June 25, 2020
“Fiendishly simple, yet brutally hard. Everesting is the most difficult climbing challenge in the world.”
Everesting has been trending in the Covid-19 pandemic, when race cancellations and lockdowns wiped events from our schedules. Thankfully, all you need is a hill to Everest, which explains why the challenge has seen a boom in recent months—with pros battling over world records and amateurs like myself seeking an opportunity to test their limits. There is a tangible accomplishment to be gleaned from climbing the elevation of the world’s highest peak in a single day. 8,848 metres is no joke. The rules are simple: one hill, one activity, no sleep.
I completed my first Everesting in November 2018. I had just returned from the World 24 Hour Time Trials and wanted to cash in on my exceptional fitness. I chose Knox Mountain in Kelowna because it’s only a few miles from home, and the road is closed to traffic during certain months. Unfortunately, it was a cold day and I went out way too hard. After six hours I felt miserable. I was so destroyed by the 6,000-metre mark that I’d stopped eating, and worried I would have to walk my bike up the steeper sections (which, by the way, is expressly against the rules). I spent two days in bed recovering once it was all over and vowed to never Everest again.
Luckily, I have a terrible recollection when it comes to stuff like this—“randonesia” I think it’s called. In addition, I recently started training with a Stages power meter, and wanted to see if I could do it a) faster, and b) with better pacing. I had just completed 12 weeks of base training with TrainerRoad, and felt well-prepared to tackle this beast again—hopefully with better results the second time around.
In addition to my structured workouts, I’ve been doing some longer, climbier days outdoors. I created a couple of great routes that included a selection of Okanagan ski hills, with several thousand metres of elevation gain and several hundred kilometres of distance (see here and here and here). I also scoped out different hill climbs, but in the end, decided Knox was my best bet. The other hills were either too high (possibility of cold temperatures and snow), not steep enough, or had cattle guards or too much traffic. Knox has a manageable grade of 7.6% over a distance of 3.2 km, with an elevation gain of 239 metres. The park remained closed to vehicle traffic due to Covid-19, so I figured it was a safe bet—free from careless drivers, roaming cattle, and freezing descents.
I didn’t have to do much to get my bike ready, though I did purchase a 36-tooth cassette to keep my legs from burning out on the steeper sections. I stocked my Apidura top tube bag with tools, gels, a spare tube, as well as a battery pack and cables. I prepped all my nutrition and hydration the day before, and loaded up the van with every spare piece of equipment I might possibly need. Typically, I have a difficult time fuelling for intense 10 hour-plus events. I can eat anything if I’m touring, or doing multi-day events, but once I reach certain intensity threshold my body shuns food. My tactic to combat this was to have a bunch of easy carb-heavy options available so that I could entice myself to keep eating throughout the day. I planned to snack on the bike, and stop every 2,000 metres for a sit-down meal (four times in total). Here’s what I brought (an X denotes that I didn’t eat it):
Solids (2/3 total calories)
- 2 kinds of pasta salad
- 2 kinds of potato salad
- Steamed potatoes
- Snap peas (X)
- Baby tomatoes (X)
- Boiled eggs (X)
- Protein bars (X)
- Protein powder (X)
- King-sized Mr Big chocolate bar (X)
- Hawkins Cheezies (X)
- Apple sauce (X)
- Granola bars*
- Cereal bars*
Liquids (1/3 total calories)
- Red Bull
- Coke (X)
- Chocolate Oat Milk
- V8 juice
- Carrot-orange-ginger juice (home juiced)
- Kale-beet-apple juice (home juiced)
- Celery-cucumber-chard (home juiced)
I packed the van the day before and had everything ready to go by dinner. I messaged a few friends to tell them what I was up to, in case they were bored and wanted to watch me suffer. I didn’t tell anyone about my secret plan to reach 10,000 metres, however, an elevation that would put me among the ranks of only 17 other women around the globe, and 7 individuals in Canada.
I woke up just after 3 am, made myself a thermos of coffee, and headed out the door. Mistake #1 was not having a proper breakfast, but it was just too early. My morning brain is neither rational nor hungry. I ate a yogurt cup with a banana as I drove to Knox Mountain. I was on the bike by 4:03 am, enjoying the quiet serenity of sunrise in the company of deer. The first few laps felt slow and boring, but I was prepared for that. It was all part of my strategy to survive the day, and pace myself more consistently than the last time around. I listened to podcasts for a few hours, and stopped at my refuel station to sip coffee and water between laps. I set a timer to eat every 45 minutes and stuck to it. My father arrived just before my first scheduled meal break, and had my food laid out for me in the van when I hopped off my bike. I gobbled down two bites of everything and went back out there feeling great.
I transitioned from podcasts to playlists during this interval. The shade dwindled, but temperatures remained comfortable. Knox Mountain is a popular place for hiking, jogging, dog walking, and mountain biking, and I enjoyed the company of my fellow Kelownites (Kelownins?), all of us out there together seeking fresh air and freedom. I calculated my descents based off of a very conservative estimate, in case the hill got busy and I had to creep slowly through hoards of joggers with baby carriages and off-leash dogs. Luckily, it wasn’t that hectic. A secondary bonus was that the City had responded to a recent complaint that I’d filed about sand/gravel on the switchbacks and swept the street only the day before. So yes, Kelowna road cyclists, you have me to thank for those smooth, debris-free corners. I will accept both beer and wine as tokens of your appreciation.
Temperatures ramped up from here on out. I kept it nice and easy, sticking to my power targets and keeping the tunes rolling. I started to recognize familiar faces on the hillside, and enjoyed the waves and hellos I received every lap.
“Third time up?” a shirtless jogger asked.
“More like twenty-third!” I said, a gleeful grin on my face.
I was in the zone.
After my third break, I started to lose track of what I was eating and drinking. I kept forgetting to ask my father to put ice in my bottlesFriends and folks from work dropped by to do a lap with me, iced coffee and pastries in tow. I spent more time than I planned off the bike chatting, but didn’t mind—this wasn’t a race. No one but me was keeping score. It was a joy to catch up with friends who I hadn’t seen in months: People! Socialization! I was delirious, overfilled with elation from the thrill of human interaction. But perhaps that was just the heat kicking in…
I took my last break around 7:20 pm. I was so close to Everesting, but still a ways off my goal of 10,000 metres. I went into the meal dehydrated and short on fuel, but ate like a barbarian and slammed a Red Bull.
My first lap back was brutal.
My legs felt like cement bags and my head spun with fatigue. I was dumbfounded how I’d managed to get this far without blowing up spectacularly. Then I chased my friend Bev for a lap, and eventually enjoyed a lovely conversation when I caught up with her. Before I knew it I’d clicked over 8,848 metres, and was back on pace. I hoped to reach 10,000 metres with 42 laps, but disappointingly, my head unit was reading less elevation than the Strava segment. According to Strava, each climb should be 241 metres; according to my device, it was only 239 metres. With just three laps to go, I realized that I’d have to do one more lap to hit that 10,000-metre mark. Uuugh.
My father joined me on a borrowed e-bike for the final laps. He was all amped up and keen to talk about engines, motors, and drones, so I let him to the talking as I dug a little deeper to stick to my power target. We did the final few laps in the dark, the bright whites of deer eyes caught in our bike lights. The climbs were marvelous, relishing the cool breeze of night as darkness gradually took hold. But on the descents I experienced a reoccurring nightmare: what if a deer jumped out in front of me? In my twisted brain, it was actually a kangaroo instead of a deer, bouncing from between Saskatoon berry bushes to take me down with viper red boxing gloves. It was an insane thought, I knew—my night-brain running rampant—but the fear was paralyzing, and as I slowed to a crawl on the descents.
The battery on my father’s e-bike was nearly out by the final lap.
“Just wait for me at the bottom,” I said. “Or join me until it dies, and then turn around and descend.”
But he slugged up the mountain anyways. Breathing hard as he pushed the pedals, easing off the throttle only when he absolutely had to. That final lap was much, much harder on him than it was for me. We stopped to admire the view at the lookout on the descent, taking in the city lights with triumphant glee: I had climbed 10,111 metres that day. And you know what? I even had fun.
Final Thoughts / Analysis
Success! I struck the perfect balance between challenging myself, and keeping it steady. My pacing remained on point until the bitter end, though my descent speed did decrease due to fear of deer/kangaroo ambush in the dark. I used my power meter as a governor in the first half, and as a motivator during the second. All of my ascents fell between 17 – 20 minutes, aside from that rough climb after my 8,000-metre dinner break, which came in at 22 minutes. My 2018 attempt saw my ascent time start at just 16 minutes, and fall to over than 24 minutes by the end of the day. I imagine my pace would only continue to drop, had I continued on.
Average Pace: 15.7 km/hr
Elevation: 8,975 metres
Ride Time: 15 hrs 56 min Total time: 18 hrs 13 min
Hill reps: 37
Climb duration: 16 – 24 minutes
Average Pace: 16.6 km/hr
Elevation: 10,111 metres
Ride Time: 17 hrs 35 min Total time: 19 hrs 14 min
Hill reps: 43
Climb duration: 17 – 20 minutes (with one outlier at 22 min)
Adjusted power: 189 watts
Intensity on climb: 74%
Calories burned: 10,594
I should have fuelled better pre-ride, and around mid-day, but the excitement of interacting with people distracted me. Another mistake was wearing the same pair of shorts for 19+ hours. I won’t go into details, but it was a hot, sweaty day, and I spent an awful long time saturating in my own salty stew. A second pair of shorts would have been nice.
Other than that, I feel like I executed the plan to a tee. I wonder, now, if I could have gone faster, though after looking at my intensity, I’m not sure I could have amped it much more without blowing up (and subsequently feeling miserable) later in the ride. I suppose I could have taken shorter breaks, but those really were the highlight of my day.