Tuesday, July 18, 2023

A second indoor climbing world record

On July 15, 2023, I set (still uncertified) my second indoor world climbing record: fastest vertical mile (male), doing 112 climbs, at 14.4 meters each, in a total of 1 hour 42 minutes and 58 seconds (continuous time, including descents and breaks; descents do not count towards the mile). The official best time was Andrew Dahir's 1 hour 51 minutes and 37.5 seconds. I am still working on preparing all the materials for submission to Guinness. [Later note: The record has since been officially certified.]

This was a fastest-time for fixed distance (one mile) record. In December, I got a longest-distance (about a kilometer) for a fixed-time (one hour) record. The video below shows the first and last climbs at normal speed and runs the middle 110 climbs at 30X.

I am grateful to Baylor Recreation for all the encouragement I have received, and to the volunteers who made this possible (two timekeepers, two witnesses, two additional safety officers).

Here are some details:
  • I am incredibly impressed with Andrew Dahir who had set both of the records in one day! There is no way I would have the endurance for that.
  • My vertical speed was 938 meters per hour, somewhat lower than the 1014 meters per hour of my December record, but I had to keep it up for a longer time. Still, I think I was less tired this time: the lower pace compensated for the greater distance.
  • The route was a 5.6. 
  • Unlike in my previous record, an auto-belay was used.
  • I started by doing 12 climbs at a slightly higher pace than I could keep up for the full length, followed by a  minute break, followed by ten sets of ten, with about 1.5-2 minute breaks in between. 
  • I got a cramp in the upper right thigh around climb #100, and had to rely more on upper body for the remainder.
  • I had a pacing sheet with dual target times both for beating the record by about 1.5 minutes and for beating the record by about 5 minutes. I consistently stayed ahead of both.
  • I wore my comfy 5.10 lace-up Anasazi shoes (pinks).
  • Mid-way I ducked into the storage room to change into a dry T-shirt.
  • I did a lot of short practices with 1-5 climbs at maximum pace (which I wouldn't be able to keep up much longer) to get my muscle memory of all the moves.
  • I did three full-length practices starting around May. The first one was slightly slower than Dahir's time. The second was about two minutes ahead of the record, and the third about five.
  • I did one mid-length practice about a week ahead, where I unofficially beat my December one hour record.
  • To avoid mishaps with video evidence, I had five cameras pointed at the event. Guinness rules require slow motion footage to be available for one-mile events. That makes sense for a run, but is surprising for a nearly two-hour climb, and to satisfy this requirement one of the cameras was a GoPro capturing at 120fps.
Because Guinness wanted the witnesses to log the individual time of each climb, I have a nice graph of how long each ascent took. I started a little faster, slowed down towards the end. The average ascent was 36 seconds. The fastest was 26 seconds (#1) and the slowest was 50 seconds (#111).


Gordon said...


Walter Van den Acker said...


Peter said...

Very cool! Congrats! I think you said the earlier record was on a slab; was this one as well? Assuming you keep the grade of 5.6 fixed, do you prefer the slab routes for these endurance climbs, or is one 5.6 as good as another for these, whether it is a slab or not?

Alexander R Pruss said...

It was slab, the same face as before.

Some low-grade routes have holds spaced too closely, which makes it hard to move fast through them (though maybe one can figure out a way). What I need is something that is pretty easy and yet allows for moderately some large and fast moves. Plus, I like it when there is some variety in the movement, or else I'd be bored.

For the first record, we customized the initial 5.7 route for the final attempt to make some of the holds a bit easier to grab. For the second record, no modifications were made, except that I asked for the route to be extended a little in height so that 112 climbs would be enough for a mile.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Btw, Guinness has no route grade restrictions.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Incredibly, I just calculated that Tim Klein's height-of-Everest climbing wall record comes to 1:42:59 per mile, which is one second longer than I took for my mile, but he had to keep it up for about 5.5 miles! It is nearly certain that at some point in his climb he beat my one mile time. I can't imagine keeping the pace up for that distance.


Alexander R Pruss said...

Guinness has just approved my record.

Peter said...

Very cool! Congrats!

For someone who is just getting into climbing (and is roughly forty) do you have any advice on how to minimize recovery time due to finger tightness and joint soreness?

Alexander R Pruss said...

Mainly patience and taking it easy? And asking someone who is experienced at *teaching* climbing, rather than someone like me who is just a climber. There is a real body of knowledge, with both craft and empirical research, behind teaching climbing and training climbers, and I don't have this expertise, so take everything I say with a big pinch of salt.

In climbing, I progressed very slowly, but I was also overweight and really unfit until I started climbing at 42. I think it probably took me about two years to climb my first 5.9. I know it took me four years to climb my first 5.11. That said, the Baylor gym's top-rope grades are traditionally pretty stiff (I've seen commercial gym "5.11" routes that on our wall would rank 5.8 or 5.9; I heard we recently hired a commercial setter to set a 5.9 for us, but it turned out a 5.6 by our standards).

I think the volume of my climbing was relatively low in the first years--after a couple of climbs on our 53 foot wall, I would be done for the day. That probably was good for injury prevention.

I think the experts think that warm-up is really important. Earlier in my climbing, I didn't have much endurance, and so if I was working on a hard route, I'd hop on it immediately, because I felt that if I put it off until later in the session, I'd be too tired. That was a bad idea. Us middle-aged folks need to play the long game, and avoiding injury is a priority over quick progress. Once I started warming up more seriously, it really did improve my performance. My son was told by his coach that performance is maximized when one already feels one's muscles a little bit tired. (It may be a placebo effect, but I do feel it.)

I think a standard warmup routine for top-rope would be to do something like three climbs spanning between the easiest routes to a bit below the difficulty of the harder route(s) you are planning on working on in the sessions. (I don't do it this way myself, but I won't say what I do, because (a) I don't actually know that it's good, and (b) my own set of skills and pattern of climbing is atypical.)

Specifically for fingers, take it very easy. The usual advice is to avoid crimping except when absolutely necessary and learn how to do open hand gripping. Go gently on your fingers. Warm them up. And that includes literally _warm_, as in temperature (though of course one way to do that is by exercise). Climbing hard stuff with cold hands, say in winter or after swimming, doesn't feel good to my fingers. You might consider some antagonistic finger extensor exercises, too, to compensate for the asymmetric development of flexors after a session. You can do that with a rubber band, but there are specialized rubber bands with finger loops on Amazon. I used to do this semi-regularly using this DIY device: https://www.instructables.com/Finger-Extensor-Exerciser/ , but I haven't used it for years (maybe it would be good for me; I don't actually know the research).

Generally speaking, I try to avoid the same form of physical activity on two successive days. (This semester, regular forms of exercise for me are climbing, biking, kayaking, swimming and pickleball. Every couple of months I run, typically 5 km, but I hate running.)

You will hate me for this, but muscle soreness is seldom an issue for me. I don't have any secret. I wonder if it's correlated with how slowly I progress at athletic things. Normal (as opposed to injury-based) muscle soreness is the muscles being torn down to be replaced by stronger muscles. I see other people progressing much faster than I did. Undergrads can literally do in months what took me years in terms of level of climbing, and a number of them climb significantly harder things on top-rope than I can (5.12a or so), and many of them boulder way, way better than I (I once managed a V5, but otherwise I max out at V4; that said, because of fear of injury, I mostly do top-rope). I just have really good endurance.

Peter said...


Thanks so much for the extensive comments. I really appreciate it! Congrats on the record, once again.