After a few years of just climbing for fun I started to take it more seriously. It went from being a hobby to something my whole life revolved around, and still is. I went down the path of competitions. They aren’t for everyone, but I enjoyed them. However, my results were far from where I wanted them to be; I was ambitious. Ever since my first completion I’ve been aware of the GB team. They were always so calm, they couldn’t fall off if they tried, or so it seemed. They became a group of people I looked up to at competitions, always hoping I would one day be part of their team, but this was never really my goal, they just seemed to be on another level.
Over the years competing in the regional and national events my results started to improve. I was invited to attend the selection event for the 2017 GB team after applying. This was not my year and I was not selected to join the team. It was disappointing, but I started to realise that, in fact, I might one day get to join this team that I had looked up to for years. A year of competition and one finger injury later I found myself in the same position, at the selection event for the 2018 GB squad. This time everything came together how it should and I earned my place in the team. It’s difficult to describe how I felt when I found out I was successful. I was ecstatic – but there wasn’t any time to waste, so with a difficult season ahead it was straight back to training.
When I joined the team I wasn’t sure if I would get much, or any, chance to represent my country. To my joy I was selected to attend five events throughout the season, four European youth cups (two lead and two boulder) and one European youth championship (lead). I was climbing well and my training was going very well.
It was almost time for me to travel to my first event. However, this felt different to all previous competitions I had done. I felt little pressure. I had done as much research as I could, including talking to some of the best competitors in the UK about what to expect at these events so I could prepare myself. The truth was, though, I was going into this event not having any idea as to what to expect. This was the only pressure: the unknown.
My first event was in Graz, Austria. A European youth cup in bouldering. At first I was shocked at how different these events were compared to ones at home, in every sense: the difficulty, the number of competitors and the different pressure I felt. It is hard to describe. It was difficult to aim for a position in the competition, especially at the first few events. I had no idea how I’d compare to the other climbers on the circuit. Instead, I felt more pressure from the difficult climbs ahead. This was good for me; I was able to focus better on the individual climbs, rather than the outcome. Overall this event went reasonably well, with me finishing 23rd. If I’m honest, at first I was not so sure how I felt about this result. On one hand it was my first European competition. It was hard and I gave it everything. However, on the other hand, being in the top 20 would have been nice. This became one of my goals for the next event. For now it was back home to squeeze some more training in!
Around three weeks later we were back in Austria, this time in the stunning location of Imst – a famous wall – and it didn’t disappoint. We flew into Munich and hired a car for the drive across the border to Imst. The journey was pretty special. The views of the mountains were amazing. Coming from pretty flat south east England, this was very unusual to me and I loved it. As we drove up one side of the valley to our apartment we were staying in I happened to spot the wall through the trees. We stopped to get a better look. The wall was on the complete opposite side of the valley, but it still stood out and I knew it was going to be a great weekend. I was psyched! This event was the European youth championships. There is only one of these a year, meaning it’s a highly competitive event. Leading being my preferred discipline, I was pleased I got the chance to compete here. The qualifying round went unexpectedly well for me, making the semis in 20th place. I was so excited to climb the following day and get my first experience in an international isolation zone. All the athletes were given the indoor wall to warm up on, not the biggest space for well over 100 climbers all trying to warm up! No phones or technology that you could communicate on can be taken into the isolation zone, so I took a book by legendary climber Jerry Moffatt in, called Mastermind. Having already read the book, I spent the time stretching and chatting rather than reading! I spent probably around three hours here, with two other GB athletes who qualified in different categories, our coach and all the other teams. After observation of the route I knew it was going to be a hard round, but having not expected to even qualify for the semi-finals I felt little pressure. I can’t help but feel I underperformed on the route, finishing 23rd; whilst for me it was a good result, as a competitor the feeling of ‘I should have, I could have’ started to creep in. However, I had to push that feeling aside and learn from the experience, appreciate where I was and enjoy the rest of the day. Watching the finals was incredible: the silhouetted mountains in the background, Europe’s strongest youths fighting it out for the title, inspiring!
Next up was Delft in the Netherlands for my final boulder international. After two 23rd places, I was determined to better this result: eight boulders, two hours, five attempts each. Surprisingly more tiring than it sounds! It started well: two early flashes, and a second go top. I knew I would need some ‘zones’, previously called ‘bonuses’, on the harder problems, so I decided to do this before I got too tired. Following this I secured one more flash of a boulder and a fourth go top. Time was almost up. By this time I was tiring, and two moves off finishing another boulder I just couldn’t pull it together. Lesson learnt: I need to choose better when I pull on what. A 17th place finish, an improvement!
Bruneck, Italy! I was really looking forward to going to Italy, as by this time I had a little bit of experience and was climbing better than ever. Looking forward to getting back on a rope too! The first route in qualification was odd; a ‘stopper’ move halfway up left a lot of us in a joint position, with just the second route to separate us. On the second route I was randomly selected to go first. Personally I don’t mind this too much, although it can be intimidating. When I’m first on the start list I feel like it’s up to me to set the point for people to beat, rather than chasing down a previous competitor’s high point. I don’t want to make this easy for the other people competing, so this feeling gives me an extra bit of psych. I put in what I felt was a good effort, falling three moves away from the chains. I was disappointed I fell here as there was no real hard move, but I couldn’t change it. Frustratingly those three moves cost me a final, and I had to settle for 15th. My best result but I left feeling frustrated, that was the one that got away!
My final international was in Uster, Switzerland. As it was my final competition, I was set on enjoying this one as much as possible. A bad run on the first route couldn’t be saved by the average score on the second route, finishing 19th. Unfortunate, but this didn’t stop me from enjoying every moment.
With all the travelling and mental game of competition, it was difficult sometimes to take a step back to enjoy and appreciate where I was in each situation. However, I tried to do this as often as possible. It wasn’t always easy, especially when things weren’t going so well. Taking a step back and separating myself from the situation was a really good way of taking in my surroundings. As my first international season ends, it’s time to hit the training hard again, getting fit for a few competitions late in the year. I was lucky enough to get to spend a week during the summer in the Peak District with some great friends and also try my first 8B outside, happy to say it went pretty quickly: ‘Zeke the Freak’ at Rubicon.
Finally a huge thank you to my sponsor HoldBreaker, GLL Sport Foundation, my coach Matt, the GB coaches and finally my family, none of this would have been possible without all the support!
Name: Ben Preston