Thomas Bubendorfer: a dialog between mountain and meaning of life
“I am a man who constantly tries to fill the gap between the already and the not-yet.”
Who are you Thomas? Define yourself as a man and as an alpinist
I am a man in search of quality in all walks of life, not quantity. I am a man who does what his heart tells him to do. As an alpinist, I am always in search of what is new to me, what I have not yet done.
What's the feeling you search and like while you do ice climbing?
There is no difference in the feeling I have between ice and rock climbing. When I am one with the element, when I forget to “think”, when “it” climbs me, then it is perfect.
How did your vision on climbing change over your career?
My climbing life is a work in progress. I never had “final goals” and I don’t have them now. I was a solo climber for 20 years, mostly rock, I always hated the ice passages on my solos of the Eiger, Matterhorn, Droites, Fitz Roy, south face of Aconcagua; then I turned into a decent ice and mixed climber and a whole new world of possibilities opened up to me. I managed about 30 first-ascents in the last ten years, stuff that I could never have dreamed of when I was doing my big rock-solos. I now love winter alpinism a lot. So the climbing is different, it is now also very team-oriented, but the passion for mountains, for climbing and performance (on a personal level) has not changed.
Which kind of thought or thing or activity helped you in the recovery period after accidents?
1. Never complain about what you cannot do any longer, or now.
2. Never look back.
3. Never compare (with others, or with yourself, like, “I did this and that last year, now I am moving on crutches, poor me”.
4. Focus on the present. The human being is always potential, and we can always do something, even if it seems very little.
5. Take the present challenge step by little step, as in climbing, and never repeat. For example, after my last accident the first time I got out of bed, on crutches, with all my ribs broken and seven kilos of muscles left - this was last year in April - it was extremely painful and physically almost impossible to move up six stairs. But the next day I took ten stairs. And so on.
What do you like to do in your life outside climbing?
Be with my wife (and children too, but more with my wife). Reading, swimming, playing the piano.
Balance between training and rest time is essential. You are very careful about it. When and how did you discover this in your life?
Well, I wish I was more careful about it last year! I fell in the gorge of Sottoguda because my mind was tired, I was overtrained and overworked… I met Dr. Bernd Pansold, a former Eastern German Democratic sportsphysiologist who has created the Red Bull Diagnostic training center (where all the Red Bull athletes have to examine themselves) about 20 years ago. To this day he guides my training. He always put an emphasis on performance and REST, as the precondition of performance. Growth happens in the rest-phase! My mistake was, last year, that I thought things like flying to China for a speech was a „rest-phase“. What we must understand is that performance is always stress, and there is no difference for body and mind where the stress comes from: sports or mind- (work) related. Stress always generates the production of hormones from the adrenaline group of hormones, most importantly the stress hormone Cortisol. If we constantly stress ourselves (with work, with training, often both) without taking intelligent recovery measures, our performance goes down (mental and physical), if you are a climber, well, then you go down! (as I did last year).
I add to this balance (training-resting) also healthy food. What do you think about it? What do you like to eat?
A healthy diet is important of course, but intelligent training is the key. I love Italian food (and wine)!
Give an advice to climbers very fanatic on training but not so much on regeneration. How can they give importance to this "hidden side" of performance? Which kind of regenerative activities do you suggest them?
Swimming! Living in Monaco, I swim every day from April to November. I am 56 and I have no problems with knees, shoulders, finger-joints (of course I was never a sports-climber). The other good thing to do is to check the Heart Frequency Variability. It gives you a perfect indication whether you are rested or overworked. It is also important to do LONG low-intensity training sessions with lactate levels in the muscle below 2 mmol. Almost everybody I know (not just the climbers) trains much too hard.