This past weekend I saw the amazing, harrowing documentary film “Meru“. It is about three American climbers – Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk – who were the first people to scale Meru Peak, a 21,000-foot Himalayan mountain in India. The film had me riddled with anxiety the whole time as I wasn’t sure if they were going to make it or if some tragic accident was waiting to happen.
As the end credits rolled, I was in awe at their drive and commitment to each other’s success. I was also struck by how mentally strong and focused they were and how much trust they had created. The three of them were the definition of a team. Each taking the lead at some point up the mountain. Each contributing their individual skills and compensating for each other’s weaknesses.
The film doesn’t get much into the weeds about the technical aspects of climbing. However, it is clear that this trio had to be in constant communication with each other. One mistake could be fatal as they clip in, clip out, give each other rope, take one step up and one step over to get to the top. They had to cheer each other on as it got harder and harder to get up that peak. They also had to be brutally honest and keep each other in check. Their success was their trust in each other, their ability to be vocal, but also their ability to listen to one another.
Over the past two weekends, the coaches at Kingfield have organized a Saturday training sessions for the athletes competing in the Granite Games. My team attended both and it has been a fast lesson in communication. While I got to know my teammate Nick during the trip to Nicaragua, it is a relatively new friendship and we have never competed together before. I have been in some classes with our other teammate Jarrod at Kingfield but we too are still getting to know each other. To belabor the point, Nick and Jarrod had never even met until two Saturdays ago. We are three relative strangers trying to quickly unify ourselves as a team.
In the first training session, the coaches wasted no time in making sure we were communicating with each other, or learning what happens when you don’t. The workout for time was as follows:
- 50 deadlifts (135#)
- 50 hang power cleans (135#)
- 50 shoulder to overhead (135#)
- 50 toes to bar
- 50 handstand pushups
- 300 double unders
Your team could break up the reps in whatever way you wanted. However, for the first three movements, the bar was not allowed to touch the ground. This meant that if you wanted to switch with a teammate during the deadlift, you had to somehow pass the bar over to your teammate.
Like the others, we found it easiest to have one person on each side of the bar. We decided that when the person had done as many reps as they could they would say “Switch”. The two guys on either end would grab the bar and say “On” and then that person who just went would take over holding the end of the bar and teammate #2 would go to the middle of the bar and grab hold and yell “Off” when they had a secure grip.
It was a simple system yet complicated by us not knowing each other well enough yet to instantly read each other’s signs. And as the clock progressed, we learned how you had to be very loud and clear no matter how tired you were getting to make sure the teammates knew when to take the bar or to let it go. We never dropped the bar, but we were not running smoothly.
This past Saturday for the second training sessions, we were off to a bad start as Jarrod was nowhere to be seen. He bartends and works long nights. A phone call after he was 15 minutes late to training revealed that he was still sleeping. He proved his commitment though by rushing over to the gym and getting there 1-minute before the workout started. He had to go cold into the following:
- Event 1 – Burpees to 6′ target (7-minute time cap)
- 10-min Rest
- Event 2 – Each teammate had to do 30 calorie Row, 20 Deadlift (225#), 100 Double-under, 30 Shoulder-to-overhead (85#), 30 Pull-ups. One person followed the next through the sequence and two people could not do the same movement at the same time. The event had a 20 minute time cap.
- 10-min Rest
- Event 3 – 70 Snatches @ 85# and 70 Clean & Jerks @ 85# (8-minute time cap)
Each event had its own challenges and required that constant support and communication that are so important to a team’s success.
In Event 1, we decided to each do 7 burpees and then switch. I was to keep count the whole time to make sure we did not lose track. We picked a number that we felt was doable for all and left everyone with enough wind in their sails to get through the whole event without faltering too much. We ended up with 146 burpees total.
In Event 2, we identified that Nick should be the leader and go first. He was awake and energized and feeling strong. Jarrod, having woken up thanks to the burpees, went second as he could move faster through the deadlift than I could. The goal was to have everyone finish, but also to as a back-up figure out a strategy that would get us the most total reps. And if you ended up having to wait for the person ahead to finish a movement, it was key that you support and encourage them to keep everyone motivated and moving.
In the last event, we decided to each do the number of reps we were comfortable with. We had learned the week before that you have to check the ego at the door. If you are getting close to being spent or failing a rep, you have to let your teammate tag in rather than waste time trying to prove you can get one more rep. We all want to win but we can’t do so by “hogging the ball”.
We also learned when we got to the clean and jerks how we all need to be on the same page and have a clear understanding of the rules. I thought the movement was just power cleans. Nick knew it was clean and jerks. Jarrod was not sure and just following our lead. We would have been corrected by a judge very quickly in the competition but it would also have been to our detriment and a waste of energy if we were doing the wrong movement. And yet we did so anyways and did 70 power cleans. It was practice so it was fine. But those type of mistakes are huge on game day.
We can’t meet this weekend due to schedule conflicts. I think we need to find an activity outside of the gym to get to know each other better and form that crucial bond. Maybe we should go rock climbing?