ABS NATIONALS / by Angela Payne

I’ll admit I’m surprised by how I felt the day after ABS Nationals were over.  I don’t mean physically—my body was as sore as I expected it would be after two days of full effort.  What’s surprising is that my brain felt better than I thought it would.  After many years of competing, I have basically perfected the art of over-thinking mistakes after the fact.  If things go well, I make relatively few mistakes and don’t have much to brood about after an event.  But, if I don’t do my best, there is plenty to mentally rehash for many days after the competition has concluded.  Of course I know this isn’t a good idea, and I hate doing it, but I have spent more days than I’d like to admit replaying comp footage in my head, considering the what-ifs, if-onlys and should-have-could-have-would-haves.  These will always exist, and after this particular comp, I had plenty of mistakes to obsess about.  But I simply didn’t feel like it.

Maybe I’m getting sentimental after all these years, or maybe I’m just getting better at looking at more than just the results of an event, but something about this competition was different for me.  I personally feel like I didn’t climb my best and I was not particularly thrilled with my final placement (fifth), but I walked away feeling oddly content about it all.  Sure, a small part of me felt like crawling off to a corner to be alone and think about my mistakes, but most of me was okay to just accept that another event had come to an end, and I hadn’t climbed perfectly.

I went into this competition feeling okay, but not wonderful.  I was coming off of the Rock Rodeo weekend, which left me feeling a bit beat up.  I recovered relatively well during the week, but a mediocre performance in qualifiers on Friday made me wonder if I had rested enough.  Despite only finishing two of the five boulders in the first round, I ended up in fourth.  Semifinals went a bit better, and although I only finished half the problems, I went into finals in second.

Although I wasn’t feeling as snappy and strong as I wanted to, I was highly enthused going into finals.  The problems up to that point had been very high-quality, enjoyable, and varied.  There was a pretty even split between technical and powerful boulders, and I was ready to try to use this to my advantage in the final round.  My motivation grew during isolation, where I had the pleasure of laughing and goofing off with some of my close friends.

Semifinal 1.  Beau Kahler Photo

Semifinal 1.  Beau Kahler Photo

My enthusiasm was only accentuated by the fact that I was the oldest competitor in finals.  I try not to dwell on age, but it was really interesting and motivating for me to see the strong presence of the younger generation at this event.  Megan Mascarenas, a talented 15-year-old out of Colorado Springs, made an incredible showing in her first adult nationals and was third going into finals.  While this was certainly not the only time I have noticed this age discrepancy in climbing, something about this particular competition made it feel like a milestone of sorts in my climbing career.  Perhaps it was just my sappy side talking, or the realization that I began competing before some of my fellow competitors were born, but for the first time, I felt sentimental about the fact that I was now part of the older generation.  As I watched Megan in iso, I remembered what it was like to be at a big comp for the first time.  The excitement I felt at my first PCA competition will never be rivaled, and no matter how many comps I attend, that novelty will never exist again.  It was pretty neat to sense those feelings in someone else, and it motivated me in a way I haven’t fully experienced before.  I feel pretty darn lucky that I’m still around to enjoy and be pushed by that up-and-coming generation.

Final 1.  Flannery Shay-Nemirow Photo

Final 1.  Flannery Shay-Nemirow Photo

As finals began, I felt pretty good.  I initially struggled at the top of number one, but managed to pull off a miraculous and tenuous match to finish the technical boulder.  Problem two was a fun climb up the steep wall on volumes.  I felt great on my first attempt, and climbed to the lip before my heel slipped off a massive heel hook.  My confidence was still high, but I was unable to reach my high point again.  Still, I was proud of myself for remaining positive, knowing that number three was a technical dihedral climb that should be right up my alley.

And that is when the breakdown began.  I couldn’t get up the dihedral to save my life, despite being utterly (and probably overly-) confident that I could do the boulder.  I found myself stuck halfway up the corner on my final attempt, completely befuddled by my inability to unlock the sequence.  Even after the competition concluded, I still didn’t understand what I had missed.  The answer just didn’t come, and I had been stumped.

Megan Mascarenas on Final 2.  Photo Flannery Shay-Nemirow

Megan Mascarenas on Final 2.  Photo Flannery Shay-Nemirow

Pondering Final 2.  Dylan Huey Photo

Pondering Final 2.  Dylan Huey Photo

Alex Puccio on Final 4.  Flannery Shay-Nemirow Photo

Alex Puccio on Final 4.  Flannery Shay-Nemirow Photo

I was exhausted after that.  Mentally and physically.  Had I done number three, things would be different, I began to tell myself, even before the competition had concluded.  If only I had….I should have…or maybe I could have….  The self-abuse began.  Surprisingly, I still managed to climb more than half-way up the powerful and incredibly fun women’s four.  But having topped only one boulder, I ended up in fifth.  Alex Puccio made the final problem look beautiful, bringing her total tops to 3 and securing her win.  Andrea Szekely made impressive ascents of problems one and three, as did Isabelle Faus, and they ended up in second and third, respectively.  Megan Mascarenas finished number three and did very well on the other boulders as well, earning her fourth place.  Alex Johnson climbed pretty high on all the boulders and finished the third, ending in sixth place with one top like myself.  Lisa Chulich made her open finals debut and put in an impressive effort to take seventh.

Final 4.  Dylan Huey Photo

Final 4.  Dylan Huey Photo

And so another competition concluded.  But, before my mind could spiral any further downward, I somehow managed to accept my performance, with all its errors, and find relative contentment in the crowded auditorium.  It was an accomplishment for me, and one that was definitely deserving of the two pints of Ben and Jerry’s I devoured over the next 48 hours.

The event was a successful one, complete with amazing boulder problems, hard-working organizers, dedicated volunteers, stacked fields of both genders and tons of fun with friends.  A huge thanks is in order for USA Climbing, the routesetters, Louder Than Eleven (who pulled off an awesome live-feed), and everyone else who made the event possible.  The ABS National hasn’t seen the last of me yet...


Special thanks to Dylan Huey, Beau Kahler and Flannery Shay-Nemirow for the use of photos!