If you're just starting out bouldering -- or, if you've never participated in a competition before -- comps can seem pretty intimidating. I was ridiculously nervous before my first competition, which I participated in just a few months after trying indoor bouldering for the first time.
What I found out during that comp, and in the several comps I've participated in since, is that being nervous or intimidated is a waste of perfectly good climbing energy, because these events are largely fun, friendly and worthwhile. Here are some things I've learned about participating in bouldering competitions to hopefully encourage you to give it a try, whether you're a total gumby or a seasoned puller of plastic.
Partner up if you can
Most of the comps I've done have been solo affairs, but the few I've enjoyed with friends have been the best, for a few reasons. You have someone to trade beta with, someone to sign your card as having witnessed your send, and someone to encourage you, and vice versa. If you're nervous about signing up, drag your best climber friend along for company.
Comps are exciting: all the routes are new, the holds are clean and extra friction-y, and if the setters did their jobs well, the problems will be interesting and probably a bit unique compared to what you usually see in the gym. Lots of places will bust out new, uber-cool holds and features just for a comp. So, naturally, you'll want to throw yourself at every awesome-looking problem as quickly as possible.
That's a recipe for flash pump and burnout! Try as hard as you can to approach the comp like any other bouldering session. Warm up thoroughly, stretch thoroughly, and start on problems below your ability level, only to ensure your muscles are prepared but to boost your confidence and comfort. Take breaks often, and take advantage of the fact that most comps are several hours long.
Don't worry about numbers
If you're competitive, it's all too easy to pursue the highest-rated problems for your category in order to get the most points possible. Conversely, if you're a bit reserved, you might limit yourself to easy problems and be wary of trying tougher routes. Neither of these scenarios is ideal. For the uber-competitive person, throwing yourself at the toughest problems is a surefire way to get frustrated and burn out quickly. For the reserved person, limiting yourself will likely mean you miss out on more challenging problems that you could very well send.
Instead, focus on having fun. If you see a problem that looks fun, give it a try. That's not to say a V3 climber should attempt the sick V10 on the overhanging wall, but there is some merit to trying problems that are normally outside your usual grade bracket. Sometimes problems are poorly rated in a comp setting; sometimes you can find a unique way to send that involves some non-obvious beta. Either way, you'd be doing yourself a disservice if you only focused on the numbers. Watch others climb, decide if you think it looks fun, and if it does, give it a try. If it's not happening, move on to the next.
As mentioned, comps can be exciting and high energy. It's easy to let adrenaline mask feelings of hunger and thirst, just like it's easy to push yourself too hard and too fast. Resist this urge and make it a point to regularly drink water and eat your favorite workout snack. This isn't the time to try out some new energy bar recipe or extra-caffeinated energy drink you've never had before. Stick with foods you and your body are familiar with.
It bears repeating: don't be intimidated!
Just the words "climbing competition" can be scary. Surely everyone there will be borderline professional; there won't even be problems there you can climb, right? Wrong. Unless the comp is advertised as being for pros only, there will be categories for each and every ability level, including your own. There will be problems you can scale and other climbers in your boat. Waiting until you can climb a certain grade or have a certain amount of experience under your belt just prevents you from participating in a really fun, social event. So forget those fears and just go for it!
*Photos taken at GoPro Mountain Games bouldering competition in Vail, Colorado. Courtesy Lauren Seidl.