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Training by
Tom Randall

“I think there definitely used to be a culture of secret training in the UK” says Tom Randall as he sits in the shade of his home climbing wall - a huge four-panel construction with everything from circuit boards and pull-up slats to a replica crack climb adorning its walls.

There’s nothing very secretive about this set up which towers over his garden like a medieval church dwarfing the landscape.

“People wanted to make it look like they’d just come off a heavy night at the pub and still performed rather than having worked for It.” he adds.

Not only does Tom forego the drinking, he also isn’t afraid to talk about the amount of work he puts in. A father of two and a business owner, this back garden wall combined with a cellar conversion allow Tom to fit in an incredible amount of training every week.

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The culture around climbing training has changed rapidly in recent years and while the traditional approach of improving your climbing simply by climbing more still exists, it has been rapidly eclipsed by a more modern, structured approach focused on specific exercises and tailored training techniques. No one’s pretending it’s all natural talent and hard drinking anymore; everyone admits it’s hard work.

As a professional climbing coach, Tom has witnessed this paradigm shift first hand and amongst the climbing community he is known, not just for the work he does training others, but also for the obsessive way he approaches his own objectives. He has a firm belief that high level performance is achievable for everyone. He still modestly describes himself as “a complete punter” and repeats the mantra that “if it’s possible for me, it’s possible for anyone”.

Talking to Tom, you get the impression that he thinks about training a lot.

“When I lived in London, I was reading about performance profiling. The idea there is that you embody the attributes of things that are successful. So I thought, why not embody the attributes of the climb itself?”

From this idea Tom began to build replicas of the climbs he wanted to complete, training on them at home or at the climbing wall to prepare himself for attempts on the real thing. Tom puts the effectiveness of this replica training down to a combination of factors. The specificity of repeating replicated moves, the psychological advantage that comes from having already climbed the route (or at least a version of it) and the ability to break down the route into workable sections; a process he describes as “chunking”.

“The first replica I built was of ‘Greenspit’ (8b+). I was probably about an 8a climber at the time”. Despite the apparent gulf between his ability and that required to complete the route, Tom was successful in making the third ascent of this infamous European crack. It’s successes like this that have affirmed his belief that training can bridge the gap between your current level and even the loftiest of goals.

Replicas still litter his home training set up and though the objectives he designed them for may now have been achieved, he has found ways to keep incorporating them into his regular training.

Perhaps Tom’s most well-known climb reconstruction is the one he built ahead of his 2011 trip to the United States. He and Pete Whittaker travelled to Utah to attempt what was widely believed to be the world’s hardest off-width crack. The pair did not go unprepared.

Using measurements from another climber who had tried the route unsuccessfully, he and Pete built a reconstruction of the crack in Tom’s cellar. While their replica was several orders of magnitude smaller than ‘Century Crack’ itself, the reconstruction perfectly replicated the route’s style; allowing the pair to dispatch the real-life version in short order.

“We were actually worried Crusher [Bartlett] might have done us! Like what if he’d given us the dimensions for the crack and they didn’t actually match up when we got on the real thing! We could have spent literally hours shuffling back and forth down here for nothing.”

Down in Tom’s cellar, there are also less specific creations. The artificial crack lines that traverse the length and width of the cellar are not replicas of any particular climb. However, they do allow Tom to train movements that he would otherwise need to travel to real rock to climb.

Few climbing walls have crack climbs built into their designs and often the only way to practice crack climbing technique is to tie in and try routes outside. This can be a problem if you’re looking to progress, particularly if you live in the UK where crack climbs are few and far between and where the weather can be a limiting factor.

Still, spending hours grinding out reps in a dingy cellar is hardly an attractive prospect in its own right. It takes someone who thinks a little differently to come up with the idea of training like this and a slightly warped, masochistic streak to also commit to it for years at a time.

“I’d rather have people think I’m a little weird and still try crazy ideas than never try anything. Because what if that thing you never try is what could make you succeed.”

When he first decided to take such an outlandish approach to crack climbing; a niche discipline within an already niche sport, Tom probably could not have predicted that he wouldn’t be alone in his passion. Today he is followed by thousands of people online and recently, when he offered to answer training questions on Instagram, he was so inundated with inquiries that he could barely scratch the surface with his replies. He’s even received photos of other climber’s crack training constructions.

“They come in from all over Germany, Italy…a lot from America.”

Tom is much more than a crack specialist however and his work as a professional coach extends across the climbing spectrum. His desire for specificity and his intensely analytical methodology has informed much of his work here.

“I think I have quite a methodical, sort of break-it-down approach.”

He spent years searching for the right metrics to use for correctly measuring and predicting climbing performance. Today he has these metrics down to a fine art and, having gathered data from over two-hundred climbers, he is capable of using a person’s performance on his assessment regimen to predict the physical limit of their climbing abilities. As we talk, he types a series of key values into the database on his Mac Book and the lines indicating expected performance move to reflect the results.

“So this person would have more than enough strength to be able to climb an 8b sport climb but they don’t have enough stamina. By doing these tests we know exactly what they have to focus on.”

Tom assesses climbing stamina on a tool of his own design; The Lattice Board. Here again, Tom’s out-of-the-box-thinking comes in. The board was one of a number of ideas he was testing as possible indicators of climbing ability. When he put the junior GB on the board and compared their results to their best performance in competition, the values matched up perfectly. He had found his predictive measure. Several years later and Tom is now launching the Lattice Board as both an assessment tool and a method of stamina training in its own right.

In just the briefest conversation with Tom you quickly realise that training is a gateway for him. Climbing at the highest level didn't come naturally for him but when he found the thing that could get him there, he embraced it with both hands. Training isn't a chore, it's a passion. It’s also clear that there are two parts to Tom. A detail-obsessed geek and an unconventional iconoclast willing, almost eager, to look foolish in the pursuit of something new and revolutionary. It’s the balance of these two halves that has allowed him to so consistently push boundaries, for himself, for others and for the culture of climbing.

Twisting in the finger locks.
Running laps on the crack.
High tech training, low tech board.
Gritted teeth as Tom cranks out another one arm pull-up.
Pull-up board and crack climb combo
The end of a session: taped hands, chalked trousers, pumped forearms.
Days in the basement or reps on the crack?
A full-body workout in the Century Crack replica.
Tom is a trad climber at heart, whose passion for the unknown in climbing has lead to numerous new routes both in the UK and overseas.

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