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Bootcamp: Dan Mirsky

Wednesday, September 7, 2016
Black Diamond Ambassador Dan Mirsky, along with fellow athletes Sam Elias and Joe Kinder, completed a three-month training program that ended up changing the way he climbed. This is his story.

Before this summer-long training program started, I had never fully committed myself to training before. In the days leading up to Bootcamp, I felt nervous about the physical challenges that lay ahead. Three separate training cycles, each lasting three weeks, was going to be a lot, and I worried about how tired I would feel, if I would be able to physically survive the workload and if my sore left middle finger would hold up.

I also considered the mental side. As someone who spends lots of time pursuing hard rock climbing, I am familiar with the mental challenges, and sometimes I even feel like I am decent at overcoming them. I knew some of the same mental battles of success and failure would be a part of training, but I didn’t foresee how mentally challenging it would actually be.

It occurred to me that I have not stopped rock climbing for three months in the last 10 years, and now I was faced with the prospect of letting go of climbing outside in order to improve. On top of that, I have always been the one making decisions surrounding my climbing, the routes I pick, the way I go about trying to climb them, the effort I make to improve myself—it has always come from me. Now I was faced with having to give up my control. I was at the beginning of a long, hard road, and it was a road I was completely unfamiliar with. To travel it successfully would require me to do more than just rely on myself, and I would need much more than just physical strength.

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After the first two sessions, I was worked, and the reality that this was my life for three months really set in. Fully committing to a long-term training program in order to get stronger was a big challenge for me. In my life as a climber, I have an established process for attaining my goals. Measuring progress is about accomplishing small goals, like figuring out specific moves or linking bigger sections of the route, and ultimately the small goals lead to the larger goal. It can be a long, arduous process, but it’s a process I am familiar with.


Photo: Ben Moon

At Bootcamp there was a goal—to be stronger, better and smarter at the end of three months. That is a much bigger and less tangible goal than climbing between bolts 3 and 6 of my current climbing project. When you feel totally crushed, it’s hard to find solace in the idea that feeling this way now will ultimately mean feeling strong later, especially never having gone through this process before. I learned that you must be comfortable with being uncomfortable, and you must trust and believe in not just yourself but the whole process.

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As difficult as all of that was, I was also trying to overcome a physical injury at the start of Bootcamp. After a winter of bouldering, I had started to notice tenderness, sensitivity and some pain in my left middle finger. I kept climbing and hoped the situation would improve, but it didn’t. After almost two months and with Bootcamp rapidly approaching, I had to accept the fact that I had an injury. I decided to take time off to rest and recover before the training began. Although I still believe this was the right approach, a lack of confidence in both the integrity of my finger and my physical strength in general really compounded the mental challenges I was already facing.

The physical demands of the training initially devastated me. During the first cycle, whether the previous day had been a training day or a rest day, I woke up feeling exhausted and with feelings of doubt and uncertainty about the whole process. I really had to work to be open, to believe and to trust in Bootcamp, which ultimately really came down to trusting the people that made up the group.

The support I received from my training partners Joe and Sam, as well as our coaches Justen and Kris, really carried me through that first cycle. The feeling that others believe in you in a moment when you don’t believe in yourself is powerful. On my own, I believe I would have let my concerns, issues of trust, feelings of uncertainty and depleted physical condition convince me that now was not the time to be training. Instead, those guys kept me psyched and held me accountable. By the beginning of the second cycle I was recovering, feeling stronger and less injured. From that point moving forward, my trust in the program and my team solidified. I came to understand that they needed me too for support, encouragement and accountability.


Photo: Katy Dannenberg

Both feeling supported and feeling necessary as part of the group gave me confidence, and successful training sessions and positive energy within our team kept that confidence building. Soon I felt I was gaining momentum. There were many hard days, and moments of feeling utterly crushed throughout Bootcamp, but as I committed myself more to the process and to my teammates, I was able to endure those times, and the more I saw positive results, the more I believed that this was going to be a success.

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By the end of Bootcamp, I hadn’t put any real energy into climbing outside on a rope in six months. After Bootcamp, I drove straight to Rifle, which for me is home and a proven training ground for developing route fitness. Within three days, I climbed my first 5.14 of 2015, still feeling more or less exhausted from three months of training. After a proper rest, I returned to Rifle, and, feeling my route climbing fitness return, I got straight back to business on my old nemesis from the previous fall, The Crew, 5.14c.

As soon as I started back in on this route, which had given me so much trouble less than 12 months before, I knew things would end differently. The moves just felt easier, and I felt more confident. I started to log some time re-familiarizing myself with the nuances of the route and the beta, and my efforts were rewarded with steady progress.

After two easy weeks of climbing, I felt like I was pretty much ready to send. I did my best to stack the odds in my favor, taking an extra rest day, getting a good night’s sleep, eating a hearty breakfast and warming up well. I basically hiked The Crew, a route that a year prior felt like it was at my absolute limit.


Photo: Michael Lim

Although I did not go through BD Bootcamp in order to just send The Crew, it was indeed a satisfying way to feel the culmination of three months of effort, reinforcing that hard work pays off. There was something that sending The Crew cemented for me, something I had been learning all summer long; the value of our group is in fact greater than the sum of its individual parts, and my strength and confidence was greater with the group than without it. Although no one from Bootcamp was there the day I sent The Crew, they were all a part of it, and each one was there holding me up, just as they had been at the beginning when I couldn't hold myself up. Maybe that’s why it felt so easy.

—Dan Mirsky


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