This summer I, by chance, got the opportunity to spend time with two really great guys – Alex Megos and Patrick Matros. After some good talks during our meets in Germany and Norway I wanted to ask them some questions and share their thoughts on climbing, training, coaching and injuries. Alex is already one of the best climber’s in the world and is very likely one of the guys that will raise the bar for the rest of the world in the years to come, and Patrick is the “puppet master” that has followed Alex’ as a coach and as a friend over many years.
Alex might not need any presentation in regards to his performances on rock, but he has on-sighted 9a, done the mythical Biographie/Realization in just three goes and bouldered 8C. Just to mention a few. What struck me though, was how he climbed and his attitude towards climbing. I’ve been around the climbing community for some years now, both as a climber and a coach, and I feel that I’ve seen enough climbers on a top level to a point where I’m actually a bit blasé and hard to impress. But with Alex it was different. Even though you know the numbers behind his accomplishments, to see how easily he moved on rock was astonishing. To see how everything just clicked together in milliseconds, how strength and technique complemented each other to perfection. You get to see strong climbers and you get to see technical climbers, but I find it rare to see someone who masters the skill to combine these elements to perfection. Add in his humble appearance and his psyche for climbing and you have a winner, for me at least. Any world-class climber that jumps on an offer to go climbing with a bunch of strangers with the SMS-reply; “It’ll be fuckin’ AWESOME! Super psyched!!! :-)” gets a little golden star in my book.
Anyway, enough with the deification, here’s the Q&A with Alex;
S: You don’t strike me as the publicity-seeking type. How was it to become world famous overnight after your 9a-onsight? (Both in positive and negative ways for you)
A: Well, the positive side was and is of course that becoming that famous enabled me to become a professional climber and earn money by doing what I love. I got the possibility to travel around the world and experience new cultures, see new climbing area and meet a lot of people.
I guess the negative side of being a famous climber is that you can’t just not care about media and publicity. Both became part of my business and are necessary to be able to live as a professional. Its always a balance between what do I have to do and what is not necessary. It was not so easy at the beginning to deal with all these new “problems” but you get used to it.
S: How did you start climbing, and at what point did it become your obsession?
A: I started climbing when I was about 5 years old. My father was climbing and he was the one to take me out climbing for the first times.
I would say climbing became a real obsession when I was around 13/14 years old. That was the time when I started doing more and more competitions and increased my training to more then once a week.
S: What motivates you, and why?
A: That’s a hard question. There are many things in climbing which motivate me. One thing for example is the fact, that a problem (a route or a boulder) can switch from feeling impossible to “I did it” within a very short amount of time. Climbing is so complex and dependent on so many factors that its sometimes impossible to say why you had a good or a bad day. Not being able to do one move in a project as a single move doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to do it from the ground, even if you added 10 moves before the move you couldn’t do. There seems to be no explanation for that and it doesn’t seem logical, but it happens. That’s something which is totally fascinating and makes climbing very unique and interesting.
Another thing which is super motivating about climbing is the fact that there are so many different types of climbing and so many different locations worldwide that you won’t manage to see and climb everything. One life is simply not enough to do it all. It just never gets boring.
S: What’s the most important climbing related thing you’ve learned from Patrick?
A: That was probably the thing that its sometimes necessary to try things longer, even if it feels totally desperate at the beginning. Eventually it’ll feel possible at some point, you just have to believe in it and keep on trying.
S: You’ve never been injured, yet you are at a level which surely demands that you train very hard. How do you train and reflect around your training to prevent injuries?
A: I think the key for me to stay injure free was that I started my climbing very early and increased the amount and intensity of climbing very slowly over many years. That helped my body, joints and tendons to adapt to the training and not get over loaded. I as well am someone who listens very carefully to my body and if I notice already the smallest pain I always let it check from a doctor and stop doing exercises causing that pain.
S: What’s next? And what are the biggest challenges getting there?
A: Next is as always getting stronger. And of course climbing hard stuff and try to push the personal limit. Biggest challenge on that way are for sure mental barriers, which I still have to work on.
S: Climbing media seems to love the lifestyle-approach versus the train-hard-approach when it comes to performance. In my experience, most climbers on a world class level seems to know a fair deal on how to train to enhance their performance, and I also think that deliberate training is a necessity for improvement. Personally I don’t see why they should exclude each other, but what are your thoughts on structured training and the lifestyle approach?
A: Of course does media love the lifestyle-approach. Who wouldn’t like the idea that world class performances are possible by just chilling around going on climbing trips and doing whatever you feel like. And I’m sure that there are climbers who got quiet far with that, but nobody will reach his limits by just following the lifestyle-approach. A good amount of training is necessary in order to get to a personal limit.
I as well don’t think that these two approaches exclude each other. There is a time and a place for both and I would say both are necessary to push the own limits.
So then, what about Patrick? Patrick is probably most known for his book “Gimme Kraft”, which he wrote together with co-coach Dicki Korb, and for his work with the German Team, the Adidas Team and athletes that travel to his “Gimme Kraft-gym” for advice. I was fascinated with his curious and humble approach to his work, and he demonstrates a true passion in his work. I guess a lot of coaches could get a bit stuck up, given the results with his athletes, but not Patrick. The ability to see all the small nuances in the art of coaching without claiming to hold a blueprint is to me a key factor to continuous improvements and results. Here are Patrick’s answers to my questions:
S: Can you tell me your philosophy as a coach?
P: My philosophy consists of three big goals, which are sequenced in descending order of importance:
1) Prevention of overstress, injuries and other harm
2) Keeping a high level of intrinsic motivation for the sport
3) Training for an increasing level of performance
Regarding my work with an athlete, the most important thing for me is to build a personal relationship to him. Co-operate together on physical and mental goals with a certain intensity doesn’t work without this. If you start with the process, when the athlete is a young person, there’s a plethora of things besides pure physical and mental training. You may have to help the athlete to master some developmental tasks. Climbing could be helpful for that – or not!
And – last but not least – I have kind of a vision for the sport: Of course there’s this ancient human behavior to seek for higher goals, for the next challenge. But isn’t there more potential in this sport but striving for numbers? Today our world is faced with severe problems: Irretrievable destruction of nature, hostilities among people…Why couldn’t be a climbing lifestyle kind of an ambassador for putting things little more in the right direction?
Maybe now you can understand, that it would not be a main goal for me to see climbing at the Olympic Games. My opinion is: There should be other things and ideas with more priority.
S: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from Alex?
P: What I have really learned from Alexander is: If you don’t get the move or you fail in the route, there are no excuses! It’s on you! Stay calm, be honest to yourself and go for it again…
S: What motivates you in working with athletes?
P: For me there are two very motivating things: On the one hand is the experience with different personalities, on the other hand it is the fascination about the complexity of the human body. It is so always so inspiring to see that some things work, even we don’t understand exactly how they work together.
S: With Alex being established at the absolute top level at a young age, what’s next for him on your planning board? Where lie his biggest challenges to take the next step?
P: Alexander is on the way, to do one of the biggest steps in his climbing career so far. Physically he is incredibly strong, he has also a very high level of technical perfection. Now he has to take the step into uncertain country: Can I do this move? Is this possible? Where is the edge between just possible and impossible?
It’s the change to act in a visionary way rather to seek for fast self-affirmation. For sure, he will get it!
Thanks a lot you guys!