Competition Recap: 2016 Portland Boulder Rally

Another year, another Boulder Rally!

For the 4th October in a row, I made the trek up to the Pacific Northwest for the Portland Boulder Rally, one of the biggest single-day bouldering competitions in the country. The event was hosted at the Circuit Bouldering Gym’s newest location in Tigard, OR, just a bit south of Portland.

This year, I did my best to train and climb as much as possible in the months leading up to the event, but sometimes, life gets in the way. I spent a good bit of the summer traveling and visiting family and friends back on the East Coast, and I wasn’t able to climb as much as I wanted to during June and July. And then in August, my Grandfather passed away, and I spent a few weeks with my family back home in New Jersey and also out here in California. It was a tough month, and everything took a back seat to being there for and with my family.

With only one real month of training and preparation time, I did my best to get back in shape, build some power, and – most importantly – stay healthy. I managed to get back into a pretty normal routine, bouldering 3-4 days a week. I did not spend much time at all “training” – it was mostly sessions spent projecting boulders and working on my flash/onsight abilities. I was lucky enough to get to spend time at multiple gyms over the course of the month, including world-class facilities at Cliffs of Id (Southern California), Dogpatch Boulders (Bay Area), and Earth Treks Rockville & Crystal City (DC Metro Area). Though there were many peaks and valleys over the month, I was surprised to find myself feeling pretty healthy and very strong by the time I had to leave for Portland. I was confident and very excited to see how some regained strength and confidence would translate to the comp itself.

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Photo Credit: Shani Leead Photography

For the first time ever, I tried to develop some sort of comp strategy. I looked over the past few years of results for my category (I competed in Advanced this year, which in retrospect is exactly where I belonged) and determined that, in order to win, I would need to score around 5900 to 6000 points. 5700-5800 would probably put me in the running for a podium spot. I knew this would be challenging, as I had never scored more than 5360 points at this event before (I had done so in 2013, my first year at PBR, placing 6th in advanced). My past two years had been major disappointments, and I was determined to not let that happen again.

The morning of the comp, I found out that Evolv would not have a booth at the event, taking some pressure off of me for the day. Though I absolutely love working demos and booths for my sponsors, it was nice to be able to focus completely on the task at hand. I ate a good breakfast and got to the venue a bit earlier than I probably should have, resulting in a bit of a wait outside in the cold-ish weather. I did my best to relax a bit and keep my fingers warm with my Spikey.

Once inside, I spent 45 minutes or so scoping out the problems, and I identified 7-10 problems that I felt I would be able to do and would give me the point values necessary to be competitive, if not push for the win. I then went to the warm-up area and commenced my routine, which always entails jumping jacks, shoulder circles, finger flicks, and a long Spikey session. I also used a roller massager for my legs, as I’ve been having some issues with my right knee, making strenuous heel hooking quite difficult. By the end, I felt stretched, warm, and ready to go – but I also know to not jump directly onto super crimpy problems.

When it came time to climb, I felt like I was shot out of a proverbial cannon. I was a bit shaky, maybe even twitchy, as I walk-jog-ran to the area I had identified as a good place to start. I got through two good warmups, both of which had decent point values (960 and 1020) that would be acceptable but not fantastic floors for my scorecard. One of the climbs on my list was in the same sector – a pinchy and reachy climb that moved out of a small roof. I was confident I could do it, but maybe a bit too confident.

I got shut down pretty hard on the climb. Being short did me no favors, but it certainly wasn’t the reason why I kept falling. I simply just didn’t climb well at all. My head felt like it was spinning, moving at a million miles a minute as I tried to process what to do next. I quickly pulled my card and moved on to a few other problems on my list.

After about an hour and a quarter, I had made no progress. My scorecard still had only the two lower value problems on it. I was starting to panic a bit, definitely getting out of a groove. It didn’t help that I thought I tore another pulley in one of my fingers on a crimpy problem. I was really freaking out, and my physical performance definitely suffered because of my mental game.

Luckily, my finger was okay, and after taking a few minutes to grab some Skratch and collect myself, I was able to send one of the climbs I kept falling on earlier, a 1200 point problem that I knew I would have to send. When I did it, it felt really easy, and this helped re-focus and re-energize me.

With time dwindling down to the last hour or so of the session, I knew I had work to do. I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to do some of the harder climbs on my list, so I scaled back my efforts and ticked off an 1130 point problem and a 1050 point problem, giving me a halfway decent scorecard. I knew it wouldn’t be enough to win or even place, but I had already performed as best as I ever had at PBR.

I spent the last 30 minutes focused on trying to knock the 900 point climb off of my scorecard. Time was a factor, so I had to avoid sectors with long waits. I came painfully close to sending an 1190 point problem but just didn’t have enough gas left in the tank by the end.

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Photo Credit: The RV Project (Spenser Tang-Smith)

All told, when the dust settled, I had finished with a score of 5360, my highest point total out of all four years of my PBR participation. Overall, I finished 11th in advanced – definitely not where I hoped to be, but better than my 2nd and 3rd years there. In the past, that score would have comfortably put me in 5th or 6th. That’s a testament to how stiff the competition has become and how strong the local Portland crushers are!

Though it wasn’t the result I was hoping for, I’m pretty okay with my performance – and, most importantly, I learned a lot and identified many things I need to improve upon before my next comp. A big limitation was just pure strength – I simply wasn’t strong enough this year. On the harder problems I had on my list, I’m truly confident that, given a session or two, I would’ve sent all of them. But in a 3-hour session where you’re worried about lines, wait times, and filling out a scorecard, I was definitely being over-ambitious in what I thought I could accomplish.

They always say that no plan survives first contact with the enemy, and that was definitely the case for me. While I’m happy that I finally worked out a strategy and had a set blueprint – especially one that would have worked out well had I been able to execute (the winner finished with 6000 points) – I certainly didn’t have any contingency plan in place, and once I realized I wouldn’t be able to send the harder problems like I had hoped, there was no fall-back in terms of what problems to target and what I needed to do to still perform well.

Overall though, I’m super happy with how I did. I felt really strong, maybe the strongest I’ve felt in a while, but it wasn’t quite strong enough. It was an amazing weekend, and I got to see and catch up with so many old friends, some of whom I did not expect to run into at all (shout-out to Spenser!). Finals were an amazing show, and it was super inspiring to watch everyone absolutely crush. And I got to hang out with my buddy Alex who is always so gracious in offering me a place to crash – never a bad time hanging out with him and Lisa in Portland!

Now that Fall is really here, it’s time to get back outside. I’m getting super psyched for trips to Bishop and Yosemite over the next few months! I have some long-standing projects in both places that I would be so stoked to take down this season. But like I learned at PBR, you really never know what’s gonna happen. My psyche for comps is a bit low at the moment, and I’ll most likely be taking a little break from big events. I’m also remembering why I love sport climbing so much, so perhaps it’s time to start tying in on the sharp end again.

And of course, a huge epic THANK YOU to my sponsors at Skratch Labs and Evolv. Your support means so much to me, and I’m honored and humbled that I get to represent such amazing brands. Climbing is such a tremendous part of my life, and your support really helps me live out the dream.

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Photo Credit: The RV Project (Spenser Tang-Smith)

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3 responses to “Competition Recap: 2016 Portland Boulder Rally

  1. Condolences to you and your family. Thanks for this narrative– Was just talking with someone this week about how great climbing with you in the gym was. Maybe we’ll run into each other in Bishop or Jtree this fall/winter. 🙂

  2. Pingback: Competition Recap: 2017 USA Climbing Collegiate Nationals | To Defy Gravity·

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