Heart Burn Bouldering Competition & The Risks of Underestimating Yourself

(I promise not all my posts are going to be about climbing!)

I know those of you that follow me on Facebook saw, recently, that I attended the Heart Burn bouldering competition at the East Falls Philly Rock Gym (PRG) on February 21st. A few people have asked me how bouldering competitions work, so I figured I'd write a post about that particular competition and how bouldering competitions work, in general.

First, you should know there are two types of bouldering competitions:

Redpoint competition - climbers send as many problems as they can in the allotted amount of time (usually a few hours). Scores are based on the difficulty of the climb - thus, more difficult problems garner a competitor more points. The top five most difficult climbs are counted toward a climber's score.

On-site competition - Competitors are held in 'isolation' and aren't allowed to see the climbs before they climb them (there are normally three-four climbs in an on-site competition). Competitors are released in a pre-determined order and made to sit with their back to their first problem for four minutes. Climbers are then told to turn around and are given four minutes to attempt their problem. The goal is to make it to the top of the problem on your first try, but it doesn't usually work that way, especially in higher-level competitions. Attempts generally count against you unless you make it to the top of the problem - 'topping' a problem is the most important factor in scoring (usually). The old-school way of scoring an on-site competition is to simply count how many holds you got to, as a pure number. Some places still do that, but most score with a complicated algorithm based on tops, then attempts, bonus holds, etc…even I can't explain that to you.

I've never participated in an on-site competition; those are typically reserved for official climbing circuits put on by multinational organizations like USA Climbing (bouldering or lead climbing national championships and the like). The Burn series, including Heart Burn, are redpoint competitions.

Heart Burn was a lot of fun. It was a super exhausting day, because the youth division started at 10 am with registration starting at 9. Since I took a couple of the kids from the gym, that meant 5 am wake-up, 6 am departure. That in itself wasn't so bad, but what was bad was that the adult division didn't begin until 3 pm and didn't end until 11:30 pm. So that was intense.

I did much better at this competition than I did at Beat The Heat back in August - which is great, because since it had been six months since Beat The Heat I had some pretty strict goals for myself. I won my division (intermediate women) and won a set of quick draws and a gift certificate as an award.

^ The quick draws and gift card I won!
The only real regret I have is that I seriously underestimated myself when I placed myself in intermediate. Intermediate is what I competed in in August at Beat The Heat, and I got fifth out of 19 at that competition. I figured I'd keep myself in intermediate until I could place or get bumped out of that division (when your score falls into the averages of the division above yours, you get 'bumped' out of your division in an attempt to keep scoring fair for those in your division). Big mistake.

The divisions are open (the pro category), advanced, intermediate and novice. I ended up placing first in intermediate with a final score of 2740. Because only four women showed up to compete in open and seven women compete in open finals (the on-site portion of the competition occurring at the end of the night), the organizers chose to pull the two girls from advanced to compete in finals and then the first woman in intermediate. (Only two women showed up to compete in advanced.) My scores were higher than both of the women in advanced. Essentially what I did to myself was that I so seriously underestimated myself that I denied myself the chance to compete in open finals. And that sucked. Getting first in intermediate? Not as awesome as getting to compete in open finals. Not even with a prize.

It was a little awkward, if I'm honest. I placed myself in intermediate because I felt I was an intermediate climber. That day, my top five scored climbs were a V5, three V4's and a V3. The V5 probably had ten falls recorded. I didn't climb like an open-level climber, but I felt judged for placing myself in intermediate. The "bumping" system exists for a reason, and yet I still feel that sometimes climbers judge one another - especially lower-level climbers - for placing themselves in categories lower than what other people feel they "should" be in. I didn't think I was ready for advanced. I was wrong, but it doesn't mean I put myself in that category as part of some grand strategy to try and win a division. I don't really compete to win, I compete to see how I measure up against my peers. As a climber that is relatively new to competing, I'm still learning a lot about division placement and what I'm capable of - and how fast I'm improving as a climber.

So that won't be happening again. Next time I compete, I'm putting myself in advanced and I'm just going to climb as hard as I can. This is probably one of the obstacles I personally struggle with as a climber - underestimating my abilities and not trying hard enough, whether that be out of fear of injury from a nasty fall or for whatever other reason. In any case, I am so glad I went to Heart Burn, because not only did I have an awesome time, but I learned a lot about myself and my athletic abilities.

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