Alpinist John Pettijohn is in his third round of Uphill Athlete’s Custom 8-Week Training Plan. The Salt Lake City–based firefighter has always been dedicated to his climbing conditioning, but the game has changed under the guidance of Elite Coach Sam Naney. Now able to follow a schedule that is customized to his exact needs and goals, John has seen big gains in strength and endurance out on the cliffs.
By Uphill Athlete John Pettijohn
The goal of the first 8-week cycle was to improve my rock climbing and get more endurance for long trad routes. The thrust of the second 8-week block was to get me in better shape for ice climbing, specifically for Ice Fest in Bozeman. The third block—the one I’m currently in—is building on the ice climbing.
I bought Training for the New Alpinism about a year prior to signing up for my first custom plan. I put a lot of it into play for my own training, but none of it was specialized for me, my age, and my abilities. I wanted something more tailored toward my goals and unique recovery needs. I leaned into Uphill Athlete because of the book and their philosophy of training, and because they’re alpinists as well. The custom plan in particular looked like it would be a good fit. It’s very cost-effective—I was paying a bit more per month for a membership at a CrossFit gym—and for the goals I had set, the 8-week deal was perfect.
I know that if I have a coach give me a program, I’m more apt to follow it than if I was to do my own programming. On my own, I tend to cherry-pick the stuff I’m good at. A coach is going to give you things you’re probably not very good at or that aren’t very enjoyable for you, but you get results from doing those things. With a coach structuring a program for me, I’m more likely to follow through on those more challenging workouts. And I’m putting money into it, so I’m invested as well.
Coach Sam structures the training far better than what I could do on my own, especially when it comes to recovery. I’m in my 50s, and I need training that allows me to recover and heal up for the next session. He gives me plenty of rest between hard workouts. I think that’s the biggest thing: being able to recover.
I’m a firefighter, and my particular fire department works 48 hours on, 96 hours off. I put my schedule into TrainingPeaks, and then Sam programs my training around it. My second day on at the fire department is usually a rest day, so Sam is able to give me four or five days of straight programming with a rest day built right in there. Then the following week is four to five more days of training with another rest day. It works out really well.
There are several components to the training Sam lays out for me. One is an endurance-based component, where I go out and do long hikes uphill with a weighted pack, gaining a certain amount of elevation. I do that a couple times a week. He also has me doing ice-climbing-specific strength training in the gym, and a lot of recovery runs as well. And then I have climbing sessions programmed throughout the week. The training has evolved from 8-week block to 8-week block, with this current block doubling down on the endurance. A lot more endurance. It’s going to translate later very well.
I’m seeing results. Seeing the results really is motivating.
I’m climbing much better, and I’m feeling more comfortable and confident on harder grades than I was last year. At the Bozeman Ice Fest earlier this month, I climbed for four days straight and felt pretty strong the whole time—a lot stronger than I was the previous year. My upper-body and core strength have improved, and my endurance has increased on the ice routes: I can hang on longer with the tools, and my calves aren’t burning out. Plus the approaches to all the climbs are so much easier now than they were before. I’m climbing with guys half my age, and on the approaches—if it’s a long one, maybe one or two hours—I’m sticking with those guys just fine, if not passing them and pulling ahead.
Being able to climb that many days in a row and climb well is huge. It was incredible to be on my toes on a steep climb and not have my calves get pumped—that’s such a good feeling.
I’m taking an entire month off work this winter to climb full-time in Cody, Ouray, Bozeman, and the Salt Lake area, and then I’m going to do the same again this summer to spend some time in the Tetons. My goal is to do the Grand Traverse. I’ve pieced parts of it together, but I haven’t done the whole thing in one push.
I’m pretty excited to put all this training to the test.