In a word: relief. Relief that I can still perform. Relief that I don’t have to work myself to the bone to achieve (in fact, realising that I CAN’T achieve if I am burnt out). Relief that I am not alone.
I arrived in Japan two weeks before the World Championships, to attend the Australian Team Training Camp. For various reasons the camp did not work out to be what it was hoped it would be, but what it did do was give me a team. Living and training with others may not produce connection, but it sure means you get to know them. A familiarity comes that would not otherwise exist; and sometimes familiarity is enough.
A part of me also felt like I was coming home. I lived in Tokyo for almost a year in 2006-7, teaching English. It wasn’t easy to live in a culture so like, yet so unlike, home, where I didn’t speak or read the local language. But Japan has other attributes that make up for those difficulties – friendly people, beautiful countryside, ubiquitous spirituality, convenience, cheap food. In tribute to the blogs that I used to write with my then-partner, this blog is going to be bulleted – with things I’ve learned, things I noticed, and just… things.
- I have a new appreciation for what I’ve been doing the past two years. More than any other time since I started this Olympic journey, my month in Japan was focussed on just being an athlete. I was able to deeply tune into my body and mental state, without any other demands on my time (work, chores, life stuff), and I could drop whatever I was doing to tend to those needs – physical or emotional. Whether I felt I needed a certain type of food; or was able to eat only as much as I needed and when I was hungry (not “eat now because even though I’m not hungry yet it needs to sustain me through three hours of meetings”); or was able to take alone time to think, meditate, or journal… I felt a harmony that I do not when trying to juggle two jobs, training, social media, fundraising, appointments with my support team, maintaining my home, maintaining relationships, and all the rest of it. I have done a good job.
- Just because you perform better, doesn’t mean your results are better. I felt much more satisfied with my performances at this World Championships than I did last year in Innsbruck, and despite having improved my results in two out of three disciplines, my combined (all three disciplines) results were worse – 55th in combined this year vs. 47th last year. (Bouldering 2019 -51st, 2018- 57th; Lead 2019 – 65th, 2018 – 63rd; Speed 2019 – 54th, 2018 – 67th and with a time more than a second faster than last year.)
- Wearing less clothes and seeing my body more improved my body image. Maybe this one also relates to my first bullet in that I was able to have a closer, more loving relationship with my body… It was SO HOT in Tokyo and so most of the time I was wearing way fewer clothes than I do 90% of the year in Vancouver. Seeing my body and its musculature more often gave me an appreciation for what it looks like that I haven’t had in a while. (See my previous blog for more details on my dip in positive body image.)
- More training does not equal better performances. I had six weeks between my last Boulder World Cup and leaving for Japan (because I skipped the European World Cups – see previous blog for details), and my focus during this time was on ‘giving myself a break’. Not in the sense of taking a break from training, but in the sense of really paying close attention to what my intuition was telling me I needed, and doing that – even if it deviated from my training plan – without guilt, doubt, or self-chastisement about what I should be doing. On reflection I think that a lot of the issues I had at the Chinese Boulder World Cups (and possibly the other less-than-ideal competitions prior to them) came from being burnt-out – not physically, but emotionally and mentally. I was so determined to follow my training program, and pack everything into my life at all costs, that I paid the price – in bad performances. I reminded myself that the biggest competition successes in my life came when I was training half the volume of what I am now, and my life was more in balance. Now of course this goal is bigger, and the competition environment has also moved forward, but the principles still need to remain the same. If I am unhappy, I am not going to perform well. And if I am happy, no matter what the performance is like, I am going to be more resilient (and I am more likely to perform well). And I think here it is important to differentiate between emotional and mental states.
- Mental and emotional states are different, but equally important. I have been mentally positive and confident going into almost all competitions over the past two years. My self-talk has been strong, and my emotional regulation (keeping the emotion out of it, unless I choose to use it) has always been one of my strongest attributes as a competitive climber. Unfortunately, although I can keep emotion out of my conscious thoughts, I can’t keep it out of my subconscious thoughts, and therefore I can’t keep it out of my body. It works in reverse as well – anyone who has listened to my Training Beta podcast will know that one of the most powerful experiences I have had was ’embodying’ my vision. I can very clearly differentiate between a vision that is purely in my head (mental), and a vision that has been absorbed into my being (emotional). The former is a rational, unemotional image that I can call up at anytime into my brain; the latter is a full body experience of acceptance and manifestation of the vision into my being. I have not been able to embody my vision for this journey yet. I feel like I’m getting closer, but I also feel a slight panic that I am running out of time…
- Connection comes in many forms. Being back in Tokyo I was lucky to re-connect with two of my climbing friends and a former work colleague from 12 years ago. It’s strange to think that across all the intervening years there was still a kinship there, and a strong one, the thread of which was able to be picked up again like I had never left. ~ My mum was with me for the last two weeks in Japan, and as one of my best friends – who I am in daily contact with but see only every couple of years or so – it was incredible to have that unwavering, unconditional, totally unique, loving support by my side. ~ I was able to help celebrate the birthday of an old friend of mine from Brisbane, who now happens to be the Canadian team physio. ~ I met (in person) an athlete from South Africa who had reached out months ago inspired by what I was doing. She is around my age and decided that trying for the 2020 Olympics was something that she also wanted to do – she just needed a little push in a video chat and now she is on her Olympic journey as well. ~ Athletes, coaches, officials. As much as I still often feel like an outsider at the IFSC competitions – I never competed on the Youth circuit so don’t have those well-established friendships, I haven’t done enough (or well enough at) international competitions to be known – a quick smile of familiarity and acknowledgement can sometimes be enough to share “we are all in this together; we belong here”.
- For me, burn-out shows up as an inability to feel gratitude. Not to recognise where I could/should be grateful – that I can always see – but to embody that gratitude. And conversely, when I am in balance, the gratitude feels abundant.
This blog is dedicated to my Grandma. Joyce Mary Harding-Smith passed away during my last week in Japan. She was one of my strongest supporters. Her favourite phrase to describe me was, “What a woman!” and she used it liberally. I felt the same way about her.