Platinum Edge

Corps Strength – Closing the Gap

The sporting world is full of amateurs, myself included. For every professional golfer who earns a living at it, there are 10’s of thousands of people who play golf for fun. This is very common with all sports, think of weekend softball leagues vs. MLB, or playground basketball vs.the NBA. Or for a much bigger gap, think about the ratio of wanna be body-builders in gyms around the world vs. the very small number of those who make money at it. That number is probably millions to one. In any case true professionals in sports (or frankly in any area), are a very small group. People who earn a living by consistently delivering a superior level of high performance, often while completing directly against other people of similar abilities, is extremely rare, and rarity (like gold and honest politicians), is a valuable commodity. It’s why Michael Jordan made a 1000x more than your average doctor, just by putting a ball through a hoop? It’s because there are a lot of doctors, but only one Micheal Jordan.

In my life I’ve been around a few professional athletes and one thing you understand pretty quick is that they come from a completely different place than the rest of us. The fact is while they normally train pretty hard (not always), they just genetically start at a much higher level than the rest of us. Some people can just run faster, jump higher, are stronger, bigger, are better at math, can sing, etc., etc. That’s just life and we all have to play in the uniform we’re issued. However, it doesn’t mean we can’t improve our game through effort and smart training. Plus, while a mule will never win the Kentucky Derby, no matter how hard he trains, or what he eats. He can be a kick ass mule and in mule world (which is where the vast majority of the world’s population resides), that’s pretty good. I say all this as though I consider my a professional in many aspects of my life. I’m not, nor have I have ever been (and not for a lack of trying), a super athlete. I was pretty good in some sports, but pretty average overall. This last week I was reminded of just how average I am during a climb of Mt. Rainier.
Myself and my two sons joined a climbing team of about a dozen to make a two day climb of Mt. Rainier. At 14,411 ft Mt. Rainier really isn’t that high a hill. I’ve been much higher (almost 18,000ft) hiking in Nepal. However, this is mountaineering, not hiking. Mountaineering requires specialized training and equipment. After years of some pretty rigorous hiking and trekking around the world, we decided we wanted to step it up. So we signed on with RMI (Rainier Mountaineering Inc) to get some training and make a guided climb of Rainier. It was a full day of training, followed by a two day climb in the cold, windy and dangerous conditions. This isn’t a joke and unless you are an experienced mountaineer (or a fool), you need guides to do this. In our case we had three. Three professionals with many years of climbing, guiding and training under their belts. Their climbing resumes were long and impressive. Multiple ascents of numerous high peaks around the world (to include Denali and Everest) and many years of training and guiding amateurs like myself to fund their climbing lifestyle.

My two sons Kyle and Branden and myself on the summit of Mt. Rainier

My two sons Kyle and Branden and myself on the summit of Mt. Rainier

During my time in the Marine Corps I learned quickly to spot professional competence and even quicker how to spot a lack of it. Mission and lives depend on competence and though many will try, you can’t BS your way through it. It’s also been my experience that professionals who know what they’re talking about have a way about them that runs true to form in any occupation; From the military, to sports, or laying bricks. It tends too look, sound and smell the same. Though when you first meet the skinny kid (BTW, anyone in their 30’s is a kid to me), in the beat up Patagonia hat with a pony tail, he may not look like a Marine Corps Drill instructor on the outside, but inside they operate the same way. It’s no bullshit, what works is what’s important and here’s why it’s important. Watch me and I’ll show you the right way to do this. Pay attention, or you could die dumb ass, or at the least fail to accomplish the mission.

From the time we started training until we made the summit and back down, I couldn’t have been more impressed with our guides. From how to climb, what gear to wear/when, what/when to eat and when to drink, they were spot on. They also ran up and down that crazy steep, icy ass mountain like it was a joke (one of our guides has summited Rainier over 60 times). While the rest of us mules struggled to make the top. In the end it was a fantastic two days of little sleep, cold, wind and hard effort that I got to share with my two boys. I have to say that as hard as I trained for months, it was a lot tougher than I thought it would be. Starting out at just after midnight on the second day, we made the summit a little after sunrise. (The views were unreal). Three of our team had to turn around prior to the summit, but our guides stated that only 3 dropping was a very good success ratio for this climb, as many people underestimate the mountain and overestimate their ability. It was both an awesome and humbling experience for this old jarhead. In my defense, for what’s it worth (maybe a lemon cookie, or two dead flys worth). At 59, I was the oldest on our team by a dozen years. But honestly, it would have been a hard hump at age 25, but I would haven’t been so sore and tired the next few days. In any case I was proud to have completed the climb, without killing myself.

Last rest stop, sunrise at 12,500ft.

Last rest stop, sunrise at 12,500ft.

After we all came down and debriefed, we had pizza and beer together. Of course, I had a million questions for my guides. How did they train, weights, cross fit, running, etc? Nope, no weights, Naw, no running, no gym. Crossfit? Huh? no. How about supplements? diet? One guy said his favorite climbing food was Fritos, another; Skittles. No special diets, though one guy said he tried to eat organic when possible. No supplements, unless you count coffee and beer? All were thin guys, not really muscular, pretty average looking really. However, the fitness I watched them demonstrate on the mountain was as good as I’ve ever seen in and out of the military. So what do you do to get in such condition? The universal answer was climb, climb and more climbing. Most of it done at 5000 plus feet, carrying a heavy pack. One guy was on a mountain rescue team and did a lot of back country skiing. Another said he did some rock climbing and a little mountain biking. One guy was a Div 1 swimmer in college. But mostly they just climbed. Ok, any advice going forward? Yeah man, get some more training, work on your skills (mountaineering) and climb as much a possible. In other words, try to close the gap between yourself and the professionals by training like them. There isn’t any tricks here, it’s training focused on a specific desired outcome.

This is sound advice for all of us, no matter the activity you want to get better in. Seek out true professionals for advice and guidance. Bar stool experts in all sports are a dime a dozen and realistically their advice is worth about a dime. I feel pretty good about the advice and guidance I give everyday to students and readers about physical conditioning for military duties and with that, maintaining an ideal weight and health. I do as while I’m not an elite athlete, I’m a hard-headed old mule, (who has been successfully plowing fields for many years), speaking mostly to other hard-headed mules. However, the main point is that we can all do better and trying to close the gap (a least a little), between us mules and the thoroughbreds, is a good way to improve. IMO effort in this direction also provides a lot of training motivation and if you do it right, a lot of personal satisfaction. Which when you really get down to it, that’s why most of us do these things. It’s certainly not for money, or fame, but for the personal satisfaction you can only truly gain from struggling toward a goal, doing something hard. Something that not everyone can do and maybe something you didn’t think you could do. Climbing provides that for me, but what ever your sport is, getting better can only enhance that experience.

After a few beers and pizza and a lot of great discussion, one of the guides asked me how I trained for this climb. I felt embarrassed to admit as I lived in Florida, I did just about everything but climb and I was going to have to make some changes as I wanted to climb some bigger stuff. One guide laughed and said, “Dude, you just summited Rainier and you live in Florida. Try to get some more climbing in, but just keep doing what you’re doing, it’s working.” With that comment I heard the faint squeak of the gap closing (about a RCH worth). But, this old mule will take that tiny victory and run with it, all the way up the next hill.

Please remember our fallen brothers and sisters on Memorial Day and till next month: “Be safe always, be good when you can”.
Semper Fi


2 Responses to “Corps Strength – Closing the Gap”

  1. BlufOperations says:

    Great story, glad you guys all made it to the top, too!

  2. iggy says:

    good healthy stuff, but go to the sharp end of mountaineering and theres plenty of weights and off-mountain training going on. beyond a certain point climb climb climb isnt enough. have a look at something like Uphill Athlete for what proper mountain training looks like.