. I’m lucky that Molly loves climbing as much as I do, she trains with me and provides all the support I need. We’re a great team.

Tired after training
Molly and I knackered after a tough training session

It was obvious from the start that while I was really quite good at some strength exercises (press-ups and weights) more climbing specific exercises (fingerboard and endurance) needed lots of work.

The category I am in requires me to wear a blindfold for competitions and it didn’t take too long to get used to this. I train all the time with a blindfold on now and to be honest, it makes little difference! Just a little darker and the fact that I have to have something across my face.

Blindfold training
Training with my blindfold, on the circuit board at The Climbing Station

Another key aspect was route reading and streamlining the communication between myself and my sight guide. I spent some time researching the best Comms system and eventually went with a pair of SWAT com radios. The grant I was awarded from the Irwin Mitchell Grants Programme helped towards the purchase of these for which I am extremely grateful. These have proved invaluable.

New Comms system
My new comms system, SWAT com radios..

Let’s not beat around the bush, training is hard and so it should be. I did, and still do, finish my sessions as a sweaty knackered mess. However, the results make it worth it. I notice massive step changes in my climbing and I am still improving fast 6 months on.

Along with my personal training plan, I have attended all the Para team training days. We went over the types of training we should be doing in our personal sessions and importantly for me I got a chance to practice having Robin O’Leary act as my sight guide. This is critical as he will guide me in the competitions. I also began to get to know my team mates, they are a great group and fun is never far away!

Robin describing the first few moves of a route on one of our team training days
Robin describing the first few moves of a route on one of our team training days

However, it was when we went to Briançon for my first international competition that I really got to know everyone. This was a really great experience. I managed to top my first qualification route and ended up coming 4th, which I was really happy with. It showed me where I was relative to my rivals. In short I had some catching up to do, but the gulf between me and the podium wasn’t huge. The main things I needed were more endurance and more competition experience and the composure which accompanies it.

GB team photo after the finals in Briançon

With only a short turn around it was time for the World Championships in Innsbruck. It really was an awesome venue with a great atmosphere. I found it quite strange to be in the company of so many world class climbers, I guess I’d better get used to it. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get the full experience as while the team went to watch the finals of several disciplines, I can’t see anything but my teammates do give a great commentary for me and the atmosphere of the crowd is great to experience.

I had a mixed experience in my competition. Some things went really well and some others need some work. Through a combination of circumstance and lack of experience I fell from my first qualification route earlier than I had hoped for. And my second was a similar affair. It was only when I saw the result that I realised how well I had done. 7th in the world, not bad for a competition that didn’t go to plan. With that realisation and some hindsight it was clear to me just how far I had come. My endurance, and preparedness for overhanging climbing is now an order of magnitude better than 6 months ago. The training that Adam has devised for me has reaped huge rewards and there is plenty more to come.

World Championships 2018
Qualification route 2 at the World Championships Innsbruck (AUT) 2018

In the weeks since Innsbruck I have continued to improve dramatically, and took first place in the national paraclimbing competition last weekend in Wales. I’m feeling good and getting better fast. Keep it up and I’m sure I can do even better next time around. Molly and I are also working on a quicker way to describe where the holds are, based on the clock face. The quicker I can get the info, the faster I can climb (which is still slow compared with those that can see where they are going!) but every little bit helps.

Team GB in Innsbruck
Team GB Paraclimbing at the World Championships (AUT) Innsbruck 2018

Juggling a full-time job and training is tough, but I still find time for climbing outdoors if the weekend lines up with good weather and I’m not too tired! I am continuing with my quest to lead the classic, iconic gritstone routes in the Peak District. I battled my way up Kelly’s Overhang (E1) and cruised Congo Corner (HVS) at Stanage and also repeated Bond Street (HVS) at Millstone recently.

Congo Corner
Leading Congo Corner (HVS) at Stanage
Bond Street
Leading Bond Street, Millstone. A classic HVS grit jamming route..
Kelly's Overhang
Just past the crux on Kelly’s Overhang (E1) at High Neb..

What’s next…Round 3 of the nationals is in Newcastle in November, then I’m off to Leonidio in Greece for a week of training in the sun!

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