Patagonia Pro Member and Altra Running Ambassador, Chris Davies is a close friend of ours. A boulderer from early on and now stepping into the realm of ultra running, Chris has always been pushing his strengths in the mountains.
Born and bred in North Wales, and now living on the North Shore in Penrhyn Bay, he has always been surrounded by the towering peaks of Snowdonia.
An inspiration to us personally because of his constant progression and attitude towards the mountains and his work, we catch up with Chris to talk more about his experiences;
"I have quite a hectic lifestyle! I live with my partner of 18 years, Ellie, and my three children. I try and do as much as possible at home but feel as though I am rarely there sometimes. I love being at home, pottering around, being with Ellie and my kids, chatting (and arguing with teenagers!), going out for walks, or just staring out of the window. I work for World Challenge, which is a great company that take young people overseas, to experience culture and wild environments in a ‘big picture’ way. It’s a great thing to be a part of.
Running is a huge part of my life, and this has only come about over the last three years or so. I was quite a progressive boulderer before that, although running is now a fully major focus in my life."
Q: Talk to us about your bouldering?
"I began bouldering in 1996, and quickly realised that I had quite an affinity with the sport. Compared to how it is now, there were hardly any dedicated boulderers back then and so little UK development.
I didn’t have a job, or any money at all at the time and lived a stone’s throw from Parasellas Cave, on the Great Orme so began spending most days working lines on the limestone there. The cave was depicted at the time, as a dusty distraction from the more famous sports routes on the surrounding headland. It’s now host to the largest collection of hard boulder problems in the UK (maybe in Europe) per square foot.
The cave was a great place to train, and I quickly began moving through the grades, and over the first two to five years of my bouldering career ticked the first 8a, 8a+ and 8b boulders in Wales.
This kinda’ continued, and after joining forces with other local developers, I switched my attentions away from the coast of my home town, and into the wilder expanses of the Llanberis Pass, Ogwen Valley and the rocks of the Lleyn Peninsula. This was the 90’s goldrush. We had so many lines to get first ascents of. Literally new boulders every day, new lines – it was all so exciting, with some great people.
Over the years, bouldering became a way for me to get my own style out there. I really enjoyed shorter, far more powerful movement. The feeling of executing hard moves, after sometimes months of failure was an addiction, and with the wealth of unclimbed boulders, it was a reasonably easy addiction to feed.
Again though, the other major attraction was the adventure of it all, being by myself with my thoughts, and the travel.
Other, more global activists, such as Klem Loskot and Frederic Nicole where leading the way from 1999 forwards, for some years.
Opening up areas like Maltatal, Cresciano, Chironico, El Escorial and pushing the limits from the worlds hardest boulder at 8a+ in 1998, to 8b+ in 2000 was just so inspiring. In 1998 I climbed my first 8a+, and then to see the grades and standards fly up so dramatically really gave me an aim, and so to travel to climb the lines that these guys where putting up overseas became another passion.
Maybe the highlight of my bouldering was repeating a line of Klem Loskot’s, over in Maltatal in the Corinthian Mountains. This was a line called the ‘Power of Goodbye’, and the absolute essence of everything that I loved about climbing. A line with just enough in the way of holds and friction to make the moves possible. It’s a really simple line, which I really like.
Klem took over two years to climb the last (crux) move on this, and when we turned up, it did look pretty intense. Saying that, after warming up on our first day in front of some pretty stunned locals, I got the move third go (single move 8a+) and knew that it would go down that trip. Myself and Dave Noden were camping out in -25 degree temps, in the woods surrounding the bouldering area, so no mean feat for sure! Dave also got his first 8b here on that trip (Wrestling with an Alligator, also by Klem), so we were pretty elated, despite losing a huge amount of weight over the two weeks we were out there. Man – it was so cold, everything was frozen, and we had an inch of ice inside our tent for the entire time (thank god for cheap vodka). It was times like this that I really hold dear from my climbing history. Keeping it simple. One line a trip. Waking up in your sleeping bag with a coffee, looking at the sky and the rocks.
I still follow bouldering now to an extent, although feel that the demand for filmed ascents and so on has diluted the natural elements of what bouldering is about for me. There is a lot of ego and politics floating around, dictated opinions and such.
I think some people forget that climbing is a form of expression, as opposed to being something controlled. It seems less now about being in beautiful untouched areas, having your own experiences in your own chosen way, and more about doing things in a way that others expect.
It’s not for me, all of that. I’d rather the peace that a long run can offer."
Q: You’ve recently started ultra-running. Why did you start and what have you learnt about yourself and this sport?
"Man, that’s a good one. In a word, consuming, in all of the best ways.
Bouldering was quite an obsession, that came [for me] with the added convenience of being able to train reasonably hard, and to make sizeable leaps in ability without huge effort. Multiple days off, super compensating, getting stronger. Simple. Training for running ultra is a constant. It’s impossible to achieve without a huge amount of dedication, and time.
Whilst training for bouldering, I would maybe train for two days in a row, max out to failure and then rest for four days (super compensation), repeat. With my training for running now, I train 5 days a week running and on the non-running days, I’m working core. Combine that with a full time, nationwide position, and a family, and you have a pretty full-on schedule to maintain. I used to waste time, now I have none to waste. It sounds harder than it is, as I thoroughly enjoy the pace, although my partner Ellie might disagree with that!
I first thought about distance running in January 2017. Before this, I was just running to get lean for bouldering. It’s funny – earlier on than this, Ellie was training for the London Marathon, and I had a brief foray into jogging. I was useless, out of shape (with regards to cardiovascular exercise), and remember saying that I really couldn’t see the point in it all. Fast forward maybe 15 years, and I’m pretty sure I drive Ellie insane as I don’t stop talking about running these days.
Back to the question; I read an account written by elite American ultra-runner, Matt Flaherty, about his experience over in Patagonia. He ran the course record for the 63km in 2014 and after reading his blog, and was massively inspired to get out there and run. As it happened, for 2017, the longest distance for the Patagonia Marathon races was 46km, and Ultra Paine took over the ultra-distances.
Long story short, I had a huge experience out there.
I wanted to be able to run further to experience wilder environments. To me, it’s that simple. The better I get, the further I can run and in turn, this opens up the places and the ranges I have access to, on my own two feet. I’ve always steered away from competing, as it just isn’t in my nature. Saying that, I do want to excel at what I do, but just not in a race environment. I enjoy events, don’t get me wrong – the sense of community in running in absolute.
For the most part, I just enjoy being in the mountains by myself, without being dictated to by cut-offs, courses, or crowds. I enjoy the peace and the space and I don’t do sport related politics. Again – events for me are for meeting people, and enjoying the sense of community. With distance running, the events are a good way of reminding yourself that you are not a mentalist – some of the loonies that you meet out there are totally nuts (in a beautiful way)!
Saying this, it’s out on the trails and in the mountains that I feel the most together. Sane. On longer runs, that’s where you really get to know yourself; when it gets hard and everything is hurting.
I’ve learnt so much about myself through running. I had such an amount of confidence in my ability as a climber, that after dabbling in longer runs, I felt I could get okay at this pretty rapidly. I’m not a stranger to hard work, and I have a strong mind. And it’s not all about distance.
Some days you set out to run short trail, or something low mileage on the roads and your just not feeling it. Those days for me are worse and harder (both physically and mentally), than feeling strong on a good day running 30 miles with 7000ft of altitude gain. Days when you don’t want to leave the house, and you just want to call home to get collected half way – really!"
Q: What’s the best place you’ve run, and what are your greatest achievements so far:
"For a long time, I thought that the best place I had run was Patagonia. I think that this was because of the emotions that I attached to the experience. It changes constantly.
I would argue that with each major run, you would change your view on the best run, and greatest achievements. Currently, I’ve had my best, most recent runs in the Welsh mountains. I ran 21 miles with a good friend recently in the Carneddau range, and we hardly noticed the miles. The following week, I ran 27 miles solo, and again – it just happened. Each second of that run was just great, an enjoyable mental and physical space.
I’ve just this weekend completed a 31-mile solo trail run and that was just something else. Again, no reason to run, aside from just running for the sake of a long run. I really like that, so maybe one of my favourite experiences, as opposed to terming it my ‘greatest achievements’? I’m just not very great to be honest! I just happen to like trail-running.
Looking at forecasting, and I think that the GB Snowdonia 100 mile will be there at that specific point in time. I’m pretty sure that will be life-changing as an experience (how could it not be?), although again – something else will come along and in turn, become a new ‘greatest achievement’."
Q: Talk to us about your adventures in the mountains and why you enjoy it so much?
"I’m lucky in that I’ve had so much time in wild places over the last 25 years, for the most part as a boulderer. I travelled and climbed prolifically with my friend and climbing partner Dave Noden, who has similar views on me about some stuff.
We travelled for over 10 years on trips, hitting up and ascending some amazing lines, before the rest of the UK discovered these same areas. We both had aims on seeking out forgotten lines, with good history and stories behind them, and getting British firsts. It was all about the unknown, and the adventures that always come hand-in-hand with that.
I think that bouldering has lost that now (for me, personally), as everyone seems to flock to videogram the same old lines, the same areas, feeding off beta, as opposed to exploring for themselves. That’s what running has given me now; the ability to discover my own limits in such a different way, in the same environments that I moved through as a climber, but without the constraints of ‘you must do this’, and ‘you have to film that’.
Such a sad dictation of affairs right now in UK climbing. Running just doesn’t have that because no one gives a shit – you’re just running, it’s that simple. I’ve always absolutely loved moving through the hills by myself, the freedom to create lines on new boulders, and now, the freedom and ability to travel distances quickly in the higher realms. It’s all the same; it’s all about the spaces, and having the time to experience your own mind whilst pushing your physical limits. That’s the attraction."
Q: If you could run or boulder anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
"Mongolia. I have an unstamped Mongolia visa in my passport from a long time ago now. I was due to fly out on expedition in 2009 through Khan Onde, as the leaders father had fallen ill over in the UK. Last minute (literally outside of the Mongolian embassy), I had a call from the original leader, as he had decided to stay with the team. I was absolutely gutted driving back through London to Wales, and I’ve been wanting to travel out ever since.
I would love to run the Mongolian S2S race (the MS2S sunrise to sunset 100km). This looks incredible, taking in the Chichee and Jankhai passes – crazy!
So many places. Maybe the Western States one day?
Why not aim high, I always say. There is absolutely no reason why we can’t do things like this. You just need the imagination and the dedication to get there."
"I want to thank Thomas Bell Hughes for being an amazing training partner constantly helping me push forward, and Adam Groves for the photographs provided for the article.
Also to my family who have put up with my absence over the years, but have supported me throughout."
If you want to read more about Chris' adventures you can catch them on his blog at : chrisdaviesrunning.blogspot.co.uk
A massive thank you to Chris for his time involved in this article - from us at White Giant!