3 Everesting Cycling Challenges in 3 months

On February 29, 2020 by Alan

The Everesting Challenge is fiendishly simple, yet brutally hard. The idea is to pick a hill, anywhere in the world and ride repeats of it in a single activity until you climb 8,848m – the equivalent height of Mt Everest. Sounds tough, right? So why do three in three months?

I’ve wanted to do this challenge for some time. When Matt Jones and Ian Walker, who both took part in Lap of Mind Mind  (a non-stop lap of the UK coastline by 10 riders in 20 days) suggested doing the challenge to mark the anniversary of LOMM, I jumped on it. I’ve subsequently done another two to make it three Everesting Challenges in three months. Here’s my story and what I’ve learned, which I hope helps others.

No 1: The Tumble, Wales

In typical LOMM style, we decided to do it on the notoriously tough Tumble climb in Wales on a short, dark, windy and eventually wet day. With a max gradient of 15% and distance of 5.1km, we’d need to do it 23 times to accumulate the required elevation.

Matt never made the start, due to illness, which was a real shame, but to his credit, he gave amazing support throughout on WhatsApp. Ian and Rich Coomer made it half way before the steepness, increasing headwind, surprising amount of traffic (it really was bad) and possible poor gear choice forced them to pull out after 4,000 metres. This left me to carry the baton. 

The last 3,000 metres was always going to be tough. The increasing head winds and heavy rain in the dark made it unbearable for the last 2km of the climb each time. The final 5 ascents of the 23 took a disproportionate amount of time. In the end, having been blown off my bike twice and in heavy rain, I completed 9,076 metres in 15 hours 37 minutes of moving time and over 227km.

You see, I had no choice. I had to finish it for Matt and the nine other riders who completed the much harder Lap of My Mind the year before. Also, I was spurred on by all those struggling with their mental health on these dark days. 

After adding the ride to Strava, I received a comment from Andy, from Hells 500, who run the Everesting Challenge to say well done, which was very cool! After submitting the attempt to the Everesting site, it was great to get notification that it was accepted. Hurray!

What I learned

Gearing is key. Don’t just rock up with your bike, without doing a recce and without considering carefully your gearing. I opted for an 11:30 cassette, which worked ok for me. Were I back again, I’d have gone lower and went for an 11-32 tooth, which would have been ideal for the 15% parts of this epic climb.

Gear

As this was Winter, kit choice was also key, to stay cool on the ascent and warm on the descents. Layering up with zips on your tops really helps, even right down to your base layer. We also started and ended in the dark, with about 7 hours of daylight only. Good lights were essential. I’m very lucky to be support by the best in the business Exposure Lights. I had an MK11 on my bars and a Toro on my head also. For safety, I fitted another front and two rear lights. I also brought spares. Finally, I wore day glow, reflective overshoes and gilet over my rain proof.

Nutrition

I’m a coeliac and plant based to boot. I’m careful about what I eat, but needed to really get my nutrition right. I needed to consume a lot of calories consistently over the course of the day to keep going. I opted not to use gels until it got really tough in the last third of the challenge. This was on the advice of Oli, my coach and it was spot on because just when I needed it, I got a turbo boost. Critically for me, it also meant that my stomach was taken care of during, and critically after, so my recovery would be so much better. I used OTE energy drink, which is PH neutral, so easy on the stomach, and coconut water at various times in the day as well. The switch between the two and water was a nice change. I tried to stick to my normal eating times, so stopped for breakfast after 4 hours and lunch after 7 and then dinner at 12 hours in, although these words do in no way describe what I was eating. My nutrition consisted of eat natural bars, bananas, home made vegan rice cakes, banana, peanut butter and pea protein shake half way through, nuts, crisps and the odd snickers towards the end. I find towards the end my body doesn’t want to work hard to chew. It’s looking for maximum energy for minimum effort, which is when I use gels. Three gels took me through to the end, with one containing caffeine. 

Planning and preparing well meant that my stomach, legs and levels of energy were not largely impacted by the effort over the days following the challenge. I was back putting out full effort again six days later on the bike. 

Stats

  • Date 8th December
  • Weather: High winds and rain
  • Average Gradient: 8.66%
  • Total time: 17h 24m
  • Distance: 227km
  • Ascents: 9076 metres
  • Reps: 23
  • Heart rate total stress scores: 851
  • Calories: 4978


2: V-Everest, Alpe d’Zwift

I’ve spent the last decade not letting injuries from a road traffic accident hold me back. As we started a new decade, I want to mark the anniversary of the accident with another challenge. Bolstered by completing the my first Everesting Challenge a month earlier in Wales, I tried the virtual version of the challenge on the 18th January starting from 6am in my garage. The concept of V-Everesting is also simple (once you have a bike and one of those fancy turbos that connect to apps like Zwift): pick any hill, anywhere in the Virtual World of Zwift and ride repeats of it in a single activity until you climb 8,848m – the equivalent height of Mt Everest. 

The challenge this time would be against boredom, over heating without the wind to cool down, lack of connection with the real world, nature and people while spending over 12 hours in my garage on a stationary bike spinning away from morning to night. To see my garage set up, take a look at picture 2. Those already on Zwift were able to virtually join me and take on the mighty Alpe d’Zwift, which some good folk did.

It took 11 hours and 20 minutes riding a stationary bike in my garage to complete the V-Everesting challenge. Over 9000m of tough elevation gain on Alpe d’Zwift, using 6000 calories over 220km. That was the duo of outdoor and indoor Everesting challenges done within a month. 
My brother Keith joined me for the last climb. This was very special! It’s a crazy digital World where two brothers, living in different countries can ride a climb in France and feel together. My wife Jane and daughters Amy and Es were amazing pit crew. This challenge, as with all my challenges, was powered by a plant based, dairy and gluten free diet.

What I learned

For the indoor attempt, knowing that the climb, with its 21 switch backs, would take between 50 minutes and an hour each time, I opted for a 11-32 tooth gearing. This proved to be perfect. I also changed my saddle over to a Specialized Power Pro Elaston, with body geometry design, which assures blood flow to sensitive arteries, so no numbness form sitting in the one position. This has now become my saddle of choice.

Nutrition was so much easier when it’s set up right beside you and your supporting family can pop out to give the occasional sandwich or coffee. Overall, once you get over the boredom, this was the easiest of the three Everestings and the shortest.

Stats

  • Date: 18th January
  • Weather: Indoors
  • Average Gradient: 7.4%
  • Total time: 11h 33m
  • Distance: 215km
  • Total elevation: 9391m
  • Reps: 9
  • Average stress score: 454
  • Calories: 6161


3: Draycott Hill, Somerset

So why do another Everesting? Well because Matt Jones, who was meant to do the first one and is a big inspiration asked me. When I first completed this challenge in December, it was in bad weather in Wales. Hours from the end, doubting myself, I called Matt. His superbly worded motivation meant I had to finish. I remember being happy to finish, but was too exhausted and cold to enjoy the moment until soon after, in a nearby McDonalds. 

This time, Matt had also chosen Draycott hill, near Cheddar Gorge, which has an average gradient of 13%, so would qualify as a Short ’S’ Everesting. The total distance for a Short has to be less than 200km. Draycott would turn out to be just 154km to gain 9,201 metres of elevation. 

The day started with 40 mile an hour winds, in the dark with light rain. Matt and I met up at 5:45am and were on our bikes by 6am as planned. I noticed the strong head wind as I descended down the hill to start the first rep. However, this soon turned to a tail wind up, although it is a very sheltered hill until you get up to the glider station on top. 

The first 3 hours went well getting me to breakfast time with 2,200 metres in the bag, which was to plan. By now, I’d learned to keep my effort in my zone 2 and 3 and not to exceed my heart rate threshold. After 6 hours I stopped for lunch having made 4,300 metres. All stops I tried to keep 5 minutes. The day continued to unfold to this rhythm with Matt and I nodding or saluting each other as we passed. That is until I noticed that 7 hours in I had done another 1,000m, which wasn’t possible. I studied my Leyzne bike computer and noticed it was adding elevation when I descended. I asked Matt what elevation he had done, although he was behind me, but this did confirm my suspicion that my bike computer was not working properly. Whilst Matt was on 5,600, I was on 7,200m. I fired up my spare Garmin, but I wasn’t exactly sure just how much I had done or critically what I had left to do?

For me, as an endurance challenge progresses, I get increasing pain, cramp or discomfort in my right-hand side. Caused by losing my right glute max in my road traffic accident in 2011, I’ve learned to expect and manage this pain as other muscles work harder to fill in the gap left by the biggest muscle in the body, and the one they call the cyclist muscle.

Originally, we thought 42 to 43 reps would get un the elevation we needed. I decided to over estimate and do 45, just to be safe. I next stopped at 9 hours when the owls were wonderfully deafening, and the gliders, which had circled overhead at the top of the hill, had stopped. I had hit about 6,000 metres (I had to guess based on hours), which felt good. With an Everesting the body goes through many cycles of pain. You could have a pain in your knee at one point and then hip or ankle. That’s just the way it goes. What I’ve learned is that they’ll pass and others might come to replace them, but overall they shouldn’t stop you completing the challenge. However, my big toes were increasingly sore! I was using my Sidi road shoes, which are now 9 years old, but I love them. I changed out the inner soles I had for a thinner pair, which helped a little. This pain I’d need to mange for the remainder of the challenge and would be sore to put any pressure on for all the following week. Really, what I should have done was acknowledged that the shoes were past their best for something as challenging as this.
After my 9 hour stop, I started to have a gel an hour, including a caffeine gel. This has an immediate effect and to be honest, the remaining four hours went surprisingly easily and quickly. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t easy, I was just in my flow as the lights cut through the dark night and the end was in sight. 

Once finished, I downed a recovery drink, got warmed up and waited excitedly for Matt to finish. Reading Matt’s accepted attempt on the Everesting site after, he’d done exactly 8488m, which was very lucky as that’s exactly the height of the mighty Everest. You can read Matt’s account of what it was like for him here.

As we chatted, kept warm and ate, I felt elated to have finished and was so chuffed for Matt to have completed his first attempt in such style and so quickly. On the way home, I continued my tradition of a large chips and a McFlurry, which I can’t put into words how good it tasted. Of the three Everestings I now completed, this was the one that put in my mind for the first time the thought of doing a Double Everesting on the same hill with different gears! 

What I learned

The big take away was the psychological benefits of having someone doing it with you, especially a friend who you admire. It was Matt’s first Everesting and he smashed it! The contrast between this time and that cold one in Wales was stark. Whilst the gradient was much steeper on Draycott,  the weather was better. This helped to minimise the effects of the gradient I think, which hit over 20% in parts. Having done a recce of Draycott, I knew that the gearing I used from the Tumble would not do. I opted for an 11-34 tooth on the back, which was ok, but what I needed really was more like what Matt had, which was mountain bike gearing with something like a 1x 11-50. By this attempt, I’d nailed my nutrition and hydration and had even improved it. Specifically I had added more, natural, tasty food, like a veggie wrap and even saltier crisps. These became something I really looked forward to along with all the usual treats. I had proved beyond any doubt that I could do this with 3 to 4 gels, plant based and meat and dairy free.

Stats

  • Date: 23rd February
  • Weather: Windy but dry
  • Average Gradient: 13.3%
  • Total time: 13h 20m
  • Distance: 154km
  • Total elevation: 9391m
  • Reps: 45
  • Heart rate total stress scores: 718
  • Calories: 3214

Conclusion

Apart from the obvious conclusion that I must be nuts, I’ve learned more about myself, my abilities and perceived limitations. Doing three very different Everesting Challenges in three months has allowed me to compare what’s needed for each and what makes them different. If you look at the stress score, it’s not surprising that the mighty Tumble proved hardest. I put this down simply to the shocking head wind and torrential rain for the last 4 hours. It was also the longest time on the bike and my first, so I made some mistakes and needed to stop more. The Turbo effort was hard, but in a totally different way. It was boring and being in one position was uncomfortable. Surprisingly, the one I feared most, which was Draycott because of its steepness, I’d say turned out to be the easiest way to get to 8848 metres. It takes less time, is more sheltered from the elements, has less traffic and the surface is reasonably good. However, get your gearing wrong and it would be a different story. 

There are a whole lot of reasons not to take on an Everesting Challenge. However, the idea of finding a hill near you, without having to enter any event, do it on your own terms and get such a huge challenge is epic and why this has become so popular with over 4,000 recorded Everesting all around the world. If you think you’ve got what it takes, I’d definitely plan well and then give it a go!

What next?

I feel empowered by completing three Everesting Challenges over the Winter months. I’m saying good bye to my old race team, Bournemouth Cycleworks, thanks all! I’m joining a collective of like minded adventurers at Team JMC. With any ultra challenge, I conclude that I am better than I think I am and I can do more than I think I can. This is why I’m excited about the challenges to come, which may even include a Double Everesting!

Tips

  • Don’t underestimate the effort – it’s gets harder and harder
  • Meticulously prep
  • Recce the hill
  • Take a second GPS device for backup
  • Change gearing to suit gradient 
  • Try stay in your Zone 2/3 when climbing
  • Keep heart rate below your threshold, if you can
  • Eat before you’re hungry
  • Drink before you’re thirsty
  • Stick to roughly to meal times
  • Bring spare, kit and lights
  • Aim for 9,000m, just to be safe
  • Keep yourself safe!

Thanks to

Jane, Amy and Esme for their patience, love and support!

The folks at my old team, Bournemouth Cycleworks for all the support and help over the years, especially Rich!

Haiko Cycling in Portishead, for their speedy and expert bike servicing to keep me rolling!

My coach Oli, who’s advice is throughout this post.

Andy van Bergen and the folks at Hells 500, who invented this new reason to hurt and give their time to monitor and confirm all Everesting attempts.

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