That Was Hard. 2018 Australian Lead Nationals

“Well that was hard” – Maybe the most said statement at the recent Australian National Lead Titles. I’d say that as the head setter, my focus wasn’t on making the competition hard…….. but then again, maybe that would be lying.

For the last 3 months leading up to the Australian National lead titles I have been training with relatively good consistency and determination. I have been trying to improve my climbing performance and finger strength with a focus on bouldering. Partly because I love bouldering, but also because (in my opinion) bouldering fitness is the most relevant for a route setter. In defence of this position, I believe it is because testing the movements in overlapping sections requires good bouldering fitness, not necessarily lead fitness. I mean, if I could flash all the routes I set I’d compete right!?

Anyway, I’d been training, because I knew that the best competition climbers were about to descend upon us and I, along with 4 team members, were tasked with the job of splitting them. It’s a tricky thing too, creating a competition that is both enjoyable for the majority of the field and splits our top athletes. Especially when you find yourself in two minds about the standards at a national championship. What are they? What should they be? What terrain is best suited for who? Add in some para climbing requirements to the mix, as well as some pretty interesting time requirements, and you find yourself with a pretty good challenge.

Before I go on, I have to say a huge congratulations to my setting team. Carlie LeBreton, Tommy Krauss, Kurt Doherty and Sam Junker. You guys did a stellar job and I had a blast!

If you’ve ever wondered what Tommy Krauss looks like at 4am
Oh and here is Sam

Long story short, the comp was pretty hard. 5 of the 18 or so routes we set saw a top. No finals were topped and there was some congestion throughout the event at some unexpected places. We still got a split and some pretty incredible victories from two very impressive athletes. James Kassay by 14 holds and Oceania Mackenzie by 11.

Still, as I’ve said before, the quest to make a perfect competition is still something that drives me, and it was frustrating to see competitors falling in sections that we hadn’t anticipated. Especially when we had done work on routes after identifying that they weren’t quite right. As if we were asking all the right questions, but getting the wrong answers.

To give you all a bit of background, typically we have a grade range in mind for a competition. Taking open A male into consideration, for nationals we set what we considered to be a 26+ Q1, a 29+ Q2, a 30+ semi-final and a 30+ final. Apart from hold selection and terrain, that is about as much information about the climb as we have. After setting it, some of the setting team will climb it, try to make sure that it is consistent, there are no cruxes and it hits it’s grade range and is appropriate for the category, sounds simple right?

Carlie testing and testing and testing

So after all this work, when the route doesn’t do what you want it to do, it’s frustrating (to say the least).

As some of you know, I have been fanboying over Tonde and the wisdom he imparted on me last year and so when I tell you my mind went back to the ideas he covered in the workshop, it should be no surprise. I thought about how I could use R. I. C to my advantage (Risk, Intensity and Complexity), but in the context of a route comp.

Typically in a boulder event, various boulders have set R.I.C values, setters use this information to think about how the round fits together and can then use the results of that round to modify the next round if necessary. So if a high-risk boulder was not having the desired effect, certain elements of the next round can be adjusted to be more suitable, i.e if there is another high-risk boulder in the next round, you can change the intensity and complexity values (or the risk value if necessary) so that the field react in the way you want…… hopefully. But at the very least, you are making educated decisions on exactly what you want and what you think is going on.

The problem with using this concept for lead comps is that it doesn’t seem right to have fixed R.I.C values for an entire route. Plus, with 2 routes in qualifications, then only 1 in semi-finals, if you get those values wrong there is no recovery, no buffer. Worse still is that high-risk values in a lead comp. are, well, pretty risky, so as a setter you tend to move more along the complexity and intensity scales for these types of events.

Ben Abel on Open Mens 2nd quali

Then another thing popped into my head that Tonde (yes I know, I said it again) mentioned when we briefly discussed routes. He suggested that a good way to challenge athletes was to try and control their pacing. Like in steeper sections when athletes wanted to move quickly, you made them move slowly, or when they were just getting into a flow, you stopped them with something where they had to pause and collect.

Then BANG, it hit me. What if I took my route and broke it down into sections, say 20% of the total moves in each section, and had fixed R.I.C values for each section. For instance, the start of the climb might have a low risk and complexity value but a high intensity value. Then the 2nd section will ramp up the complexity, but drop the intensity, then the 3rd section keeps the complexity value but ramps up the intensity again…… so on and so forth. This sort of breakdown would provide us as setters as a really clear idea of what was going on in each part of the climb. Also a very clear understanding of how the field was responding to particular challenge elements, informing any tweaks and (most importantly) informing the appropriate sections of the climb to tweak! The overall difficulty could then be said to be the sum of all three values. So as the R.I.C values increase, so too does the difficulty. Add in a little fatigue element, and hey presto you have a tool. (Note that for fatigued, I used a very simple formula that utilised intensity as a factor, the more intense the movement, the greater the fatigue factor).

An example of a 3 round lead comp might look something like this –

Q1 – High intensity, low complexity, low risk (full route)

Q2 – High complexity, low intensity, low risk (full route)

  • Analyse results (having fixed R.I.C values helps setters adjust semifinals
  • Let’s say that athletes responded well to the high intensity, but struggled with increasing complexity


Imagined rounds using dynamic RIC values

Semi-finals – beginning starts with increasing intensity, as complexity increases intensity dips to ensure that the overall difficulty (sum of R.I.C) doesn’t jump too quickly, and allows for competitors response to complexity(seen to be poor after Q2). Basically, setters complexity values for the field are not accurate and so to mitigate this, instead of reassessing what the ‘real’ value would be, you compensate.


It’s probably not appropriate to say that the setters value of complexity is ‘wrong’, just that what your team felt was not a high complexity value for the field was not necessarily how the field responded.

Anyway, whether this idea has any real merit is still to be tested. I’m not 100% sure about how the fatigue factor will play a role, and what an appropriate function for it might look like, or even if you really need a function. Potentially, just like the R.I.C values, it would be better to have it as a constant, maybe increasing every 10 moves, who knows. The real potential for this concept is to use it as a tool to assess a competition climb, and where there might be issues. Hopefully, by improving our tools, we can improve our product.