Lucy Mitchell is a climber from Northern Ireland (Belfast) and unbeknownst to much of the UK climbing community, is racking up one of the most impressive sport tick lists by a UK female climber. Ever. She recently returned from Spain where she made an ascent of Fish Eye 8c in just 7 days.
“I tried it once last May/April time and found the moves all quite hard. I had a short trip at the start of December and tried again. First go much better, did all the moves pretty much first attempt. But it did feel long! I returned two weeks later, spent a further three days falling at the last bolt and then it finally it was done!”
What makes this 8c all the more interesting is that the achievement side of her performance has been accomplished in only very short windows of climbing outside. She is not out there at local crags cranking every single week and taking regular 2-4 week trips aboard like many of the climbers at the top end in the sport.
Lucy, in fact, manages a busy climbing wall in Belfast, works 60(ish) hrs a week and couples this with a huge passion for hard work and training.
Her recent climbing CV reads as:
Fish Eye 8c (Oliana)
Marroncita 8b/+ (Oliana)
Hong Kong Fu Fu 8b (Gorges du Loup)
Cubata Cupito 8b (Margalef)
Huecool 8b (Gordale)
The full list of routes below this grade are at the bottom of the article.
Lucy, thanks for taking time out of what sounds like a busy schedule to chat! Firstly, as a matter of interest, do you climb/train a lot in with your job? Or is it a random mixture?
Rarely a week goes by when someone who I take on a session doesn’t say to me “you must be so lucky, all you have to do is climb all day”. An awful lot of my work is coaching people at the wall, so yes I ‘climb’ a fair bit. But it’s not ‘my climbing’. It’s not necessarily what I would choose to climb in my spare time. I would say the constant demoing, making up problems/ routes, challenges, working through climbs with people, seeing lots of different options, setting etc is what works to help my climbing. I’m not sure this is about ‘real gains’ though.
So having recently climbed Fish Eye I presume you enjoy the long routes? Would you say you’re a “fit” climber or a “strong” climber compared to the average?
I’d say basic stamina (for me being able to recover almost fully on several holds) is my best and generally being able to have 3 good goes on a long hard route in a day. I can imagine not being able to do the moves on plenty of routes, but I rarely feel like if I got the moves sorted I wouldn’t be able to link them together quite quickly.
With the exception of ‘Fish Eye’ every time I have done the moves of a route I have climbed it within 2 or 3 goes. Even with fish eye I was getting to the last bolt fresh as a daisy probably 2 times each day for the 3 days prior to doing it …
What kind of approach do you take with your climbing with such a busy work-life? How do you manage all the conflicting factors that often crop up?
When I feel terrible, tired, no motivation, bored etc I definitely just do what I know I like, what I’m good at. I’ll lap everything and anything … my favourite thing on a lousy day is to try to climb every problem in the centre in a session from the hardest 4 circuits or the competition wall .. something like that. Tick the crag … that kind of thing.
When I feel good I do make a good effort to do what I am useless at. Jumps, big movements, lock offs, one arm hangs, single hard moves.
Ah ok, so in essence you’re doing the really intensity “hard” work on the days when you feel freshest mentally and physically and then settling back into the “routine” type days where you’re knackered? This sounds very similar to what I do. As you’re also coaching quite a lot, do you think you get some extra input to your climbing by climbing with clients?
Luckily for me I coach a lot of kids and they love jumps and ‘cool’ things like that so I’m forever making things up for them and by default trying them and then making the effort to try them more often so as not to be disgraced by the 10 year olds!
I also coach a lot of adults and when I’m getting them to do some conditioning I’ll join in and try to vary it. If they do normal lower downs, I’ll try one arm lower downs etc.
You obviously have a really busy schedule, what do you think allows you to transfer indoor climbing so quickly to outside (personally I need at least a month each year for me to find my form on real rock)?
Luckily I think I have the ‘try hard gene’ so I’m getting away with not training ‘efficiently’ simply by giving it everything every time I pull on … I’m sure I’m not progressing as quickly as I could but I am having a great time and getting a bit better in the process!
How do you manage to convert your training so efficiently into good performance on rock? I think what you’re doing is pretty rare…
Necessity I think. The past trip (7 days) was the longest trip I’ve had in 4 years. I average 3 x 5 day trips a year so I don’t really have a ‘warm up day’. Like I said about ‘fit climber’ my biggest attribute is keeping going. Last trip I reset our in house Boulder League in Belfast on the Tuesday, Drove to Dublin at 3am Wednesday, Landed in Barcelona at 10am, had flashed 8a by 2pm and had done all the moves on Fish Eye twice by dark.
That conversion to real rock in a “real” situation seems incredibly fast to me. You’ve got a great tool there!
I’m really lucky, I think I just get outside and it all feels right! What sometimes takes me a minute to get used to is just how hard you have to fight each time. Outside there is this real deep fight you have to produce every climb! A bit different to just stepping on an indoor problem and it not feeling right and just trying again. That move could be 30 meters up on your last go of the day … you just have to suck it up and do it … even if it doesn’t feel right.
If I were to give you one training tool out of fingerboard, system board or campus, what would it be?
Systems board 100% . We have a symmetrical board at home and a Beastmaker board in the centre. They are most like climbing to me, so fun to use. Next would be a campus board, I can have a really good time on this but it would have to be with someone else. My last choice would be a finger board. I actually wish I made more of an effort to use this as I think the gains possible are big and actually with the apps or even a really simple tick list and a timer a session would be so easy to complete but I just don’t.
Ok, so this is an interesting one. You obviously don’t have an issue with hard work, discomfort, over-coming obstacles. What gives you that track record? Learnt from parents? Partner? Do you think the ‘try hard’ is innate?
I think I was always brought up to do it right, certainly not to give in. I used to play a lot of sports and do lots with my parents but just in parks and gardens and from memory I wasn’t ever just given the win. In fact I think I preferred it when I lost because we had to play again, except in monopoly, I just lost and then cried … and that was it.
I think I just came to the conclusion that if I was going to do it at all, I may as well give it everything I can. I always remember having to try in school. I wasn’t necessarily naturally smart (certainly not ‘just turn up and pass’ smart) but happy to work and kind of thought if it was possible to get 100%, I’d be trying my best to do so. Its so easy to do it now because I love it, I love the movement when it goes perfectly and I love the fight when it doesn’t!
Wow, that’s fascinating. It’s really cool to hear first hand from a ‘try hard’ climber about what you feel when things don’t come easy. As you perform so well on the long route, it’d be interesting to know about your preferred endurance training? I like to split it with a lot of very easy climbing and then really hard interval and only do the mega pumpy stuff in 4-6 weeks before a trip.
I mostly boulder at our centre and mostly just trying hard problems maybe the odd link up or near a trip or a competition some circuits. My nearest lead wall is actually 2 hours away, so I try to go once per week / 2 weeks for a day if I can. I can almost always do most if not all of the routes here so I would make eliminates.
I make up or try a hard route 3 times and then just lap, 3 hard routes hopefully falling off last move of last route or something like that. I also do a really fun thing – a route 10 times, top rope fast as you can and not too hard, like 7a or something…totally destroys me.
I actually do very very little (actually maybe none) of climbing easy things, being on the wall and not getting pumped. Although maybe I think I do a lot of that while coaching. I could sometimes be taking different sets of kids for up to 6 hours on the trot … not necessarily top level, very young, quite basic but I climb so much in this time. Weirdly I think this gives me a really good base.
Did you do any specific training for Fish Eye? Replicas?
For Fish Eye, I tried to be able to recover almost completely on a smallish jug, biggish crimp…never managed even vaguely recovery on a sloper.
Thanks so much for taking the time to chat – you’ve definitely got me inspired! It seems like the passion you have for trying so hard and enjoying that process transfers very effectively to rock… maybe something that we can all learn from.
Anyone you want to thank?
Lucy’s ticklist from 8a+ and below:
Humildes pa’riba 8a+ (Oliana)
Mon Dieu 8a+ (Oliana)
Hard Crit 8a+ (Margalef)
Trango 8a+ (Margalef)
Terre de feu 8a+ (Margalef)
El Fustigador 8a+ (Margalef)
Supercool 8a+ (Gordale)
Soul Rebel 8a (Oliana)
Mishi 8a (Oliana)
Innuendo 8a (Margalef)
La Perdonavida 8a (Margalef)
Arrow Head 8a (Gorges du Loup)
Black Mamba 8a (St Leger)
Maquerelle de boeuf 8a (St Leger)
Pren Nota 8a (Siurana)
Last Action Hero 8a (Kilnsey)
The Thumb 8a (Kilnsey)
Les cadres regenerent 8a (Rodellar)
Complete control 8a (Kilnsey)
Cold Steal 8a (Kilnsey)
Macedonia 7c+ (Oliana)
Red Bull 7c+ (Oliana)
Deverse 7c+ (Gorges du Loup)
Aeroplastica 7c+ (Margalef)
Mr Nice 7c+ (Kilnsey)
Dead Calm 7c+ (Kilnsey)
The Ashes 7c+ (Kilnsey)