James Pearson

Isobel Duxfield speaks to professional climber and The North Face ambassador James Pearson

Since donning his first pair of rock boots in his early teens climbing has been part and parcel of James’s life. By age 19 he was one of the UK’s brightest climbing talents, tackling some of the world’s most technically challenging routes. However Pearson’s journey to where he is today has not been a continuous upward trajectory. In fact one could describe it as a roller coaster ride.

In 2008 he suffered a much publicised fall from grace after over grading a route called The Walk of Life, a crime tantamount to treason in the climbing profession. James left Britain to escape the backlash and climbing took a backseat in his life, it’s a period that was once painful for Pearson but he has now come to terms with.

However rather than crash and burn he has returned to the sport stronger than ever. He attributes much of his recent success to a more effective training regime, a secret he has learned from his climbing partner, and wife, Caroline Ciavaldini.

“I had become a one trick pony”, he says. “I was climbing only what I was comfortable with and never branching out.” It was at this point he met Caroline who showed him how changing his training regime could transform his performance on the rock.

From climbing to cycling, training is core to every athlete’s performance. However James acknowledges that it is the less glamourous element of his job. “You see the photos of Caroline and I dangling from a towering overhang, but what you don’t see is the hours at the gym that have gone into reaching this point.” Indeed Pearson has struck on an interesting point. Many will have seen the pictures of Alex Honnold soloing Yosemite’s Half Dome or Tommy Caldwell on the Dawn wall of El Capitan, yet there are scant few shots of them training, which, according to Pearson, consumes at least 50% of a climber’s time.

James Pearson has returned to professional climbing with a vengeance. Along with Caroline he has travelled the world from the Philippines to South Africa in pursuit of exciting and more challenging climbs, attempting previously untraversed routes. His is a story of returning to the core of what it takes to be an athlete and making uncomfortable, but necessary changes.

James shared some advice with us for maximising your own training, whether it be climbing, running or swimming

1: Starting slow

“There is nothing worse than charging straight into training, exhausting yourself then burning out – or worse giving yourself an injury. That approach is not going to get you anywhere. Training is all about building up to your goal, starting slowly and making small, but meaningful progressions each session.”

2: Quality not quantity

“It is not about devoting hours and hours to the gym. What is the point in spending six hours there if half of it is spent chatting and drinking coffee? It is all about little and often. My wife and I will train five days or more per week, but each session is designed to reap maximum benefit in a short timeframe. Everything from the warm up, to the main session, to cooling down should be tailored to maximising the time you have available. If you are juggling your sport alongside a job using time efficiently is key to success.”

4: Know your goal

“Deciding what you are aiming for is essential. If you are working towards completing a long multipitch route then focus on your endurance; conversely short dynamic routes demand shorter bursts of power and strength. I will adjust the structure of my training according to what kind of project I am working towards. So before you even begin planning your training take time to consider what you want to achieve.”

5: Stretching

“Never underestimate the power of a good stretch. This is the element that we all know is essential, yet so often forget to do. Stretching can improve your performance immensely while failing to fully warm-up and down leads to injuries and other complications. Think of it as an investment. The more time you put into limbering up, the greater benefits you will reap from your training session.”

James Pearson was talking at the launch of The North Face Mountain Athletics collection at Blacks’ Holborn branch