Growing up

30 March 2011

Growing up

Category: Opinion

Just back from Mallorca, were I was trying to finish Cold Wars, and help Karen with her ongoing British Cycling training, as she works up to world champs next month.  Also needed to get some fitness training in myself, so it was the usual juggling act.

Hoped to get the book finished enough to hand it over to Ed Douglas for editing, but got bogged down with one of the book’s keystone chapters: climbing the Lafaille route, which even after ten days of work still isn’t finished (in fact it’s taking longer than the bloody route).

With Cold Wars I’m trying not to say ‘I nearly died’ or have any of the usual ‘why am I here’ angst, and so the climbing chapters are very raw and honest, as when you’re climbing - or nearly dying - such things aren’t explicit.  I’ve also tried to cut down the climbing description apart from the odd sharp focus on key moments,  keeping it real also means there’s nothing romantic or flowery in the text, in fact it’s as cold and stark as the climbs they describe.

What comes across when I read through what I’ve written is a story of relationships, those with your partners, climbers you’ve never met but whose routes you climb, the mountains, and yourself.  It’s also funny, and I hope it fulfills the Ig Nobel prize, in that it makes you think and it makes you laugh.

Karen’s training is going really well, and her biceps seem to be Haston sized now, and it’s amazing to see just what a human body can do (even one that only has about 30% working) when well coached with a long term strategy and training plan (she’s now been training two years solid for comps), and her bike’s now getting up to 65km (downhill).

We met one of the current top woman hand cyclists while out in Mallorca, Ursula Schwaller from Switzerland, and her coach said that for a sport to be taken seriously (most people assume hand biking will be fat people bumbling along on bikes) it must show her serous and professional it is, and so change peoples perceptions.  I guess just looking at an athlete as fit as any, sat on a 10,000 euro carbon fibre bike was good enough for me.

This made me wonder about climbing’s own transformation over the last decade, with each facet (sport, alpine and mountaineering) portraying less of a rag tag image, with real athletes pushing the limits, instead of amateurs or semi pros; climbing embracing professionalism, and not being afraid or embarrassed about it.  Sometimes - primarily when it comes to my own performance - I wonder if looking crap and acting like an amateur is just a way of covering yourself when you fail, a sort of ‘what did you expect’ way of thinking.  To be a pro, think like a pro, and train like a pro - and then to fail is much worse. 

But then getting home I read the latest Summit magazine, and its fantastic interview with Johnny Daws by Grimer, were he talks about how the sport has changed, and that the days of the amateur have gone, and that now everyone doing hard stuff’s is a pro.  I suspect this is just an older climbers view of a sports that changed, and no doubt Fawcett or Livesly would have said the same about Johnny.  Maybe it it’s just part of a sport growing up, which as we know is never easy, or much fun once you get there.

While in Majorca I was trying to do lots of running, and was meant to be off to the Harlin (been called off now), so was trying to build up my calf strength.  To these ends I was trying this new bare footed running thing, as I guessed running on your toes/forefoot, would be ideal.  I managed three 10km without my heals touching the ground, and some ridge and summit runs, and although slower than normal style running, putting a natural spring into the biomechanics probably does make sense (less knee injuries).  Did it work?  Well all I can say were my calfs were buggered, in fact they were so bad one day I could only walk at about 10% of the normal speed down to the cafe to write, and so pretended I was texting (that slow ‘I’m texting’ kind of walk) so no one asked if I needed an ambulance. 

Anyway I’ll keep you informed about my progress/injuries.

Below is a short video I made about hand biking while out there.


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Andy Kirkpatrick
Andy Kirkpatrick

Andrew Kirkpatrick is a British mountaineer, author, motivational speaker and monologist. He is best known as a big wall climber, having scaled Yosemite's El Capitan 30+ times, including five solo ascents, and two one day ascents, as well as climbing in Patagonia, Africa, Alaska, Antarctica and the Alps.

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