After having learned so much from UA here is my turn to share with others my story of last year training with the hope that it’d be useful for some of you who struggle to train for the mountains while managing a busy life.
Why This Training
My dream is to climb the north face of La Meije (3978 m) by the Z route combined with the complete traverse of the ridge. The first part is 900 m of mixed climbing with technical difficulties no more than 3+ WI, rated Difficult+ overall. Reported times average 2h approach from the Promontoire Hut plus 6-7 hours of climbing. The traverse is rated the same, is 2.8 km long at near 4000 m altitude; reported time: 4-6 hours. Overall I shall be prepared for 10- 13h of relatively technical climb at 4000m altitude.
I had attempted the route 2 times in previous years but failed to find good snow/weather conditions each time. The suitable time window is mid/end of June where one can find enough snow (but not too much) and daily thaw/frost cycles so as to climb ne?ve? snow most of the time. Also good night frost is necessary to avoid rock fall hazard in this big face.
I planned to attempt the route with an alpine guide who’s become a friend over the years, the same partner as on my other attempts. I was quite free in my agenda while he was maybe less with planned appointments with other clients.
Plan B was to do the same kind of big alpine face (Mayer-Dibona couloir at la Barre des Ecrins, Frendo spur at l’Aiguille du Midi etc).
In short we had a limited time-window but would be flexible for the exact choice of route and our own capacity.
It was my 3rd year of structured training using the TFNtNA methodology. Previous years were quite benefcial even though I didn’t do it really by the book (e.g. I used not to record HR etc). I had a relatively good practice of the basics (periodization, progressivity, strength etc) but this time I intended to be more rigorous.
I didn’t do the Alpine Combine (did it two years ago and results were average).
For AeT I did a treadmill test and an outdoor test at the very start of my training and kept lowest = 150bpm.
FC at rest : 60
FCmax : 185 (guesstimated)
FCmax from mountain bike competition at peak period last year : 166bpm/60’ ; 192/5’ ; 208/1’
Zones (computed from AeT + TFtNA): Z1 = 92-134
Z2 = 135-150
Z3 = 151 – 165
Z4 = 166 – 175 Z5 = 176 – 185
I participated to the TFtNA seminar in Chamonix just before and that motivated me to be rigorous and to do my best this year. I used TrainingPeaks for the first time this season (before I was recording on a paper logbook).
The objective being in June and starting in September I had plenty of time. Last year I realized ~200 hours of training. So I planned to use the book progression + periodization and start the transition period with a goal of 2 3?4 h week.
Globally the breakdown by period would be:
• Transition: 12 weeks
• Base / MaxStrength: 18 weeks
• Base / MuscularEndurance: 8 weeks
• Specific: 4 weeks
• Taper: 2 weeks
I also knew I’ll had 1 complete week of holidays in a Nordic ski station in the winter.
Motivation-wise my main goal was to feel alive and especially to become the right climber on the right mountain at the right time.
Based on UA seminar in Chamonix + forum discussions about the fitness level for different objectives I set myself a goal of 70 CTL for a month before objective.
Technically I already lead grade 4 ice and mixed climbs so I was not particularly challenged.
I intended to use planification, adjustment and long-term focus to achieve a good training effect.
Strengths & Weaknesses
Before starting the training I assessed my S&W.
• Partner I trust for the objective climb
• Route configuration I like
• Confidence from past structured training, eventually overcoming 2 injuries
• Money (no pb replacing/buying necessary gear etc)
• Current fitness (assumed weak after a few months without training)
• Work: 1 business trip (2 days) every 3 weeks
• Family: 3 children, spouse involved in passing a diploma while working this year
• Health: already had 2 injuries in past years (esp. elbow tendinitis + knee TFL)
• Partners: not easy to find motivated partners given my schedule constraints
How Did It Go
• Great fun !
• Challenging to organize
• Felt quite in good shape for the objective
Total training time is 335 hours, a 50% increase over last year ! Organization was sometimes a pain but paid off at the end. Elevation gain was about 25,000 m.
CTL objective fulfilled: 1 month > 70, even I was actually > 85 CTL for some time during the specific period.
A variety of big days in the mountains followed by easier days seemed to have worked. Running was my main kind of workout throughout the year except in winter.
The big Nordic skiing week as well as the big hiking week-end also seemed instrumental. Xc- ski is >15% of the total training time.
HR compliance is mediocre, with 15% of time in Z3, way more than it should. I had numerous workouts where it was difficult for me to keep HR under control; often because I rushed to make the most of my session before coming back to work/family activities.
A week sick in winter and a TFL suspicion just before the objective were the main derailments. Given the time frame the sickness was not that preoccupying. The TFL / knee pain was far more nerve racking. Mitigation through physician consultation, replacing running by swim and mountain bike seemed to have worked.
Biggest disappointment was to find the mountain in bad condition on objective date and to leave the season well prepared but not having the opportunity to do a major (for me) climb out of it. Someone really ought to write this weather control book !
What worked and should be replicated
• Yearly + monthly + weekly planning and adjustment
• Fighting for scheduling Big days
• Introducing Xc-ski
• Full week activity (Xc-ski)
• Injury mitigation (although if injury fear could be avoided all the better)
What could be improved
For workouts, I could be more strict wrt HR/zone control. Sometimes it’s difficult also because I’ve got an opportunity to run with friends and slowing down to much is no fun.
Having climbed very little through the year I was a bit under-confident for the technical part of the challenge. Introducing more climbing in the picture could help.
Perhaps the biggest challenge was not to go mad by keeping up to the plan, mainly alone. Finding partners was not easy but I had great fun and ended up making new friends through the process. I think one way to ease that part could be to integrate a sports club (climbing / trail running / triathlon / …) to benefit from group dynamics and high spirits. To what extent it is difficult/suboptimal to mix some non-mountaineering-specific training with a mountaineering plan is unclear though.
Having struggled for 3 years now for this dream route (again: for me and given my ability/background/context/constraints) I wonder if it is a good, fulfilling objective. Let me try to explain what I mean. At the core of Alpinism is the idea that you should listen to your environment to survive and thrive in the mountains. Irrespective of the cause (hello global warming!) this mountain face was not in good condition for 3 years now. Of course some people did the route, but the conditions they report do not arouse any envy: rock falls, waist deep inconsistent snow etc. For objective day this year we had decided to switch to Frendo Spur route only to attend massive rock and gravel avalanches the evening before and eventually decided to give up. I wonder really if we shouldn’t focus on a different kind of routes for the coming years… What kind of routes is still unclear to me and might need some creative thinking.
Modern alpinists probably need to be fit and flexible for extended periods to make the most of the changing environment. My ambition for the following years is to manage to train for such a state and be able to grab good conditions whenever they fancy to appear. I don’t know if that goal can be fulfilled by laying out and following a training plan resembling the one I had this year, but for sure structured training and understanding of training science would help. Let it be my cool impossible.
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