Take a room full of 300 women, add in a shared love of climbing, some top class climbing coaches and a sprinkle of inspirational speakers, spend 10 hours in a great bouldering venue…..and you have the Women’s Climbing Symposium (WCS).
This year’s event took place on 17 October 2015 at the Climbing Works in Sheffield. Now in it’s 5th year, the WCS is the brainchild of Shauna Coxsey (ranked 2nd in the world for the bouldering world cup).
As quoted on the home page of their website http://www.womensclimbingsymposium.com/ the WCS is “an event that aims to connect, inspire and develop women’s climbing through collective climbing experiences, the latest research and the best coaching.”
There have been comments over the years about why there is a need for a female only event, but with growing numbers of women attending each year it’s clear that the female climbing community want this type of event. I heard that the number of available tickets this year had doubled from the previous year – and all were sold.
The WCS is an event that I’ve wanted to attend from the first year it started, but for various reasons (often being away on a climbing trip abroad), it was never meant to be until this year. Finally this year, my diary was clear and as an added bonus, the venue was on my doorstep in Sheffield.
So what is WCS all about?
With 3 key note speakers and then 3 different pathways throughout the day (coaching, talk #1 and talk #2) there was plenty of choice to tailor the day to your own specific needs. There was so much happening that it was impossible to see/hear everything I wanted, but here are my thoughts on the things that I was able to make…..
Our opening key note speaker was the iconic French climber Catherine Destivelle
As a climbing superstar in the 80’s/90’s I was interested to hear how she got started climbing but also how things have changed as she has grown older. In the early days, she was climbing in shoes/boots which were too big (they just didn’t make them any smaller). She won her first climbing competition in 1985, had a climbing fall which broke her back and pelvis (and then went on to win again in competition) and has made solo winter ascents of the Eiger, the Grandes Jorasses and the Matterhorn.
Catherine has an impressive list of achievements and some great thoughts on being a woman in the world of climbing:
“I don’t think because I’m a woman I can’t do it, or that I must do it because I’m a woman. When you have a passion for something, you don’t worry about the boy/girl thing, you don’t care.”
Nutrition – Rebecca Dent
Rebecca Dent is a Performance Nutritionist and Clinical Dietitian working in sports nutrition. As a climber herself, she has a great understanding of the impact of good nutrition on climbing performance for women.
Packed full of factual information specific to the female body and ideas for meals and snacks, this session was exactly what I was looking for in a nutrition talk.
The main elements I took away were the importance of maintaining muscle mass as you get older, the importance of eating protein after exercise (protein feeds your muscles for recovery: low protein = muscle breakdown, high protein = muscle make up), the importance of fats in your diet (needed to build muscle) and the potential vitamin/mineral deficiencies specific to women (along with ideas for natural foods which help alleviate this).
If Rebecca Dent ever writes a book with tips and recipe ideas, I’ll be one of the first to buy it!
Awareness Coaching – Emma Twyford & Natalie Berry
This workshop was all about route reading, how to move your body and climbing dynamically.
It was interesting to realise that the easy routes we climb are where the technique improvements can be made. I’ve often thought of easier routes as a warm up/cool down but, in essence, a bit dull/boring. However, as Emma & Natalie said, by playing around with how you move your body on easier routes which are well within your capability, you can start to make changes which will then transfer into the more difficult climbs.
The other key tip I took away was about moving dynamically (a major weakness of mine). Lots of practice is still needed, but the technique was described as “starting the movement from your hips and imagining moving your belly button towards the next hold”
I was a bit surprised when a viewing of the film Operation Moffat was announced, wondering why a film about Jerry Moffatt was being shown at a female focused event.
However, I went along to watch it and was very glad that I did!
Operation Moffat is a film by Jen Randall (Light Shed Pictures) and Clare Carter and was inspired by the book “Space Below My Feet” by Gwen Moffat. Now in her 90’s, Gwen Moffat was the first woman to qualify as a British Mountain Guide and, as the film shows, she has had an incredible life of adventure. The film was informative and fun – big thumbs up to the film makers, it’s definitely one I’ll be watching again.
The afternoon sessions opened with another key note speaker, downhill mountain biker Rachel Atherton.
With an impressive array of world cup wins to her name, Rachel has also turned her hand to climbing in the past. It was really interesting to hear how she is nervous before every race yet is still able to perform and win.
She has trained herself to be physically strong to handle the bike, but has also learned the importance of mental strength over the years. One of her mantras is “thoughts are not truths” and she looks at the evidence to reinforce that she is capable of winning.
Rachel trains hard so that she never has to race on her absolute limit – and by doing this, she can rein it back and still win. Her thoughts on motivation are that by racing, it automatically motivates you to train because you want to perform well on the day.
Training Coaching – Ellie Howard & Michaela Tracy
This workshop was all about learning what exercises you can do away from the climbing wall to complement your climbing days.
Michaela first taught us how to do pull ups safely and then led us to the finger boards to do 30 seconds on 7 different stations. It was a fast and fun session and by the end, everybody had some way (assisted or not) of doing pull ups.
We then went onto conditioning training with Ellie. Again, this was a fast, energetic and fun session – full of L-sits, press ups, one legged squats and hanging leg raises.
I left this session full of motivation to incorporate some of this into my week back home.
Is Training Worth It – Molly Thompson-Smith
After a session learning about training, I thought it would be good to go along to a session to hear whether training is worth it!
Molly Thompson-Smith is an incredible young woman – at only 17 years of age, she is an accomplished competition climber and speaker. I loved hearing about how she fits training in around 6th form A-level work (not so different for those of us who have to fit climbing in around work).
Most of her training is on the wall with a rope (rather than conditioning training away from the wall) so that she can get used to the feeling of being pumped while high up. Thinking of her long term gains is what motivates her and knowing that if she doesn’t want to get pumped on a competition route, she has to train for it.
Her favourite quote is “to be number 1, you have to train like you’re number 2”
The whole event closed with an incredible keynote speaker, the French climber Caroline Ciavaldini. She was energetic, interesting and downright fun to listen to, making us all laugh along with her refreshing outlook on climbing and life.
Having spent her early climbing years focusing on lead competition climbing, Caro is now motivated by outdoor climbing and has made impressive ascents in both sport and trad climbing. Her first insight into gritstone trad climbing was seeing the opening sequence to the film Hard Grit where Jean-minh Trin-Thieu takes a fall from the climb Gaia, Black Rocks.
Despite thinking that gritstone climbing was crazy after seeing the clip on You Tube, her attraction to the climber James Pearson (now her husband) meant that she tried out trad climbing for herself. She is now one of the top female trad climbers with ascents in the E7-E9 grades. It was interesting to hear that she does still get scared sometimes on a climb – but that she realises the fear does not help her continue and works to put it out of her mind.
All in all, the WCS was an incredible event. With a line up of impressive coaches and speakers, it was motivating and great fun. It was also great to know that whatever session I attended, it would be specific to me as a female climber – from inspiration, to training, technique and advice.
I’ve heard comments over time questioning why there should be a women specific event and why there is nothing similar out there for men. I’ve also heard comments that mixed events do happen in the form of mountain film festivals. To some extent that may be true (ie. a range of inspiring speakers) but the WCS also gives access to climbing coaching and climbing technique workshops which are not a general feature of film festivals.
In some respects, I do feel sorry that men are missing out on having such an event for themselves (come on guys, get it sorted) but then equally after having gone to many outdoor events over the years where the speakers have often been male, I’m pretty chuffed that there was something which brought together some amazing female speakers.
I also wonder whether there’s an opportunity out there for climbing wall managers to develop smaller scale events which bring together speakers, workshops and coaching. By doing this, there could be mixed events taking place across the country, meaning something happening locally for climbers who are unable to travel to a national event.
In the meantime, I’m looking forward to the release of WCS 2016 information. Here’s hoping I’ll be free to go along…
Note: Apologies for the lack of images in this post – I got so carried away with attending that I forgot to take pictures on the day