We had learned quite a bit the first time around, and by the end of his first cycle, Jonathan was training completely independently, though occasionally asking the odd question about this or that exercise, or schedule tweak. For his second cycle we knew he would need very little hands-on coaching, but we helped design his training schedule to ensure his performance peak would coincide with his spring climbing trip. That timing can be very tricky to optimize, especially for athletes who are new to periodic training, and don’t have years of detailed training schedules to pull from. Once we developed a good training schedule, he embraced the program whole-heartedly and required very little direction. That’s one of the reasons Jonathan is such a great athlete to work with. He’s not a robot, he wants to be in charge of his training. He questions everything and wants to know why we do things a certain way. It’s really been a collaboration, and we’ve all learned a tremendous amount as a result.
By mid-March, Jonathan had begun training for his spring objective: the world’s most legendary 5.15, Realization (aka Biographie), at the mega-crag Ceuse, in France. The route is long, climbing overhanging 2 and 3 finger pockets up a beautiful blue streak of limestone. Recently a hold broke on the opening boulder problem, raising the difficulty of this crimpy section from “V8” to “V11”. [Editor’s note: when Jonathan describes the grade of something, it’s often helpful to add a number or two to get an accurate sense of the difficulty.] This section was really difficult the last time Jonathan tried the route so we wanted to make sure his crimp strength was at its best. To optimize Jonathan’s chances, he would need improved power, excellent pocket strength, and elite fitness.
Jonathan returned to Boulder at the end of March to focus on his training. He completed several weeks of hangboard training and supplemental exercises, with some indoor bouldering and route climbing mixed in. At the conclusion of his Strength Phase, he did a two-week Power Phase of Limit Bouldering and Campusing.
Jonathan arrived in France in late April. The initial period was extremely exciting. We received weekly updates on his progress, moments of minor success, and various setbacks related to weather, departing partners, and skin. He made huge progress right off the bat. He was crushing the initial boulder problem, and by his third day he was climbing into the redpoint crux. Jonathan described this as a 7-move “V8” (ya right!), requiring accurate movement between intricate 3-finger pockets. This section would prove to be the key to the route.
By the end of the second week, he was climbing to the last move of this boulder problem, but his skin was seriously suffering. The weather was also extremely uncooperative. One of the cool things about training is that it provides you with a clear record of your improvement. Even if you’re unable to send your goal route (because the weather doesn’t cooperate, you can’t get partners, or some other factor you can’t control conspires against you), your training logs provide quantifiable evidence of your improvement. Still, we’d all prefer to send anyway!
At this point I would wake up anxiously every morning and run to my Gmail hoping to find a “just sent!” message from France. I was on pins and needles, following his Twitter feed, hoping for any update or hint of his progress. I wanted so badly for him to send after watching all the hard work he had put in, but I felt totally helpless. By the end of May you could sense his frustration with the project. He had gotten so close so quickly, and then everything seemed to turn against him. I knew he could do it if he stuck with it, but how long can someone persevere in the face of so much adversity, especially when they’re surrounded by lifetimes of world class routes to distract them from their goal?
As the calendar flipped to June, I gave up hope. I was actually pretty bummed about it. I felt like I had failed somehow, like I messed up the training plan in some way. Considering his initial success, it seemed in retrospect that he had peaked too early, and that was on me. I didn’t realize how harsh the weather would be when he first arrived, so I wanted him ready to crush from day one.
Then on the morning of June 2nd I opened my inbox and saw this: “Hey guys! I imagine you’ve seen, but I sent Biographie yesterday. It was a long and emotional ride – as I expected. In the end my skin was battered, but I was well rested. I honestly think that despite how terribly frustrating my skin issues were, that it was important to my success because I NEVER would have rested so much if my skin was good to go. Thanks so so much for all of your help over the last few months. I certainly owe a percentage of credit to you guys for the motivation and training advice – so thanks.” [You can get more details and Jonathan’s perspective on his ascent here and here.]
I was strangely euphoric for several days after. I feel like there are many pro climbers out there who just lucked into their success, either through amazing genetic gifts, parents who supported their climbing from an early age, or some mystery formula I haven’t figured out. Jonathan is not one of those guys. He works extremely hard. More than that, he searches for solutions. He leaves no stone unturned in his quest to improve. He uses his mind along with his muscles to make himself better. Watching him go through this transformation over the past eight months, watching him make sacrifices and give up things he loved (like running), I feel like he really earned this—he deserved it—and I was so happy to see him get the big payoff. Since his send, Jonathan has been on a rampage, sending a 14c/d, 14c, two 14bs, and two 14a’s (including a 14a flash). I’m sure there is more to come before he returns to the States in July.
As this initial phase of our collaboration comes to an end, Jonathan is poised to re-shape the American climbing scene. He’s still only just now learning how to get the most from his training. I’m certain he will be getting substantially stronger in the coming years, and it’s a tremendous honor to have played a minor part in that.
Note: If you haven’t already heard it, we highly recommend Jonathan’s Podcast interview with Neely Quinn on Trainingbeta.com. Jonathan talks extensively about his collaboration with us and the results of his new training approach. The podcast was the source of many of Jonathan’s quotes in this article.
*All quotes are from Jonathan’s personal correspondence, blog posts, and the interview with Neely Quinn.