Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Unknown: Endless Ascent Math

Unknown. I love that word. The pursuit of the "unknown" keeps me interested in life, getting out of bed in the morning, and motivated to sleep fast so I can get back at it in the morning. First ascents of climbs, first descents of rivers, attempts to do things differently (climb icebergs, fly over a big ditch on my paraglider), it's all about getting off the square of my mind that is "known" and setting a course for the place where things get weird.

Which brings me to the endless ascent. The goal is to climb as much ice as I can in 24 hours, and raise money for something that matters, the dZi foundation. Why climb ice for 24 hours? Because I don't know what will happen. I know what will happen when I go out ice climbing in general, but I have no idea what's going to happen after about 12 hours of ice climbing.

Everyone wants to know, "How much ice do you think you can climb?" Warning, longer answer ahead... In my training I've done some days around 2,100M/6600 feet, or roughly two El Capitans. I've been training in mostly 20-minute blocks; longer blocks would be better probably, but when it's butt cold 20 minutes is long enough to get your heart rate way up, and your belayer to still be warm. So I go like hell for 20 minutes, the belayer stays warm pulling rope in, we switch as fast as reasonably possible, repeat for up to eight hours. Plus the Plice sessions...

In roughly ten or tweleve 20-minute sessions with some bonus laps I have done 50+ laps on a 35M/120 foot grade 5+ climb (Tokkum Pole). But that's spread out over roughly seven hours, so that's a little under 300M/an hour when counted against the total time. It's about twice that on an "hourly" basis. This is of course extrapolation; the difference between doing 20-minute blocks for eight hours and climbing for 24 hours is of course HUGE.

I've spent a lot of time looking at the results for 24-hour ski races, mountain bike races and other 24-hour events. Things definitely slow way down after about 12 hours (with rare exceptions from people who really, really know how to pace themselves). And that's going to be the trick--pacing myself so I go slow enough at the start. I'll really want to go hard, but that will NOT be helpful. I've done a lot of very long "days" in the mountains, it's definitely a rule that the slower you go at the start the faster you go at the end. Even going too hard for an hour or two early in the day will ruin you late in the day...

So how much vertical is possible? My biggest training day so far has been about 3100M/6600 feet. Double that would be about 150M/500 feet an hour for 24 hours. That's my first goal: 3800M, or about 12,000 feet. That would be a HUGE day in my book. I've never heard of anyone climbing that much. Someone probably has, and that's cool 'cause it would be big. Skiing, sure, I've done close to that, and done easy climb/scrambles/traverses that had around 3,000M of vertical gain (that took 12 hours just to go up...). Vertical water ice is a lot more intense than skiing up or even easy mountaineering style climbing/scrambling. I often hike 1,000M/3000 feet to the paraglider launch behind my house; that's casual compared to climbing near-vertical ice. I didn't think the difference would be so large to be honest, but it is. The unknown strikes again.

So there's the math. I figure I can do 3,000M most likely. It will hurt, and that's something like 70 laps out of the canyon. Ouray is obviously in the USA, so you in feet I'd be stoked to do 12,000 feet measured in local units. 15,000 would be huge I think, but that's almost triple my biggest training day...

And when I run all these numbers and think about the unknown it always comes down to this: if I'm not moving I'm not moving. All the "exterior" numbers are just that, and in a way irrelevant. What matters is pacing myself well, working with the great group of people I've got helping, and grinding away. I know I'm going to feel lousy, my tendons will hurt, my shoulders will ache, everything is going to suck so bad at some point that I'm going to want to quit so much... The trick will be to keep grinding. The math? Can't control that. Move.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

My life on TR

My friend Ian made this, didn't even know it... Kinda cool to see, need to work on my form. 50+ laps in one day, 115/35M high, so blasted, yeah! It's all about this now... If you're Canadian and have tried to make a donation I'm sorry about the hassle, postal codes should be sorted out pretty quick.

Monday, December 21, 2009

"Secure" vs. OFF!

"Secure." This is a common word here in Canada meaning some version of "off belay." Or it can mean, "keep me on belay here, but I'm OK for now." Or maybe it can mean, "I don't have a clue what I'm doing and neither do you so let's both be confused about what we're doing/not doing." I've seen it used for all three of these scenarios and a few where I had no idea what was going on at all. Now let's contrast this with the command, "OFF!' I don't think I've ever seen the meaning of that one screwed up.

To me belaying is binary. On/off. Black and white. I much, much prefer the words "ON!" and "OFF!" to this "Secure..." business, and I really wish Canadian climbing schools and guides would stop using "Secure." I have simply seen too many climbers arrive at a belay, clip into it, say "Secure" and then expect to be lowered off while their belayers are off having a smoke or whatever. "Secure" also sounds a lot like "need beer," "send gear," "Oh Dear," "Can't hear," etc. etc. "OFF!" is a terse, single-word sound that's hard to confuse with anything, and has only one meaning, ever.

"Secure" has an implied meaning; the belayer has to figure out what the climber means. "OFF!" from the climber means he's OFF, no more belay required. The meaning is clear in the word. Saying "Secure" is like yelling, "Falling Object!" Yelling, "ROCK!" makes a hell of a lot more sense, and that's why we use it. "OFF!" is like "ROCK!" The meaning is clear in the word, you don't have to ponder what is meant (unless you're a linguistics nerd or philosopher).

Safe climbing with a partner is often about communication, and many climbing accidents occur because of poor communication. Why use a vague word when there is a concise alternative?

"Secure" is also rather wussy, a sort of Morrisey-style word that sounds kinda whiny and unsure of itself, like a self-help session for insecure leaders. I mean, if you're "secure" now then you must have been "insecure" earlier, yeah? Sorry about that, get over it and use "ON!" and "OFF!" for god's sake.

I'm on a mission to get this word chucked out of our Canadian climbing lexicon. "Secure" is a word thought up by an verbally insecure desk-riding bureaucrat. "OFF!" is a word thought up by a climber 'cause it works.


PS--and, if in doubt, always leave the climber on belay. Worst-case scenario you have to feed the entire rope through your belay device. That's a much better worst-case scenario than taking the climber off because he or she uses some BS "secure..." and then gets dropped on his not-so-secure head.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Lacelle, Laps and Ice Climbing (edited with link )

Yesterday morning was really dark for me. Another friend gone. This shit is getting really old. But we went out anyhow, and used black humor, sarcasm, anger, and physical effort to burn away some of the black cloud. I would not have gone yesterday without Guy in my head; he wouldn't even have bitched about the temperature. I tried not to. I'll write more about Guy Lacelle eventually, but not right now. The man deserves some thoughtful words and not my usual slap-the-spaghetti-on-the-wall-and-see-what sticks writing style (holy hyphen, don't think I needed all those). Here is a video about Guy's accident scene primarily from a snow-science standpoint, but very well done. Thanks to Doug and the others for doing this video.

The temperatures here in Canmore have been cold. Cars won't start, dogs refuse to leave the house, small children rebel at the quantity of clothing they have to put on to go outside kinda cold. But we've been training. The best system so far seems to be 20 minutes on, then the timer on the phone (gotta keep it in an inside pocket) goes off, switch. Everybody stays warm and gets the same climbing time.

I've been training with a horde of different people; one of the things I love about climbing is going out with a crew of people and having fun. Doing long climbs with just one person is great too, but there's something to be said for the social aspect of climbing and bullshitting summer or winter.

Today is a "reset" day. My house, garage, truck, business, and pretty much anything else I can think of or see from this table is a complete gong show. Nothing really bad, it's just that from where I sit I can see three duffels from three different trips that need unpacking, there are four ropes and three pairs of boots (all mine, crazy!) drying by the fire, and I can't count how many jackets, gloves and hats are loose, along with empty single malt bottles and RB shots. It's like a delivery truck to MEC (REI for y'all down south) crashed and was raided by tribe of feral drunk monkeys. I gotta get this scene back under control before the rest of the family comes home.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

It sounded so simple...

Most of the really good ideas I've ever had in life are simple. Climbing for 24 hours seemed like a good idea, and it is simple. But in the last week I've discovered that doing anything for 24 hours is, ah, more difficult than anticipated, and ice climbing for 24 hours is a lot more difficult. In the last 24 hours I've done about 5,000 feet of ice and plice. I could have done a lot more I think, but at the end of every training session I've thought, "Gee, it's nice to be done with that."

Today it was -23 when we left the house, and I don't think it warmed up much. If I didn't have the goal for the dZi I would not have gone climbing, it's just too cold. But in one month it's game on in Ouray, and I do not want to be found lacking. So I trained, fortunately with a great crew of motivated people. But around 5:00 in the evening it was getting dark, it was cold, and I'd pretty much had enough fun. We started running laps and climbing around 12:30 (we wanted to let it warm up some, it's COLD here lately!). So, after four and half hours, I was feeling like a warm fire and a cold beer would be a great combo. In Ouray I'm going to have to go for another 19 or so hours. Not to whine, but I'm scared of what's gonna happen. Can't imagine how ice climbing is going to feel after even 12 hours...

I've done some big links of ice climbs, but a lot of the time on those links you're resting. Belaying, eating, driving, hiking, reasonably simple stuff. In Ouray it's going to be climb, lower back down, climb, repeat for 24 hours. I'll take some breaks to eat and whatever, but damn is that going to be hard! Fortunately I have some good people to help out from the dZi Foundation and around the world, but I just feel the weight of it all. This is good I think, pressure is motivational for me even when it's mainly self-produced pressure...

I've done a fair amount of "crazy" stuff in life, but this is a whole new level of personal abuse. The only thing to do is to keep training, ice the damaged parts regularly, and do my best. Yeah!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Training in Texas, Endless Ascent

I spent a few days down in the heat of central Texas. The locals were calling it cold, but it was T-shirt weather for any ice climber. I could have trained in a gym and did a little bit of that, but I really need the specific movements of ice climbing, and a lot of 'em. The video below shows the depths I had to sink to. Combined with a ring workout it was pretty good training.

The reason for all of this specific training is the Endless Ascent effort, to benefit the dZi foundation. The site is live, very nice work from Faction Media, thanks!

I'm in Whistler briefly for a show then back home to train more. 36 days to go, yeah!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

It's come to this: The "Plice"

Normally there's a lot of ice in the Canadian Rockies by this time of year. And, in general, there is enough now for most people. But I need dead-vertical big chunks of it, and there's not much of that around yet. The normal pillars haven't formed, and most of the bigger routes aren't that steep or are under some horrendous avi hazard. But I'm on this 24-hour ice climbing kick at the moment, and I need to climb a lot of vertical ice... Bitch bitch, solve the problem: my own ice training wall in the backyard!!

Now I could have hung hoses and messed about, which might have been neater looking and cooler, but I wanted to train later that day and it was nine in the morning. The solution was to bust out some power tools, duct tape and go-juice. My dad helped, and I was training on this thing by noon. Ten laps, swing at one round of wood, repeat.

If I get my butt on the ground (literally) and climb a little into the tree at the top so my hips get over the top of the wall I'm doing 16 feet up and 16 feet down, or 32 feet a lap. Thirty two laps is pretty close to 1,000 feet... I'm up to about 60 laps a session at the moment. It's incredibly, no, stunningly boring to do that much climbing in my backyard, but I can see the mountains the whole time, and it's pretty exciting when the wind blows really hard and my tree starts swaying around.

I am so stoked! Especially after driving for eight hours in the last two days and climbing exactly two meters of ice. There's lots of ice out there, but I'm after something specific...

Total cost of the Plywood Ice wall? $76. Love it.

Thanks to Margo Talbot for the iPhone camera work!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

See ya Tomaz!

Tomaz Humar recently died in Nepal. He was a character. Some of my friends thought little of him, others quite a lot, and both were right. A good obituary is found here. My friend Bernadette MacDonald wrote an engaging biography of Tomaz as well, interesting man and read.

Me, I'll remember him dancing on legs still so weak from multiple breaks that he could barely stand. I had been warned about his aggressive handshake, but I didn't have the heart to yank a man out of a wheelchair so I just fell on him... Those who knew him will know what I mean.

One night, after a few beverages, he spent an hour in a locked room grilling me about dry-tooling training and hard rock climbing. It was all very secretive, maybe reflecting his origins. When I asked him about high-altitude training he told me to run down from every climb like an animal, never once slowing down until I hit the road. And some other stuff that seemed crazy but somehow made sense. He went hard.

I wish his family the very best, my profound sympathies to them. Tomaz was never an easy man, but he was definitely a man charging at life for all he was worth.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

It's official: Let the 24 hours of ice suffering commence..

Climbing a lot of routes in a day is fun. I've done some engaging one-day linkups over the years, ranging from climbing the Diamond on Long's Peak and paddling Gore Canyon in a day to climbing an alpine route, an ice route and a rock route in a day, but I've never done one sport for 24 hours straight. How much ice could I climb in 24 hours (on a TR, no need to die here)? Well, I'm going to get to find out, and raise some money with the dZi foundation, which does great work in the mountains. I look at my daughter and think of her in a very, very poor village; basic health and schooling would be a real help. If I can help the dZi foundation provide some of that help then I'll be proud to. I've know the dZi's director, Jim Nowak, for years and trust him. We'll have a fundraising site up in the next couple of weeks called "Endless Ascent," which I'm sure this is going to feel like by about the second hour.

So I'm heading down to Ouray December 26th to train until January 8th, then it's game on for 24 hours. Over the years I've spent a lot of time in Ouray; I like the people, the place, the climbing and the scene that develops around the Ouray Ice Festival. Positive people are a great force in the world, Ouray has more than its share.

Thanks to everyone who is helping on this, I'll do my best!

Now it's maybe clear what I've been training for.... With my dang elbow injury I couldn't train as I "normally" would, but I spent all summer paddling long distances and beating around in the mountains a fair amount, then the late summer and fall doing CF to strengthen my legs and continue elbow rehab. Now my training is getting very specific--lots of ice climbing, lots of time out in the mountains. My elbow is good to go for ice climbing, my legs can bang out squats for a long time (a squat is pretty much exactly the stand-up part of an ice climbing move), and I've take some other radical training steps including getting a heart rate monitor, drinking electrobytes and even cutting down on scotch. Hell, I even gave up all forms of nicotine (I was a Nicorette fiend for years plus snuss) six months ago to help my body recover faster... I feel pretty fit, I just need to get very specific about my fitness for the next two months and then grind for 24 hours. I have no idea what's going to happen, but I sure am fired up to find out!!!



Saturday, November 07, 2009

Congrats to GM, Crossfit Training from a personal perspective

First off, congrats to GM, who just won a drytooling competition down in Colorado Springs. Nice one. I've been heckling/coaching GM a bit over the last few months, nice to see him succeed.

Now on to training:

I've spent a lot of time on here talking about training in general. Now I'm going to get specific about what I've been up to, which has generally been Crossfit for the last three months and lots of kayaking before that. I'm now in the midst of training for the rest of 2009/2010, which will be a lot more sport-specific.

Right now I have three big goals: A 24-hour climbing session in early January (more on that soon), then trips to Norway and Japan. This is all ice. I also have a far-off goal in June involving a whole lot of uphill hiking.

First off, here are my thoughts on Crossfit based on several less-than-committed go-arounds over the last five years, and the last three months of full-on committed Crossfit. If you've never heard of CF you might find some of the following difficult.

Positive Observations
-I was able to train through CF with some elbow issues, and those healed up during the program.
-Overall, my body feels far better today than it has in the last couple of years. Despite lots of squats, deadlifts, shoulder presses, etc. etc. I feel damn good.
- Progress at Crossfit workouts is measurable, and fun.
-I am a classic "ectomorph," meaning I don't gain muscle easily. I'm 12-15 pounds heavier after the last three months of going at CF, and almost all of this is muscle. I'm not sure this is a positive, but as someone who generally doesn't gain much muscle at all this has been really interesting to me. My body has changed a lot.
-I have a more engaged perspective on moving heavy weights in space. Doing Olympic lifts changes your viewpoint. Throwing a kayak on top of my truck is now a lot simpler both because I understand the motion and am stronger at that movement. This is very useful, and I'm grateful to understand more about moving weights. Not lifting, moving. Big difference, and cool.
-Crossfit is big on "general physical preparedness." This means throw any physical challenge at a Crossfitter and he or shell will be OK with it. Broadly, I agree that CF does this. Lift a box of books, move a set of snowtires, chase after someone, lift an axle, whatever, CF is great for general life stuff. I'd say CF kicks ass on anything else I've ever done for general life fitness. If I only had six hours a week to train and no idea what I was training for I'd chose CF. It's effective. I can honestly say that I will never go into a gym and do five sets of five exercises and think I'm working out. If I ever get stuck in a 60-hour a week desk job I will still CF, it works.
-There is great community of people involved with CF. The videos, forums (main site and Brand X), it's all bit Apple-like in terms of support and openness.
-CF is "agnostic," meaning that it encourages examination, discussion, and experimentation. Many fitness routines are monotheistic, meaning you MUST DO 5 SETS or whatever the deity of the month is or something like that. I like the introspective, questioning nature of CF.
-CF is inclusive; it doesn't matter if you're 75 or 15, male or female, fat or ripped, you can get in and get it on. That's cool.
-You can do CF with very little equipment. I did a month-long cycle with rocks and playgrounds. It worked. Most gyms are full of equipment that just isn't all that useful compared to what could be done with the space the equipment occupies.

The above are the general "plus" points I see out of CF. Below are "neutral" observations:
-CF is not sport-specific, nor does it claim to be. Doing CF to be a better sport climber, runner, swimmer, kayaker, or whatever is a waste of time. Doing each individual sport will produce better results for that sport. Overall, CF is not about sport-specific training at all, nor does it claim to be--Glassman makes this point repeatedly. Some adherents try to make CF sport-specific, but that's fitting a round peg in a square hole. You're always better off training specifically if specificity is your goal.
-You need to drink the Kool-Aid and do several cycles of CF to get the point. It's very, very different than working out in a "normal" gym. Sometimes things seem very weird, but it's very hard for me to argue with the results. It's hard to do CF and also do sports specific training.
-Many CFers start to think CF is a sport in its own right. They may actually be right, but it's kinda funny that training becomes a sport. Or is it? I'm still not sure how I feel about the CF games (I am impressed with the athletes, holy shit!).

And here are the negatives as I see them:
-CF needs more agility exercises to be considered complete GPP. Why are we always running in a straight line? Why don't we do some old-school wind sprints with direction changes? Lateral box jumps? Side lunges? I guarantee that these basic dry-land ski training exercises would severely destroy most CFers, and that is something we all enjoy so why not include them?Gymnastics is only one form of body-weight training...

-Almost every single exercise in CF is a "split down the middle movement." By this I mean most movements are balanced on either side of the mid-line in nice organized manner. This is not life. We don't always lift straight on. We don't alway sprint in a straight line. Often we have to pick things up and throw them to one side or the other. We do pullups with our hands staggered. In keeping with the randomness of life I'd think doing more near-random movement in CF would be a very good thing. I see sandbags and so on in the CF games; why not take the creativity I see in the CF games and apply this to the workouts? How about a lateral wall-ball throw? So many options, and I may put some of this into my next CF cycle (I'm going to use CF as my bridge workout between seasons for the future).

-CF is based around the idea that most people are solid, decent people, and will do a good job if given the opportunity. This is a positive actually, as I believe it too. But, unfortunately, I do not think one weekend of coaching is going to produce people with a solid enough knowledge base to effectively program workouts and coach others. Maybe if they have gone through ten years of intensive training for their own sports and now want to coach others, but all you need to open a CF "box" is your level one certification. I don' think this is very good quality control. That said, I haven't gone to a level one certification and could be wrong.

-There is a serious quantity of pretentious bullshit in various aspects of CF. "Forging Elite Fitness" is a great tagline, but come on. People with Elite Fitness win medals and set records. Doing Fran in ten minutes is not "Elite" except in reference to other CF athletes... I would put a good runner up against most any CF athlete in a run, no contest. Same with skier, climber, boxer, gymnast, etc. etc. A true elite athlete has many years of dedicated training and competing behind him or her; there are very few CFers with more than five years of CF behind them. Claiming to possess elite fitness is bullshit without a long chain of results that support the claim. CF is becoming its own sport, like the firefighter games or the logger games...

-I am concerned about shoulder injures and CF. I do not have any good scientific study to base this on, but I know a lot of people who do CF for a year or so and then have shoulder surgery. Maybe hard training promotes shoulder problems; if so this is a problem. I'm not sure CF is any worse than other protocols, but this needs to be studied at some point.

So there's my thoughts on my own CF training for the past three months. I am going to go and do a level-one CF cert this spring after I finish up some of my own projects. Broadly, I believe in CF and think it's effective for what it promises to be. That's incredibly rare in the training world. Over the last five years I've inserted some of CF's main principles into my own sport-specific workouts with very good results. Now I've done a relatively short but definitely full-on go-around with it, and I'm stoked. If nothing else it's damn cool to have a clue what those Olympic guys are doing with the weights. Now I'm moving into a sport-specific training cycle. I sure am going miss the WOD. Might sneak it in occasionally...

Next: Training for a 24-hour suffer fest...

Thursday, November 05, 2009

More Ice, and sliding snow

Early winter in the Rockies is a dangerous time of year; we're all fired up to get out in the snow and on the ice, but the situation is often pretty dynamic. Two good climbers from Canmore recently took a relatively short ride and wrote about, very worthwhile reading and thanks to John and James for the report.

More ice yesterday--three hours of walking to and from the climb, four nice pitches, a great day out. It's on around here now! My elbow is holding together, so stoked!!

Happy winter,


Tuesday, November 03, 2009

First Blood, first ice.

Today was my first day of ice climbing. I've taken my tools for a walk a few times and done some scouting, but due to travel, weather and some other lame excuses today was my first day out. My partner showed up on time, but with a bone-deep cut in her hand. A few stitches later and we were on our way to local classic, Amadeus. Watch out for kitchen knives. It was my first day climbing on the new BD Fusions (I climbed on bunch of protos obviously, these are the production version), first day on ice, and my partner had a numb hand from the anaesthetic. She led the first pitch just to get things going. Fun drytooling, the Fusions worked as well as I thought they would on the rock. I'm always awkward drytooling until I get a few pitches in, that action is just wrong until it's right.

The next 30M had some super nice ice--kinda thin, kinda detached, kinda dry, kinda wet, kinda steep, kinda lacking in pro, kinda what I needed. The new Fusions handled it well, but I'm going to change my picks out on those tools if I do any more serious ice climbing. The picks on the tools are made for drytooling so they have teeth on top; this makes 'em get stuck in the ice, which is not really what you want when run out on marginal gear. For hard drytooling you need the top teeth, and even on the M-whatever stuff low on the route the teeth were great for stein-pulls etc. Overall I was really happy with the tools, I'll need to put some more miles on the rock to really have a feel for them. But they climb ice a hell of a lot better than the old Fusions, that's for sure! We even had to pound a pin back in, they actually work for that. That's a key function on an ice tool for me, especially in the Rockies--pins are often the only solution. I think the Fusion will become my top choice for hard dry-tooling and multi-pitch mixed routes. It climbs ice well, drytools well, and you can beat on gear. I like it, I'll just switch picks around with my other tools depending on what's needed.

Tomorrow I'm heading out again, so stoked that the season is ON!!


Saturday, October 31, 2009

Things you see in the woods, Ice

I was out for a hike in the mountains yesterday and saw these tracks. Five or six animals, lots of deer in the area, hmmm... I'm going with wolf.

The temperatures around here have absolutely spiked, all the way to the summits. When the big melt ends we'll have the big freeze, and things are likely to be very, very good for icicle hunters in the Canadian Rockies. Until then it's rock climbing season again...

The Gravsports Ice pages are up and running again too, lots of people out and about!

Happy Winter,


Thursday, October 29, 2009


I often hear comments such as, "I only climb/fly/paddle/walk/whatever for myself." While this is ultimately true, the same people always immediately know their best onsights, longest distance flown, most impressive route climbed, etc. etc. If you ever want to see some competitive attitude come out among climbers just suggest that the local favorite 10c is really 10a... So people do measure themselves, and care about the results. This is why weight-room training is so seductive; you get measurable results, you can compare your results, and it's all very controlled and nice.

I'm still stuck on this idea of people, myself included, measuring what we did or didn't do in alpine or winter climbing. Maybe because there's a tremendous amount of posing in these genres of climbing, and no real quantifiable definition of success other than reaching the summit and/or surviving. The tales that come back from these trips often read like the participants succeeded due to fantastic ability, toughness, training, etc. This interests me; I know I've come back from alpine climbing trips with the feeling that the climb took everything I had to give. But was that feeling real or had I just set my own limits and then bumped against them? And when I or anyone fails on a mountain/alpine/whatever climb we usually pull out all kinds of justifications. Too much avalanche hazard, too little snow, not enough ice, wind blowing the wrong direction, etc. Usually these "reasons" are presented as absolutes. "There wasn't enough ice to go up."

I suspect that often my and others achievements on any given day are not all that special in the mountains or on the ice, and our failures often more mental than real. By that I mean that if you put a large field of people on that face in the same conditions times would drop dramatically, success rates go up, etc. etc. Ueli Steck has shown this with his North Face ascents in the Alps. Now Ueli is my friend and a very talented guy, but he's not special genetically or even mentally (well, a bit special mentally). The fastest time on the Grand Teton is held not by any of the guides or well-known alpine climbers who have lived and worked in the range (and gone fast on a lot of routes) but by a runner with enough climbing skill to handle the technical challenges of the Grand.

I'm dancing around an idea here, trying to figure it out. Perhaps the most obvious example of a large pool of talent showing the actual potential of a mountain situation comes in paragliding. A competition day can be lousy for flying distance; weak thermals, bad wind, overcast, etc. etc. But if you set a competition task someone often completes it. Even on a day when the local pilots would all say no cross-country was possible. A little of the positive result comes from the field working together, but it's often one or two pilots who go off alone and make it to goal. Those pilots show the real potential of the day; if only a few pilots were sitting on launch they would be lazy and the day would be written off as "not good." How many climbs have I failed on for lack of vision?

To me this realization is cause for great optimism about the future of many mountain sports. 5.9 used to be hard; the rock hasn't changed, our raw strength hasn't changed dramatically, but now 5.9 is commonplace, a beginner can do it in street shoes. The north face of the Eigre was the be-all end-all route, worth dying for. Now a guy runs it in under four hours. Running a 30-foot waterfall was the absolute edge of the sport 25 years ago; now people are regularly going over 100 feet, and the "record" is closer to 200.

When we're in the mountains we're likely limited more by how we perceive the situation and our abilities than we are by the reality. If we put 100 top or even good athletes on a route in the same conditions the results would be mind-blowing, even in less than ideal conditions. A few years ago we tried to climb a north face in the Himalaya, and never really got going. A few other climbers showed up and sent it in four days, easy. I'm not arguing for pushing harder in the face of "stupid" danger, but trying to understand why the hard routes of yesterday are easy today, and why the impossible is often the easy when enough people put energy toward it.

This blog is likely to slow down for a bit, it's climbing season and I am so stoked to go and mess with my own limits and headspace, breathe clean air, move, smash some ice and get it ON! Happy winter!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Everest Dash for Cash (and gloves)

I'm over the pig flu and back training, hopefully climbing a lot more soon!

My bud Kelly Cordes put some info on gloves here, with comments from various people. It's good, different perspectives, interesting.

I recently had a long discussion with a group of friends about types of climbing, ethics, and what accomplishment in climbing means. In sport climbing it's pretty simple; you climb harder than anyone else, or you win the big comps. Either way you're bad-ass, and there's an obvious record of it. There are still disagreements and bitching, but by and large it's clear who is climbing at a very high level in sport land. Or you could be the person who climbs 200 days a year for 20 years; that would be cool and a major accomplishment to me too, maybe the coolest. I don't think you have to be having the most fun either; climbing is nonsensical, but it's often not fun, and that's fine with me. But what if you wanted to find out, say, who was the "best" alpinist? Would you look at summits climbed, new routes done, articles written or times on popular routes? All of these things to me are markers, but they are not direct forms of comparison because of varied conditions and a hundred other variables. Alpinism is a weird game because a lot of people are vying for the public's attention as being "noteworthy" without having any sort of empirical comparison method. No, if you wanted to compare alpinists you would have to have them all compete on the same objective at the same time, as in any other form of sports competition. This would put a group of people in a true competitive environment, and would produce meaningful results. So, if I had an unlimited budget, I'd have the following event:

1. Everest Dash for Cash. Invite 20 of the "best" alpinists in the world to Everest by offering all expenses paid. Have a start line, and a guy sucking oxygen on the summit with a stopwatch. First one to the top wins a million dollars. First one back to basecamp wins another million dollars. No oxygen, use the fixed ropes, don't, whatever, haul ass up. Most alpinists of course won't show up, as they don't actually compete. They just write articles and pose about their accomplishments with little to no data to back the claims up. It's easy to "win" an event where you define the rules, the time, the participants, the place and the objective. In fact, incompetency or bad planning is often rewarded or celebrated in alpinism. A few alpinists climb at a very high level (Ueli Steck comes to mind--nearly onsights El Cap, excellent Himalayan climber, and my friend Steve House finally climbed solid 5.13 so he's definitely trying). Steck holds the record on the Eiger, Matterhorn, etc. I'll bet he would play the Everest Death Race game. This is all hypothetical and a little bit sarcastic, but what if? Second place is of course a set of steak knives.

2. The Mountain Decathlon

A lot of us take it easy on ourselves by saying, "Well, I'm a generalist, not a sports-specific kinda guy." Bullshit, sucking at everything and claiming to be a good generalist still means sucking at everything. But, in the interest of finding the best generalist (and I know a few men and women who could give a solid showing in all of the below), how about a comp with:
1. Mountain Running
2. An AT ski race.
3. Sport climbing.
4. Crack climbing (use an artificial crack).
5. Ice climbing.
6. Mixed climbing.
8. Kayaking (creek race).
9. Mountain biking.
10. Heinous road bike climb maybe, but more like likely would be a Loppet-style ski race. Road biking is not really a mountain-specific sport (Hell, look at the road-bike capital of the world, Holland--the place is flat).
I'm leaving out paragliding 'cause nobody but weirdos do that sport, but if we could get enough of us together that would be cool to have too.

Anyhow, I'm thinking about all of this as I look at a few events I'm planning for the next nine months. My "events" are about heading off into new mental or physical zones, pushes to the convoluted edge of my own physical and likely mental limits. In a way I'm coming up with "Alpine" objectives, in that I'll define all the variables I can. Hmmm, what if I write about it too? You know, I really over-think the hell out of things sometimes.

Right, back to "real" work, the computer calls...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Are we all Wusses?

Greg. T sent me this link, it's pretty interesting. The idea is that previous iterations of humans were a hell of a lot fitter than even the most fit among us today. Maybe we're all headed toward becoming the humans in that cinematic classic, Wall-E. They floated around on soft couches swilling their food, with no need to ever move...

I missed my usual Tuesday post as I've been fighting either a really bad cold or some form of Influenza A. Hard to tell which, maybe both, but mild fever, bad headache, cough, etc., it all reduced my mental and physical energy to basically nothing. Like no working out, first time I've missed the training program in weeks. But if I do have some version of the Flying Pig flu then it's best to not push it too much. Not that I feel like pushing it... But I'm up off the mat now, just chilling as much as anyone with a life and a two-year old can. May you avoid the seasonal plagues!



PS--I have been surfing the net some, this is a cool climbing video if you haven't already seen it. The Power of Youth!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Random Training Thoughts #6: Mental Resources

Thanks to everyone who wrote me an email about my reading list for mental training. Really cool to hear from so many people. I started responding to each individual email, and it just got to be too much 'cause I was writing and writing. So I just turned it all into a blog post, here it is. It's unfortunately a little scattered, but if you've been reading this blog then you're a pro and can wade through it.

Mental training books are always full of contradictions--and often annoying. But maybe, just maybe, some of the more annoying things in the mental training books are exactly what your weaknesses are... One of the first "mental" books I ever read was Dan Millman's, "Way of the Warrior Athlete." I remember being so annoyed at his gentle suggestions to look into my motivations and understand why I was doing what I was doing. To hell with that, I was gonna THROW DOWN, not putz around with actually thinking!!! Millman was right, I was wrong, and I was annoyed at his suggestions because I didn't want to do the work. I'm not quite as much of a fan of Millman's books as I once was, but I did take the lesson that if something was annoying me I probably need to look at it more closely. And Millman's books are still useful.

I think every single sports psychology book I've ever read had at least one little "Ah ha!" nugget. Until recently I had an entire four-foot shelf filled with used sports psych books. Maybe more. You can go into any used bookstore in North America and find at least a half-dozen sports psych books for about $2/book. Spend $25 and actually read the books and I'll guarantee that $25 was the best deal of all time for what you get.

Anyhow, here are a few books I've read and found useful over the years.

The New Toughness Training for Sports

-Classic. Useful.

Mental Training for Peak Performance
-More "example" based, but good.

Go Rin No Sho: A Book

By Musashi Miyamoto
This is one great book. A bit obscure at times, but damn cool at others.

Arno Ilgner's books: Climbing-specific but useful.
Secrets of Champions. Flying-specific mostly but very good.

On Combat: The psychology and physiology of deadly conflict in war and in peace.
-Many of our physical responses in high-stress situations are very similar to the stresses of combat...

Music: I often use music to get my competitive or performance groove on; from Ministry to the Animals there's a song for every situation and mental state, either to maintain or change the space between my ears into what I want it to be.

I really, really like the message of a lot of punk music from the late eighties and early 90s. Minor Threat, Fugazi (anything with Ian M. in it) , Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, etc. It's all about doing your best in whatever way works, and leaving nothing on the table. The music those bands produced still forms the backbone of my world outlook. The Offspring, Jane's Addiction, and the Rollins Band are also integral to how I feel about sport and life, and how I try to approach new challenges. So many good lyrics...

Probably the biggest lesson I've learned through working on my head is that NOTHING is just sports-specific, from training to introspection. If you want to be a better athlete in the long run then you have to sort your head and life out. Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Chris Sharma, any top athlete either has his mental game figured out in some functional way or he or she stops being a top athlete long before they have to for physical reasons. The inner world of many top athletes might look very weird to an outsider, but it WORKS for that athlete or he or she wouldn't be at the top of the game. Lance Armstrong is one weird dude, but he's got a mental game that works for him, as well a life organized to do what he wants. If you want to climb 5.15, win mountain running races or whatever then you've got to have the physical training, the mental strength, and the lifestyle to get it done... Kinda cool and daunting at the same time when I first realized that I was going to have to re-structure my entire life if I wanted to perform at a higher level than I currentlyw as. That realization came straight out of the sports psych books.

It's always a lot easier to talk the people I work with into doing more reps in the gym or even more stretching than to get them to stop and work on their heads. The physical stuff is difficult, but it's the mental stuff that usually determines an athlete's longevity and success. Really...

So cut into your head and spread the debris out for a good look. Look your failures in the eye, your successes, and the reasons for each. Modify your life and head as required to succeed. Easy.

Think of what is right and true

Practice and cultivate the science

Become acquainted with the art

Know the principle of the craft

Understand the harm and benefit in everything

Learn to see everything accurately

Become aware of what is not obvious

Be careful even in small matters

Do not do anything useless

-Miyamoto Musashi

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Random Training Thoughts #5: Mental

It's a fact of competitive life that the strongest and most skilled often don't win in the competition. I have won a lot of competitions against those who were better trained, more skilled and likely smarter than me. I have also placed either dead last or in the bottom ten percent of competitions in at least two different sports when I thought I was in world-class shape. My diverse results often have had far more to do with my head than my body.

Nobody wants to think about mental fitness. It's a lot easier to keep track of physical improvement than mental improvement. To become stronger mentally you have to look inside yourself and realize that, even if you can do a one-arm pullup with an engine block in the other hand, the ultimate limiting factor is your head And most people are simply too weak mentally to actually get stronger mentally. For many people the area between their ears is completely dark, off-limits and filled with soul-twisting demons that just can't be faced much less slain. But, unless you know how to hit your ideal mental performance state, all your training is quite literally a waste whether your competing at a world-cup level or trying to set a PR of some kind.

When I was competing in a lot of sport climbing comps I had a reputation for climbing "above my ability." This is debatable, as people tend to remember the successes far more than the failures (nobody remembers me falling off the third move at a world cup in Laval, France--I sure do). Anyhow, I think I could climb at my trained ability in a comp while most people couldn't. Same with onsighting. It's not about doing something special in a comp or high-stakes environment, it's about doing what you've trained to do and do in training. That simple.

So how do you train mentally? At a basic level, I try to train like I compete, and compete like I train. That sounds so simple, but very few outdoor athletes do it. I would also include any sort of "goal day" or GD under the competition level. If you're going to try and redpoint at a high level or set a new PR on the Grouse Grind (look that up if you don't know it, fun!) then you need to set up situations that mimic what you're likely to find, and then deal with it. Simulations don't have to be perfect and never will be, they just have to elicit the same sorts of feelings and stress you'll be competing or going after a GD under.

These simulations can be entirely mental; I often go and look at a venue I'll be competing in, and then sit someplace and quiet and populate the stadium or environment with people, a challenge, problems, and noise, distractions, etc. When I walk out to throw down very little surprises me... If I don't do this kind of prep I often do poorly.

There are many, many books written on mental training, and I have read many of them. Some are hokey and full of mumbo jumbo, but a few are good. I'd rather not endorse books publicly (other than my own, grin...) but drop me a private email and I'll respond. A few key ideas in good mental training regimes:

1. Worry about the things you can control, and get them right.
-Don't show up with your blown-out laces about to break. Be well-fed, well-hydrated, well-dressed, etc. etc. This a really deep well to look down once you get going on it...
-You can't control other people's results, or even your own. You can only control how well you perform... If you perform well you'll get a good result, but worrying about the result is wasted energy. We all want to win, but you can't control that. You can control how ready you are to compete and prepared to get a good result...

2. Nothing is ever perfect in a high-stakes situation. Deal with it, stay focused on competing well. Things will be messy; this is life, competition, solve the problem and move forward. Easy to write, hard to do.

3. Know what your head feels like when you are competing well, and get to that place.
-I often get very negative before big comps. I don't feel trained, don't feel excited, worry about failure, etc. etc. But I know that if I sit down in a bathroom stall for about 15 minutes I can generally pull this together and get into my preferred comp state... Not always, but about 90 percent of the time. Everybody needs to get to their performance state differently, but get there we must.

4. Do your best in training and in competition.
-Never accept less than your best possible effort. Some days you will be tired, sore, distracted, hung over, whatever, but do your best. You know when you do your best, when you leave nothing on the table. Sometimes my best isn't much, but if I've done my best then fuck it, that's all I've got. I have also not done my best in competition, and I still get pissed about those days when I left a little on the table...

Fundamentally I believe in training my weaknesses. Finding those weaknesses often takes more personal honesty than I may have on any given day. It's a lot easier to bang out another set of pullups than it is to admit I have the contact strength of a fish... In almost all situations your head is the limiting factor in performance, not your body. You do need to be trained, but if your head explodes at the sight of a starting line then what's the point?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Random Training Thoughts #4

I love training. There, it's out in the open. A lot of people have this hang-up that real men don't train, that somehow if you're really good at something you just are good at it naturally, and that training is, well, weak. This viewpoint is usually held by people who also believe that the olympics are full of talented amateurs, that pro cyclists don't dope and that anybody can be a champion in any sport. To quote my favorite musician of the 90s, Ice T, shit ain't like that. If you want to approach your sports like most of us approach badminton at a family picnic then no training is necessary. Drink some beers, be happy if you finally beat your sister, and it's all good. For everything else there is training, and I like it. I feel so much better now having shared that.

Early this morning I was doing a sport that required shorts bursts of concentration followed by 200M runs to examine the results. I ran the 200M both directions, and felt great. Low heart rate, strong, easy. I know this feeling; I usually get it when I'm doing a lot of hard mountain running, something I have NOT been doing lately. I'm going to attribute this directly to Crossfit. You don't run much in Crossfit, but you do go at a workout with intensity, that chuck-a-lung intensity that normally only comes when you're chasing or being chased. In fact, I can't remember the last time running felt so easy. Uphill and down. I don't think I would do very well in a long mountain race right now, but I'm surprised with how my 1500M or so of running felt today. I've had a lot of situations in the last month where I've thought, "Hey, I do this in my workouts a lot, no problem." Based on the fast results, wide range of applicable fitness and general, "I feel good doing this" I'm going to say that I think Crossfit is the best possible "generalist" workout I've ever done. I'd put money on Crossfit's athletes in almost any non-skill situation. Pick that really heavy box of books up and run it up four flights of stairs. No problem. Pick your motorcyle up after you drop it. No problem. Wrestle your topper on and off your truck. No problem. Boulder V5. Problem. Boulder hop a creek. Problem. The last two are learned skills based on practice and specific strength, and nothing but doing the activity is going to give you that. But I sure do like how my body feels and performs (that being a relative word--I'm at a family badminton game level in most things Crossfit) these days. I first started doing Crossfit specific workouts in Brazil a few years ago with a friend who was into it, and loved it. It's been in and out of my life since then, but it's just a good thing, especially for those of us who still want to be athletes as we age. I have no fucking intention of giving up being an athlete anytime soon, I expect Crossfit will help meet that on-going goal.

"Functional" gym workouts. These are relatively new; I first started seeing people doing bicep curls and lateral raises on beach balls maybe ten years ago. Now there's a whole whack of ball-based moves. I keep looking at people doing this stuff and thinking, "Ah, when was the last time I did anything in sport where I was rolling around on a ball as I did it?" It's like learning to make love by masturbating on a beach ball or something. Yes, it's maybe better than sitting on a bench to do bicep curls, but why not just DO whatever motion it is you're trying to insert a beach ball between you and the movement? I don't doubt you can get a good muscular burn (Ah, I'll admit it, I've done my time on a beach ball) with a ball, but attempting to simulate a more "life like" movement pattern by using ball just doesn't make sense. Do the movement, a ball just gets in the way. Pullups, presses, squats, running, situps, lunges. No ball required to make any of these more "life like," they are moves you do in REAL LIVE LIFE! Amazing.

Traditional 3x3 (or 5x5 or whatever) sets of a lot of different exercises that, cumulatively, equal whatever motion it is you want to be stronger at. This is the muscle head way forward, or some variation of it. It demonstrably builds muscle. It does not demonstrably build useful strength. Most exercises are very specific; this can be useful if you're seeking that specific strength (lock offs for mixed climbing, but even those are likely better trained using bands and other techniques to reduce the load). I have had luck rehabbing some injuries using very specific shoulder exercises to isolate damaged or weak areas; I'm not sure how these injuries would have responded to other forms of rehab as I don't have a "control," but they did seem to work. I don't think I'm going to be doing a lot of traditional weight room time ever again unless it's for specific injuries.

Endurance: I used to race Cross-Country skiing (without much distinction but slightly better than family badminton level) and have done a lot of really long days in the mountains. Based on a few endurance athletes experiences with Crossfit I'm likely to continue with relatively high volume low-intensity work for these cycles of my life. There was a University of Utah ski team member who posted up my last post on this subject; I'd really welcome his take on the combination of Crossfit and XC racing--being on the U ski team means you're very, very good. I'm doing a lot of reading on training for 24-hour endurance stuff at the moment as that's what my next three goals revolve around. We'll see what develops with that... I also suspect that the thousands of hours elite XC skiers spend sliding over the snow is also about building an absolutely massive internal matrix of "moves," just as a climber does. The ability to ride a flat ski on hard, soft, inconsistent or just plain old icy snow is critical, as is the timing of every input in so many conditions and situations. Same with cycling, especially at elite levels--Lance didn't just win because he was damn strong (ignoring all allegations and denials for the moment), he also won because he could read the situation and stay safe in the peloton... The hours of endurance training aren't just about developing wattage.

Sport-specific training. Unless your sport is simply too dangerous or possibly inaccessible to practice and train hard at then I believe this should be the vast majority of your "training" time. Only when there is excess time would I add in other stuff. For any sport at all. If you do ten sports reasonably often or don't know what life is going to through at you then Crossfit is likely the best solution. If you don't have a primary sport you're attempting to reach a higher level in then some sort of general life-training such as Crossfit is likely the answer. But if you're trying to be good at one single sport then train intelligently with the moves and specific requirements of that sport.

I used to really covet a gym with a full rack of barbells, a nice lat pulldown machine, a bunch of those Nautilus machines and a bunch of other stuff. My ideal training environment is a lot simpler now. More on that next time, I'm outta here for a few days, thanks for reading this. These posts aren't magazine articles, they're how I try to figure things out. Write it down, see if it makes sense to me and you, the reader who just slogged through this epic, try it out, see if works, revise as necessary.... Nothing is constant, no achievement or system permanent.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Random Training Thoughts #3

I've been training at one sport or another now for 25+ years. I first started thinking of physical activity as "training" during high-school sports; but the focus was always more on "practice" than on "training." I think this is an important distinction. We "train" for things like running, lifting weights, etc. etc. We "practice" yoga, archery, medicine, many martial arts and so on.

There's an old adage that to get good at something you have to practice, practice, practice, and practice some more. In Malcolm Gladwell's "Outliers" book he figures that about 10,000 hours of practice will produce mastery in any given field of endeavor. It doesn't matter how strong you are, if you haven't done the practice then you won't be any good at something.

Taking this idea farther, most sports may fall on a spectrum defined by straight skill on one one side and pure power on the other end of the spectrum. Target shooting might be the ultimate "skill" sport, olympic lifting the ultimate power sport (although skill obviously is required in even the most power-based sports--in fact, it looks to me that skill often wins out over straight power even at the olympic power lifting events). But, as a way to think of sports, I could put "skill" on the far left of the spectrum and "power" on the far right. Most outdoor sports lean heavily toward the "skill" side of the spectrum. Being a linebacker also takes serious skill, but do you damn well better have some power and mass to back that skill up. Far right of the spectrum.

The strength requirements of "skill" sports also become increasingly specific. For example, a climber needs to have tremendous specific hand strength (the ability to apply strength to a hold in any of the three common grips and their sub-grips), something that just having tremendous general hand strength won't provide (nordic skiers used to win the hand strength tests, not sure if that's true anymore). Without very specific and sufficient forearm ("finger") strength every bit of strength training is close to completely wasted. If you can do 50 pullups but not hang on a half-inch edge for 30 seconds then you're the equivalent of a car producing 500hp but spinning bicycle tires--there's no way to apply that power, not enough friction with the road. This is why so many gym-based exercise routines are completely useless for climbing. 99 percent of the time I--or almost anyone I've ever witnessed climb--fall off it's because I can't hang on.

So, for sports requiring very specific skills or far to the left on the skill vs. power requirements more time should be be spent practicing the sport than training for it.

There's another axis to the spectrum as well; the variable nature of the apparatus. If you're a target shooter then things stay relatively familiar. If you're an olympic lifter or gymnast you pretty much know what you're going to be dealing with when you walk out the door to compete or train. But if you're a climber or a skier then the the apparatus is going to be wildly different, and will require a much larger set of ingrained skills.

So now the spectrum looks more like a piece of graph paper with "skill" and "power" defining the X axis, and "familiar" and "unknown" defining the Y axis. I would argue that the time spent "training" will be highest in the low-variability, high-power sports, with the time spent "practicing" proportionately greater in the high-variability, specific power sports.

OK, there are a bunch of holes in the above, but I'm doing a lot of thinking on the subject as I go through another round of Crossfit action. Crossfit is training, but it also has elements of practice (the gymnastic moves, olympic lifts), etc. Yesterday I did my workout in yet another strange gym, and was so stoked to make a complete retard out of myself in public yet again. Nothing like hucking a lung while lifting exactly one bar in a room absolutely full of fancy machines and nice people nicely using the machines.

In my next post I'm going take aim at various common "training" strategies... Let's just say that I will never do another set of bicep curls again.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Random Training Thoughts #2

So I bust out today's X-Fit workout as hard as I can. I'm doing squat cleans alternating with some sort of ass-backards situp thing that fully messes me up. I'm grunting, dropping weights, sweating like a pig and generally making a scene without even trying. It's about as much fun as I'm going to have in a gym actually, mega. But as I cooled down I started thinking why it is that I'm in a gym on a nice day. I also got a couple of email comments this morning from people asking about winter and training plans, with a few links to various programs. I'm going to rant now:

I'm going to get real blunt here: If you want to be a better climber then damn well go climbing. Especially a better rock climber. I would bet any amount of money that if a person spent, say, 20 hours a week training and climbing hard in a structured climbing program (rock gym and outdoors) and an identical person spent 20 hours a week in a weight gym (even one promising some sort of climbing-specific program) that the actual climbing effort would destroy the gym program. Absolutely destroy it, as in 5.12 vs. 5.9, as in sending like a fiend and falling off before the first bolt on the same route. I guarantee this.

For skill-based sports, as in Glassman's quote from yesterday, practicing the sport will likely provide the strength and fitness you need (especially at a relatively low level). If you want to be a better ice climber then climb ice. If you can't do that, and it's harder because ice isn't as common as a good climbing gym, then a weight training program will help. A specific program, not a general X-Fit sorta thing (which, while it will help, I don't believe it will help as much as a focused program).

There was one program on the web supposedly designed to improve one's performance for climbing desert cracks. That program was only slightly more useful than going to a 24-hour fitness and doing bicep curls. I would take somebody and put them on a crack box for three hours a week and he or she will absolutely DESTROY any sort of non sport-trained climber (given a reasonable base fitness level...). But the funny thing about training is that we become invested in one idea about it, and the more effort we put into that idea and program the more we become invested in that idea... I'm sure everybody felt like the program worked, but only because they didn't have a control group who spent their time climbing crack boxes to then publicly kick their collective asses. Or a group that actually went outside and got coached on how to climb cracks, even better...

I do Crossfit and other forms of training for a lot of reasons ('cause it's fucking fun being a good start), but not to be a better technical climber. Time to go stack some firewood on my deck (hey, Xfit will be pretty good training for that, or is it the other way around? That's what I like about Xfit...). I train in the gym and outside of it to provide a base foundation of strong movement for all my sports and life. I expect that, in the time I spend re-building this foundation every year, my technical skills will actually become worse. Yes, worse. But I will be able to refine my general strength into specific strength and "applied strength" in the form of my various winter and spring activities. And my training will become more specific as needed. I have beaten hundreds if not thousands of athletes over the years who spent a lot more time than me doing bench press (although I have also done some of that).

This is turning into a long post, but I think all of us need to think about what we are training for (very specific to very broad goals), and honestly look at our programs to see if they are producing the results we want. And we need to measure these results as objectively as we can. For example, is the bumbly who came into your climbing gym a year ago now climbing circles around you despite all the sets you've done of squats? If your goal was to be a better climber then the bumbly has just shown he has a better program than you do. If we don't do this examination and evaluation of results then the guy pumping his tenth set of bicep curls to look better on the beach next spring is not only training more effectively than we are but also with more honesty. In fact, I'd respect Mr. Bicep Curl a lot more than the guy or gal who is doing a set of weighted pullups and claiming to be training for hard sport climbing. Seriously.

Now train. Effectively.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Random Training Thoughts #1

" The need for specificity is nearly completely met by regular practice and training within the sport not in the strength and conditioning environment."

-Greg Glassman, Crossfit guy, long interview here.

That's an interesting quote from the man behind Crossfit, which is, for those who aren't aware of it, a sort of physical self-torture program that claims to be all things to all people (yeah, I'm being a bit sarcastic). The more I play with Crossfit the more I realize that their training ideas both contrast sharply with my own training over the years and also meet it in places. For example, I have always trained as intensely as I can. I've bitched about the lack of intensity I see in training on past blog posts. I've always tended to train with "super sets." Doing combined sets of exercises just made sense to me, it's how my sports work. I don't do a pullup then rest on a climb, I do a pullup then a row movement then a leg press etc.

But I've never even thought about doing a deadlift--that shit hurts your back, right? So why I am so damn stoked to have deadlifted 265 (that's about like doing five pullups for those who don't know the weight. Maybe three pullups...). Why does my back feel better than it has in years? Why do I feel good physically despite all my nagging injuries?

Something interesting is happening.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Three Rules for Tough Trips

We've all been on outdoor trips where the whole situation gets a bit sideways, or at least requires operating at a high output level for longer than is comfortable. Here are three rules for these kinds of trips:

1. Move the team forward. If you're sitting on your ass or standing around blankly you're doing something wrong. Figure out what will keep the team and yourself moving forward, even if a very small amount, and do it. Multiple one to ten minute slow-downs add up to hours and days very rapidly when on a long climb or trip.

2. See and accept the situation as it is. Improve it. If it's really bad think of Shackleton. See, not so bad.

3. You can complain, but it's gotta be funny or it's just whining.

I remember reading a story years ago about a friend, Barry Blanchard, suffering on a climbing trip where he wasn't up to the climbing standard. He cooked more, dug more caves, stacked ropes, did whatever he possibly could to move the group forward. That story stuck in my mind as a standard to try and follow--Barry is normally one of the best alpine climbers going, but on that trip he wasn't. He was still a very valuable part of the team. My best climbing and adventure partnerships have all broadly followed the three "rules" above. A fourth rule is that sometimes you can't live up to the first three; try and do better when you can.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The World's Worst Workout

Crossfit should be banned. It's a drug, it's a form of self-torture, it's a damn curse on my body's weakest parts. I tried to do this today:
21-18-15-12-9-6-3 rep rounds of:
Handstand push-ups

Sounds simple, eh? That's only about 84 pullups and pushups. Oh, wait, that's L-sit pullups and HANDSTAND pushups... I cheated so hard on this workout. I piled stuff on the floor so I didn't have to go as deep on the handstand pushups. My elbow's still a bit sore so I did some other lat stuff, the cheating just went on and on... And it was still all I could do to "finish" it. Yeah, I know I could have scaled it etc., but I didn't. Damn. If you think you're fit have a go at this workout. Oh, and it's for time, meaning you go as hard as you can, not pretty little sets where do a set and then pose. Give 'er.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Escape from the Atnarko

I woke up this morning in a hotel room, but it took me a minute to realize that I wasn't going to put the same non-dry dry suit back on and beat through the woods for the day. I was kinda sad when I realized my day would be spent eating up the Trans Canada Highway instead. Right now there are big salmon spawning up the Atnarko, Grizzly bears feasting on fish, the cry of a loon and the roar of a river crashing through a burned landscape. Right now.

What was supposed to be a reasonable two to maybe three-day 40km river trip morphed into a four-day battle involving epic amounts of flatwater (couldn't drive as close to the river as I had hoped, so we paddled across a big lake), a really, really big grizzly bear with a salmon over a meter long in its mouth standing 5M in front of me in the river (and I didn't have anywhere to go but toward the bear in a creek less than two meters wide--I decided flipping over would be the best move if the bear got surly), more log jams than I can remember, hundreds of portages around log jams, getting lost in a swamp, loons, and the general realization that paddling rivers through recent burns is likely a bad idea. But I loved every minute of it. For some reason I need to get way off the grid both mentally and physically at least a couple of times every year. There's just something deeply meaningful about traversing wild country that resonates with me. Life gets very simple, and the goal everyday is very clear: to make progress, and to survive. That is enough, and everything.

South Tweedsmuir park and the Chilcotin have really seized ahold of me. It's a truly wild place with engaging terrain and a real frontier feel about it. I saw a few other things in the area I need to get back and check out, I'l get on that as soon as the bruises, cuts, and tendon issues heal up. I'm thumped, and slowly heading home. It's really amazing how comfortable and pleasant driving my truck can seem after a good solid bit of recreation. I definitely do not need any more recreation for a week or two.

Thanks to Mark at Redshreds in Williams Lake (cool store and owner, stop in if you're in the area), and our stellar driver, Clint Fraser with Pine Point Resort, and Rolly of the same. It was a rough trip, especially if you were expecting more of a vacation-style river, thanks to the team we got down the river with. It was not an easy situation; I think I often "recreate" with a group of people who come from an alpine climbing or general background of, "It's going to suck, the only question is can we handle the suffering or do we have to pull the pin?" I'm starting to realize this is not a normal attitude in the non-alpine climbing world. I don't go out into the bush or the edge my known mental operating zone looking for "easy," I go looking for what's there and then deal with what I find. The process only gets more interesting as what I expect and what I find become more divergent. For me it's all about seeing things as they are, not as I want them to be, believe them to be from the outside, would like them to be, or think I deserve. What it is is what it is, now get 'er done. I think this is a common ethic in very narrow climbing world, but perhaps not so much in the rest of the world. I will do better.

One thing I will say is that the last couple of months of hard Crossfit workouts were great training for the trip. Crossfit is all about moving things around, pulling yourself up and down, jumping, and general "power" fitness. I had another physical gear on this trip I haven't had in the past, and it really helped. I don't think Crossfit is the solution for very specific fitness needs, but it's damn effective at prepping for the unknown and the general demands of life. I noticed that doing everything from putting heavy boats onto the roof of the truck (a clean and jerk) to powering up a shitty hillside through thick brush was easier. I'll ease out of Crossfit as the climbing season develops, but it's a good base to start from for sure. It also really shows me how lousy I've gotten at certain fundamental skills (jumping, squats, deadlifts). It's really easy to compensate for poor strength and skills without even knowing you're doing it. But if you're following an organized plan then those weaknesses are immediately shown, and you can fix 'em. Cool, I have things to fix...

Note--I don't have anything to do with Crossfit other than having done it at various points in my training.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Atnarko River

Well, we’re headed northwest to try and run the Atnarko River! Five of us, boats on the roof, game on! The Atnarko is the river we flew along on the way in to scout Hunlen Falls last year. In January there was enough water to run the multiple drops and slides, so we’re hoping to have very low water in September—the Atnarko peaks at some insane flood level every spring, we're hoping to have literally a tenth or less of that water. The gradient is about 200 feet per mile for the first ten miles, and it looks like the drops comes in pool/drop form. I haven’t tried a first descent in many years, this should be a good one if the water level is reasonale. If you Google Charlotte Lake you can see where the Atnarko flows out of the west end. There’s enough resolution to see individual drops, pretty cool! We’re figuring three days on the river including the flatwater and a hike up around Hunlen Falls. I can’t wait to see what the falls look like in summer, they were so wild looking in winter when we had a go at climbing them.

Tweedsmuir Park has really gotten under my skin; this is my third 14-hour drive to the park this year, it’s just an amazing place. We made nice short film about the winter climb of Hunlen Falls, but we’re not making a formal film this trip, just a good crew heading down river! See ya in a week...