Drew Haigh: British Lead Climbing Champion 2009

© Alex Messenger/ BMC
If you take competition climbing seriously you can drive yourself mad.

Every waking minute is spent either training or feeling guilty about not training.

It just takes over your life. Every waking minute is spent either training or feeling guilty about not training. And so was my life for the last three months. Early mornings in the gym with afternoons and evenings in the wall. Double sessions as much as I could take, on the rare occasions when my body wouldn't let me get out of bed to train it was reluctantly forgotten about until I'd recovered enough to crack on.

Drew Haigh competing in the 2009 BLCC at EICA, Ratho  © Alex Messenger/ BMC
Drew Haigh competing in the 2009 BLCC at EICA, Ratho
© Alex Messenger/ BMC

EICA (Ratho)Sunday 19th July: British Lead Climbing Championships.

The short drive from the hotel to the wall was a welcome relief. The day I'd been preparing for had finally started. I'd been knocking around the hotel room for hours. After waking too early, I'd packed and repacked my comp bag, had a few mouthfuls of breakfast and drunk enough coffee to make me feel, if not look, nearly human.

Walls on comp days look strange, normally at this hour they'd be closed and dark, but today there's people shuffling around handing out vests and checking lists. As I headed down into the main arena I felt like I was walking into an exam. This time though, for the first time in my life, I'd revised. Not just a little bit of rush revision the night before, but months and months of revision. I knew this subject inside out. I'd definitely done my homework. Two weekends previous, my girlfriend and I had made the same long drive north for a practice session. This had gone well, every route on the new comp wall I'd on-sighted on the Saturday and then on the Sunday I'd repeated them all several times with no falls. Perfect prep psychologically. I discovered on that weekend that my pacing was slightly off. With this wall and the angles being as steep as they were I'd need to climb a little faster, normally you have time to be a little steady and careful, you automatically want keep moves reversible. Here I'd have to climb more decisively.

The qualifiers were flash routes, which means that we got to watch the route-setters climb them before we had to. Vickers walked up the first, making it look steady. Bring it on. The first qualifier I normally just use to calm me down, it's easy to over-grip and pull too hard. Five people got to the top of this route, myself included. This route felt steady, not quite easy, but a long way from hard. A few long reaches, but at no point did I feel pressured or insecure. A good start.

Video: Qualifier Route One

Drew Haigh BLCC 2009 1st qualifier from drew haigh on Vimeo.

The second qualifier was demoed by Jamie Cassidy and looked substantially harder. This was good. It was on the new competition wall so the angle would suit me more and if it looked hard to me it was looking hard to everybody else too.

This route went okay. Grade wise about 8a+. I'd settled down and felt far more at ease. I popped off at the top when a heel clamp on a volume didn't quite work, but it was enough to get higher than anyone else and qualify in first place. This is good, you have a big psychological advantage and you come out last to climb in the finals.

Video: Qualifier Route Two

Drew Haigh BLCC 2009 2nd qualifier from drew haigh on Vimeo.

Drew Haigh: British Lead Climbing Champion 2009  © Alex Messenger/ BMC
Drew Haigh: British Lead Climbing Champion 2009
© Alex Messenger/ BMC

This final round is climbed in an on-sight style, so into isolation. Normally we'd all sit around chatting and relaxing, but this time I was super focused. I sat separately to everyone else and prepared mentally for the next route. I knew what to expect as we'd already had our 6 minute viewing. The route looked okay, but I needed to get psyched. I kept warm with a bit of bouldering and then started to get my game face on. A little prowling up and down and some serious talking to myself.

today I was ready to rip the head off it

As I was taken into transition I knew I'd already won, my confidence was unshakable. I believed I owned that wall. I was stronger and fitter than anybody else. I was furious by the time I was tied on. Normally I'd be smiling as I walked out and I'd give the audience a wave, but not today I was ready to rip the head off it. My eyes and focus didn't leave the holds from the moment I could see the wall.

A deep breath, a secret mantra and with everything I'd got, every lonely drive to the wall, every pull-up, every biscuit I'd not eaten, every night out I'd not had because of training, every thought over the last few years that had been about this very moment, everything I'd learnt in my recovery from kidney failure, every hidden strength I'd discovered in my recovery from cancer and chemotherapy, "I deserve this shit".

I pulled on.

I topped out.I won.

Video: BLCC Final

Drew Haigh of in the BLCC finals 2009 from drew haigh on Vimeo.

Drew Haigh runs his own chalk bag company - Obsessive Climbing Designs

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23 Jul, 2009
Very inspiring Drew.
23 Jul, 2009
excellent article and congrats Drew !
23 Jul, 2009
Second that! Excellent commentary too on those 3 clips. I really like hearing the climber doing a voice-over, describing his movement on the wall - Drew always comes over on them as very entertaining and informative, especially to us lowly punters.
24 Jul, 2009
Cheers for that guys. Really nice comp. Nice not to be blown all over and frozen stiff like at Blackpool in previous years. Fantastic route setting and Ratho did a great job in all regards. People enjoyed it and all the young climbers who've just come up from the juniors did really well (Ross, Ed and obviously James). Normally national comps like this can be a bit intimidating, but the way this one was organised seemed to make it a pretty relaxed affair. Even under the unavoidable pressure, everyone climbed well and should to be proud of their performances. If this is the way British comps are going to be in the future, the turnout for these events (both competitors and audience) should increase loads. If you fancy a bash next year, I'd recommend it to anyone, don't be put off by thinking you need to be a rock star. It's always worth a try. Everybody is supportive (especially the other competitors). Nobody will laugh if you fall off low down...give it a try, you might like it.
For me to enter it needs a handicap style like golf. Maybe I could use a ladder to compete?
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