Wednesday, November 07, 2012

The Secret Life of Iyma Lamarche, Rock Climber

Iyma Lamarche, rock climber
Photo: Lauren Watson
Iyma Lamarche is an exciting, emerging talent in the world of Canadian competitive rock climbing.

This past season, she finished second overall in the 2012 Tour de Bloc, tied for first place in the Summer Sweat Fest bouldering series, made it to the semi-finals of the Lead World Cup in Atlanta, competed for Canada at the Bouldering World Cup in Vail -- and also won her first Canadian Youth Nationals climbing title, in Montreal.

Will she develop successfully into an elite athlete? We’re about to find out...

[LINK: Iyma Lamarche, 2012 MEC Canadian Bouldering Championships. Footage courtesy G6 Climbing]

I recently met with Ms. Lamarche to discuss her training regime, the pressures of competition, women in climbing, the future of the sport in Canada, and numerous other topics. I discovered that she’s an articulate, poised individual -- with a bright personality that I’m proud to have representing us.

Enjoy the interview!
[You can also listen to our conversation, using the link at the bottom!]


Interview with Iyma - Part One 

Iyma Lamarche! Please tell me about yourself: where are you from; how did you get into climbing?

Hangin’ out.
Photo: Meagan Odonelis
I was born in Ottawa, and I’ve lived in Toronto all my life pretty much. I started climbing... I got interested in it, actually, at Ontario Place -- (laughs)

Really? Like one of those portable wall things?

Yeah, I tried it with my cousin, and my dad was terrified, and he didn’t really want me to start at first; he was a little worried -- he was a gymnast.

It was pretty funny. And then I told him I was really interested in it; we started going to Joe Rockhead’s, and then we just went more and more frequently. That sparked my interest, and it went from there.

What discipline of climbing do you enjoy the most, and why?

I think my entire climbing career, I’ve been trying to figure that out actually.

You’re still early in your career, so --

Yes, I suppose. At the moment, and most recently for the past couple of years, I think it’s definitely been route climbing.

Iyma: 2012 Cdn Youth Nationals
Photo: Pam Eveleigh
Inside or outside?

Both. Outside, if I get the chance to. I compete obviously, so it becomes an issue of, like, I have to climb indoors, and I don’t necessarily always get the opportunity to go outside... but both definitely.

You’re primarily focused on sport?

Yes. I’d like to try trad and all that stuff, but at the moment I don’t think it’s realistic for me to pursue that...

Do you have any mountaineering goals in the further future?

I used to be always be really, like, ‘OMG, I’m going to do Everest and make all these big decisions,’ but I now think… I don’t know, it would be cool to do it with a guide; I wouldn’t necessarily want to become a mountaineer. I wouldn’t necessarily be completely interested in that. I also don’t like the cold very much (laughs) so... that could prove to be a little bit of an issue. Yeah. Maybe -- if the opportunity arose.

Who are your climbing influences? Do you follow climbing culture, watch videos and that sort of thing?

Oh yeah. There’s definitely a lot of videos. I don’t think I could... there are so many people that I admire and look up to, and there are so many different people who follow different disciplines, that it’s really hard to single people out.

But I think in general, I’m most attracted to, and most in admiration of people who are... who look at the sport as more of a self-... you know, challenge, and not necessarily as competitively, and just as more of a meditative thing. And I think that it’s important for people to look at climbing, in ways other than just the competitive aspect. I look up to people who are into the spiritual side of climbing.

So in general, people who are calm and peaceful.

Lamarche climbing ‘The Predator’ in Rumney, New Hampshire
Photo: Mike Makischuk

Talking about climbing outside, where’s your favorite place to climb -- where have you been?

I haven’t been to tons of places; I went to Kentucky a lot when I was little -- with my dad, and obviously that’s a crowd favourite -- I love Kentucky! I really want to get out there soon; I’m going in March for my March Break. It’s hard being a student, travelling, so definitely Kentucky.

You’re a full-time student?

Yes, I’m in grade 12. Definitely Kentucky has been my favorite place to go. I haven’t climbed there a long time, so I don’t know if maybe it’s still my favorite or not, but another place is Lion’s Head. Lion’s Head is phenomenal -- the climbing’s fantastic but the area is beautiful, and --

-- the view! --

There’s really nothing wrong with Lion’s Head; it’s pretty amazing, so yeah I love it there too. Really, anywhere I get the opportunity to climb on rock, it’s pretty nice.

On the trail...
Photo: Andrew McBurney
Do you boulder outside as well?

Yes I do. I go to the Glen, and I’ve been on route climbing trips and we’d go bouldering here and there -- North Carolina, West Virginia... I love bouldering, but I definitely haven’t done as much of it outside.

Are you sponsored? Any shoutouts to any companies we should mention?

At the moment I’m sponsored by G6 which is awesome; I love their stuff.

Why is that?

The thing is I’ve always been... pretty girly and I make a lot of... not statements, but I’m a little more out there with my clothing choices (laughs).

No earth tones allowed!
And G6 makes me feel like there’s a company that appreciates that side of me. Because I wear bright pink, and like to wear lots of bright colours, and really express myself through that.

I found a lot of time when I was younger and growing up, it was hard to find brands in clothing that are more... out there with climbing, it’s all like, ‘earth tones’! They (G6) put that on their website, ‘We don’t make earth tones’. Which is nice. It’s nice to have a company like that. I like to be girly.

There’s a quote on your website that says, ‘Fail not for sorrow, falter not for sin, but onward, upward till the goal ye win.’ It’s by Francis Ann Kemble. Can you explain the meaning behind that, and what the significance is for you?

I think a lot of my climbing... in the past I’ve had struggles with self-... not necessarily self-doubt, but more self-motivation, and how I feel towards my own failures, and how I pick myself up from my failures.

I think a big step for me -- writing the blog and starting the website -- was for me to address those failures, and be able to sort out how I was going to move on from that. That poem really embodies everything that I was trying to capture in my climbing at that moment. Working forward, and pushing, and not letting yourself stay on the ground when you fall.

Can you describe your training regime? Without revealing any secrets?

[Laughs] I have no secrets!

‘How can I climb like Iyma Lamarche?’ is what the fans want to know.

‘I guess the treadwall doesn’t love me
as much as I love it’

Photo: Iyma Lamarche
Oh gosh, I don’t know if you want to know! Over the summer it got really crazy; we were training six times a week, five days a week.

I do a lot of… the one thing that I’ve learned over the years is that the biggest way -- for me at least, and I think for a lot of other people to improve in climbing -- is just to climb more.

So I train a lot of conditioning and strengthening, but I try to climb as much as I can. At least two to three times a week of my climbing sessions are pretty much just climbing. It’s a lot of trying to improve my style, my efficiency, but it’s mostly all just spent on the wall.

I don’t necessarily believe in a full-on conditioning-only routine; I don’t really think anyone does. But -- it’s getting crazy right now! I’m training a lot. I had to take away one training session, for school. So now I’m training about four to five times a week, three hours each.

That’s intense. In your head, what kind of a climber are you?

I’ve spent a lot of time and effort and focus and concentration on being an efficient climber. And being very technical with my climbing. I have pretty good hand strength. I think it’s definitely my strongest characteristic.

‘Jump starts are not my friend.’
Photo: Dennis Barnes
Where are you weak -- what would you like to improve?

I have a serious problem with jumping (laughs). Jump starts are not my friend.

What about dynos when you’re on the wall?

It’s so funny, when I’m at the end of a problem, and there’s a dyno -- there’s almost nothing that can stop me. I’m pretty motivated to get that dyno.

But when the dyno’s at the beginning, it’s SO hard, it’s like a big mental wall for me. I don’t know why it’s actually a big thing. I can’t... do it, I find that I need to have already done some hard moves before I jump.

And so I feel really, really held back by dynoing and jumping, and it’s something that I need to work on -- well I am working on it. That’s definitely my weakness at the moment. (laughter)

Who’s your coach?

My dad is my coach.

Your dad, Andrew McBurney...

Andrew McBurney, yes, the owner of Boulderz Climbing Centre. He’s my coach. Last year, I needed some time to get motivated. I was having a lot of trouble by the end of the year before last year, with feeling motivated without having people cheering for me and stuff, and being there and training with me, and pushing me. I was having a lot of trouble when I wasn’t in a situation where I was with other people.

Climbing with her dad, Andrew McBurney
I needed a year to train by myself, to re-connect with who I was and with why I was climbing. Which was all with the same idea with the blogs, and how to deal with my failure, and how I was going to push myself.

So for that year, it wasn’t necessarily a coaching thing, but it was more, I was making different people my mentors, and I was taking different bits of advice, but from a wide spread, a wide spectrum of people -- including my dad obviously. It was more of a ‘I’m going to take from you what I feel like I need’, instead of telling me what to do.

And then this year, I decided to join back onto the Boulderz team and train with the rest of the team. And my dad’s now obviously my full time coach. Which is great, and it’s working super well. I needed some time. But yeah, he’s my coach, for all time.

And I mean, my mom is pretty brilliant with that type of thing, she coached gymnastics for years -- high-level coaching, so she definitely helps me a lot with my mental preparation, and for comps and stuff. And she gets me off the ground all the time.

Iyma and mother:
“She gets me off the ground”

Do you do any other sports, or is there not enough time to...

When I was younger up until the eighth or ninth grades, I used to be on tons of teams, like volleyball, and baseball, and soccer. Tons. And I started having to quit things. The last to go were volleyball and cross country. I loved cross country so much! I ran since I was in grade 2. I love running. And then now that I’ve established a training routine and I’m a little bit more focused on being fit simply for climbing, I’ve started a fitness session with my school.

Which is... I don’t know, it’s kind of confusing. I don’t know why I took it on, I mean it’s so fun, but it’s so tiring! It’s funny, it happens on Friday mornings, so I have Wednesday, Thursday, Friday -- 72 hours of training. It’s great though, it’s really fun, we do an hour of fitness session in the mornings and we just work out. It’s crazy. It’s awesome.

So yeah, that’s the only other thing that I’m doing now.

Do you follow a particular diet, or eat specific foods for nutrition?

“I’m a healthy eater.”
Photo: Iyma Lamarche
I’ve always eaten very healthily since I was very little. It’s pretty much not a choice for me; I’m a healthy eater. I think that my diet has changed, it always changes. I just listen to my body; it’s easy after you listen to it for awhile, to know exactly what you need at certain times.

At comps especially, it’s important to listen to that: ‘Do I need protein, do I need carbs right now?’ Generally I actually eat a lot. I’ve got a pretty high metabolism. I eat like crazy. [laughs]

A lot of people don’t... I eat right before I climb, all the time, like I eat a lot and I never feel sick, I always feel perfect. Generally I just eat a lot of healthy food. And I drink a lot of tea!

That leads into what might for some people be a sensitive topic. I’m interested in your answer as an athlete. The issue is, weight and climbing.

Ah, yes!

Do you pay any attention to it? Do you maintain a weight range, or do you care?

It’s always been easy for me to maintain a very healthy weight. I’ve always had a lean body -- mostly because of my healthy eating and my physical activity. Obviously I can feel it when I lose a couple pounds, or I gain a couple pounds.

Does it affect your performance?

I think that no matter what, when you lose weight it affects your performance. Point blank, losing weight is going to make you feel like you’re climbing better -- until you lose too much weight... then you’re just completely weak. So I definitely try not to -- it’s a very slippery slope to try to monitor your weight like that. I try to stay... I don’t really pay attention. I don’t even know how much I weigh right now...

I’m not --

Photo: Iyma Lamarche
No, no, it’s a good topic... It’s sensitive, because a lot of people feel that it’s somehow connected to your personality, or to who you are, but I think it’s important to just leave it alone. And just let your body do what it does.

I mean, if you’re struggling with obesity, or you’re overweight, that’s a different story, and whatever, if want to get on top of your health, and you do -- but for someone like me, I’m always going to be active and I’m always going to eat well. I just don’t worry about it, and I let my body do what it does.

So I don’t monitor it, but I make sure that I’m not getting huge, or thinning out.

I know some women I’ve talked to, they’re afraid of bulking up from climbing.


What are your feelings on that -- do you think there is an ideal climbing shape? Like in the Olympics, gymnasts are a certain size and shape, basketball players tend to be taller. Weightlifters are stocky and powerful...

Climbing’s interesting. I think it’s so cool because I go to some pretty awesome competitions, and see people from all around the world and... obviously (being) leaner and having leaner muscle tissue is good, and it’s a good attribute to have. But even boulderers don’t necessarily have lean muscles.

I’ve seen people with all sizes and shapes --

It’s so different. It definitely varies. I think it’s just your own body, you really have to learn to adapt to your own body and make YOUR body the strongest that it can be for climbing. I don’t necessarily think that there’s an ideal body type.

I do think smaller women tend to excel in the sport. Like -- shorter. Which is great...

That actually is my next line of inquiry. Not to focus on your physical characteristics, but --

 -- It’s all good!

How tall are you?

I think I’m 5' 2". And a bit. I like to say five two-and-a-half. Five three? No.

When is reach an issue?
(Not during the TdB Eastern Regionals, apparently)
Photo: Nathan Ng

I’ve been at some comps along with you, and I love watching you climb because... it tends to be more relatable to me. And inspiring that way. What I mean by that is, if you look at the top guys at a comp, they’re like, burly. Orangutans.


Yeah. And super powerful. And with you, it seems to be more about technique, [precision] and control. You’re relatively short. And I always think. Well, if she can do it, in theory I should have a shot too. Because I’m a short person as well. Do you ever feel constrained, by your height or reach or physical stature?

For a long time when I was little, when I was ten or eleven, reach was always an issue. Like, it’s always there. I made a promise to myself after I turned -- there was this one competition, I think I was twelve or something. And I had won Rec. And I had won it by too much. So they had to bump me into Open. That comp was the first time that I made the promise to myself that I wouldn’t blame anything on my height, I wouldn’t make any excuses because of my height. I think that that’s crucial.

Seeing all of these crazy strong women who are much -- even three, four inches shorter than me, it has definitely opened my eyes to the fact that height has nothing to do with it.

There are super amazing short climbers --

Yeah. Like Jain Kim is three inches shorter than me, and she’s a beast!

Thomasina Pidgeon on
the cover of Gripped
Thomasina (Pidgeon) --

Yes, Thomasina’s short too. I think it really has more to do with how you adapt to it. Obviously, some things are too reachy.

That does happen, and it’s unfortunate when it does, and it’s really crappy when it does; it makes you feel like poo -- but you know the good setters aren’t going to set like that. For me -- I strengthen my body to adapt to how I need to climb.

I’m not burly. I don’t have huge muscles in general. But they’re strong. I think I’ve strengthened my muscles to be more dynamic, and better at bigger moves.

Just a quick digression here. For the record, I beat Iyma Lamarche at Tour de Bloc, two years ago!


At Gravity gym I think...


... March 2010...

That’s hilarious. I didn’t even know that.

When she was like, fourteen years old.

Fourteen. Awesome.

Ok. [we settle down] I want to talk about competition climbing.


A lot of us watched you compete, not necessarily in person, but online -- at the Bouldering World Cup in Vail, Colorado, and then recently at the Lead World Cup in Atlanta. Can you talk about those experiences, and what it was like competing at that level?

IFSC Bouldering World Cup in Vail
Photo: Will Hummel
Vail was my first [IFSC] World Cup. I had never competed or even really seen any of the Open women actually in person before. Or competed against them. Everything was new. Everything was shocking, everything was larger than life.

Did you feel intimidated?

Oh, super intimidated! I almost felt as though I... well, I had been really busy before I left. I had exams and stuff to study for, and summative evaluations, so I hadn’t trained as much as I would have liked to, first of all -- which made my experience feel a little like... I didn’t ‘deserve’ to be there. More that I didn’t work hard enough to be there.

So a) I felt uncomfortable because I felt like I shouldn’t be there to begin with; and b) I had never seen the wall in person, or even in any videos or anything, so I had no idea what to expect. I’m definitely not as great at the World Cup style bouldering. It tends to be a lot of deciphering, tricky sequences, with a lot of volumes, and there were jump starts. Like one jump start, one dyno. So everything went against my favor in that comp.

But that was actually good for me; it presented ‘the worst of the worst’. And it was a great place to start. I think that if I had started off and done really well, then I wouldn’t have worked as hard as I did for Atlanta, and just in general in terms of working at my mental preparation and my physical preparation for any comps.

So I think Vail was crappy, haha, and really disappointing, but I think it was necessary.

Then I trained like crazy over the summer. Pretty much lived and breathed climbing. And then, I went to Atlanta feeling like I actually really deserved to be there. And I was super excited to be there. I had gone to the gym, earlier in the last month to train a bit. So I knew what to expect. And I knew where it would be, and it was so relieving when I got there -- ‘Oh, I actually know where I am, this is so cool.’

And then the comp went really well! The first climb, I think I was a little bit nervous. I got very flash-pumped. I had been warming up on routes, prior to the event, so to have a bouldering wall to warm up on was a little bit iffy; I don’t think I necessarily got the best warmup, but that’s technical. And I learned from that.

Iyma on the World Cup
Semi-Finals route in Atlanta
Then my second route, I was very disappointed -- I thought I’d be able to do a lot better than I did. I was doing a move that I thought I would get, and then my hand slipped off. Which I was sad about.

But -- I ended up making it into semi’s, which was awesome! That was my goal going into it, I really wanted to make semis. Because I knew I could, and I wanted to see that result.

In semis, it was kind of the same thing, I was a bit nervous. Something new -- I wasn’t familiar with it, and I think it just comes with experience, but I ended up falling on a move I could have done if I’d just been a bit more patient.

I think it’s about experience. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about doing those high-level competitions, it’s just, you can’t have anything to expect if it’s your first time. It was hard to be ready for it, in that respect. I’m really happy with how I did.

It was my first lead World Cup, so it was good. All in all, I was super happy with Atlanta. Happy I went to Vail. I had a really great comp season this year! It was good.

This concludes the first half of my interview with Iyma Lamarche, rock climber. Later this week: the exciting conclusion, in which we talk about pressure and competition, women in climbing, the future of the sport in Canada -- and Iyma’s Nutella obsession!

UPDATE: Here’s Part Two of the Interview!

Please Like, Share, & Repost this interview if you liked it!

Audio Bonus: Listen to This Conversation

[Use THIS LINK if the above doesn’t work in your browser...]

See Also

Onward and Upward (Iyma’s blog)
Iyma on Twitter
IFSC Competitor Record: Iyma Lamarche

Other thematically related pieces of mine...
My series of posts on competing at the Tour de Bloc
Interview with Rock Oasis’ Founder and President
Profile: Justin Readings, Downhill Skateboarder