In a world where stereotypes often dictate the limits of human potential, Jeff stands as a testament to the power of determination and unwavering resolve. This doctoral candidate in clinical psychology, a former firefighter with a formidable 6'1", 100kg build, defies expectations at every turn. His recent conquest of Mount Everest, a feat that typically demands a different physique, showcases his extraordinary ability to push beyond boundaries. What's even more astonishing is that he's now channelling this determination towards an entirely new challenge – preparing for the Kosciuszko trail.
Transitioning from a strength-based firefighter to an endurance athlete, Jeff's journey is an awe-inspiring narrative of transformation. Despite the constraints of a demanding academic schedule, he meticulously juggles internship hours and full-time study to carve out time for his training. His quest is a unique blend of mental resilience, gruelling physical preparation, and an unyielding belief in the possible. Not only is he rewriting the narrative of what's achievable, but he's also offering invaluable wisdom to those inspired by his remarkable journey: start somewhere, surround yourself with believers, and remember that the only true limit is the one you impose on yourself.
Jeff's story is one of exceptional courage and an unwavering dedication to proving that the human spirit knows no bounds. The PranaOn team was fortunate to interview Jeff and is immensely grateful for his wisdom. Not only is he an inspiration to many, but he is also one of the kindest and most genuine individuals. His story is undeniably one that deserves to be heard and cherished, serving as a beacon of hope and possibility for all who encounter it.
Q: Epic Climbs: Your recent ascent of Mount Everest is an incredible accomplishment. How does preparing for the Kosciuszko trail compare to the rigorous training required for Everest?
Jeff: I think interestingly there are many similarities and at the same time many differences between what is required to prepare for a high-altitude climb compared to a trail ultra. They are similar in the sense that they are both highly endurance-based pursuits. Which is in stark contrast to my typical strength-based training methodology. To transition from one to the other type of training is quite the challenge both mentally and physically. The key differences have been adjusting to the significant amounts of time required to be invested to amplify my endurance capability. The time commitment is always a challenge, as I am sure many people can relate too, especially now while I am currently undertaking a doctorate in clinical psychology which requires many hours of internship as well as full time study, and occasionally sleeping ☺ In terms of the differences between Everest and Ultra preparations they key distinction is the speed requirement. In extreme high altitude the ability to move quickly is important for safety, but the pace is always considered careful and controlled to ensure being present in every moment to ensure your physical safety. While in contrast running by its very nature is a much faster paced venture.
Q: Training Variations: Mount Everest and the Kosciuszko trail are quite distinct in terms of terrain and altitude. How have you adjusted your training regimen to tackle the specific challenges of the Kosciuszko trail?
Jeff: The focus for Everest was trying to get as much vertical gain as possible, as often as possible, while carrying heavy loads in a pack. Obviously, the longer-term preparation for a high-altitude expedition is practice and experience, years of building and consolidating skills required. Giving yourself the opportunity to be able to essentially rescue others and even yourself for hazardous situations should the need arise. The training for the ultra, while also a wilderness event does not have the same level of risk or remoteness as the top of the world! This training phase has very much been run, run again, run some more, now run further… This is all very well if you are a runner, which I am far from, so I have been building slowly, increasing my intensity, distance, and speed very gradually. I guess you could say my jogs are almost runs now, being 6’1 and 100kg is not your typical endurance athlete’s physique ☺
Q: Altitude Adaptation: Climbing at high altitudes is a unique challenge. Could you share some insights into how you acclimatize to altitude and manage its effects during your training and climbs?
Jeff: Weather and altitude are the most dangerous elements of any high-altitude expedition, to prepare for the weather you take all the right equipment and clothing necessary and pay close attention to weather predictions and the extremely rapid weather variations at altitude. Adapting to the altitude for me has been a lot more challenging and at times more unpredictable. For example, I have climbed Lobuche East twice in the Himalayas, once I was struck with altitude sickness, another time I climbed it quite comfortably so there is at times an element of unpredictability of how your body might adapt at that time. I do have the great advantage now of training at Airlocker which provides quality trainers and programming for group workouts at altitude. Big shout out to the amazing teams at Newstead and Southport for the love and support. The protocol of gradual adaption to altitude is well established. That adaption can however be painstakingly slow, with multiple rotations up to higher altitude and descending to recover and allow the body time to adapt before pushing higher next rotation. I remember when reading countless numbers of books on Everest and other high-altitude exploits, the detailed descriptions of the pain and effort moving at such extreme height requires. None of which prepare you for experiencing that yourself. Heading up even slight gradients could be enough at times to have me moving literally at a snail’s pace. Setting goals and counting my paces to keep motivation to take another step were the reality at many times. It is very difficult for everyone, well apart from the amazing Sherpa who make it look effortless, but again my 100kg build is not ideally suited to movement at 8,848m!
Q: Nutrition and Supplements: Maintaining energy and endurance is crucial during both mountain climbs. What role does nutrition play in your training, and do you have any preferred supplements that aid your performance at high altitudes?
Jeff: Honestly nutrition is the second most important thing behind safety, we all know how important nutrition is to performance, health, and wellbeing, well now amplify that by extreme energy expenditure at high altitudes! My Garmin watch on one particularly difficult day ascending to camp three (7,100m) recorded an over 8,000 calorie day. So that kind of effort requires substantial resupply which is difficult at altitude where what you consume needs to be carried and prepared. I had the wonderful support of my sherpa and the incredible Himalayan Guides team with this. To ensure I was consuming enough fuel and the right type of energy I utilised Prana On protein bars as well as aminos daily. They really were a significant part of my overall success on the mountain. They fulfilled the same role in my preparation and training. During which however, I had the added advantage of also utilising the health support range of Glutamine, Creatine, and L-carnitine which unfortunately I did not have the ability to carry that extra weight up high otherwise I would have used them at altitude too.
Gear Preferences: Whether it's clothing, equipment, or footwear, are there any brands or gear that you consider essential for both high-altitude climbs and trail hiking? What features make these choices stand out?
Jeff: I have my personal preferences some of which are purely from liking to support local where I can, others are from the quality, or that they suit my needs better than some others. I will say that I have no skin in the game when it comes to recommendations, I am not sponsored by any clothing, equipment, or footwear companies. Clothing and sleeping equipment wise I adore the quality of the Australian made Mont Adventure Equipment, one of my other fave brands is mountain hardware. I utilised boots from La Sportiva, being a size 49 foot, your choices are limited, but they are amazing boots for anything mountain. On the trail side of things, I heavily rely on Hoka One One’s for my footwear, I love the fit and the comfort they provide. For my navigation, time keeping, fitness tracking, and just about any other feature you could ever need I utilise Garmin watches and devices so I would be remise if I didn’t shout them out, feel free to sponsor me Garmin ☺ Other than those specifics I am quite eclectic in choosing equipment, I always recommend trying, touching, feeling things just to get a feel for it and check you it is right for you first. Because, if you are not already aware, climbing and hiking gear is worth a pretty penny.
Mental Resilience: Conquering challenging peaks demands not only physical strength but also mental fortitude. How do you maintain your mental resilience during both the arduous training process and the actual climbs?
Jeff: Well, I will start by saying this; the training is mentally harder, the endurance goal is physically harder. It is so much easier to just stop and have a little rest, to say that’s enough for today, to say I am extra tired or busy or some other excuse so I will take today off, really excuses are easy to come by. What you cannot have in the moment are excuses or lapses in your resolve. Very literally lapses in concentration or effort may kill you. Resilience is one of those things that you can practice, that you can build, that you can achieve. If you have never faced any real adversity in your life this is a hard process, but it can be done. It starts with the small things, doing things that you don’t like, things that you in fact might hate, things that are uncomfortable, things that you really want to avoid at all costs. Well, it is time to start doing those, step out of the comfort zone, push yourself, you can achieve much more than you believe imaginable. An example of this is something that I love to hate, ice baths. Let’s be honest, they suck, they are never comfortable, but when I have done it, I am so grateful that I pushed through, that I got it done. Sure, they are good for you, but the real benefit in my mind is teaching the body resilience. Ultimately allot of us are very fortunate to live in the modern world in very safe, comfortable, and familiar conditions, leading to minimal resilience compared to what the harsh realities of the world were prior to modern clothes, cars, homes, air conditioning etc… This has been a little tangential, but I think you get the point. Resilience then requires effort and discipline. On Everest on those hard days, I was literally telling myself “I may not get to the top, but I can go another ten steps”, and on summit day it was “but I can go one more step”. And step by step I eventually got there… Now training for the ultra I am very much telling myself “This is not harder than Everest, you can run another km”. I will finish with this quote I love, "If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward." – Martin Luther King Jr.
Q: Recovery Strategies: Recovering from such demanding feats is crucial. What are your go-to recovery practices that help you bounce back quickly and prevent burnout or injuries?
Jeff: My favourite recovery strategies are very simple, sufficient rest, good quality nutrition and sports supplementation, the right medical or allied health assistance with any injuries or concerns, and I really do love and recommend contrast therapy. And as always prevention is always better than the cure, so all of these things are key prior to the adventure as well.
Q: Cross-Training Benefits: Are there any particular cross-training exercises you find especially beneficial for enhancing your performance in mountain climbing and trail hiking?
Jeff: In a perfect world I would always balance the contrasting disciplines of weight work and endurance work to maximise the important benefits of both methodologies in maintaining a strong, healthy, and functional body for optimal performance. Unfortunately, being time poor, I still do my best to maintain the two but I am usually finding myself prioritising one over the other dependent upon what my next goal is. I mentioned Airlocker earlier and this is one of my saving graces now, it allows me to utilise the altitude training to work on both endurance and strength in a time efficient manner. Allowing in all my spare time, he says sarcastically, to focus on trying to make this non-runner into someone who will be ok in the 100km trail ultra.
Q: Favourite Climbing Moments: From Everest to Kosciuszko, you've witnessed incredible landscapes. Could you share a standout moment from your climbs that continues to inspire and motivate you?
Jeff: Wow this really is a tough question, there have been so many incredible moments in nature and the high country over the years that really do inspire me. Some of these are the small things like taking a moment to be in awe and wonder at the incredible beauty mother nature provides. Like marvelling at the age and elegance of a tall old tree or stepping over a trail of ants as they go about their business. Some of the things are much bigger and more outwardly inspirational like the absolute majesty of watching sunrise at the top of the world, sitting and savouring that pyramid shadow cast by Sagarmatha and being so grateful and honoured that mother nature allowed you to be there in that moment, being humbled by your insignificance in that grand scheme of things and how that connects you with everyone and everything else. Being able to keep that joy, the wonder, the inquisitiveness, the playfulness, the humility, and the compassion of youth is what keeps me motivated to seek adventure and challenging oneself in nature.
Q: Advice for Adventurers: For those who are inspired by your achievements and want to venture into mountain climbing or long-distance trails, what advice would you offer based on your experiences?
You have to start somewhere! This has always been my advice, it does not matter the context goal, it does not matter how big the dream is, it does not matter if you do not know how you can make it happen, it does not matter if you do not have all the answers right away, it does not even matter if you think you can even do it physically or mentally. But, you do have to start… so choose something, anything that is a step forward, that moves you even an inch forward, get to it! The other key is to surround yourself with people who believe in you, who inspire you, who will lift you up and amplify you. Do not believe the naysayers, If I took on board every time, I was told I was crazy or full of it over the years when I said I would climb Everest one day, I would have never done it. The old saying “believe and achieve” is not quite right, it really is “believe, put in the effort, achieve”! You must believe and do the work, so ultimately at the risk of sounding very cliché, the only thing stopping you is you.