Hazel Findlay is a professional climber and performance coach. She was the first woman in the world to climb E9 and has since climbed a slew of hard (and often scary) routes including 3 free ascents of El Cap and, more recently, the first ascent of Tainted Love in Squamish.

We talk about Hazel’s early climbing, how she managed to climb hard on a severely injured shoulder for so long, her approach to coaching and mental training, and much more.

I was so impressed with the (extremely) understated way that Hazel talks about her own achievements and with her lifelong dedication to learning and personal growth. I think it’s fairly rare these days to find someone so down to earth, and yet clearly so driven to perform at the highest level she can.

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Say hi to Hazel! 👋

Several years ago, Dave Flanagan was laid off from his “boring computer job” (his words). But it’s what happened next that is interesting. He took what should have been a setback and turned it into completely different career in a completely different field; writing guidebooks.

Since then, Dave has authored or co-authored 5 super high quality guidebooks on climbing, cycling, and traveling in Ireland. Join me as I talk to Dave about how he made the transition, the ups and downs of writing for a living, how he selects projects to work on, and much more!

Note: this episode was recorded over a year ago (sorry!), so Dave’s newest book on Cycling in Ireland is already out! Get it here!

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Iain Miller is a marine engineer turned guide that lives in County Donegal, Ireland. Iain is probably best known for putting up first ascents on nearly every sea stack in Donegal (and doing many of them free solo).

Iain spends most of his days guiding clients in the hills, mountains, seas, and on the crags in and around Donegal, one of Ireland’s most wild and remote counties. We chat about how he landed in Donegal as a Scotsman, how he got into climbing sea stacks, his views on soloing, and why he gets so much out of guiding. Two things really stuck out to me in this episode.

First, I particularly loved his perspective on danger and risk. There are so many things we do these days that are inherently quite risky (driving a car is probably top of that list) but we don’t think about them. While free soloing is a dangerous activity with significant risk, it doesn’t mean that you’re being reckless about accepting that risk.

Second, Iain seems to be a master of living in moment and enjoying his days out no matter what he’s doing. Whether it’s a simple hill walk with some city folk or putting up new routes. His enthusiasm and obvious enjoyment of what he does is enviable!

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Get in touch with Iain on his guiding site, Unique Ascents

Check out some of his videos on YouTube

Harald Zundel is a renowned adventure racer, ultra-runner, and all-around endurance junkie. Born in Germany, Harald came to the US for university and then joined the Navy. Early in his naval career he somewhat accidentally decided to become a Navy SEAL. As if it’s easy, right?

Harald did his first adventure race on a team with several other Navy SEALs. They won that race and Harald was hooked on adventure racing. He became a professional adventure racer shortly after and spent nearly 8 years travelling and competing full-time before quitting the pro life and endurance sports altogether for a few years.

But Harald is not one to take the relaxing path. More recently, he has gotten back into punishing, I mean, challenging himself by running extremely long distance races like the Barkley Marathons, the Bigfoot 200, and the Ultra trail du Mont Blanc.

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Say hi to Harald on Facebook and Twitter.

Show notes:

  • [2:27] Harald’s childhood in Germany and being independent from a young age
  • [7:30] How Harald ended up in university in South Carolina
  • [8:30] Culture shock moving from Germany to the US
  • [11:45] How Harald ended up in the Navy
  • [14:00] And how he found out about the Navy SEALs
  • [15:00] How not having a mythology about the SEALs made it easier to sign up without a lot of fear.
  • [16:00] What does it take to be a SEAL?
  • [17:20] What’s the self talk that helped you get through BUDS (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL)?
  • [18:25] Finding strength in seeing others quit and Harald’s lowest moment during BUDS
  • [20:00] What happens after BUDS?
  • [22:00] Finding adventure racing
  • [24:20] “Stage” vs “Expedition” style adventure racing
  • [26:40] The team aspect of adventure racing
  • [27:10] The life of a professional adventure racer
  • [31:00] The mental aspects of adventure racing: Overcoming obstacles and challenges
  • [34:00] Why Harald retired from adventure racing
  • [35:00] Taking a complete break from endurance sports and just doing yoga for a few years
  • [36:00] Getting back into running and pushing into ultra-marathon distances
  • [38:00] Training for ultras
  • [39:20] Some of the highlight races that Harald has run
  • [40:30] What is the draw of these long, famous races.
  • [42:00] The unique characteristics of the Barkley Marathons (YouTube | Netflix)
  • [45:00] Harald’s 3rd place finish in the Bigfoot 200 and going 70+ hours with just 2 hours of sleep!
  • [47:30] The strategy of competing in extreme endurance sports
  • [48:50] The UTMB (Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc), arguably the most famous ultra-marathon in the world
  • [51:15] How does Harald suggest getting into ultra-marathons?
  • [53:45] What does adventure mean to Harald?
  • [54:50] Why is adventure important?
  • [56:15] Is discipline a required aspect of being adventurous or having adventures?

Damian Browne spent 16 years as a professional rugby player. That’s more than twice the length of the average professional rugby career. Based on that fact alone it should be clear that he has both physical and mental resiliency in spades.

Since retiring from Rugby, Damian has poured his non-trivial amount of energy into traveling, photographing, and pushing himself, both physically and mentally, in far flung regions of the world. Everything from 6 day, 250km ultra marathons in the Sahara, climbing Kilimanjaro, trekking through Afghanistan, and riding iron ore through west Africa.

We cover a lot of ground in this episode; talking about his rugby career and what traits enabled him to last (and enjoy it) for so long, talking about his new passion of photography, his love of travel, and what drives him to attempt his more audacious adventures (like rowing across the Atlantic, alone).

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I believe that we don’t really figure out who we are and what we’re capable of until we’ve found ourselves in a situation that demands more from us than we imagined that we had to give. These days, we usually only experience situations like these when they are forced upon us. Car accidents, the death of a loved one, corporate downsizing. Why is it that so many of us have become beholden to the idea that comfort and convenience are the ultimate pinnacle of modern society. Receiving our orders in less than an hour from amazon, never having to cook, never having to clean. These are all signals that we’ve made it, right? But the rise in depression, suicide, and obesity would suggest otherwise. When was the last time you really felt alive. Life is really lived at the edges of human endeavor and experience.
So, go and do something slightly stupid today. Go out for a hike this evening without a head torch. Get lost on purpose in your city. Go for a run and don’t turn around to turn around until you feel like you can’t run another meter, and only then turn around and run home.
I run trail marathons because I know that somewhere between 30 and 40 kilometers I’m going to experience what I call a gratitude high. It’s that moment when you feel so much gratitude that you can barely contain the tears. Colors are brighter, sounds are more sharp, your body seems to separate from your mind. It’s an amazing feeling, but I know that I can only get there by putting in the investment. I only get those beautiful moments when I’ve suffered enough for them. And it’s always worth it.

Part of what I’ve come to really enjoy about doing this podcast is that it gives me a great excuse to reach out to old friends that I’ve lost touch with. As soon as I decided to do this show, I knew that Elaina was going to be one of the people I’d want to interview and I’m so excited I could finally catch up with her in the middle of her crazy guiding schedule.

Elaina epitomizes the modern dirtbag lifestyle. She’s been semi-nomadic for her entire adult life, always in the pursuit of good rock and great people. Along the way, she’s “accidentally” become a climbing guide, the owner of New River Mountain Guides, and co-owner of Chicks with Picks. And to round it all off, she’s also a Rock Warriors Way trainer – teaching people how to better manage the mental aspect of the climbing game!

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Kevin Tobin loves what he does. He is the Director of Passages Adventure Camp in Richmond Virginia where he’s spent the last 25 years introducing multiple generations of kids to adventure, fear and–most importantly–their own inner strength and abilities.

Kevin is also an accomplished ultrarunner, adventure racer, and my former boss (I worked at Passages years ago). I really enjoyed this interview as it was as much an excuse to reconnect with Kevin after so many years as it was a great reason to dig deeper into how he thinks about adventure, planned adversity, and the motivation to push yourself beyond what most would consider sane limits.

I hope you enjoy it.

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Common wisdom proposes that one must weigh risk versus reward and asserts that these two forces work in direct opposition. On one side, you can risk little but are likely to gain little, if anything, in return. On the other side, risking a lot gives you a shot at winning big, but comes with a high probability of failure. The obvious problem is that this way of thinking assumes there are no low risk ways to earn large rewards. No paths to success that don’t entail betting the farm. Yes, it is a rational, logical argument. But it is also overly simplistic.

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