I Want That Job! Dave MacLeod - Professional Climberby Jack Geldard - UKC Chief Editor Jun/2008
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© Hotaches Productions
Here he reveals that it isn't all chin-ups and broccoli. These days it's a mix of planes, trains, blogs and emails. Dave explains how he has managed to blend cutting-edge climbing with modern sporting professionalism:
Name: Dave MacLeod
Ha-ha! Where do I start? Athlete, coach, lecturer, writer, internet entrepreneur (I hate that term!), web designer, labourer.
I have a masters degree in Science & Medicine in Sport & Exercise.
Varies massively from year to year from scarily low to very good.
Perks and holidays/time off:
Every day feels a bit like a holiday because you do good work, but I've had maybe one proper 'day off' in three years.
Describe your job:
I balance several jobs that all centre around climbing. I lecture about climbing, coach it, write about it and any time in between I do it myself. This is all based on my personal climbing being well known initially because of the standard I climb at, and more recently because I share my ideas about climbing through different types of media. About 60% of my time is in front of a computer and the rest is climbing or training. It's full time in the sense that it's a 24/7 occupation.
How did you get this job? How long did it take? Any hardships? Did you always want it or did it just happen?
I got it through a combination of an obsessive love of climbing, an obsessive love of being obsessed and being a stubborn bastard. It took about 13 years from starting out to providing a realistic income. That point was a tipping point of; my climbing reaching a certain standard, my profile reaching a certain level and me having learned enough of the skills needed to make these things return an income.
I wanted to become a professional climber enormously, but I had no idea even three years ago what this would ultimately be like. When I was 16 and had been climbing a year, my best friend and I were talking about the future and he said 'all you are ever going to do is just climb'. I had nothing to say to that. I knew he was right – there was no other conceivable option for me, but I didn't know how that would equate to making a living. The reality of this evolved along the way. It was really great when I realised that chasing sponsorship as a sole income was not the way forward!
What attracted you to the job in the first place?
I couldn't get enough of climbing.
How long have you been in the job now? How long do you see yourself continuing?
It's kind of hard to say when I started. I mean I started pushing myself as a climber as well as trying to understand and communicate it when I was 15. But in the last two years it has felt a lot more like a profession rather than an amateur obsession. There is no doubt I am a lifer and although the day to day activities of my job will continuously change, I'll be 'Dave the climber' until I drop dead.
© Hot Aches Images, Oct 2006
I get up depending how late I've worked the night before and answer many emails over some cups of tea. I get lot of emails every day from climbers looking for assistance with training choices, injuries, research projects etc. I answer all of them, although I'm not sure I can do this forever. After that Claire and I 'do the orders'. We work together in a partnership both running internet webshops. We process our orders and get them off at the post office and deal with all the admin that goes with it. If I'm training I'll work on until 5 or so writing features, doing website work, preparing lectures or writing training programs for coaching clients. Then I'll go and train until around midnight. After training I'll get back on the computer and do more work, often writing blog posts or continuing what I was at before until 2 or 3 in the morning.
In winter things are different I do lots of coaching days and lecture all over the UK. So I spend much time on planes, trains and buses and do all my writing on my trusty laptop as I travel. I enjoy my crazy lecturing trips. They are exhausting but I get so much done! During the days I coach climbers at different climbing walls and then often give a lecture in the evening.
Right now things are different again because I am working on a project. I've done more work for the past year and taking a bit of time off so only working 30-40 hours a week so I can work on a project on Ben Nevis over summer. I do a few hours work first-thing and last-thing and go up the Ben during the day to try the route.
So it's massively varied, very intense and always too busy. It makes me enjoy my climbing so much more though. I do most of my climbing alone in places no-one else goes to and I love the solitude of this. I'm quite (read very) shy and I find meeting so many people at climbing walls and lectures that have an expectation of me quite difficult sometimes.
Is it how you/other people imagine it to be?
For me it is much more rewarding that I expected. To be able to affect and I guess influence people through your thoughts, actions and communication is a cool thing at times. I get many emails from climbers who say, for instance, that reading about things I've struggled with and written about on my blog has helped them deal with the same issues. That's cool. It's so creative as well – I get to dip my toe in a world of creating entertainment shows, creative writing, product design, web design, film making, and performance coaching. Claire and I are constantly saying “such and such a type of person would chew their right arm off for this opportunity”.
But there is no doubt it's hard work. Absolute obsessiveness is an essential prerequisite. 'stuff it, I'm going for a pint' does not exist. Other climbers often ask “do you get pressure from your sponsors?” or even just assume that this happens. But it is actually the other way round. If there is one thing I never need it's outside pressure to climb harder!
© HotAches Productions
The best days are being out working moves on brick hard routes, pulling hard, going for it and sitting in the silence in between goes getting psyched for the next try.
The worst days are trying to fit in too many work things. I wish I could be like the folk that tell you they do well under pressure of deadlines, nerves or urgency. I still feel sick before giving lectures and get the stress when I hit 'send and receive'.
Why is it great being a professional climber, and why is it rubbish?
Its great because it opens you up to some of the most powerful experiences you can imagine. It's rubbish because it can take over your life in a rather unbalanced way at times.
Do you 'love' your job? Why? Why not?
Yes I love it. I get to do things that really matter to me, all day long, every day.
If a teenager said to you 'I want to be a professional climber, like you' – what would you say? Recommend it? Warn them off? Laugh?!
I do get emails from young talented climbers who ask me how to go about getting sponsored or whether they should try. Sometimes it's worth it for them just to get a free pair of shoes. But my opinion on whether they should try to go further – like ditch a university degree to try to become a world class climber is this; If you have this in you, you probably don't need to ask anyone else what they think. You KNOW this is you and there is no other option. If you are this type of climber, you are already a professional, you just need to learn more about the small matter (and it is that) of how to pay the bills.
Any tips and advice on how to get to where you've got to?
Set your sights very very high. Look for the strongest, most committed climber around, try their climbs, try the moves and understand that this is your entry level. To break ground, you have to go past this. I have not got there yet, very few people ever will, but this is the process to use on the work to get closer to it over the years.
The other thing is to relish failure. When you fail, and everybody does, all the time, hold onto the energy it gives you and use it. Not in a reckless, angry way thrashing yourself at the rock when it's obvious it isn't going to happen. But to get up tomorrow and train, to sit and read that book on physiology and understand where you are going wrong. To change that bad habit you have to force yourself to step out of your comfort zone every single day.
Any friends through work?
Of course I have many good friends I have met and work with not often enough. Almost all are very strong characters in their own way – that's climbing for you. The best thing is that now I work in partnership with Claire as we are both self employed.
Any amazing stories? See 'E11'
And finally - What's your dream job? Why?
My dream job is the one I do now, with some tweaks. You know what they say about the jack of all trades. In my climbing, I discovered a long while ago that rather than being a headless chicken all-rounder I could be a temporary specialist concentrating on one thing, like doing 9a or something, until it was done and then moving on to the next thing. So you could get much better results by placing the different things in temporal sequence. I'm trying to do that now with my 'other' work. Right now Claire and I are trying to make a film about Ben Nevis and this route I am trying that could be a special route if it goes. But to get anywhere with it, I need to accept I must do less of coaching, writing and lecturing for a while. I find it much harder to stay focused on the big goal in work than I do in climbing.
A great big thank-you to Dave for taking the time out of his hectic schedule for this interview. We wish him all the best for any future projects, from luxury hampers to E12 mega-routes.
Also thank-you to HotAches for the use of these excellent images of Dave.
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