Date: June 20th, 2018
About Tiffany Melius
Born and raised in Brisbane, Australia, Tiffany Melius now lives and climbs in North Vancouver, Canada. From a young age, her passion for excellence and her willingness to put in hard work has manifested itself both professionally and in her sporting successes.
At 14, her interest in gymnastics waning, she searched for a new sport to challenge her and became hooked on rock climbing. Within three months she was entering competitions and has since gone on to represent Australia in events around the world. In 2016, Tiffany became the Australian Women’s Bouldering Champion and in 2017 became the Oceania Continental Climbing Champion.
In addition to being a competitive climber, Tiffany is a nonprofit leader (Executive Director of New View Society) and a life coach (Force of Nature Coaching). She has been successful in bringing the principles of life coaching into climber athlete development through her own personal development work, one-on-one coaching, facilitating group workshops, and speaking at conferences for climbing coaches. Now she is pursuing the dream of competing at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics
Tiffany Melius Interview Details
- How she spends her 5 minute rest periods at comps
- What we can do to improve our sometimes bad attitudes about climbing
- How she used imaging to help her win Australian Nationals
- How she trains for world cups
- Her training for the Olympics
- Her feelings on being the oldest competitor at many comps
Tiffany Melius Links
- Athlete Website: www.tiffanymelius.com
- Performance Coaching website: www.forceofnaturecoaching.com
- Instagram: @tiffanymelius
- Facebook: @tiffany.melius
Splitter Designs is a small design company out of Taos, NM by Peter Gilroy. Peter creates jewelry (pendants for men and women and stud earrings), money clips, belt buckles, bottle openers, hats, and apparel for outdoor enthusiasts. All of his designs are inspired by the outdoors, and all of his creations are durable, affordable, and for everyday wear.
Here’s a photo of me in his Granite Pebble stud earrings…
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Neely Quinn: Welcome to the TrainingBeta podcast where I talk with climbers and trainers about how we can get a little better at our favorite sport. This podcast episode is sponsored by Splitter Designs.
Splitter Designs, which can be found at www.splitter-designs.com, is a company that was created by Peter Gilroy. Peter Gilroy is a designer from New Mexico – Taos, New Mexico – and he creates jewelry such as stud earrings and pendant necklaces, and gear such as bottle openers and money clips, and some apparel for climbers and skiers and outdoor enthusiasts.
The things that he designs are inspired by the outdoors and he sent me a pair of earrings. They’re called The Granite Pebble studs and you can see a picture of me wearing them on www.trainingbeta.com on this episode page. I love them, I really love them, and I get a lot of compliments on them. They’re super affordable, they’re really durable, they don’t take any special care, and neither does any of the stuff that he creates.
He’s giving you guys, my audience, a 10% discount on all of his stuff. You can go to www.splitter-designs.com and use the code ‘TrainingBeta’ at checkout for the 10% off. I hope you enjoy his stuff as much as I do.
I’m your host, Neely Quinn, and on today’s episode I interviewed Tiffany Melius. Tiffany is a 34-year old competitive climber out of Australia. She currently lives in Canada and in 2016 she won Australian Bouldering Nationals. She’s currently vying for a spot in the Olympics. She does World Cups and she basically trains like a full time athlete and holds down a part time job.
She’s going to talk to us about sort of an inside view of being a competitive climber and training a lot. It’s not something that too many of us can relate with but it’s really interesting to hear about that and her, to hear about her long term training program for the Olympics which is two years out.
We talk about how she trains for speed and lead and how she’s incorporated speed into her training now that it’s required for being in the Olympics, and how she trains for bouldering. Not only is she a competitive climber, she’s also a performance coach which means she sees people from all over the world on Skype for how to train better mentally and how to get through things mentally. Like dealing with low confidence, fear, self-sabotage, things like that. She’s really good at that it seems and she’s done training, she’s done a lot of research, and so we’ll talk about that.
If you want to learn more about her, her coaching website is www.forceofnaturecoaching.com. Her athlete website is www.tiffanymelius.com. I’ll let her take it over from here and I’ll talk to you on the other side.
Neely Quinn: Welcome to the show, Tiffany. Thank you very much for joining me today.
Tiffany Melius: Thank you so much for having me.
Neely Quinn: Yeah. So for anybody who doesn’t know who you are can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Tiffany Melius: Sure. I am an Australian who left Australia in 2006 and went traveling and had a couple of working stops along the way. I had a working stop in Canada and then never left, so I now live in north Vancouver in Canada and live and train here. I’m a competitive rock climber and have been competing for about 20 years.
I’m also a life coach or performance coach and I’m also the executive director of a nonprofit society that works with people with severe mental illness in the community.
Neely Quinn: Wow. Oh my god you’re a busy woman.
Tiffany Melius: Yes.
Neely Quinn: Okay, so I’m just going to jump back real quick. You said that you’re a performance coach but before that you said you are a live coach? Or what did you say?
Tiffany Melius: Oh sorry – life coach.
Neely Quinn: Oh, a life coach. Cool. Then I’m going to go even further back and ask you: so you’re originally from Australia?
Tiffany Melius: Yes, that’s correct.
Neely Quinn: How old are you?
Tiffany Melius: I’m 34.
Neely Quinn: Thirty-four, and so you’ve been climbing for how long?
Tiffany Melius: Twenty years, so I started when I was 14. I had been doing gymnastics for about eight years before that and was starting to get a bit bored with the sport because it had been determined quite early on that I wasn’t going to be very competitive because I was going to get too tall. Neither I nor my parents wanted me to take drugs to keep me short so I was never going to be in a super high competitive stream so I had been doing it recreationally, but I’m a very competitive person. I wanted to try a different sport and a neighbor recommended a climbing gym, which actually ended up being just a few blocks from my house, and I tried it once and I was absolutely hooked. I joined their youth team that day and haven’t looked back.
Neely Quinn: Nice. So you have quite a bit of experience with competing and so I’m sure that helps you in your performance coaching and maybe in your life coaching.
Tiffany Melius: Yeah, and I think it’s probably actually more the other way around. The coaching piece came about because I was actually sort of doing a bit of a career evaluation and thinking about: what is it that I really love doing in my work? I really love managing people from the perspective that I get to help them with their personal and professional growth. I loved seeing them develop as people and in their work so I was like, ‘Okay, how can I bring more of this into my life, generally, but into my work specifically?’
Long story short, I went in and did a coaching certification and had thought that I would probably be doing it more as a course to develop me in my sort of current work as opposed to changing from being a nonprofit manager into being a life coach, but what has happened is yes – it’s absolutely enhanced my work, but I’ve also spent a lot of time working with climbers which I didn’t necessarily expect. That’s where the life coaching kind of morphs into performance coaching. We have more of a focus on: how do we get the best out of ourselves in terms of being competitive athletes, as opposed to life? Generally, how do we get the best out of ourselves? I have clients in both sides. I have some quite young competitors that are 15 all the way up to mid-20s that are clients and then I also have people who are not climbers at all so yeah, it’s been a really interesting mix.
Neely Quinn: And you do what I do. You see people all over the world via Skype.
Tiffany Melius: Yeah, that’s right.
Neely Quinn: Nice. What are you finding are the biggest things that you’re helping climbers with?
Tiffany Melius: I think the themes, the big themes, are dealing with nerves and the internal saboteur, like the person inside ourselves who’s that inner critic who’s always popping up those self doubts and those insecurities. How do you become aware of those and how do you deal with them? I don’t like to say overcome them, because I don’t think that that’s a particularly effective way of dealing with them, but what is the uniquely personal way for each individual to work with those inner characters that we have to result in the best performance?
Neely Quinn: Okay, so basically what I heard you say is that you don’t think we can ever get rid of those things, we can just work with them. Can you give me an example of how you’re working with somebody?
Tiffany Melius: What I would prefer to do is give you an example from the work that I’ve been doing with myself because I don’t necessarily want to give any details of one of my clients that I’m working with, but similar process that has happened with my clients.
I actually sort of identified and named my inner critic. In 2016 I was going back to Australia for the Australian Bouldering Nationals and was getting a lot of volume from my inner critic so I spent a lot of time across the summer getting to know the character and getting to know where he showed up, getting to know what kind of messages he was giving me, how sometimes he was a bit insidious and hid backhanded compliment messages, and then in the end, every time he came up I just pictured myself giving him a hug and being like, ‘Thank you so much for your concern.’
None of these characters would exist if there wasn’t a purpose for them and by identifying that his purpose was to keep me safe from being embarrassed, from disappointment, from feeling sad because I had failed at something that I had really wanted, I was able to really appreciate him and say, “Thank you so much for your concern for me. Thank you for protecting me. Thanks for trying to keep me safe and out of trouble and not hurt, but I actually don’t need you right now. I’ve got this. I can do it and I can go forward.”
One of the biggest successes for me was when I was coming out for the final problem for the Australian Bouldering Nationals, I kind of had a conversation with my critic and said, “Hey! You know, have you got any messages for me right now? Is there anything I need to hear from you?” and he was like, ‘No, you got this.’ To hear that from my critic was really amazing. [laughs]
Neely Quinn: Yeah, that’s quite a turn around.
Tiffany Melius: Yeah. And that’s not to say that he’s now gone. He’s fully active all the time but it’s a cool evolution to go through.
Neely Quinn: Yeah. That’s really familiar to me because I work with a therapist and they do internal family systems. Is that where you got that from or where did you get this from?
Tiffany Melius: I haven’t done any sort of counseling or psychology or anything like that, just purely coaching, and it’s a coaching tool. They call it ‘Captain and Crew.’ It’s identifying lots of different characters in you, where they show up, how they can help you, where they serve you, and where they don’t serve you so that you can make really conscious choices about how to use them and how to interact with them.
Where I got it from is just a coaching tool. There’s so many. I think I’m up to about seven or eight characters now so…
Neely Quinn: [laughs] Tell me why this inner critic is a male. How did you decide that? How did that come about?
Tiffany Melius: I think one of the principles of coaching is that you approach everything with curiosity and see what comes up. It wasn’t that it was a decision so much as I just stopped and listened to the messages that were coming and let my subconscious, or wherever these characters come from, show me who this critic was as opposed to me creating what the critic was.
It’s actually a character that’s been personified within a character that was in a childhood movie of mine, The Last Unicorn. It’s this little hunchback animated character from this movie from my childhood and he showed up and it felt right that it was him, and it’s funny because when I had started talking to my mom about this particular character she automatically thought that it was a woman and had been referring to her as a woman. I was like, ‘No, no. It’s actually a guy and he’s actually a cartoon character.’ [laughs]
Neely Quinn: And he’s been stuck in my head since I was four.
Tiffany Melius: [laughs] Yes. His name is Rukh.
Neely Quinn: First of all, I love that movie, and now I have to rewatch it to figure out – is that his name in the movie?
Tiffany Melius: Yes, it’s the character who is the assistant of the witch that holds all the mythical creatures.
Neely Quinn: I think it’s really lovely because most of us just have this critic and it’s just a part of us and we just hear it and believe it and do what it tells us. You have this definitive person, basically, who you’re talking to and can have a conversation with so I can see how that would be really powerful.
Tiffany Melius: Absolutely. I think that it’s so much more insidious and so much harder for us to actually work with these different parts of ourselves unless we have pulled them apart as distinct from the core of our being because if we keep thinking this is part of the absolute core of who we are then there’s no way for it to not be there and not be present when it’s not serving you. It has been very, very powerful and I would like to spend more time, actually, having conversations with my other characters and trying to kind of tag them in when I need them but this one has been the one that I’ve done the most work on and has been the most powerful, obviously because it’s the one that shows up quite a lot.
Neely Quinn: So for instance, I was at the gym the other day and I got on a climb and I thought I was going to onsight it and I didn’t and I came down and I tried it again later and I didn’t do it. I was super disappointed and bordering on pissed off. I had to sort of talk myself out of that and my husband had to help me with it a little bit, too, because sometimes I get really critical of myself. What would you tell a person in that situation? I know that you probably need more background and all of that but any basics?
Tiffany Melius: The first thing that I would say is that it’s actually really important that you let yourself feel those emotions. Let yourself feel the frustration and let yourself feel the disappointment because we say, “What we resist persists.” If you don’t actually acknowledge that you feel this way about something then it will stay there.
It’s interesting that you say this because it relates very much to some work that I do with a lot of competitors around the five minutes off in a bouldering – 5 on/5 off – competition. You have to spend the first minute or so of the five off actually acknowledging your feelings and acknowledging your emotion, whether good or bad, about the previous boulder before you can actually set yourself up and clear the slate for the next one.
The first thing would be just giving yourself a little bit of space to fully feel that disappointment and acknowledge that the fact that you feel disappointment means that you really care about it. This is something that you’re passionate about and something that you really want. That’s so cool because apathy is, well, I don’t know. If you didn’t care then you would be apathetic and I don’t know that that is a really nice way to live your life. It may not be comfortable being disappointed and frustrated but in my opinion, at least, it’s better than being apathetic and not caring at all.
Then the next thing I would do is probably be conscious of the messages and who they’re coming from because one thing that I’ve found is there’s the inner critic that comes out with those self doubts and those insecurities but there’s a bunch of other characters that may not be the inner critic that may be part of that conversation, too. For example, one of my clients has a character who is the perfectionist and the perfectionist is different from the critic. The perfectionist just wants everything done perfectly but that perfectionist piece of my client actually drives him to be better and drives him to train harder and drives him. It’s a very motivating character for him.
Really get curious about which character it is that is speaking to you and then find out what pieces of that character you want to hold on to, what is serving you in that moment, and what is maybe not. Maybe there’s a character there that is going to help you get back on and send it the next time and maybe you do want to keep that part of the conversation going but then maybe there’s another character that is making you doubt how able you are to do it and maybe that’s not serving you so just saying, “You know, thanks. I recognize that you’re here for a reason but I don’t need you right now,” can be really powerful.
Neely Quinn: Can you tell me about some of the successes you’ve had using these tools? And maybe some of the highlights of your career so far?
Tiffany Melius: Yep. I only just started doing coaching in 2016. My training was from 2014-2016 but I’ve been sort of using it in my climbing since 2016. Definitely winning Australian Bouldering Nationals in 2016 was a highlight for me because I had competed in Nationals when I lived in Australia. In 2003 I was second in Australian Bouldering Nationals and Australian Lead Nationals and then I left Australia in 2006. I hadn’t competed in between because I had been organizing competitions for the gym that I was working at. I felt like I kind of had some unfinished business in Australia and so when I went back I really, really wanted to win in 2016, the Australian Bouldering Nationals.
Doing that and being successful in that was really powerful and came a lot from the work that I had done with my saboteur and I think the other tool that I used for that competition, which was hugely powerful, was going all in. I actually have a blog post coming out about this because I’ve used it again this past weekend at the Bouldering World Cup in Vail. There is visualizing something. There is visualizing yourself standing on top of the podium which, to me, is about imaging and about seeing something outside of yourself, and then there is embodying. The embodying part is really, really difficult to do if you don’t go 100% all in. Going 100% all in is really scary.
For the Bouldering Nationals what I had done in the visualization sense is I had put a picture of myself on the podium, a podium, in front of a picture of the gym where Nationals was being held. The image that I saw on my computer desktop and on my phone was me standing on top of the podium at Urban Climb, this gym in Brisbane. That was cool and it’s that external reminder and you’re seeing it as a visual all the time and constantly.
The next step from that was me actually standing in the moment on top of the podium and looking out over the crowd and being there and having achieved what I wanted to achieve. That was the extra step which, for me, I think was really powerful because it was like: I’ve already achieved my goal. I’m already in this moment, I’m already standing on top of the podium, all I have to do is go there and execute. It takes a lot of the anxiety and panic and stress out of, ‘Ah, you know, I’ve got this big goal and I want to achieve this goal. What does it mean if I don’t achieve this goal?’ and all of those sorts of things because in a part of yourself you already believe that you’ve already achieved it. You’ve just got to go and execute it.
Neely Quinn: That is super interesting. I’m just going to interrupt – sorry – for a second. I was just talking to Matt Pincus, actually, who works with me at TrainingBeta. We were just talking about how he just sent this route this year and it was this build-up to sending it and he didn’t know if he could do it and he had a lot of anxiety about it. Then he sent it and then, a month later, he just re-sent it, no big deal, at the end of the day. It was just so mental we likened it to the four-minute mile. Once you’ve done it you know that you can do it and, like you just said, there was very much less stress about it.
Tiffany Melius: Yeah, exactly.
Neely Quinn: It’s almost like you actually did win and then you just went and won again.
Tiffany Melius: Exactly. The interesting thing for me was when I actually was standing on top of the podium, so when it was a reality, it was not even – I guess when you win and it’s been this big goal you expect there to be huge elation. I was super happy, obviously, but it was almost like it was a self fulfilling prophecy. It didn’t feel, I guess, in any way surprising to me because I had already stood on top of the podium so many times in my embodiment of that goal along the way. It was really interesting.
Neely Quinn: When you’re up there you’re like, ‘What? Why are you guys all surprised?’ [laughs] When you say “embodiment” do you mean – when were you doing these imaginations? How often? When did you start doing them? What’s the sequence here?
Tiffany Melius: It wasn’t anything that was set. I guess it was anytime that I was thinking about my performance, I was trying to reaffirm within myself what it was that I was trying to achieve but, again, in the sense that I’ve already achieved it not that I was trying to get there. Any time that I was training and I was doing a comp simulation as part of my warm-up routine I would spend some time standing or lying down or whatever and I would actually put myself into the moment of standing on top of the podium.
This is kind of an outcome of work that I’ve previously done because I think it’s really difficult sometimes to get yourself to the place where you can embody something like that unless you have done the pre-work. Knowing how your emotions show up and being super self-aware around where your ego shows up and being self-aware around how it feels when you’re in success, because a lot of people who live constantly in self doubt and insecurity haven’t even got to the point where they’ve let themselves feel success. I think there’s a lot of pre-work that kind of comes into knowing how you want to feel and then being able to step into that, and then have those affirmations all along the way.
I would also, anytime that I saw the image that I put up on my desktop or the image that I had put up on my phone, I would take a moment to stop and feel like I was on the podium. It wasn’t something that was formal like I did repetitions in a day or something like that. It became a part of my being all the way through my life in the lead up to the competition.
One of the important things that I think is there isn’t actually a guarantee of success doing these kinds of things. There could be five people who are doing that in a competition but only one of them can win, but what happens is at the other end, even if you haven’t been successful in achieving that goal, the process has been so much more rewarding because not only has it been a positive experience because you’ve been positive all the way through the process, but you also have already achieved the success and you’ve gone all in.
One of the things that I find so much with myself, personally, but also with my clients is if you’re reserving yourself from going all in to something the experience isn’t as good, whether it’s because you’re trying to be realistic or you’ve still got doubts that you haven’t been able to manage. The actual experience tends to be harder and more difficult so the disappointment at the other end tends to be much worse. An example of that is this past weekend in Vail. My goal was to make semi finals and I ended up being two spots out of semis but I had done a whole bunch of this work beforehand and I had visualized myself already having made semis and so the whole experience of the competition for me was so positive. I didn’t feel stressed, I didn’t feel worried, I went out and even if I didn’t get to where I wanted to or where I thought I should get to on a boulder, because I had already made semis in my head, it was okay. I had already done enough. Getting to the other end of it I’m like, ‘Okay, I didn’t actually make semis. I didn’t make my goal.’ It was close but I was so happy and enjoying the experience that it actually didn’t matter, if that makes sense.
Neely Quinn: It’s really ironic to me because I think that a lot of us hold back that confidence about something because we don’t want to be disappointed if it doesn’t happen.
Tiffany Melius: Absolutely.
Neely Quinn: What you’re saying is it’s actually not like that.
Tiffany Melius: It’s the same thing when we’re so busy these days that we say, “Oh, I’ve got to make space for myself. I’ve got to make space for myself,” and then we decide, ‘I’m going to have this day of relaxation,’ or whatever but we spend the whole day being guilty or like: ‘I should be doing something else.’ All of this and then the day ends up and you’re feeling, ‘Oh, I wasn’t actually relaxing at all and it didn’t do what I wanted it to do.’ If at the beginning of the day we actually went 100% all in and had a super relaxing day and didn’t have that self doubt around ‘what else should I be doing?’ or that guilt around it, then it would actually be a great day and achieve what it wanted to achieve.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, I mean I think that we could all use a little performance coaching in how to have a really relaxed day. [laughs] It’s a common problem.
Tiffany Melius: Absolutely. I want to be clear here that although I have had some success with this I have a lot of failure as well. It’s not like I’m an expert and I just know how to do this now and that’s it, I’m successful everytime. I’m not. I have to work at it every time as well.
Neely Quinn: Actually, I have a question for you about outdoor climbing. Do you climb outside much?
Tiffany Melius: At the moment I don’t because I decided to train for the 2020 Olympics. In the past I’ve climbed a lot outdoors but at the moment I’m not. I’m mostly just training in the gym.
Neely Quinn: Okay, but I’m sure you are coaching people who are outdoor climbers, too.
Tiffany Melius: Yeah.
Neely Quinn: Are there any big differences between outdoor and indoor performance coaching?
Tiffany Melius: The performance coaching piece isn’t so different because the actual coaching side of it is a little bit different of what you would think of when you think of a sports coach. A sports coach has a whole bunch of knowledge, comes in and teaches you with that knowledge and sort of supports you on your journey but they’re kind of seen as the expert whereas the kind of coaching that I do – yes, I have a lot of background and yes, I have personal experience with it and that probably helps, at the same time the core of the actual coaching session is me just asking questions. I try not to sort of tell somebody how to go about something. What I try to do is help them discover the way that it would best help them to move something forward. They – actually one of the assumptions of the kind of coaching that I do is that everybody actually has the answer inside of them already. My job is just to help them find the answer.
The actual coaching that I do, whether it’s life coaching or whether it’s performance coaching for competitions, whether it’s for outdoor climbers, is all the same. Just the answers that come out are slightly different. That really just depends on the pressures of what the person is doing. If the person is having trouble with an outdoor send because of fear they’re going to go through a different process than if they’re having trouble with an outdoor send because they have issues of ego or self doubt because they feel like they should do it or they feel pressure from other people. Or if somebody feels it physically, they’re not able to. I’ve got this whole interesting line of curious inquiry going on with myself at the moment around injury and the relationship between injury and self doubt and how much mentality plays into when we get injured.
There’s a whole bunch of different things. I think honestly most of the issues that people end up having are very similar at their core. How it manifests may be different but the actual issues tend to be similar and they’re not isolated to climbing.
Another principle of coaching is that every part of us is interconnected. The climber part of us is not separate from the professional part of us is not separate from the family member, the mother, the brother, the sister part of us. Any changes and any advances that we make in one part of our life is actually going to have a ripple effect on those other parts of our life. Somebody who is addressing fear in climbing is quite often going to find that they also then are able to address fear in other parts of their life about, for example, public speaking or asserting themselves within a workplace or standing up for themselves with a spouse or a friend or something like that.
That was a very long-winded answer to your question [laughs] but I think if there’s any particular sort of tips that I would empart for outdoor climbing they would be fairly similar to tips that I would empart for indoor climbing or competition which, for me, the underlying most important thing you can do is develop self awareness and know where ego shows up. Know where self doubt shows up. Know where you are suppressing celebrating yourself. Those kind of things, developing self awareness about how you work and how emotion and different characters show up within you inside yourself, will allow you to make changes.
One of the analogies I like to use is it’s really hard to shoot an arrow onto a target in the dark. How can you know where you need to shoot that target if you can’t see it? Same thing with self awareness. How can you know how to target nerves or how to target self doubt or insecurity unless you know how they show up?
Neely Quinn: I think that this is all extremely valuable and I think it’s really difficult to work on these things by yourself. Obviously you are a resource for people, especially since you see people from all over the world. Are there any books or other resources that can help people get into touch with or be more self aware?
Tiffany Melius: There’s lots of self help books and there’s lots of books about developing awareness about certain parts of yourself. I think all of those contribute but to be honest, the biggest thing that I have found is being curious and nonjudgmental and putting the time and the effort into doing the work. Yes, it’s great to have a guide. You know if you can work with a life coach or a performance coach, or if you have a book that’s really good to direct your focus at a particular time, that’s great, but you can do it on your own by being really honest with yourself and taking the time. I’m not so much a meditator but I know that a lot of people find the space to do that through meditation.
The nonjudgmental piece is so important because even when you were saying before, “I came down from this climb and I was super frustrated and super disappointed,” what I heard in that was some self judgement that frustration and disappointment is not what you wanted at that time and it was inconvenient or it was getting in the way. When I was talking before about giving yourself time to process, it’s about giving yourself the time to process but not judging the fact that you’re feeling those feelings in the first place. The fact that you already knew that you were feeling that way shows that you have good self awareness so it’s just taking it a little bit further and taking the honesty with yourself to a nonjudgmental place.
I know it sounds like I’m just saying it like it’s the easiest thing in the world [laughs] and it’s not, but I think – the other thing that I have found and I know people tend to be a bit reluctant to do this, but use your friends. If you have good friends and your friends can actually call you on what’s going on it can be really useful because you’ve got somebody outside of yourself. Somebody just noticing – again, nonjudgmentally – for you, ‘Oh, you know, it seems like you just got really hard on yourself there,’ or, ‘Oh, it looks like you were really self-conscious about that fall or that failure.’ Just being able to point out for you at times when maybe you’re coming across as something other than yourself. That can be really useful. That person, someone pointing it out to you, doesn’t even need to know what it is. They can just say, “Oh. What happened there? What just happened to you? I just saw a look across your face. What was that?” The principle, again, of curiosity and nonjudgment.
Neely Quinn: But then what? Because I know that I just had this experience a couple weeks ago when we were outside climbing. The same thing happened. I expected I would do something, I didn’t do it, I got really, really disappointed in myself and very critical. My husband pointed it out to me so all of this happened but even when somebody points it out to you it doesn’t just go away. What’s the next step? I know that people want to know: how do I get through it? It did eventually pass and I was able to just let it go but sometimes in the past it has stayed for a whole day.
Tiffany Melius: So my question to you would be: what’s wrong with that?
Neely Quinn: It makes everybody else’s time pretty shitty. [laughs] You know, you see that with other people, too. They get hard on themselves and then they take it out on other people.
Tiffany Melius: There’s a difference, obviously, between feeling that way and then feeling that way and taking it out on other people. The answer to it is it’s a process. It takes time to do that and we’re delving pretty deep here. I could start coaching you right now [laughs] but I don’t think there’s a quick answer to it and again, as a coach I would start delving into: what are the beliefs that you hold around this? What are the beliefs that you hold – obviously a belief, whether it’s true or not doesn’t matter, it’s a belief that if you are disappointed with how you did that your mood is going to then wreck everybody else’s day. Delving into: what does that mean? How true is it? If that is true then what’s wrong with that and what are the values of yours that that is rubbing up against and how can you react in a way that is different and more in accordance with your values? Is there support that you need or is this something that you can do on your own?
I feel like I’m not being particularly helpful in answering your question.
Neely Quinn: I think it’s fine. Of course you can’t answer my question but you did in a lot of ways. I think what it comes down to, it seems like, is just acknowledging the emotion, letting it have some space, maybe talking it out with your friend or husband or whomever, and that’s what happened with me. We did talk it out. I did say, “I am disappointed. I feel disappointed in myself,” and then we checked the facts. I hadn’t been climbing outside very much and I was tired and all these different things, giving me reasons why it might have gone down that way. Then it started to go away.
I think that you’re right. Giving people the advice to actually talk it through with somebody and helping other people ask the proper questions, those things can open up really great conversations to let people let it out and let it pass.
Tiffany Melius: Yeah, absolutely. I think the other principle that we haven’t really talked about is unattachmnet. Again, this one is really a hard one, especially for climbers, because we’re so passionate about what we do. It’s not about detachment, which is more like the apathy I was referring to before, the ‘I don’t actually care,’ but unattachment is: ‘I really care but if something doesn’t work out the way I expect it to or hope it to, then that’s okay as well because my self-worth isn’t caught up in that. How well I do and whether I fail or whether I succeed has nothing to do with my self-worth.’ That’s a big one. It does take a while to go through it.
This is where I say, “It takes time.” The minimum number of sessions I would have with a client is 12, say over a period of six months, in order for habits to change. It’s not just a case of, ‘I’ve decided I’m going to change what I’m doing or how I’m reacting,’ or whatever and then all of a sudden it just changes. Your brain is the same as your body. When we’re doing weight training, physiological changes happen. It takes eight weeks to get to a point where there are actual physical changes after strength training whereas we tend to think that as soon as we decide something in our brains, that’s it. We can just change it. It’s the same thing. Changes and establishing new habits takes time.
Neely Quinn: That’s a good point. It does take time.
I feel like we’ve just done a therapy session. Thank you. Everybody else thanks you as well. It seems like this is awesome. You’ve put so much thought into this and you obviously have good responses for yourself and I’m assuming that you have good responses for your clients, too.
Actually, by the way, how can people find you?
Tiffany Melius: I have a Facebook page or a website, or they can email me. My business is Force of Nature Coaching which is www.forceofnaturecoaching.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like you said, I coach people from all over the world although this podcast wasn’t meant to be a plug for my personal work. [laughs]
Neely Quinn: I know. This sounded like a total plug but I just didn’t want to forget that.
I do want to switch gears a little bit because you are a World Cup climber and you’re obviously very strong if you almost made it to semi finals and you won the Australian Bouldering Nationals. You are a good climber so I would love to know, in the next 15 minutes, how you train physically. Can we talk about that?
Tiffany Melius: Yeah, absolutely. I have been working with Andrew Wilson, who is the Canadian National Team head coach. We do a lot of periodized training which has become far more complex considering that I’m now training three disciplines. I used to essentially just be training for bouldering. Training for all three disciplines is super tough because when, before, you might do a strength phase and then a power phase and then an endurance phase or an endurance and stamina phase, you need to be kind of doing all of them at the same time so you’re still doing periodization but you’re doing periodization across three different demands.
It’s been really interesting listening to some of your podcasts because I’ve taken some tips from some of them and have been very interested to hear how people have been doing things that have been similar to me or different to me. I think I’m on a pretty good track but it’s always a case of tweaking what’s going on. The tapering and the lead-up to competitions and how long you actually have before you want to peak, whether it’s an outdoor climb or whether it’s a comp, is very individual. How long the phases should be is very individual.
Neely Quinn: Can we talk about your current training program and what you’re training for? Or are you just kind of in a performance phase and maintaining?
Tiffany Melius: Right now I’m just maintaining because I just did the Vail World Cup on the weekend and then in three weeks I’m off to Switzerland and France for the lead and speed World Cups. The World Championship in September is really what I am hoping to peak for but because the comp season has already started, it’s a little difficult to actually sort of train in that time because I only have three weeks before these two sets of comps and then I have six weeks before World Championships. That’s challenging.
At the same time I’m also actually on a macro cycle of the World Championships next year in September and the Continental Championships, which is probably around the same time. They will be the qualifying competitions for the Olympics. Those are the ones that I’m actually peaking for so although yes, I’m only maintaining now and yes, even if I don’t perform at these comps it’s okay because that’s not my goal, it’s the ego piece which is really hard. Even if you’re in the middle of a training cycle and you have this competition, if you don’t do well, logically you can say, “Oh yeah, I don’t actually need to do this right now because this isn’t my goal,” but at the same time you put yourself out there on a world stage and people are watching, or maybe they’re not. Maybe that’s just a story that I’m making up, that people are watching. [laughs] You think that people are watching and it’s hard. It’s really difficult to maintain your training knowing that it’s not a performance peak and being able to sort of get through that with your mental faculties intact.
Neely Quinn: Right. So for instance, this comp coming up in three weeks, is that one of those times where you’re kind of like, ‘Yeah, I have to do this but…’
Tiffany Melius: Yes it is. What’s interesting is that I’ve not done a lot of lead or speed. I’ve really never done speed before August last year and I haven’t competed in lead competitions seriously since probably when I was in Australia, so over 10 years. The serious lead training that I’ve been doing in the last 6-8 months has been the first lead training I’ve done in a long time so for me, these competitions that I’m doing, it’s a mini peak that I’m giving myself in terms of my training because there’s not really very much that I can do to make myself better between this past weekend and three weeks time. Anything that was going to make me better I’ve already done so it’s really just maintenance but at the same time I need to figure out where I’m at on a world level because I’ve only done bouldering World Cups before. I haven’t done lead World Cups before.
Neely Quinn: How do you do that? I know talking to some of the other competitors who do both bouldering and lead and speed, they are mostly focusing on power and strength so that they have enough strength to spare so that they can do well in lead. Is that sort of your focus, too? Or how do you approach it?
Tiffany Melius: So yes, especially because the style of the World Cup lead routes is far more bouldery now than it ever has been before. Previously, climbers – you could put a whole line of crimps and people would fall off because they didn’t have the endurance. That’s not the case anymore because lead climbers have built up so much endurance that they actually have to make the moves a lot harder so it tends to be boulder problem on top of boulder problem on top of boulder problem. You’ve got to have the power endurance to do multiple boulder problems in a row, you’ve got to have the raw strength to be able to do a boulder problem in the first place, like each boulder problem at the level, and then you’ve got to have the endurance on top of that to be able to hopefully get to the top of the route.
Generally speaking, I have good raw strength to be able to do boulder problems because I’ve been training for bouldering but the power endurance I don’t have a lot of or haven’t had a lot of and endurance, because I haven’t trained lead and haven’t done routes in so long, has been something that I’ve really focused on.
Again, we definitely did periodization throughout the – just in terms of timing, I really just made the decision to go for the Olympic dream in August last year. It’s probably been about eight months that I’ve been training on this and so we definitely had periods in terms of the strength, power, endurance, but at the same time I was doing exercises for each discipline within that period.
For example, the strength stuff, obviously I was doing weight training to get my overall strength up. I was doing hard boulder problems during that phase to get the basic level of strength and power up. In route climbing I was doing harder, shorter routes, and within speed climbing I was doing much more explosive stuff so only doing two or three moves but doing them super fast, trying to get the explosive power going. Then as you go into, for example, the endurance phase, I’d do far more of the longer routes, easier routes, and then try to build up the volume over time and build up the difficulty over time. Same thing with the power endurance, doing 4×4’s and 5&5’s for the five on/five off boulder problem format which is actually doing five attempts at a boulder in five minutes, which you’d never actually do in a competition but it builds up that power endurance.
Those kinds of activities across all three disciplines within each phase has been one of the biggest differences of training all three disciplines at once.
Neely Quinn: Okay, so you’re not doing pure periodization. You’re kind of doing a Steve Bechtel kind of logical progression type thing where you’re putting everything into phases but concentrating mostly on one thing.
Tiffany Melius: Yeah, exactly.
Neely Quinn: It seems to be what most coaches are doing these days.
Tiffany Melius: Yeah, well I think Andrew is kind of at the forefront of anything that is, I guess, the evidence-based trend at this time so I trust him fully that whatever he’s giving me is the right thing to do.
Neely Quinn: So in these three weeks before the lead speed comp what are doing?
Tiffany Melius: Yeah, just mostly maintenance. Obviously just before the bouldering comp I did a bit more of a focus on comp simulations for bouldering and it’s likely that I’ll be doing the same thing for lead. Yes, there’s some conditioning on the side and yes, there’s some finger strength stuff on the side, but the majority of it is probably just going to be comp sims and probably higher demands than what I’m going to need. For example, the walls that we have to train on here are not as high as some of the World Cup walls so I would do a comp simulation of onsighting a route and then coming straight back down and getting straight onto a second route so that instead of doing laps, which is more endurance, I’m onsighting two routes at my limit back-to-back.
Neely Quinn: Okay. How many days a week are you training right now?
Tiffany Melius: I train five days a week and two of those days are double days.
Neely Quinn: So you’re full time pro climber? I mean, how do you fit all this in?
Tiffany Melius: I have a really good schedule. My job was a full time job and I got approval from my work to go half time because there was no way I was going to be able to do the amount of training that I needed to do and work full time.
Neely Quinn: At the nonprofit?
Tiffany Melius: Yeah, at the nonprofit. So I work 20 hours a week. I basically work all day Monday and then I train Monday nights, then I work a three-quarter day Tuesday and then Tuesday night is actually date night. One of the things that is my priority is maintaining the relationships, especially with my partner Simon, so Tuesday is sacred. Tuesday night is date night. Then Wednesday I have a double day so I have a session in the morning, usually a one-on-one with my coach in the morning and then as much as I’d like to say I come home and am productive and do other things in the middle of the day, usually I come home, have lunch, and have a nap then go and train again in the evening. Thursdays I work a three-quarter day and then I train on Thursday nights.
Friday is the one day that I have completely off a week. I don’t work and I don’t train and usually on that day I will try to keep moving a little bit so go for a walk around the block or whatever but it’s essentially dedicated to managing the athlete side of my life. Managing sponsorships, fundraising because my half time job certainly does not pay for everything that I need it to pay for, managing my website, doing blogs. I have a full list because last week I was in Vail. I have a full page list of things I need to do now so that’s what Fridays are and also trying to have some kind of connection with my friends because it’s been really, really hard to maintain a lot of my relationships since I have moved into this schedule. Saturday mornings we have team training so I train together with the youth team and the adult team at the local gym. Saturday nights I train. Sundays I have the mornings off so again I try to sleep in, catch up on sleep if I need it and get other household things done like cleaning my bathroom or the normal things that you have to do in life, and then I train again on Sunday night.
Neely Quinn: What are your goals for speed and lead?
Tiffany Melius: Honestly, my goals are to go and see where I’m at because, like I said, I haven’t done any World Cup competitions in these two disciplines. I know that my speed time isn’t competitive but I need to get the experience and I need to get the experience at the world level so that when it actually comes to qualifying competitions next year I’m not showing up completely green.
I know from the Canadian field, which is where I do the majority of my competitions, that an aspiration to making semis is not completely ridiculous but I really just don’t have a sense of where I am so the goal is to go and have mentally a good competition and to see where I am on the world stage.
One anecdote I have, just going back to the funding, was after I finished the Vail World Cup you have to sit for five minutes in a chair in case there’s any appeals or anything like that. I was sitting next to a woman from Hong Kong who had been climbing the other group of problems at the same time as me. She was like, ‘Oh, is this your first World Cup?’ I said, “No, but it’s my first World Cup in four years.” She said, “Oh, why haven’t you done any in four years?” I was like, ‘Oh, it’s pretty expensive to do the World Cup circuit.’ She was like, ‘What do you mean it’s expensive?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, you know you have to pay for the comps and the travel and accommodation and whatever,’ and she was like, ‘What? Your country doesn’t pay for it?’
Neely Quinn: [laughs]
Tiffany Melius: I was like, ‘No.’ ‘What about sponsors?’ ‘No, I only get a few hundred dollars from sponsors a year.’ She was like, ‘Ohhh.’
Neely Quinn: Oh my gosh. She’s so lucky.
Tiffany Melius: Yes. [laughs]
Neely Quinn: Someday we’ll get there, right? We’ll all get there?
Tiffany Melius: I think the US team, you suckers, are at least doing a good job of trying to get more support for the climbers but I don’t think they have a whole lot of support either at the moment.
The other thing – I don’t know if this is a point of interest or is useful to you at all, but one thing I noted is I was actually the oldest competitor at Vail, male or female..
Neely Quinn: Wow. Male or female?
Tiffany Melius: Male or female. Yep.
Neely Quinn: How do you feel about that?
Tiffany Melius: Well, it’s something I’ve been working through for quite a long time because I don’t know if you got a chance to watch My Feet Talk. It’s on YouTube. At 26 I had come up with this idea in my head that I was too old for competitions. It’s almost 10 years later and I’m still going. [laughs] I think it could have been terrible. I actually did think twice – on the start list it says the year of birth of every competitor so I did think twice about actually looking but then my curiosity got the better of me and I looked. I chose to take it as an encouraging thing in the sense of: all right, so I’m just going to go show these young ones how it’s done. [laughs]
Neely Quinn: You have a very optimistic outlook.
Tiffany Melius: Again, it’s taken a lot of inner work to get there and I think it’s kind of still confronting to me that I’m competing against women who are two decades younger than me. If I do make the Olympic team I’ll be 36. I think for me, as well, it’s been an interesting journey because last year I had actually made the decision to retire from competition after the 2016 Australian Bouldering Nationals and had decided I was going to start a family so had started to make my way out of competition climbing.
I was so depressed. I was so upset and there came a sort of breaking point for me where I was sitting outside of my climbing gym and crying and crying and crying. I couldn’t go in, which was really strange for me because that’s my place, right? The climbing gym is where my community is and where I feel most at home. To not want to go in, I knew there was something wrong. Of course there was going to be grief because I was trying to stop, basically, what had been a huge part of my life for so long, but it just kept going on and on and on and it wasn’t getting better. I, through a number of conversations, realized that there was this part of me that wanted to go to the Olympics that I had not even been allowing to be a conscious thought. Any time that thought popped up – even before it became a conscious thought – I was like, ‘Oh no, I’m too old. It’s not my time. I’m done here. I’ve done everything I want to do.’ I would just suppress it. I would push it down.
When I made that thought conscious and was like, ‘Oh, wow. This is something that some part of me wants,’ there was so much relief, even before I’d made a decision that yes, I was actually going to pursue it. Just acknowledging that that was why I couldn’t stop competing and why I was so unhappy being at the climbing gym was huge. It probably took me about two months from the realization that there was a part of me that wanted to go to the Olympics to making the decision that I was actually going to try to go because there are so many implications of that and repercussions, especially at work and in my life and knowing that I was going to be broke for the next two or three years. All of those sorts of things, but it was a big deal.
I think the age thing also has allowed me to be at the place where I have got that self-awareness to be able to work through all of or a lot of the stuff that helps you from the mental side of things. Yes, I get injured more easily and yes, the injuries take longer to heal and yes, I might not be as strong as some of these younger competitors but I have a lot of experience and I’m training now harder than I’ve ever trained in my life. I’m climbing harder than I’ve ever climbed in my life.
We were talking before about putting 100% into something. I spent a lot of my life trying to be really good at everything that I did and not be pigeon-holed. I didn’t want to be Tiffany the climber. I wanted to be Tiffany the nonprofit professional, Tiffany the whatever – I did a whole bunch of other things. I still do a bunch of things but I didn’t want to step 100% into that and I’d never seen how far I could go with my climbing and my competition. I’d always done it on three days of training a week. Three or four days of training a week. Yes, I’d been successful. For what I was looking for I’d been successful so why would I put anymore in? But with a goal like the Olympics you can’t do that.
Neely Quinn: Yeah.
Tiffany Melius: Although it might be really late in my life, comparatively speaking [laughing] for competitors that are 16, we’re talking, not late in life in life in terms of: I’ve still got another hopefully 40-50 years to go. Sixty, maybe, years to go, but in a competitive life I’ve got to see how far I can go and this is the last and the only chance that I’m going to have, especially if I want to start a family. I don’t have a whole lot of years left before that’s not a possibility and I definitely want that as part of my life, so yeah.
Neely Quinn: What do you think your chances are of making it to the Olympics?
Tiffany Melius: Ooh, that’s a bit of a loaded question. I think I have a good chance. I would be qualifying through the Oceania Continent so that’s Australia, New Zealand, and New Caledonia. I don’t think it will be easy at all. I have some really tough competitors out there, some really strong competitors, but I definitely think I have a better chance than, for example, if I was representing Canada because the Canadian continent is Pan-America. Canada and the USA and all of Central America and all of South America. The number of people that that continent encapsulates is way higher than Continental Oceania.
Same with Europe, same with Asia. Just the concentration and the population of those countries means that it’s going to be so much more difficult for people who are trying to qualify through that avenue.
Neely Quinn: Well, I hope that all of your training pays off and I hope you make it. I hope to watch you on tv.
Tiffany Melius: I hope so, too! Thank you!
Neely Quinn: Yeah. I think that this has been a really enlightening conversation. It’s like talking to somebody behind the scenes and what it takes to train for these comps and to prepare two years in advance for the Olympics. This is a huge commitment and I think that it’s really respectable.
Tiffany Melius: Thank you so much.
Neely Quinn: Yeah. Thanks for your time and your wisdom, for being my therapist for a little while, and again, people can find you at www.forceofnaturecoaching.com. Thank you. Any last words?
Tiffany Melius: It’s been a real privilege. I love listening to your podcasts and yeah – I’m super excited to have been a guest so thank you. If anybody wants to contact me and doesn’t want to go through my webpage, I’m on the TrainingBeta climbing discussion group.
Neely Quinn: Oh yeah. I just saw that today.
Tiffany Melius: Yeah, so somebody could contact me directly through that avenue as well.
Neely Quinn: Great. Alright, well thank you.
Tiffany Melius: Thank you so much.
Neely Quinn: I hope you enjoyed that interview with Tiffany Melius. As we said, and just in case you missed it, her website for coaching is www.forceofnaturecoaching.com and then her athlete page is www.tiffanymelius.com. You can find her on Instagram @tiffanymelius as well.
I hope that that helped you maybe think a little bit more about your own self saboteurs or other things that are holding you back from performing your best. Maybe you will even take her up as a coach, or somebody in your area as a performance coach. I think it can make a huge difference for people and we’re just scratching the surface of this as climbers.
Coming up on the podcast I was supposed to do an interview with Nathaniel Coleman today but he had something come up. Hopefully we’ll do it sometime today or the next week but I’m super excited to talk with him about his training and how much of a badass he was this past competitive season.
Other than that, in a couple of weeks I’m going to be at the ICF, the International Climbers’ Festival, in Lander, Wyoming. We’re going to have a booth there for TrainingBeta, I’m going to do a short live podcast there, and we’re also going to do a redpointing clinic, Matt Pincus and I, out at the crag. If you want to say, “Hi,” please come see us at the booth or do our clinic with us. The festival is super fun. I really love it and I hope to see you there.
I think that’s all I’ve got for you. You can always follow us on Instagram @TrainingBeta, on Facebook at TrainingBeta, you can follow along with the blogs and everything else that we offer at www.trainingbeta.com, and there’s also a pretty active training forum on Facebook which you can access at www.trainingbeta.com/community. That brings you straight over to Facebook and you just have to request to be added and then you can join the conversation all about training and injury prevention and things like that.
Thanks very much for listening all the way to the end and I’ll talk to you soon.