Suunto ambassador and record breaking ski mountaineer Greg Hill has achieved some incredible things; skiing two million vertical feet (609, 600 m) in a single year, climbing and skiing over 190 mountains, his inspiring Electric Adventures challenge in which he has so far climbed 100 summits without using any fossil fuel. On top of this, add to the list being an awesome dad, and a voice for climate change action.
Yet, behind every elite athlete, is at least one trainer who helps to keep the fire burning and things progressing in the right direction. This is true for Greg who has had the same highly sophisticated trainer for the last 21 years. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Greg had the time to sit down and reflect on this relationship.
Thanks to my trainer
By Greg Hill
As Covid hit, we all sat back and reflected on our lives. What I reflected on most was my relationships and their importance. Of course, there were family and loved ones which are the most important. Yet, there were also others whose importance in my life became obvious. Relationships with co-workers, neighbours and, now that I think about it, a long-lasting relationship with my personal trainer.
I should introduce myself. I am Greg Hill, a super passionate backcountry skier. This passion has driven me to find first descents, push endurance records and explore places like no one else. My passion lies in pushing into the unknown; be it the physical or the mental landscape.
I first met my trainer in a parking lot in Whistler in 1999. It was a moment fated by the stars. I knew I needed a trainer, but I never understood how important the relationship was going to be. This began right at the start of my obsession with vertical travel in the mountains. I knew little, but dreamed big. How could I push and evolve my skills without a proper trainer? Most likely I wouldn’t have accomplished any of my goals without this connection.
I had no idea how much this relationship was needed, but we hit it off right away. The moment I was told how fast I was moving upwards, I wanted to excel and push that number higher. With my days being diligently tracked I pushed higher and further for hours. Multiple summits, long, long days, bigger days than I had ever done before. Always the incessant qualifying of my efforts, always the numbers telling me how hard I was working. It was addictive being accountable.
Our relationship developed into one of trust and commitment. I was pushed and driven to higher numbers and heights, always keeping track of my times, urging my vertical speeds faster and faster, always wanting me to go higher and further; 30 vertical feet a minute, come on you can do better, 50 feet a minute, that’s it … hold on… push and push… you've got this!
One of my first goals was to max out how much I could do in a day’s effort. We diligently worked on getting my one hour vertical as fast and high as possible. My trainer coached me to a point where I could glide and slide my way uphill very fast for an hour at a time. He watched me hit personal best after personal best. Always keeping track and letting me know how well I had done. Or poorly depending on the day.
Eventually with this coaching we saw the numbers get higher and higher, 10k, 20k, 30k, 40k in a day. Finally, my biggest vertical day ever, 50 000 feet (15, 240 m) in 23.5 hours. My coach kept those numbers and I was proud. Yet we knew we had more to do … lots more.
For many years we worked at doing 3000 m days as fast as possible, pushing and working my fluidity until it felt normal to go out for four to five hours and log 3000 + meters of uphill travel.
As a team, we worked up to one million feet in a winter, then eighty days over 3000 m in a season. Finally, we decided it was time for my biggest year ever. With my coach at my side at all times, I felt like we could challenge the world.
As scared as I was of the audacity of the task, I knew that together we could make it happen. My drive and the constant progress reports would keep me motivated. The year was going to be all about getting out every day and moving up and down mountains. For 365 days I went to bed with my trainer beside me. Immediately on waking I was told how much vertical I had climbed up to that point. It took exactly 270 days out of 365 to push my numbers over the two million feet (609 km) mark but it was the endless support and drive of my trainer that kept me getting up in the morning.
Greg celebrates back in 2014 after completing his March Madness, skiing 100.000 meters of vertical in a month. His trainer played a key role also in this challenge!
In the last 10 years the information has changed and there is so much more that I get from my trainer: GPS lines that show the adventures with distances, apps that have all my efforts on them. I am even told how much time to relax between training sessions, though I find this one hard to follow!!
These days my trainer captures all my efforts to stay off my “dad bod” and keep pushing my personal limits. High intensity training is key to pushing back against the effects of age. Now I am pushed hard for two minutes, then slow my heart rate down, then back up for two minutes, pushing hard into the 90 % of effort range. My heart rate is watched, recorded and displayed. I know if I am pushing hard enough to lose these love handles.
By now it may be obvious the trainer I met in the parking lot in Whistler was my first altimeter watch. It has been an incredible time, using it for endless hours of quantified fun. I can honestly say that without the constant updates, and the evolution of these watches, I most likely would not have been as obsessed and pushed to excel in my life.
All images: © Bruno Long