Translated from Spanish to English by the author
Mar Álvarez went to school for economics, audited accounts, and then gave it all up to chase her dream. She supports her climbing by fighting fires and had no sponsors when she sent her first 9a (5.14d), yet is the fifth female to reach the benchmark. Her second ascent of the grade, the infamous Escalatamasters, provoked a training video on how to send 9a and hold a job. How does she do it? Sheer willpower.
Q&A with Mar Álvarez
You have a strong willpower and are dedicated to your passion.I feel like there is an untold story here!
Behind [a] person, there is always a motivation and a history. And my case is no exception.
For many years I did what was supposed to be correct and expected of me, even though that didn't fulfill me. But a moment arrived that told me that that was not the path I wanted for myself, and I decided to change the things in my life that I didn't like. I knew that it would not be easy, and that I could fail in the attempt, but I had to try.
Without doubt, it was a hard process because I had to fight a lot, but finally I achieved what I had proposed. This experience has taught me many things: one has to fight [for] what one believes and what they want, and really fight for them. And this is so applicable to climbing, as well as to life in general.
What have you had to sacrifice?
When you dedicate so many hours to something, it is of course at the expense of doing other things. In my case, I have many other hobbies that I have had to put to the side to center myself so much on climbing: horse riding, surfing, swimming, bicycling, motor biking, and helping the prevention of cruelty to animals are just some examples. And also, on account of climbing, I have sometimes abandoned doing more duties in my work, and therefore to make more money.
These small things are not important to me now, because what I obtain in exchange outweighs the sacrifice. Within some years, when I leave climbing and training at this level, I will have time to do all the other things that I love. The important thing is to enjoy what you do in the moment.
What has tested your limits?
In those hardest and most difficult moments there have been doubt. I have had to make decisions that no one else believed [in] and thought were wrong, and have had to fight against wind and tide to be able to carry them out.
It was not easy, because in those moments when you think you cannot do more and would like to throw in the towel, I had no one to motivate me to continue further, and would have to help myself alone from my own conviction and tenacity.
One of those decisions was to prepare myself to be a firefighter; without doubt, it has been the hardest experience on account of what I have had to spend.
What did you do before you a firefighter?
I studied [economics] at Administracion y Direction de Empresas and also [took] a course in account auditing. For some years I practiced as such, but it [wasn’t] fulfilling, so I left everything and prepared to be a firefighter (during this time of preparation, three years, I had to completely leave climbing). And now I work as a firefighter.
Who influences you?
The truth is that I don't know where my passion for the mountains comes from, or for climbing in particular, since no one in my family is related to this world, nor with the world of sports. I am the “sport sheep” of the family.
The strength and the dedication that I allocate to climbing is directly proportional to the satisfaction that I obtain from it.
Are you interested in competitions?
I have never liked to compete, neither in climbing nor another field. Yes, it's been some years since I tried it (competed at a national level) to see what it was like and to see if my opinion would change, but it didn't, and the experience, for various reasons, I didn't like, so I haven't returned.
When something motivates me I strain to the max; but when it doesn't, it is the complete opposite. And competing doesn't motivate me. For me the best competition is what I do alone, when I have to climb on rock; what really motivates me is to try to beat myself.
How many hours a week do you train?
According to the cycle, I train more or less for 20 hours. The [easiest] cycle can be between 15-20 hours a week, while the hardest can round up to 25 hours. I would add to this a few days that I run, and the bits that I dedicate to stretching.
This is what I try to do and how I plan it, even though I can't always complete it because [of] work.
Where do you train? Did you design your training facilities?
I train in the same town where I live, in Estadilla (Huesca). When I came to live here with David, four years ago, there wasn't any rock gym close by, so to be able to train we had to commute some kilometers and, on account of that, lost time.
Having [a] work schedule, it made it impossible to go more than two or three times a week. Additionally, [the gym had] small walls that, for our enjoyment, lacked certain important elements for training. We decided to make a wall ourselves as close as possible from where we live, something that at the time would allow us to do it and design it how we liked.
How do you avoid injuries?
For me the main factor of avoiding injuries is to pay attention to food. Injuries cannot be avoided with food, but to have a healthy and balanced diet can help to prevent them. It is something I have always paid attention to. Also I give a lot of importance to stretches, and to work the antagonist muscles.
Tell us more about your diet.
[During the hardest training] weeks, I try to eat more protein, but it is not something that I would calculate or plan. I’m a vegetarian. In fact I have almost always been, since my parents are. It is something that they instilled in me (never obligated me, I would eat meat in college but it was I who decided [stop]), and as I have always been very healthy, I have continued being vegetarian. Furthermore, being vegetarian, I try to eat as natural and ecological as possible.
What specific antagonist exercises do you do?
I try to work the antagonist muscles that most influence climbing, such as the finger extensors, shoulder rotator cuff, triceps and pectorals. The exercises I do with elastic bands and with weights.
What are the best resources for climbing training at a high level?
I always say that the key to everything is ‘having time’. One can be very motivated [and] have a lot of willpower, but if [he or she does] not have time to climb/train, then it is impossible. For example, the quality and the result of exercises for a person that is rested, and another that is tired and stressed, have nothing to do with each other.
Later there are other factors that also have influence and are important, like, for example to not be injured, to have good facilities where you train, to continue a good line of training and to be provided with support, among others. And of course what can never fail is great doses of motivation, tenacity, willpower, spirit of sacrifice, and perseverance.