Thursday 17 December 2015

The 4th Wave - Arisaig project done.

4th Wave, 8B first ascent from Dave MacLeod on Vimeo.

I had a strong feeling I was going to be able to climb my project in the Arisaig Cave imminently. I have been climbing rather better than of late and could feel the moves getting easier and easier. Since returning from my great trip in Europe in October, I’d had a bit of a crap period with a few things not really going well. When feeling a bit fed up with things not going well, I tend to stutter in my energy levels, with periods of intense motivation and energy and other periods where the motivation is there but the energy is not.

Yesterday started out as one of those low days. I sat in the car for twenty minutes just doing nothing before walking in. I wasn’t really thinking about anything. I think perhaps I needed to do that for a few minutes. I strolled in to the Rhu Peninsula and began my warm-up routine in the cave. I was definitely feeling strong, but not sharp and a little sluggish. Experience tells me to keep going with the routine even in this state. At worst, you have another workout, another chance to learn more about the project. At best, the non-plussed state of mind can defend you from nerves when you are very close to a hard project. As I’ve written about before, despite what many sport psychology textbooks tell you, there’s no need to be feeling positive before producing a good performance. People are just way more complicated than that.

On my first try I finally broke through the crux and fell at the last hard move, powered out. After two more rubbish tries, I cruised through the crux, feeling the strongest I’ve ever felt on the line. Arriving back at the final slap to the apex of the cave, I felt my power draining. But I slapped, and I didn’t fall. It’s hard for me to explain this or to accurately describe my state of mind in this move. Although focusing during a 100% effort is totally automatic for me, I wouldn’t say I felt particularly concentrated. It just seemed to happen without me really feeling like I was making it. And so I found myself at the finishing holds, project (on and off) of three years, done.

All a bit surreal really. I celebrated my moving directly on to the big yin - a link of my earlier monster line right through the cave into my now ex-project. 25 moves of Font 8a to an awkward kneebar rest and then into a tough 8B. You can see the video I made of Eternity’s Gate a few years back below. It’s an amazing piece of climbing. And it’s dry almost all of the year. That should give me something to chew on for a few seasons!

The above musing on psychological states may well be rather peripheral to this project getting climbed. The bottom line is I felt really strong on it. Why? Well take a look at the graph below of my weight over the past 6 months. It doesn’t take a genius to spot the pattern. The ‘how’ of this process is complex and a subject for another blog post. But the ‘why’ is an important part of my current improved form.

I was rather heavier than I am now when I was a teenager but lost a fair amount of fat since getting keen to push my climbing about 18 years ago (height 5 feet 8 inches btw). Of the numerous ways that can be used to lower your weight temporarily, large amounts of running, often in a fasted state, was probably most effective for me to maintain a fighting weight for projects. However, since my accident at Steall in 2012, I haven’t been able to run. I also found that the other tactics I used were now frustratingly ineffective. My weight has slowly crept up over the past three years as a result, despite intermittent efforts by me to settle on a strategy to counter this. The low point of this was the peak of the graph above in early October, when I took 5 tries to climb an 8b (The Force at Brin Rock) I was not happy with this performance!

After reaching a stage where I was finally able to let go of pre-established ideas and come to the subject a-new, I started to read piles of books, 100s of research papers and countless online discussions in order to get a better grasp of the subject. Although this only scratches the surface of the understanding required (hence my reluctance to share more than the results at the moment), I do feel like I have finally got somewhere. 

On one hand, I cannot emphasise enough the importance of knowing what you are doing before making an effort to manipulate your diet or weight. For a start, being lighter may not be an advantage at all for a large proportion of climbers. For example, some climbers cannot influence their weight much no matter what they do. I have noticed that these climbers sometimes struggle to understand why it seems to make such a huge difference to some others. The health consequences of getting all this wrong are about as big as they get. I have spent countless long nights reading on this subject. Unfortunately, due to the poor quality of much of the available research, and unbelievably poor quality of a good deal of the popular press articles and books on the subject, it’s a complete big fat minefield. On the other hand, one cannot opt out of eating a diet and maintaining choices in how we live - what if the choices we are making that form our baseline are the bad ones? Doing nothing for fear of making an error could be the worst possible scenario. Yet the barrier of being able to read and process enough raw science to be able to distinguish good personalised advice from bad is not realistic for a lot of people. It’s an impossible situation.

All I can say is that I am lucky to have the opportunity to be able to plough through all of these papers and run my ‘experiment of one’ from a position of being slightly less in the dark than I might be. It’s an ongoing experiment and I have so much to learn - it’s a bit daunting and I am determined to maintain a dispassionate approach. But the first step was to try it for a couple of months and see if there was a positive impact on my climbing. At this point, that is an emphatic yes!


  1. Love the waves breaking the darkness outside, I'm sure the otters were curious!!

  2. Dave,
    Would you mind sharing a bit of what you did to loose the weight? I know it might not be relevant to all but it would be interesting to know.

  3. As I said in the post, I am reluctant before feeling like I have read sufficiently to understand and explain my own results. I would encourage you to do the same.

  4. Super spot; amazing effort. Who is the music by?

    1. Electric Landlady by Kila.

      On spotify:

      I found this out by using Shazam.

      Dave, your videos are really enjoyable. I am now wondering where the nearest cave is, yet have to wait till Spring / Summer :D

  5. Hi Dave. I fully agree with you about questionable quality of written stuff. Also agree with "personalising" of the best way or diet for your body to get the best effects. But in fact you did manage it , so independently of if your picture about it is not yet complete, you could share what you really have done to get it. The point is it was effective, so... Did you manage it only by diet or/and more exercise. In here I noticed quite thin ice; ok you can eat more than less tha same like before and running for 1h each second day. I lost 3-4 kg , but sometimes was just tired. What was your way?
    Pls advice.
    Cheers Jerzy

  6. Hi Dave. I fully appreciate your reluctance to share what you've done to manage your weight, but I'd be interested in the books and articles that you found plausible and helpful. As you point out, the ratio of choss to solid is outrageous and one of the bigger obstacles is sorting through the pile. Arguably, I could (or should) do it myself, but any recommendations regarding source information would be greatly appreciated. Thanks, Pete

  7. For those like me who listened to one particular podcast we know by now the diet you are following... Still too early to speak more about it?

  8. May be some of us can explain your results. So sharing your thoughs can be helpfull.

  9. Here is an interesting article about calories: