There’s a side to the world of mountain sports that, for the most part, seems to be hidden behind the grandiose activities that athletes take part in. We see pictures of athletes climbing mountains or running across forest trails. We watch videos of snowboarders flying over snow-capped ridges with the kind of finesse we can only dream of. Amazing things that make us stare in awe, not only at physical prowess but also the beautiful scenery that these events take place in.
But these pictures only paint half of the story. Mountain athletes don’t spend all of their time there. The events they take part in aren’t happening week in and week out. Yeah sure, they look cool, but athletes are athletes for a reason; because they train.
We were invited over to a rather special event put on by the guys over at The North Face. Special largely because it was pretty much like they’d designed the whole thing for us specifically (they didn’t, but they may as well have done – we’re pretending they did).
So, with our fancy new Mountain Athletics kit (more about that later), we headed over to an enormous studio over near Tower Hill to see what The North Face crew had to say about training, and why they’d decided to start focussing on something most of us rarely think about when we look at mountain athletes.
The details of the event were fairly limited. Aside from the fact that Ranulph Fiennes would be doing a talk there – which to be honest would have been enough to make us drop everything for the morning – we were told there would be some exercise and a few announcements. So yeah, it was all very exciting.
The first part of the morning covered a series of talks, first from The North Face athlete James Pearson. A man who climbs with the kind of ease that we tend to eat fish and chips on a Friday evening. We saw him clambering under the overhang of a pretty big cliff face at last year’s Nightray Festival in Verdon and he’s one hell of a climber. Damn nice bloke as well.
James talked us through his early days of climbing in the Peak District and how, even with all his talents, he finally reached a point where he was plateauing. A point where he realised that climbing for enjoyment would only get him so far. It was here that he began to understand the importance of training to improve – you can see where this fits in with the new range now.
Second up was Ranulph. We’ve seen Ranulph speak before, at the Royal Geographic Society, and it meant we soon became completely obsessed with him and his stories. Not only because of the sheer magnitude of them, but also because he’s an impressively witty speaker. Seriously, if you haven’t read any of his books, buy one, this one in fact. We won’t tell you more about what he said here, it would ruin the stories for you. Just keep an eye out for the one where he was he blows up a dam on the set of the film Doctor Dolittle.
So, with the talks all done we were ushered into the “exercise” part of the morning. Now, we’ll be honest, we’ve been to a few press days before and the fitness elements tends to be a watered down version of an actual workout. A sort of semi-fitness session designed to be more of a photo shoot than an actual workout. So what happened for the next hour and a half was a bit of a shock to the system.
The enormous studio was broken down into three sections, each covering a different element of mountain sports and activities; ski, trail and climbing. The sections were kitted out with various exercise apparatus ranging from kettlebells and resistance bands to battleropes and, God help us, a prowler. This wasn’t looking like a relaxing photo shoot.
We were split into groups across the various circuits. Our first was the ski section; a series of exercises working predominantly across the legs and core. For the next twenty minutes we powered our way through the stations, working HIIT-style until we’d finished the lot. It was painful, like really painful. Sweat already drenched our fancy new kit as we stared in horror across at the other two sections we still had to do. Everyone else looked like they were struggling just as much as us. Thank goodness.
Next came the climbing block. A section under the guidance of Royal Marine Commando Physical Training Instructor, Jon Stratford. This was by far the toughest section, not least because Jon kept giving us modifications to make things just that little bit harder (cheers Jon). One minute of battleropes was tough enough, but follow that with mountain climbers and weighted side lunges and you’re looking at some pretty distraught faces – we loved it.
Last was the trail section. A 10 metre carpet of fake grass we’re a prowler innocently sat. We gulped as the trainer pointed at us to be first to go on it. After the last two sections we’d seen better days, so energy was at a minimum (more than we can say for the pool of sweat at our feet). We panted our way back and forth along the track before moving onto to kettlebell swings, resistance band running, lunges and, our personal favourite, single-leg deadlifts.
So yeah, as workouts go it was pretty damn tough. But man was it good. Especially considering all of the exercises were designed to focus on the specific muscles used to carry out the section activities. Not that we could think about that at the time. Add to that the amazing talks, a rather nice selection of food and snacks and the chance to meet some impressive fitness and outdoorsy people, and you’ve pretty much given us our perfect day out.
And what about the kit itself? We hear you asking. Well, as we had explained to us from the product team at The North Face, they’ve designed the range with function in mind. Not only have they used materials focussing on moisture management, but they’ve paid special attention to the fact that functional clothing needs a greater range of movement, so things like t-shirts have modifications to allow for that. It’s a damn nice looking range as well. There’s going to be a lot of training kit on people’s Christmas lists this year.
To see the full range of Mountain Athletics kit, head over to the website here. Probably best to wait until pay-day though.
You can also head over to The North Face’s #NeverStopExploring training groups starting from their flagship store in London every week. You know, in case you want to sweat as much as we did.
Picture credits: The North Face