Coaching Karin

Karin on Showtime 8b. Photo: Steve Crowe

One of my highlights from last year was coaching Karin Magog. Karin was one of my all-time heroes growing up. She was silently onsighting hard trad routes back when women didn’t do such things. Along side Lucy Creamer, Karin represented all I wanted out of climbing; if I could ever be that good I’d be content. I’ve since learnt that climbing dreams and goals never end, and realistically you’re never happy with how far you’ve come, or rather; you realise there is always room for growth. I’ve also changed my ideas a lot about heroes since now the tables have turned and many people come to me telling me that they are a fan or that I’m their hero. Since this has always made me feel uncomfortable I now tend to think more carefully about such things.

When I put a note on facebook saying I wanted to explore mental training coaching for climbers, I was surprised that Karin contacted me. Karin contacted me?! Deep down though, it wasn’t such a surprise; I’m observant enough to know that just because you’ve onsighted loads of E6, climbed E8 and 8b it doesn’t mean you don’t get scared. In actual fact I seem to remember seeing Karin climb in Chulilla and noticing that she was under confident committing to moves above the bolt. That aside, I was still a bit nervous about coaching a hero!

Over the course of the last year I’ve mostly been coaching Karin remotely via phone calls. This is a testament to how dedicated and self-driven she is, so I thank her a lot for that. I think she can do a better job of explaining her experiences.  Below is a shorter version of a piece she wrote. For the full version visit her website

Hazel got straight to the heart of the problem, which is a basic fear of falling and the lack of control this involves. Even on a toprope I found it hard to let go without reassurance first that my belayer had me. If I felt I was in control then I won’t think about it, but as soon as that control was compromised the fear would arise. This could be down to a jump or slap, or committing to a move off a poor handhold or a marginal smear. Suddenly the irrational would take over and it would take an enormous amount of mental energy to make that commitment, and at other times I couldn’t make it at all.

Hazel offered loads of advice and practical exercises to try. She also recommended I read Arno Ilgner’s other book - Expresso Lessons. This was much more interesting and easier to read, I would definitely recommend it to anyone interested in this subject. One of the exercises both Arno and Hazel suggested was fall practice. Now I had tried fall practice in the past but had pushed too hard too soon, which resulted in me getting frustrated and upset at my failure. This time I took it more slowly, doing some falls on the toprope to start with, then moving to the lead, concentrating on my breathing, relaxing. Looking up before letting go instead of down was hard to start with but also easier in some respects, and mimicked the climbing situation much more. I’m slowly progressing, but have a long way to go. I’ve realised that I need to try and incorporate some fall practice into everyday at the crag/wall and have started trying to incorporate it into my warm-up.

So did any of this work? Well I did have numerous successes this year, the main one being my redpoint of Showtime at Kilnsey. Showtime is a 30m 8b with three distinct cruxes none of which suited my usual style! The last crux was just a massive slap from a small undercut, no way round this unfortunately and I could barely do the move after sitting in the rope, so the thought of doing it after 30m of climbing was quite daunting. I broke the route down into small goals and would have an aim for each session on it. I also did plenty of practice falls. Hazel also offered advice on techniques for maintaining focus which were invaluable once I was on the redpoint. The route came together faster than I thought, although I did spend three days and numerous redpoints falling off that move at the top.

Another success in my eyes was my failed onsight of Cockblock, a popular and powerful classic E5 6b in the Llanberis Pass. This may seem like a bit of an oxymoron, however, when you consider that I’ve rarely fallen off a trad route in the past (the few times I have it’s been down to a broken hold, or a sudden slip off a greasy hand or foothold), the fact that I fell off this whilst trying hard was a massive step forward. Yes I was disappointed not to onsight it, but I was more pleased that I’d actually taken it on in the first place and given everything on it.

I’m now back from a recent trip to Spain. Another two past failures put to bed and success on a route I would never have considered in the past due to its steepness and the ridiculous sequence at the top to get round a big move (I have to admit this did test me as I fell from this move too many times to count - some wise words from Hazel got me up it the next day!). However, the biggest success was the fact that I took more falls this trip than I have on the past few trips put together. This I know is the way forward for me but I don’t find it easy. Just like every other aspect of climbing if you don’t use it you lose it. There is no magic cure, but working on your mental game can be just as rewarding as the physical side. I’m excited to see where it may take me.”

Comments 1

  • 02/04/16

    Thanks hazel.  As someone who is going through this exact internal struggle right now its very reassuring to hear that people, who cOmpared to me are in the upper echelons of climbing still face this battle. FeeliNg very inspired!

    Ps i hope its this site making everything in caps…

Leave a comment