Paige Claassen - Flow State
La Sportiva athlete Paige Claassen describes what it's like to turn off the mind when sending her projects.
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I love to project. Not because it’s rewarding to tick a hard-earned climb, although it is. Not because success is uncertain, but that’s true too. No, the real reason I love projecting is much more basic. It’s because I have to push my body to perform at its physical best while working a route, but when it comes down to sending, it’s my mind I have to control. And if I can manage to turn my mind off, the ultimate reward kicks in: flow state.
Flow state is a completely absorbed experience, a feeling of invigorating focus and total enjoyment of the process. Applied to climbing, it’s those rare moments when my senses are hyper-focused, yet it feels as though my brain is shut off completely, allowing my body to execute moves flawlessly, without a single negative thought tickling my brain. No doubts, no sense of pump or pain, no birds chirping in the background. Just the moves of my project falling away one by one, in a brief feeling of invincibility.
I’ve finished plenty of projects without clicking into flow state. Most of the time, the fight to the top is the ultimate struggle. I’ll forget a few feet, get way more pumped than I’d planned, but somehow scuttle my way to the anchor. Flow state isn’t a necessity to achieve a goal at my limit. It’s more like a luxury, a bonus. The proverbial icing on the cake.
Groove Train is a famous 5.14b//8c sport line in Australia’s Grampians National Park, known for its striking tiger stripes and three-dimensional pods, as well as its long reaches and even longer runouts. It was a dream line that had occupied a back corner of my mind for the past 8 years. I knew one day I’d throw my hat in the ring and give it a shot.
Finally, I was here, beneath the Taipan Wall. With months of training behind me, anticipation and expectations lay thick before me. I could reach through the spans. I could do all the moves. I just needed to link them together. I had an inkling, a thought I was too afraid to verbalize, that perhaps I could click into flow state at the top of the route. It’s pumpy and runout up there, with one particular insecure move after the crux. I’d booked a short trip. This was my dream route. I wanted it so bad. But I was greedy and wanted it with a flow state cherry on top.
The moments leading up to flow state are unnerving. I’m nervous, uncertain about a particular move or section on the route. I doubt myself. Will I fall there again? Will I be able to finish before the bad weather hits? Will I feel less pumped than last time? If I do stick the crux, will I be able to link the top runout sections?
I arrived at the rest before the crux. I felt…average. Not too pumped, but not like I had superpowers either. I set up for the crux, launched, and stuck it.
And then I was at the anchor.
That’s how flow state works. My mind turns off and my body executes. And before I know what happened, it’s over, and I’m left only with a feeling of complete joy.
How do you click into flow state? If there was a formula, we’d all be in that heavenly state of mind far more often. But basically, three things go through my head in rotation to help keep the pressure off. The first two are rational. The third…well, I’m embarrassed, but I think you deserve the truth.
1. Climbing this route isn’t going to change my life or the lives of anyone else.
2. Worst case scenario, I played outside today. I am not at the dentist.
3. Or, one of two songs plays in my head. Either “I had the time of my life, and I owe it all to you…” from Dirty Dancing or “She’s beauty and she’s grace, she’s Miss United States” from Miss Congeniality.
Yep. Before I get on the wall and during my climb, the Dirty Dancing song or the Miss Congeniality song go through my head. I don’t know why. I didn’t summon them, they just came to me one day, many years ago. In fact, I don’t remember my life before these songs cluttered my head. But I think they help keep things light. After all, who can take themselves seriously when singing a Miss America song?
On the morning I sent Groove Train, I was belting out Dirty Dancing for a good 10 minutes before I got on the wall. I sang it on the ledge before the first bolt. It was stuck in my head as I rested on the route. Luckily, once I stuck the crux, flow state kicked it out.
Phew. But hey, it worked!
Whatever songs help get you in the mood to project, embrace them. They might be unexpectedly just what you need to take the pressure off. They might even be just what you need to click into flow state.
Recent climbing bans have greatly affected access to climbers in Grampians National Park. 70% of boulders and 50% of sport climbs are now closed to climbers. While Parks Victoria has made many false accusations against climbers, resulting in these devastating bans, it’s important that visiting climbers respect these closures while the local community works to sort through possible solutions. In addition to staying away from banned areas, you can support the Australian Climbing Association Victoria (ACAV), which is the representative body for climbing access in Victoria. Join or donate at www.vic.climb.org.au.
Photos by ©Arjan De Kock
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
PAIGE CLAASSEN has been a member of the La Sportiva Climbing Team for 9 years.
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