27 April 2010
I just did some interviews about my climbing for various publications. The questions, in one way or another, ask “what is your secret”? It’s especially relevant in my case as I can’t answer that I’m naturally strong, or thin or talented or started climbing before I could walk.
I’ve given roundabout answers for years, not understanding the underlying theme myself. In parallel I’ve tried to understand why climbers I’ve coached plateau where they do with apparently all the practical ingredients to keep improving.
Recently I’ve thought and talked a lot about school and it’s effects down the line. Sad as it makes me to say it, I learned my ‘secret’ to doing what I have when I was away from school, which happened a lot. A lot of school is about explicitly or implicitly working to fit in. To attain the satisfactory standard of your peers and nothing more. The minimum necessary to get an A and then you can coast. But good performance is by definition not fitting in. You won’t find the solution to the technique, motivation, training, financial, practical or unexplained problem that’s holding you back, by waiting for your teachers or peers or someone on a forum to tell you.
I’m not saying they are useless - they are essential for pointing you in the right direction and supplying the initial shove. After that you roll to a stop pretty quickly unless you start producing your own momentum.
Fifteen years of learning to wait to be told what to do and put in the minimum amount of work is really hard to unlearn. Start now!
Examples of climbers doing what others were not:
Jerry Moffatt’s generation were all shy about wanting to really go for it and be truly competitive. Instead, Jerry set his sights publicly on the next horizon even though his ambitiousness stood out to onlookers as brashness.
Patxi Usobiaga understood that there was room to make training for competition climbing more scientific for someone with the will to do or access the necessary learning. His competitors were too busy just showing up at the wall to be bothered with this extra effort.
Adam Ondra probably clocked up more metres of limestone climbed by the time he was five that you have in your whole climbing career. Watching him, you might mistake him for a speed climber. Could you climb as fast as that without messing up?
So if this idea helped me, how? Two examples:
A lot of climbers will try one climb for a few tries, maybe even several days of tries. I got used to this early, because I was rubbish at climbing. So used to it, I thought, why not try not just a few more times, but a lot more times. At Dumbarton rock I tried single moves hundreds of times. Not just the same way every time. I experimented by changing one aspect of the movement each time and recording the results in my mind. After 15 years of this I became probably the weakest 8c+ climber you’ll ever meet. In training I apply the same principle - at the bouldering wall I concentrate during my rests on what happened during the last attempt and what the plan is for the next. This is why I don’t get bored training on my own.
I needed to be able to understand training to be able to adapt the advice written in training books with less error. So I studied it for 6 years at university. This was the shortest way to getting the answers I needed - the shortcut! The long way round is to stumble around with trial and error and poor bits of advice forever. My good fortune was that I came to realise it was the shortcut.