Interview with Master Rock Climber, Russ Clune

While doing research for my 50 Athletes Over 50 book, I interviewed Russ Clune, a Master Rock Climber from New Paltz, and I thought I’d share the full interview in my blog.

The following is a summary of the interview I had with Russ in June 2009. Russ has some insight to share about his training and how he manages to still climb at a very high level.

Russ Clune is a 50 year old rock climber, who lives in New Paltz,New York, and who has traveled to dozens of countries to climb, either for pleasure, or for his job as a sales representative for the climbing equipment manufacturer Black Diamond. Russ remembers participating in swimming and golf at a very early age, but became interested in the adventure of camping and hiking when he was eleven. He was enamored with the classic alpine literature of the time, and loved the wild feel of high places. Russ attendedUniversityofVermont, and had the chance to rock climb in his first week. Once he did, he knew he found his sport. Russ went on to travel the world and climb leading edge routes, as well as enjoy the people he got to know in the process.

When Russ lived in Californiafor a time, he picked up surfing, which he claims is the only other sport he has ever done that is as engaging as climbing. Back inNew Yorknow, Russ works at finding the balance among his job, his family, his friends, and climbing.

Q:    What is your biggest accomplishment in your sports?

A:     Back in the early 1980’s I spent six years climbing full time, and got to travel to many places all over the world, meet great people, and the do wonderful climbs. I think having that experience to see the world, and climb at a world class level is my biggest accomplishment. I got to watch sport climbing explode around the world, and that was incredible.

Q:     What one or two things do you currently do in your training that are keys to your success?

A:      I don’t over train. There is a fine line in training to make gains, and pushing to where you hurt yourself. I try to not do too much, but just enough. I use the climbing gym in my basement a lot. I think I climb more in my basement than at I climb outside, when I’m home in New Paltz. I’m busy, and I can get a great workout in an hour and a half in my home gym. Going to the cliff and climbing takes more time. In general I have a plan, and don’t over do it.

Q:      What would be your ultimate achievement?

A:     Besides being alive at 50, it would be to be climbing at a reasonable level in 30 years, and still enjoying it. I look at people like Dick Williams and Fritz Wiessner, who have shown that it’s possible.

Q:    How do you set your goals?

A:    I sometimes start off with a big goal, and then I have to do a sanity check to see if the goal is reasonable. For example, early this year, my significant other Amy and I were in turkey, and I got talking to a young climber I met there about climbing a route named Freerider inYosemite valley. I had a similar conversation last year with someone else, but for me to do that, I would have to commit to going toYosemitefor a few weeks. Given I live in NY, that’s just not a realistic goal for me. So instead, this year I have the goal of doing at least a dozen 5.13s, and I think that is a reasonable goal. There are enough climbs at that grade close enough to where I live for this to be reasonable.

Q:    What is your biggest challenge, and what do you do to manage this challenge?

A:    Time is my biggest challenge. I have a ten year old daughter that lives two and a half hours from me, so I try to look at what events are coming up and make sure that everyone is happy. It is sometimes a challenge to keep a balance and still accomplish the goals I have in climbing. I have the greatest job in the world. My job allows me lots of latitude, and is seldom the reason that I don’t get to climb. Even with the time challenges, I wouldn’t want to be someone who gives up everything for one pursuit. I usually find the people I meet who have done that to be quite boring.

Q:    What is your diet like?

A:    Right now I’m having a Sam Adams imperial stout. My diet is nothing special. I eat what I want, and I’m lucky in that I don’t get fat. Amy is a vegetarian, and I hunt a lot, so the meat we eat is pretty lean. My choice of energy bars at the cliff these days is a Snickers bar. I go for the Snickers send.

Q:    What 1-2 things do you believe differentiates you from your contemporaries who have tailed off in their athletic participation and abilities?

A:    For many of my buddies, climbing was a means to an end. Climbing gave them something like losing weight or some sort of gratification, and then they moved on. For me, climbing has always been a lifestyle. I also embrace the younger generation and set ego aside. The young climbers are incredibly motivating for me. I try to suck the power out of them. I have friends who continue to climb but they do the same routes they’ve done many times. That’s OK, but I like to keep pushing myself, and I get great motivation from the younger climbers.

Q:    Do you have any recommended resources to share (books, seminars, websites, coaches)?

A:     Books like Performance Rock Climbing by Dale Goddard, or those by Doug Hunter, Dan Hagues, or Eric Horst are good, but it depends on where you are in your climbing ability.  I think that training isn’t rocket science. You can take training knowledge for a marathon, and translate it to climbing by changing a few things. I find that rereading training manuals can help me change around a stale training regimen.

Q:    Have you experienced a breakthrough, and if so, what led to it?

A:     In 1983 I did a route named Vandals with Hugh Herr, Lynn Hill, and Jeff Gruenburg, and it was the first 5.13 in the east. That was a breakthrough, because it was the hardest thing in the east at the time, and also because it was a team effort by the best climbers in the area. Who did it first was not the end all, and we all motivated each other to do our best.

Shortly after I moved back toNew YorkfromCaliforniain 1994, I got reenergized by climbing. I was working a 5.13d climb called Mantronic with a friend of mine Jordan Mills, and I felt really far away from doing the crux move. Jordan would tell me how close I was, and made me believe I could do the route. He believed in and pushed me, and I eventually did the route.

Q:     What was the best advice you were ever given?

A:    Kim Carrigan, who was a great climber from Australia once told me that if I want to be the best I could be, I should visit as many climbing areas, and climb on as many kinds of rock as I could.

I now advise people to broaden their horizons, and partake in all aspects of climbing. If you do bouldering, sport climbing, and traditional climbing, you can have a lifetime’s worth of fun climbing to do.

Q:     Do you have a saying or motto that you live your life by?

A:    It’s always later than you think. When you die and you have work left on the table, and money in the bank, yet you’ve run out of the most precious thing, time. Don’t waste time doing stuff you don’t want to do.

Q:    Where do you draw your inspiration from?

A:     I like watching the strong, young, climbers do stuff. They drive me to try harder. I love going out climbing with friends who climb well.

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