Interview with: Dark Horse Dixon

Peter Dixon is a new Dark Horse in competition bouldering. Neat fact, he’s vegan. And next up? Roping up for SCS Nationals. He’s been training at Smith Rock, sending 5.13 routes (Oxygen, Churning in the Wake) as well as projecting .14a.

Here’s an interview with the newly arrived Dark Horse.

Peter, You are no longer a myth since we met you in person at Colorado Springs. You won the Portland Boulder Rally, and made Finals at ABS Nationals. We heard you even quit your job to train for ABS Nationals.

Is that true? Did winning the Portland Boulder Rally with a strong field inspire you?

Yes Tiffany, I quite my job in Seattle a month after sending the PBR.  It wasn’t for a lack of liking my job either; I worked with a great team and had an enviable position for a rock climber.

 Life is about change though, and entering the PBR was the catalyst for change in this particular phase of my life.  We can sit around thinking about what we’d really like to be doing with our lives, or we can just do it!  Leaving my position in Seattle was a simple choice to make and I have no regrets.  

Winning the PBR and three other major comps in succession proved to me I had made no mistake regarding my potential as a competition climber.  It was a real wake up call to the whole competition climbing scene in general, all of the strategy and mental games involved in the sport.  Initially I was on the fence as to whether or not I was going to compete in the PBR.  

It was actually the kids I use to coach at the Rogue Rock Gym in Oregon who inspired me to go for it.  I’d spent so much time helping them get psyched for comps and motivated to keep up the hard and sometimes monotonous work of training, it seemed hypocritical for me to avoid competitions any longer when they all knew I had the skills to help them go for it.  So I showed up at PBR having only had a week to train given the circumstances of a full time, labor intensive job in Seattle.  Right off the couch I took home first place and $2000.-if you can call a crash pad a couch!  

That moment was a definite wake up call for me.  

Within a months time, I had placed first in 2 more competitions within the Pacific Northwest, pocketed another $1200, and came to a serious realization, that after 17 years of dedication to the sport of rock climbing I could be doing not only what I love, but what I do best, as a full-time athlete.     

 

How did you train and stay fresh for ABS qualifiers, semi-finals and finals?

I have really been focusing not only on my work outs and overall physical fitness but concentrating also on the nutritional aspect of fuel and recovery. I have been incorporating a nutritional lifestyle that encompasses over 3 years of intensive research and supplement my body’s extra needs as an athlete through whole foods.

I also drink a minimum of 4 litters of liquid a day.  Half water, half coconut water, and at least 1 green juice or smoothie per day for recovery.  This was huge for the amount of training I put in and helped prevent any injuries associated with such consistent climbing.  I would put in 8 – 12 hour training days pretty regularly and tried not to take more than 2 days off at any one time. 

Having never before trained as an athlete, it has been an exciting process that I am just now starting to get the hang of.  Of course I’m only getting started here, and as such there is lots of room for improvement.

Staying fresh throughout the qualifier round was challenging. I definitely noticed that the elevation change had a bigger impact on my recovery time than I had expected. In order to compensate for this effect I maintained a high level of hydration with coconut water, I rationed out a bite of a banana after every climb and I was consistently shaking out, massaging the lactic acid out of my muscles, and focusing on my breathing. With all of these techniques I was able to recover in time for the next round of climbing.

With semi-finals I felt much better able to recover and I attribute this to an extra night at elevation and plan on utilizing this acclimatization technique in future competitions. For the Finals it was an interesting change of pace and instead of working to recover I found I was instead working to stay warm.

After each climb I would de-shoe, eat a bite of a banana, drink a little water, don my sweatshirt, and stand up and shake out if I felt I was being too sedentary. I even found my self crimping and pinching the metal supports on the chair I was sitting in to maintain some sort of power retention.

I definitely learn a lot at each competition I enter and these experiences have been priceless tutors for the whole comp climbing learning curve.

 

Peter, so you’re vegan. Like you, climbers like Gavin Heverly and Natasha Barnes have taught everyone a thing or two about nutrition. Then there are climbers who eat donuts, McDonald’s, and Oreos… In fact, after ABS, half the final competitors posted photos of their celebratory junk food exploits. How can this discrepancy be possible?

Boy, I wish I knew. 

It never ceases to amaze me that humans have lived on this planet for thousands of years and still don’t understand what the optimal diet and lifestyle would look like for a long and healthy life.  

If you look at the current statistics regarding athlete longevity, the picture is quite bleak.  In terms of other major sports, athletes get driven hard during their youth, and are not living the long and healthy lives one might expect.  As rock climbing is a full body, low impact sport, it lends itself well to the prospect of affording hard core athletes an opportunity to live long and healthfully in their sport.  

It is my opinion that donuts, fast food, and caffeinated beverages are not optimal fuel choices on the path to longevity regardless of whether you are a pro-rock climber or a high school teacher.  But you have to see that rock climbing is really alone in this aspect in relationship to other sports.  From pro-cyclists to downhill skiers, these athletes are highly regimented in what they eat full-time, not just while training.  Their lives are dedicated to their sport and peak performance.

 Personally I want to be enjoying my chosen sport for many, many years to come, and feel great while I’m doing it.  For me, the more information I uncover the harder it becomes to turn that blind eye and indulge, even in vegan junk food.  

But to be perfectly honest with you, Tiffany, as no one is perfect, I did have the better part of one vegan donut during the course of my training.  My real point here is I want to climb well and for a long time and I know that the choices I make today affect the health of my body in the future. 

I think people can ride on exercise and youthfulness for quite a while, but I am looking for longevity.  As far as labeling goes I prefer to call my self more of a nutritarian.  Meaning that: the calories I consume in any given day contain the highest amounts of nutrients possible. 

It’s like filling up a sports car with the highest grade fuel possible to run at peak performance and burn fuel cleaner.

 

So what’s your occupation? Interests? Hobbies?

Occupation:  Professional Rock Climber / Head Route Setter at the Circuit / Head Coach

Interests:  Rock Climbing, Bike Polo, White Water Rafting/Kayaking, Heath and Nutrition, Paragliding.

Hobbies:  Collecting Spring Water, Mushroom Hunting, Exploring new areas.

 

 What are the biggest challenges in training, aside from the temptation of a vegan donut?

The biggest challenges I’ve come across in my training have mostly been mental. Keeping my psych up hasn’t been too difficult recently.  

I try to keep my ego in check and remember that my body isn’t a machine, and that treating it with respect and kindness is just giving back.  If we treat our bodies well, we get dividends – it as simple as that.  Not over-pushing my body’s abilities, and, tuning in and listening to what it is telling me is key.  It also circumvents diminishing returns.  That might be as easy as backing off a certain move or training regime or pushing myself harder to work on my supportive muscles or to build shoulder strength.  

I personally have a tendency to want to push it too far for too long, so at times I can forget to eat enough calories to keep up with my exercise level.  This can lead to reaching for less than nourishing foods.  So I always keep plenty of healthy snacks packed away and on my person at all times.  I also check in with my body when temptation sneaks in so that before I reach for those vegan donuts I ask myself, “How is my body going to feel afterwards, how it is going to try and process all those oils, sugars and starches?”  

It works pretty well, but I do have to say cheating does have its function.  For example, when I reached for that vegan doughnut a couple months ago, since it’d been years since I’d eaten anything like it, I felt like crap for the rest of the day.  Because of that I was simply not tempted again.  Anyhow, these foods really start to taste like the strange and dubious ingredients which make them up once you get away from giving into them, so I really don’t crave them often.  

Understanding that instant gratification foods come with a price, and weighing in on the pros and cons is important.  It’s all mental, anyhow. Junk food will never fill the void.

 

Last, you climb confidently, like you’re on a mission. Is there any routine, or word of advice you use yourself that might inspire others to train hard, stay disciplined, or stay focused? 

When you are truly doing something you love it becomes easy.  If you have to force yourself to stay disciplined, focused, or to train hard for something, I would say that this is a good time to reevaluate what you’re currently pursuing.  When all is said and done, if you’re not having fun, what’s the point?  

So many climbers, like myself, get out of competition climbing quite young because they loose their love for the sport under the pressure of training and competing.  I enjoyed the freedom of climbing outdoors with my friends or alone, and so I did that for many years. I found my way back to competition climbing coming from a place that felt easy and natural, not forced.  I still love climbing outdoors, and who wouldn’t prefer it?  The difference is now I also appreciate the fun and challenge of indoor competitions, especially how inspiring it can be to young climbers.  

My advice to young climbers or anyone who is seriously considering competition climbing is that it is a good practice now and again to simply let go.  Let go of your expectations of self, let go of the expectations of the ego, let go of expectations of others.  Free yourself to have the clarity of consciousness to actually choose to do what you actually love doing and not what you or others think you should do.  

It is only in letting go that you find the controls, and when you do, you’ll know how to use them.