TRIPLE TRAINING CHALLENGE
by Tom Randall
10 minute read
Greenspit (8b+) in Valle dell’Orco, IT
Greenspit is a fantastic roof crack situated in the Orco Valley in Northern Italy. It's a famous crack route for Europe because as well as having had the FA made by Didier Berthod, it was also Europe's hardest splitter crack for some time. I initially started to try this route in 2007 when climbing above 8a on a roof crack was not really my standard! I completely lacked in core strength and experience on big steep moves in roofs that also required endurance. For me, making a repeat of this route was a rite of passage. It was the one thing I wanted to do to prove to myself that, potentially one day, I could be one of the best crack climbers in the world.
My achievement wouldn’t come through a grade, though; for a long time, I have realized grades are all relative. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if it is a 9c or 7c; no one cares! It’s only climbing. It can only be for MY pleasure that I decide to put myself through fear, tiredness, and then, hope, and belief, which all turn into a passion. Of course, over the two days that I worked the route, I had quite a few moments where I despaired in figuring out a method. I also went to bed those nights, asking myself why I was doing this. But then, waking up at 5 am to beat the afternoon sun, I itched to put my hands on the rock, savored the idea that I could only rely on myself to get the rope up; this project reawakened the climber that I am.
I came home with precise sequences in my head and the knowledge that if I trained, visualized, and prepared, I had a chance to link it all. I knew training would be challenging, especially motivating for another endurance lap through the summer heat. But I was finding myself again, finding my space to be a climber and a good mum.
I returned to the route with James a month later while the grandparents took care of Arthur. Part of me wondered why we were leaving our baby, and we both felt a bit empty without him jumping around the van. But then in the early morning, I put my game face on, James transformed into Mr. Perfect Belayer, and the fun began. In the (8b), I had no idea if I had the necessary endurance, but in a month’s training, I had noticed that it was all coming back quickly. I climbed precisely without a single mistake. I have no idea how it happened–maybe being a parent and having little time forced me to improve my efficiency. The (7b), the first (8a), the (5c) it all went smoothly. Then, in the last (8a), I made a few mistakes. I forgot a few methods, and there was a moment at the very end, where I realized I had to make the right decision very fast, or I would be off, and maybe not have the energy to try the pitch again.
It is here that I faced my old friend, the fear of failing; every climber has to find a way of dealing with this. When I was a competition climber, I used to tell myself to focus closer on the pleasure of the movements. This time, with my forearms about to explode, and while I was struggling to slow my breathing on a relatively restful tuffa, I could see in my mind Arthur dancing to his favorite music. With that, I realized that falling would be ok; failing was indeed not that sad. Accepting the possibility of not doing it gave me the energy to finish the pitch and scrape my way to the belay. One more (6b), and I had done it, I was again the climber I wanted to be! I had proven to myself that there was a balance between being a mum and a climber. That even the joy of my little one could give me strength for climbing that I hadn’t had before.
I'd love to tell you James and I drove back home playing Une Jolie, but that would be too whimsically poetic. After all, ticking the climb for its name or notoriety is not the experience I was after. Plus, James hates the song, but James's story of understanding French poetry, and as I say, “truly” becoming French, is another story altogether.
Written by Tom Randall
Photo 1 by Mike Hutton
Photo 2 by Alex Enkis
Photo 3 by bigbeautypitches
Photo 4 by Blake Mccord
Photo 5 by Mike Hutton
Stage 6- Buoux
We stayed four days at the "Auberge des Seguins," which is a perfect location to go to the crags on foot. They even let us take our dinners outside by the bedroom while the baby was already in Bed. Buoux doesn't need any publicity. It is a unique, incredible crag, and there is a reason for its Fame. Buoux is a Must visit". No matter what your level is, you will find a gem to climb!
Stage 7- Mouries
Mouries is a long way from Buoux, and we had initially planned some extra stops. But the heatwave had begun, and the other planned spots were not as exciting. So, instead of climbing stops, we biked for two days, visited an abandoned troglodyte village (les grottes de cales), and loved it!
Mouries again is an old lady, and if you can get away from requiring extremely tough grades and enjoy the technical climbing, you will love it. Mouries is a climbing lesson in itself.
Stage 8- Fontvieille secret crag
I can't tell you the secret crags, as they are secret because they aren't technically allowed. To find them you have to ask as you meet climbers on your previous days and if you are lucky they may tell you the secrets! France is full of them, and sometimes these are the best crags!
We arrived back home after 25 days of traveling and climbing. It wasn't always restful, but then living with a baby is never restful! Every day brought us load of discoveries, from a wild tortoise to incredible pains au chocolates, to meeting an old friend. Baby Arthur loved it. The minute we stepped back in the house, he was pointing again at the window, asking, "where next?" For James and me, we finish this adventure delighted to have realized that we still have so much left to explore, and it is all less than 100km from our home. This bike and climb trip is only the first!
Route 1: Fingerboard
When you're climbing in a roof crack, there's a really interesting (and hard) movement that occurs every time you have to rotate your feet from behind you to ahead of you. You have to cut loose with your feet, control your shoulders and core and then accurately place your feet up by your head again. Typically, you'd think that stuff like front levers or knee raises would work for this, but actually, you need some kind of hanging rotation exercise.
For me, I like to hang on two level holds (could be crimps, jugs, or a bar) and then pull up to 90 degrees in the arms and touch to one side with my feet. Importantly, I then release the pull up so that I learn how to relax in a cut loose position and then engage again to do the exercise on the other side. I might do anything from 5-10 reps on each side and 2 to 3 sets in total.
The route is a 7-pitch (8b), and 6-months after having a baby, the idea of achieving this was going to be my “I am back” diploma. When I chose it, I knew I was on my way back to fitness, and I had just figured out a rhythm where baby let me train and sleep a bit. Fitness isn’t everything, though I also needed focus, dedication, and the will to finish such a route. What I experienced as a young mum was a total shift of focus in my life. Every second of the day, part of my mind was on my little one – Does he need anything? Is he in danger? When baby Arthur was 6-months old, I couldn’t write a full text, read a book, or focus. I willingly disappeared behind “the veil of mum.” But I was hoping I would find my fully functional brain again, on top of my late abdominals.
Route 1: Resistance Band
Getting your lats and back muscles well-conditioned to big moves (AKA a full range of movement) is something that I think all climbers could improve on. Many of us spend too much time in a closed position where our arms are bent and close to us because it feels more comfortable! I try to work the full range of movement (ROM) with a lat pull-down to work on this.
I start with my arm above my head, pulling all the way down by my side. This exercise depends slightly on the attachment height, so try and find somewhere high to attach your resistance band!
Route 1: Visualization
When you've got a project that's not in your local area, visualization is important. There are loads of studies showing increases in sports performance, outside of physical training, by solely using effective visualization techniques. My method has been to watch a few clips of myself or someone else climbing the route for 15 minutes or so and then spend 15 minutes trying to visualize myself doing the route from start to finish without a single break in attention. If you try this, you might be surprised how incredibly hard it is to do without a single break in concentration! I try to do this at least 3 or 4 times a week when I'm getting close to a trip. And continue it while I am on the trip.
Route 2: Fingerboard
Max hangs on a fingerboard is a great way of increasing finger strength on pretty much any size of edge. The key for me is that I'm only doing 4-8 really high intensity hangs in total, and each one is somewhere around the 5-7 second mark for the duration. What's essential is choosing a grip position relevant to what I'm doing (say half crimp) and that I'm working very close to my 100% maximum. This whole exercise is about quality not quantity!
Route 2: Resistance Band
Shoulder rotations (or rotator cuff exercises) are critical for my shoulder health and function. Naturally, I like to turn my shoulders inwards and forwards, but this doesn't work well when making big wide moves in a roof. As a result, I try and set a rotator cuff exercise for my shoulders with a hard enough resistance band that I can only do, perhaps 2 or 3 sets of 8-15 reps on each shoulder.
Route 2: Visualization
There was a super hard move on this route near the end at the lip, and this is something that I struggled with as my feet cut loose, and I would need to suck in my core - not something that naturally comes to me! For this, I would try and visualize how "tight" I would be on the move before setting off.... even with Pete screaming in the background, "STAY TIGHT!!!"
Lamb of God (5.14) in Monument Basin in Utah, USA
Lamb of God is perhaps the 2nd most challenging route in the area where the infamous Crucifix Project lies in the Monument Basin in Utah, USA. What makes it unique is that this is a crack route requiring both solid jamming technique and also a lot of finger and shoulder strength in wide moves. These factors made the route extremely cruxy for me, and unless I got stronger, I would never send.
Langdale Loop a 24 ‘Ultra-Rocking’ Challenge in the UK’s Peak District
Last year, while training for an ultra-running + free soloing 24hr challenge, I decided to give myself a big day out in the mountains as a mini-challenge to test myself against where I thought I should be physically. I needed to be capable of a full day out running and soloing in the Lake District crags for going on twelve hours in a row and well over a marathon in running distance. For this, I had to build both the strength of my legs and their mobility simultaneously, so I could still climb really well, route after route!
Route 3: Box Steps
As climbing isn't really a sport that pushes leg strength, I found it was utterly necessary to thoroughly build my quads' strength for all of the steep up and downhill work involved in fell running. I live in Sheffield, which has quite a few hills, but nothing compares to many of the extremely steep 400m+ ascents that totally destroy you if you're not conditioned for it! As a result, I resorted to sessions of 50cm box steps, just going up and down. I would split the sessions into sets of 500-1000m of ascent and then spend 30-60mins in the house just going up and down the stairs! Not exactly exciting, but it worked pretty well!
Route 3: Resistance Band
When you do a lot of leg work, you end up getting really tight in the legs, and in climbing, this really affects the high step! You'll often feel tight in both the hamstrings and glutes, and so a method for stretching them out pays off massively.
This exercise can be done with a resistance band attached to a low point on the floor and the other end to your foot or knee. You should aim to move the leg through the entire range of movement (under tension) from a low point to a very high foot while in a standing position. You can imagine it like you're a sprinter doing slow running drills! Try and repeat 5 full range of movement on each foot/leg and then swap sides. It's also amazing for balance as well as working both mobility and flexibility.
Route 3: Visualization
The degree of mental control you need when soloing is reasonably significant. Adding into this, a need to move fast in an environment where the consequences are high means you really have to be on top of your game. For me, this control comes almost entirely through exposure and "time on task" in the terrain I am expecting to perform on. I spent days and days just soloing around close to the ground to get very comfortable, to the point where I almost started to think that soloing wasn't even remotely scary!
Over the past year with our limited access to climbing gyms and training facilities it has become increasingly difficult to prepare for the climbs that fuel our motivation and imagination. Before the pandemic many of us spent countless hours in the gym climbing and training. As well as, getting tips and tricks on training for specific styles of climbs in person from our communities. In search of a simpler way to train at home, we have proposed a challenge to the Wild Country athletes to help all of the Pure Climbing community refocus your training for when sunnier days allows you to get back to your project.
Welcome to the Triple Training Challenge. With only a fingerboard, resistance band, and the use of mental training we have challenged our athletes to devise a plan to prepare for three routes they have projected in the past. They will showcase the significant challenge each route presented to them and how they would have applied this information to prepare physically and mentally for their ascent. You can use these tips below from Tom Randall to breakdown your own routes and apply his specific techniques to your own training.