Why we wrote Training for the Uphill Athlete

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By Steve House and Scott Johnston

We are happy to have completed another long-term project in the form of a new book, Training for the Uphill Athlete. With so many people successfully using Training for the New Alpinism for climbing, and many other mountain sports, we thought we’d take a moment to share the WHY of writing this new book.

 

Scott: Back in 2010 when Steve proposed to me that we write down what we learned from our collaboration on Steve’s training during his climbing career I instantly dismissed the idea.  My comments, roughly in this order were: 1.) We’d be lucky to sell a thousand copies because no one cares. And 2.) Climbers don’t want to train anyway. As you probably know, he convinced me to try, and initially  I think we both envisioned a pamphlet stapled in one corner.

Ten years later and we’ve sold well over 50,00 copies of Training for the New Alpinism and we have earned over 150 5-star reviews from our readers on Amazon. We’ve helped many climbers rethink how they prepare for their climbs and improve not only their performance, but more importantly, their experience.

 

Steve: One thing about Training for the New Alpinism that took us by surprise was the “off label” use of our book by a wide range of athletes. This was first brought to my attention when Kilian Jornet posted a photo of that book on Instagram and Facebook with a paragraph about how well our book translated to training for ski mountaineering and mountain running. I reached out to Kilian and that began a conversation between the three of us. Eventually Kilian and I connected to try doing an enchainment in the Alps. We were mostly thwarted by very bad weather with heavy rain and snow in September. So we hung out in my van talking training, and squeezed in one quick peak before the storms renewed. The cover image from our new book, fittingly, comes from that one climb, a scramble of the South Ridge of Täschorn.

Training for the Uphill Athlete

The cover of our new book.

Scott: We know that training for any endurance sport needed to adhere to certain fundamental principles. We come right out and say that several times in Training for the New Alpinism. We reference that same idea in many articles on our website.  We’re not inventing anything new in sport training.  We’re applying conventional training knowledge the context of mountain sports.  The concept that a high aerobic capacity provides the support for every endurance event longer then 2 minutes is taken for granted in conventional endurance sports.  One important thing for self-coached athletes to realize is that very long duration events, like mountaineering and alpinism, the aerobic base training is not only the supporting training but also the sport specific training.  That’s because those events are so long and relatively slow that they rely almost exclusively on the aerobic system’s ability to crank out a steady flow of ATP to power the muscles at low to moderate intensities for hours and even days at a time.

This gets us to the heart of one of the primary reasons we wrote Training for the Uphill Athlete. Training becomes more complicated for shorter and more intense events.  I have coached several world-cup level athletes for Cross Country Ski Sprint, an event that lasts only 3-5 minutes. This is similar to the Skimo Sprint event. And a Skimo or running vertical-gain race may be as short as 25-30 minutes.  Even a 50km running race will likely require several periods of sustained high output for 20-45 minutes over the course of a few hours. The energy systems for these types of events, while sharing a great deal with alpinism also have some significant differences.  For them the event specific training that stands atop the aerobic base must be different from what a mountaineer would use if you hope to optimize performance.

 

Steve: When I started going out and talking to other ultra runners and ski mountaineers who had read and tried to adapt Training for the New Alpinism I found that they were making mistakes in the translation of training for alpinism to training for their sports. Most notably they were building inadequate high intensity training such as intervals, into their training. Alpine climbing does not require this type of training, so we’d left it out.

Two years after publishing our book we started our website, www.UphillAthlete.com Again, we underestimated the interest in what we were doing and saying because we started it as a place to house frequently asked questions and a forum for users of Training for the New Alpinism. What we got, in addition to a lot of climbers, was a lot of ski mountaineers and mountain runners asking questions that required answers that went well beyond the scope of what we had written previously. By now the alarm-bells were going off in my head: We would have to write another book addressing this audience. And, like with alpinism, I realized there wasn’t a book out there that directly addressed the trend I saw all around me: athletes who ran ultras and non-race big mountain runs in the summer and who both competed in skimo races and set off on huge ski mountaineering days when the snow fell. A combination of sports that both Scott and I have enjoyed, albeit at a very amateur level, our entire lives.

 

Scott:  Kilian’s encouragement and the surprise-popularity of Training for the New Alpinism hit me shortly after the launch of our website where we began to hear from more runners and skiers interested in training for their sports more effectively.  We developed some stock training plans for these sports which encouraged more interest in the training methods we propose.

 

Steve: To fill the gap we started coaching a number of ultra runners and skimo racers at a variety of levels, primarily amateur weekend-warriors who wanted to make the most of the time they had and perform well. We also built out a series of training plans for both mountain running and skimo racing. For that we teamed up with a couple of world-class level athletes Scott has been coaching, Luke Nelson and Mike Foote. This gave these run/ski athletes some solid options, but they still had to piece together a lot of different articles from the website to intelligently become self-coached.

 

Scott:  Training for the Uphill Athlete intends to fill in the gaps left from our first book so that readers will not be forced to read between the lines to get solid and actionable training theory and principles to help them develop a successful training plan.  Like the Training for the New Alpinsim book this one is heavy on theory and methodology. We know that there is no ‘one size fits all’ training plan.  Individualization is the key to optimization. We want to give the readers of this new book the same tools we’ve successfully used in our own training and that of literally thousands of others. You are still going to have to get your hands dirty to construct your plan from this book. There are no training plans presented in this book, though we do offer various ‘blocks’ of training plans as examples. A good understanding of the theory along with a full tool box should allow the motivated reader to customize their training based upon their ability level, training history and the event being targeted.

 

Steve:  Scott did most of the actual writing of Training for the Uphill Athlete but it is truly a synthesis of conversations with Kilian, Luke Nelson, Mike Foote, myself and literally thousands of interactions with our coached athletes, those using our training plans who are asking good questions, the users of the forum sections on our website who asked thoughtful and well-founded questions. All of these interactions forced us to continually refine what we are saying, and how we say it. I think that has allowed us to distill some very important—and at times complex—conventional and well-understood training knowledge into understandable concepts that, for the price of one book, a person can, with a little work and thought, create—season after season and year after year—an excellent, individualized, training plan for all forms of mountain running and ski mountaineering, whether they choose to race, or simply run and ski their own lines.

 

Scott:  Training for the Uphill Athlete Builds upon what we did in Training for the New Alpinism and continues the mission of Uphillathlete.com which is to provide proven training knowledge. We feel the concepts are more clearly explained now because we’ve had several years of teaching them to thousands of athletes. The event specific training suggestions apply directly and clearly to the audience we hope will read Training for the Uphill Athlete.

 

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