CoachCast: The New Alpinism with Scott Johnston

CoachCast: The New Alpinism with Scott Johnston

With new host Dirk Friel, Season 2 of the TrainingPeaks CoachCast kicks off with Scott Johnston, author, alpinist and expert coach.

What do racing an IRONMAN and climbing the Rupal Face of Nanga Parbat have in common? Perhaps more than we originally thought. This week, co-author of Training for the New Alpinism and Training for the Uphill Athlete, Scott Johnston sat down with us to chat about the training commonalities between ‘traditional’ endurance athletes and elite alpinists.

We’ll also explore the science behind Aerobic Deficiency Syndrome (or ADS) and how it feels to work with athletes such as legendary Alex Honnold and Kilian Jornet.

Stand-out Quotes

  • “People who randomly exercise a lot can become very good. [But] they will probably never maximize their genetic potential, though, without getting in some sort of structured training program. And the difference between exercise and training, of course, is that training has a progression to it where what is hard for you now will become easier for you in the future because of the fitness gains and the progressivity of the training.”
  • “It took them seven days up and down….they’re sleeping on hacking tiny little ledges out of the ice and sleeping while hanging in their harnesses. So yeah, it’s, it’s an extreme experience.”
  • “When you have a problem in a more traditional endurance event… there’s going to be an aid station or a place you can take a step out of the race and have somebody give you a warm blanket and something to eat and drink. That doesn’t happen in these places. And in fact, getting to the summit, while it might sound to most people like success, that’s only half the battle. And in some cases getting down is more difficult than getting up and more dangerous because of the fatigue.”
  • “When you’re front pointing on crampons up, you know, 50-degree thousand-meter tall ice face or you’re running a 10k in your local park, your calves don’t know any different. Your calves are doing the same kind of work… So from a basic physiological perspective, a lot of the fundamental training principles that are used in traditional conventional sports are very applicable to this kind of oddball world of alpinism.”

Resources

Scott Johnston’s Website
Scott Johnston’s Books, Products & Resources
Scott’s Johnston’s Instagram

Episode Transcript

Dirk Friel: 

Hey Scott, Scott Johnson. I’m so happy to have you on the CoachCast Podcast as one of my first people I’m interviewing. Thank you so much for joining us.

Scott Johnston:

Well, and Dirk, thank you very much for the invitation. I’ve been excited to do this with you for a while now.

Dirk Friel: 

You know, I’m super excited. This is a rarity. I get to actually interview one of my coaches. So I’m gonna dig deep into your head, your thoughts, your methodologies you know, to share with the world, but also just to kind of learn more on, on my side of things and to make me a better athlete as well. 

Scott Johnston:

Does that mean we’re going to have to divulge some of the secret training methods we used with you?

Dirk Friel: 

We’ll hold some of those back, some of the early, early sessions that were super secret. We’ll, we’ll hold those back yet. So Scott, tell us more you know, about your background. You know, you actually grew up here in Boulder and where are you now and kind of connect those dots for us. 

Scott Johnston:

Sure. Yeah. I grew up in Boulder and left Boulder in about 1980, I think 85 or six. I live now in Washington state in a tiny little community in the mountains next to North Cascades National Park, just a bit south of the Canadian border. And in the intervening years, I’ve had a varied athletic career. I swam through high school and then I swam on a scholarship at the University of Colorado. While a swimmer, interestingly back in those days, the swimmers shared the locker room with the cross-country skiers. And I happened to get to know some of them at that time. Then, virtually the entire cross-country skiing team was Norwegian. And I got to know some of these guys just by clowning around in the locker room with them and they started taking me out skiing and I, I immediately went, “Oh my God, this beats the hell out of staring at lane lines for five hours a day.”

And pretty soon I was making the transition over to cross-country skiing. And shortly after I made this transition, I started skiing for the US on the world cup circuit. Not shortly, I guess a few years later I made it up, made it up to that level. I had a really not very distinctive or exciting career as a, as a world cup skier. I was a pretty middle-of-the-pack kind of guy, I started rather late into that sport. But it did give me a lot of insights. Allowed me to see how these, a lot of endurance training principles carried over between swimming and skiing. And you know, I had been swimming at a quite a high level. I’d have spent a lot of time at the Olympic training center in Colorado Springs. I’d been doing a lot of testing and during those years I began to ask a lot of questions of coaches and exercise physiologists trying to understand, you know, what is it that makes people good at these things?

And I ended up with a lot more unanswered questions than I did good answers. And so later in my life when I began to coach more, I had to do a lot of self-education because I couldn’t find a lot of these answers. And as a background to all of that, starting when I was in high school, I was a climber and I’ve been active as a climber and you know, moderately high-level climbing in many of the big ranges, including the Karakoram and the Himalaya over the years. And so I got an exposure to that much more unconventional type of sport than the really more structured, I mean swimming is about as structured as you can get, cross-country is a little harder to pin down. But it, it, it gave me, I kind of developed this sense of what were the common components that allowed a person to perform well across this broad spectrum of, of sports.

Dirk Friel: 

So, so why coaching? How did you make a step from, you know, swimmer into cross-country skier with some climbing background into, you know, of all the things you could have devoted your life to. Why, why coaching?

Scott Johnston:

Well, I was an engineer. I graduated with a degree in engineering and mathematics from CU and I did have a, an engineering firm actually in Boulder for a number of years after that. But when I sold that business and I moved to this place in Washington that I live now, there is a very active junior cross-country ski program here. And I got recruited to help coach this program and I was excited about it. It sounded like a lot of fun, but I’ve, in very short order I realized I don’t know anything about coaching. And so I just started consuming huge amounts of coaching literature, training theory, understanding the methodologies of lots of different sports so that I could, there really is very little written, especially in English about training cross-country skiers. And so I was taking what I could get from let’s say, track and field and running events and swimming and cycling and trying to pull a lot of the commonalities of those things together because I was sort of playing catch up because I’d been asked to coach and now I had, I had 120 kids in the program.

And it was kind of, the burden was on me to actually become proficient at this and be able to produce, you know, luckily for me, I had some great results. A couple of the young people I’ve worked with are still racing in the world cup. One of them is ranked in the top, well, last year she was ranked sixth, I think she’s, the year’s not over yet, but I think she’s fifth or sixth in the world right now. So I, I did learn a few things, but it was really through trial and error and trying to learn as much as I could through literature that was available to me. Not having a background in exercise science or biochemistry or anything.

Dirk Friel: 

Right. So, somehow you teamed up with your current business partner and ex-client, one of your athletes that you coached, Steve House. Certainly, if you guys have built a very, very strong business together, the Uphill Athlete, you’ve published, I think two books together so far, Training for the New Alpinism came out in 2015. And Training for the Uphill Athlete came in, came out last year in 2019, but there’s a lot that led up to those two books and a lot of that has to do with Steve House. So tell us about Steve and how you guys teamed up and, and that, that kind of history.

Scott Johnston:

Sure. Well, I met Steve when I moved to this place in the North Cascades in Washington. He was living here and he was a climbing guide and we immediately struck up, struck up a friendship and began to climb together. And at that time, Steve was, you know, kind of at the very beginning of his professional climbing career and was seeking some advice on how to train because the, a lot of the things that are needed to climb big mountains, especially by very difficult technical routes are not too dissimilar to what’s required to win a cross-country ski race. And so I…

Dirk Friel: 

Pretty unusual, right? This is pretty unusual for a climber to seek out coaching advice.

Scott Johnston:

It is, but you know, he and I were spending a lot of time in the mountains together, whether it was, you know, doing long ski tours or climbing together. And he began to kind of pump me for information because he was, he had this aspiration to be the best alpinist in the world, which I think undisputedly he did become eventually sort of the Michael Jordan of, of alpinism at the peak of his career. In many of the climbs that Steve has done would be considered like setting world records in more conventional sports. And now we’re looking at, you know, 10-15 years later, most of those world records have still not been broken. But he’s a curious guy and bouncing these ideas off me and it caused me to have, a little bit like trying to learn how to coach cross-country skiing,  caused me to have to think a little bit out-of-the-box and say, okay, well what do I know about training for whether it’s strength training or endurance training, what do I know about these things that would translate well into the mountain environment? 

And having had a good background in that type of climbing myself, it didn’t take me too long to figure out, okay, this is the way we need to train this person. And it really turns out to not look very different than the way most endurance athletes would spend the bulk of their training time. And so we began to collaborate around 2000-2001 and Steve’s career kind of peaked in 2005. Well maybe didn’t peak, but certainly, the high-water mark of his performance came in 2005 with a climb that he did with his partner, Vince Anderson on the Rupal Face of Nanga Parbat in Pakistan. Which was a very coveted climb that had been attempted many, many times and has been attempted many times since then without any success. And that was sort of really put Steve on the map. Leading up to that, we had quite a few, let’s say less well known and less easily publicized, but in the climbing world, things that were well known that what Steve was up to and he kind of developed his own style. During that…

Dirk Friel: 

The style is, is the new alpinism, hence the book named Training for the New Alpinism. This was, this is kind of revolutionary. I mean, new alpinism. If you, how would you explain that versus more traditional climbing?

Scott Johnston:

Yeah, so climbers, probably because climbing is a little bit in its infancy as an organized type of a sport. It’s probably, you could, if people that have any sort of sense of let’s say bicycle racing or running racing look back a hundred years ago and how people train for those things. Well, they went out and just did those things. They rode their bike a bunch or they ran a bit and walked a bunch and, and they got better and they started winning races. And so people thought they were great athletes but they didn’t know anything about training. They just happen to be pretty, you know, they might’ve been genetically gifted or whatever, but they were just doing their sport a bunch. And as we’ve gotten a better understanding of how athletes train, we understand that there’s what we might call basic or nonspecific type training. And then there’s also very event-specific training that looks a lot like the event you’re training for.

But most climbers did just that event-specific training. In other words, they just went climbing a lot. And if you do enough of that, yes, you can get quite good. It’s what I would call random exercise. People who randomly exercise a lot can become very good. They will probably never maximize their genetic potential though without getting in some sort of structured training program. And the difference between exercise and training, of course, is that training has a progression to it where what is hard for you now will become easier for you in the future because of the fitness gains and the progressivity of the training. But that wasn’t recognized in climbing at all. And so when we wrote this book, what we were trying to explain to people is, Hey, well actually let me back up. Just a moment. When Steve first approached me about writing this book, I was actually in Norway coaching, skiing and he said, Hey, I think we should write down what we did.

And I laughed at him and said, nobody’s going to care, Steve. I mean, there’s alpinism is a tiny little niche and you’d be lucky to sell a thousand copies and we’ve sold 70,000 copies now and so vastly exceeded what we had, what I had expected. But what we were trying to explain to people, what we do, I think explain in both these books, is that we haven’t invented anything new here at all. All we’ve done is repurposed conventional training knowledge into the more unconventional sport. 

Dirk Friel: 

Right. And if we can actually go into a little more of, you know, what Steve was training for, this is not, you know, a one hour climb. I mean Nanga Parbat did that take them seven days?

Scott Johnston:

It took them seven days up and down. Yeah. Of which extremely, extremely difficult terrain and you know, challenging, you know, they’re sleeping on hacking tiny little ledges out of the ice and sleeping while hanging in their harnesses. So yeah, it’s, it’s an extreme experience.

Dirk Friel: 

Right. And this is the new alpinism style, meaning ultra-light, I mean, very minimal. It is to the level where if they do not succeed, they pretty much die. I mean, they, they must rely on very minimal food and equipment. 

Scott Johnston:

Exactly. Yeah. So fitness plays an enormous role here because they’re on this. So the reason that the Rupal Face on Nanga Parbat is considered this prize in the climbing world is that it’s the largest vertical relief in the world. It’s over 13,000 vertical feet with extremely difficult climbing on it. And at some point during the ascent, after about day three, they would not be able to get back down. They had to get to the top in order to get down. They could, they descended a slightly different route. 

Dirk Friel: 

This is a different level of training. I mean, imagine if you’re doing an IRONMAN and your life depends on finishing in a certain time span. If you must break nine and a half hours in the IRONMAN or you die. I mean that is literally what they are asking themselves to do. 

Scott Johnston:

Very much so. And in fact, I make a comment about this in the book and this is not at all to disparage conventional endurance sports. You know, I’m a big fan of them and I’ve done them my whole life. But, and you know, when you have a problem in a more traditional endurance event, some sort of race or something like that, there’s going to be an aid station or a place you can take a step out of the race and have somebody give you a warm blanket and something to eat and drink. That doesn’t happen in these places.

And in fact, getting to the summit, while it might sound to most people like success, that’s only half the battle. And in some cases getting down is more difficult than getting up and more dangerous because of the fatigue. 

Dirk Friel: 

Right.

Scott Johnston:

So this took place, I’m sorry, but yeah, you’re right. Yes. So this climb took them roughly seven days up and down. 

Dirk Friel: 

Well, and that’s how, how many days that take off? Was there a record? Had that been climbed? 

Scott Johnston:

No, this had never been climbed. 

Dirk Friel: 

Yeah. Okay. So then that leads us up to the next book. In 20, last year you came out with Training for the Uphill Athlete. So how, how would you explain the differences between these and why follow up one, with the other yeah, relatively short time frame?

Scott Johnston:

Yeah, that’s a great question. When we published the training for the new alpinism, a young Spanish runner, some of your audience might know the name Kilian Jornet…

Dirk Friel: 

I kind of, I refer to him as the world’s number endurance athlete right now, but…

Scott Johnston:

I think that’s probably pretty fair to say. And Kilian recently set the record on Mount Everest twice, twice within 10 days. 

Dirk Friel: 

Yeah. Right. 

Scott Johnston:

So anyway, when we wrote that book, Kilian does a fair bit of climbing himself. I mean, he’s, he’s a real mountain, all-around mountain athlete. Kilian got ahold of it and put something on his Instagram about it and immediately crashed the server on our website because of what he said was… yeah, it was a good problem to have, but kind of threw us for a loop because we had, again, like I said before, we did not really expect this book to have much impact. We didn’t expect to sell very many and we certainly thought we’d write the book and we’d go back to our normal lives and nothing would happen. And when I say it crashed our website, it actually crashed, crashed Steve’s because I didn’t have a website.

But when we were using Steve’s at that point, just SteveHouse.net. And so Kilian then approached us and said, “Hey, I really like what you guys have done with this and I’d like to do something like that for mountain running and ski mountaineering. I just don’t want to have to write it.” And I stupidly put my hand up and said, “Oh great, I’ll, I’ll write it.” And we didn’t know Kilian at that point. Since then, we’ve developed quite a good relationship and I spent quite a bit of time with him. But my thought, my thinking, which turned out not to be very well thought out, was that I would just be able to repurpose the alpinism book into this, these new sports. Because a lot of the theory and training principles were the same. But as I began to write it, I realized, Oh, I, I’ve, I have learned better ways to explain some of these things.

And there are enough, there are enough nuanced differences between these that I need to explain things in a different way. And so, I ended up rewriting the entire thing and working closely with Kilian on a lot of the actual programming. I mean all the training theory and the methodologies that we use are basically rehashed from the first book, but I think much more accessible than they were in the first book. And, but then when it came time to layout how to design your own training plans, Kilian and I spent quite a bit of time on the phone and emailing back and forth kicking ideas around to develop that. So Kilian played a pretty integral part in the, in this second book. 

Dirk Friel: 

Okay. So the new, the first book, Training for the New Alpinism is maybe more of a, almost a pure climbers book. Cause I do remember you went into lots of detail about the different periodization techniques of, you know, assimilating to, you know, to eventually climb an 8,000-meter peak. Whereas Training for the Uphill Athlete is more for ultrarunning, ski mountaineering. That’s more about the racing and training side of, of those sports. Right? 

Scott Johnston:

Exactly. I mean, so when, when you think about these, we’re going to take it to a really basic cellular level here for just a second. And that is that when, I mean, when you’re front pointing on crampons up, up, you know, 50-degree thousand-meter tall ice face or you’re running a 10k in your local park, your calves don’t know any different. Your calves are doing the same kind of work. Oh, you know, over and over and over again. So from a basic physiological perspective, a lot of the fundamental training principles that are used in traditional conventional sports are very applicable to this kind of oddball world of alpinism. And only when it gets down into the very specific nature of the event that you’re training for, do these differences begin to make themselves known? And so then that’s when we will need to put workouts in and training methodologies that are very event-specific.

And so, but when we look at these sports like mountain running or whether it’s ultra running or some of the shorter events like the vertical kilometer or ski mountaineering races, then when those things look a lot more like conventional endurance sports, I mean they’re, they’re not done on a track and they’re not as easily controlled, but they share a lot more similarities. So when it comes to the event-specific training, so a climber, a mountaineer would be doing their high intensity or they’re very event-specific work won’t be the same, won’t be like going to the track and running 400-meter repeats. They won’t be doing that, but they’ll be doing other stuff. It kind of looks like they’re the event that they’re training for. And so the, in this second book, because it’s dealing with somewhat more conventional sports has, it leans more in that direction. So people who, you could get all this information from the first book in terms of how to prepare your training if you were doing these more conventional sports. But the second book really tries, we tried to make it more clear on exactly, you know, what these periods would look like and what kind of training needs to be included for these different types of events. You know, what sort of events specific workouts are really important to get in.

Dirk Friel: 

Okay. So, something you’ve spoken and written a lot about and certainly on your forums, people ask a lot of questions about, you know, as this thought around it, I’d love this ADS: Aerobic Deficiency Syndrome. And it’s not just beginners. I mean, this isn’t just a beginner type of problem for newbies. I mean, you’ve seen this at the highest levels, but kind of go into that, that theory of the aerobic deficiency. You know, and, and really the importance of it and how we might know if we have it.

Scott Johnston:

Sure, well this was something that was brought to my attention when I was training for skiing and living in Boulder by a man named Phil Maffetone. And none of your listeners may have heard his name. He was famous for being Mark Allen’s triathlon coach. And he was living, he had actually had a clinic out in Gunbarrel if I’m not mistaken. 

Dirk Friel: 

That’s where I am right now. 

Scott Johnston:

And I, I went to see him on some unrelated subject and I was sort of fascinated talking to him. And we, he then he began to help me with some of my training and he introduced me to this notion that he had coined. And so I can’t claim, I can’t claim the, the originality of this for myself. He called Aerobic Deficiency Syndrome or ADS. And what it basically means, you know, and it’s so, it’s very common in endurance athletes is that your, your basic aerobic system, the, the oxidative system has limited capacity and you’re not able to produce very much energy using this oxidative metabolic pathway.

And as a consequence, you’re limited in how much power you can produce or whether that speed or, or power on a bicycle or whatever, you’re limited in the amount of, of energy, you can produce aerobically using this oxidative pathway and you end up relying much more heavily on the glycolytic metabolic pathway to make up the deficit that your aerobic system is not able to produce. And this has some pretty negative consequences from the endurance standpoint for an athlete because a byproduct of glycolysis in, an inevitable by-product of glycolysis is lactate. And I think most endurance athletes understand that there’s a causal relationship between elevated lactate levels and fatigue. It’s not necessarily true that lactate causes that fatigue, but what we do know is that when lactate levels begin to climb and get out of control, that the athlete is fatiguing and they’ll inevitably have to slow down.

And so the less one has to rely on that glycolytic pathway. And the more that an athlete can rely on the aerobic or the oxidative pathway, the less lactate they’re going to produce, the longer they’re going to be able to go at a higher, at a high speed without having to slow down. And one of the illustrations that I use that many people can wrap their heads around because they’re familiar with this event, even if they’ve never done it, is that the, the road marathon is an event that’s competed just about at one’s aerobic threshold, maybe slightly above, but is you could, we can, for general talking sake, we can say it’s competed at about one’s aerobics threshold. Now what’s interesting about that is some people’s aerobic threshold now as you know, will allow them to run a two-hour marathon or very close to it.

So they, these guys have an aerobic, and I’ll say, guys, because I’m talking about the elite men in this case, but so elite men have an aerobic threshold running pace of about four minutes and 50 seconds per mile. And you and I probably couldn’t even run a half-mile at that pace. And, and, but interestingly enough, the four-hour marathoner is also competing at their aerobic threshold. It’s just that their aerobics system can’t produce anywhere near as much energy as these elite runners. And when people can think of it that way and realize that these elite marathoners, they’re not running harder, then you and I would be running if we were running a marathon. They’re just running a lot faster than we are. And the good news for all of us is that there’s very, there’s almost no upward limit. And, and in fact, Phil Maffetone proved this with Mark Allen.

He coached Mark Allen for 10 years and over those 10 years with the steady, the type of training that they were doing, Mark Allen’s aerobic threshold got faster and faster and faster for those entire 10 years. So we know that even an elite athlete can improve their aerobic threshold. And in his case, we were talking about aerobic threshold running speed. And that was what they were mostly interested in. And so in, even an elite athlete has a lot of potential to improve their aerobic capacity and develop more speed in the aerobic threshold. And I had been in my career as an athlete and then as a coach, coaching high-level athletes, I’d never really encountered Aerobic Deficiency Syndrome until we wrote this book. And actually that’s not true and I’ll explain one particular case, but when we wrote this book and people started coming to us asking for coaching and it was getting, we were getting people coming from all kinds of backgrounds, many of them without a particularly solid endurance training background.

And we would discover that these people were massively aerobically deficient and they were highly dependent on their glycolytic, metabolic pathway to do almost anything, even at the lowest intensities. These people would be producing high levels of lactate. And the, the first time I had a personal experience with this was training a young cross-country skier who came to me after his performance had begun to plateau for a couple of years and he had Olympic aspirations. 

And so we did an aerobic threshold test and his aerobic threshold when he first came to me was, I mean this is a young guy with a heart rate of 135 was this aerobic threshold heart rate and his aerobic threshold running pace was about an eight and a half minute mile. So then with structuring the training to improve his aerobic threshold four months later, his aerobic threshold was 165. So it had gone up by 30 beats and his running pace had dropped from that eight and a half minute mile down to a 6:15. So a massive improvement without doing one interval. 

All we did was run at and below the aerobic threshold for you know, fairly high volume because the biggest stimulus to aerobic adaptation is the volume of training that a person does. Which was why you were putting in all those huge miles on your, on your bike back when you were racing.

Dirk Friel: 

Yeah. Okay. So switching topics here, not too many people coach Academy Award-winning athletes. And you know, one of your athletes has won an Academy award and the same athlete, I think the New York Times maybe wrote that this person has essentially done one of the most incredible sporting… I guess accomplishments ever in the history of mankind. And that person being Alex Honnold who was the star of the, of the, of the movie Free Solo. He climbed El Capitan in what was it? Three hours.

Scott Johnston: 

El Cap, a little over. Yeah, exactly. 

Dirk Friel:

Free solo, folks, we’re talking no ropes, no safety gear. Again, if you don’t effectively summit, you know, you know, your life’s on the line. So he got through that. He’s a big name. Cover of all kinds of magazines. Why, why is he reaching out to you? You won’t go in details, etc., but, you know, tell us more about Alex.

Scott Johnston:

Well, I mean, he’s an enigma. I think, well, most of the people could agree. He’s certainly a very special human being. I mean, I find what he did just astounding. I’ve been a climber my whole life and I know many, many very good climbers, climbers that are even technically more proficient than Alex, most of whom just shake their heads at what he did. I’m thinking, how in the world could you pull this off?

Dirk Friel: 

I was just fearful in my seat as I watched that. I watched it in an IMAX theater by the way. Unreal.

Scott Johnston:

Yeah. I did not sleep well that night after I watched that because I knew what the consequences were, even though I knew the ending was worked out well. I just thankful that, as a climber, I could relive what that must feel like and thinking, “Oh my God.” So I was up all night kind of thinking about it. 

Well, anyway, so Alex reached out to me on a couple of different occasions and we’ve collaborated on some of his training and most currently I’m working to help him to prepare for some big mountain challenges. You know, Alex is known as being an extremely talented rock climber, but that’s a different type of training. You know, it’s more akin to strength training in some ways than endurance training. And so he’s had to consider, and came to me to ask for some suggestions on how we might shift his training around so that he can be prepared for some big mountain challenges in the future. Those, I’m not really supposed to talk too much about those, but he’s, he’s got some pretty big plans. Let’s put it that way.

Dirk Friel: 

Well, I mean, you know, obviously it’s public that he’s been done in Patagonia or something for the last couple of weeks. And I mean, he, he’s basically climbing all day long, you know, I’m sure he’s doing 12-hour type days. So yeah, it’ll be really interesting to see what he comes out with as his next big challenge and goal. That’ll be interesting and just gotta be such a great kind of a person to work with. 

Scott Johnston:

Well, he’s, as you know, from coaching some of the cyclists you’ve worked with, you know, working with elite athletes, it’s a real privilege and it’s an interesting way to, to learn more about what the human potential is. You know, with someone like Alex who’s already at an extremely high level, it’s, it’s, it’s a little more challenging to try to find some low hanging fruit with a guy like that. I mean, he’s already phenomenally fit and I, you know, I, I’ve even told him like, you could pack up and go tomorrow and I think you’d be fine on these times. But he wants to be well prepared and be able to do things safely and quickly. But I, you know, it’s fun to work with those with guys like that, of course. And with someone like Steve or Olympians, I’ve got a number of professional athletes I work with.

You know, it’s really fascinating to do that. But honestly they, and what I really enjoy is taking somebody who’s an amateur and being able to have them see some of those same kinds of gains, you know, when they’ve been frustrated by plateaus or you know, just years of kind of doing the wrong thing and being, helping them be able to turn it around and go, “Hey, if you train, train like an Olympian, think like an Olympian and you can perform. You may not go to the Olympics, but you know, you’re going to reach a much higher level than you might’ve ever imagined.”

Dirk Friel: 

Well, you’re kind of describing myself. I mean that’s the reason I reached out to you is I switched sports from cycling into ski mountaineering and getting into what’s known as the skimo scene. You know, my big race is the Power of Four and Aspen every year. It just wrapped up two weeks ago for me and I, you were my coach for two years in preparation for that. And that allowed me to take 30 minutes off my previous best and, you know, become a national champion. I’ve, I was never a national champion in any sport and I was a cyclist for 40 years. So you know, for me, my personal experience, that accountability, I’m getting fresh ideas you know, certainly like pushed me farther than what I thought I could have done, you know, on my own. Absolutely. I, I do the extra, you know, 4:30 AM wake up call, to get out there and get that Zone 2 time and you know, with the headlamp on. So that was, that was certainly my experience. And you know, what, that accountability has so much to do with it, you know, for my, for myself.

Scott Johnston:

Yeah. I mean we, at our business now that Steve and I have, we have 12 coaches working for us. But we also provide cheaper alternatives to one-on-one coaching. We have, you know, stock training plans. We offer a limited coaching option for people who aren’t able to him afford the full one-on-one coaching because we’re our, our real goal with both, whether it’s, and I think you can see it in the books and on the website, is to give this, get this information about how professional and world-class athletes train, why they train that way and make it available to the average person. And so we’ve tried to scale our business model on that and if someone comes to us and they want coaching, we can provide, you know, day-to-day coaching. But if they can’t afford that, they can do, you know, go all the way down to just buy one of our books or come on the website. There are over 200 articles that one can read for free that explain a lot of these training ideas that we’ve, you and I have touched on today. 

Dirk Friel: 

Yeah, what’s the website again? 

Scott Johnston:

It’s uphillathlete.com.

Dirk Friel: 

All right, well thanks Scott for being with us. It makes it even more special when people do get to listen to you on the podcast. Or maybe someday even in person. So thank you so much, Scott.

Scott Johnston:

Thanks very much, Dirk, for having me. I really enjoyed it.

Heidi Weingardt

Heidi Weingardt is the former Social Media Specialist turned Coach Content Editor at TrainingPeaks. She is a trail runner, cyclist, and skier. She loves hiking fourteeners and exploring the mountains with her Goldendoodle named Happy.