June 11, 2020
What I learned and my best tips
Everesting has become the latest trend in the cycling world and I too decided to take on this crazy challenge. When I first heard about Everesting two years ago, I thought there is no way I could possibly do that. Everesting requires a total of 29,029 feet of climbing performed on the same climb (Strava segment) repeatedly. It’s an all-day and for some all-night affair (learn more at https://everesting.cc/).
About a month before my Everest ride my professional client Kevin Vermaerke went for it and achieved a time of just over 8 hours and a few minutes off Phil Gaimon’s ride time. Watching Kevin do it inspired me to take up the challenge. I also rode a third Everest (5 times up Super Flag) about two weeks before my attempt and joined Ruth Winders on one of her ascents as she went for the women’s Everesting record here in Boulder. This experience plus the fact that my weight was down about 8 lbs and my fitness was higher than ever gave me the confidence that I could do it. I chose the same climb as Ruth, which is also my favorite climb here in Boulder called Flagstaff (Strava segment Super Flag). This climb offers incredible views and scenery and it is where local cyclists test their form. It’s the most iconic climb here in Boulder.
Having my cycling buddy Pablo join me for the challenge really helped to add some extra motivation. We started at sunrise (5:10 am) and finished around sunset (after 8 pm) with 13 hours of ride time and close to 2 hours of stopping time which included some mechanical issues and lots of feeding.
The last 4 hours of riding felt 10 times harder than the first 9 hours of riding which is something I did not anticipate. Going into the unknown (over 8 hours of riding for me) was a totally new experience. The biggest challenge was keeping focused mentally and avoiding my brain from switching off. The spaced out feeling was concerning at times but thankfully it never became dangerous due to staying on top of fueling with simple sugars in those final hours. Completing the Everest Challenge after all day on the bike was a great feeling and felt very rewarding!
In this article I am going to share my experience and my best tips which will hopefully help those of you who are thinking of going for the Everest Challenge.
My training had been going very well this year with a Fitness score (CTL) climbing over 100 points in TrainingPeaks and my weight had come down to 162lbs from 170lbs last year. I felt better than ever on the climbs and was breaking many of my personal records. I recently broke 30 minutes up Super Flag averaging 318W which was a big improvement. This gave me lots of confidence in my climbing ability. Prior to taking on Everest, I had done a few 10,000 feet days on the bike and one 15,600 feet climbing day on the same climb (just over half an Everest).
My longest ride prior to the challenge was 6.5 hours. In hindsight, I recommend a similar strategy of incorporating some big climbing days into your training. I also recommend adding one big day where you do approximately 70% of Everest’s elevation gain. That would have been approximately a 9 hour ride with around 20,000 feet of climbing. You really want to practice climbing (ideally on the same climb) as much as possible for a long period of time. This can be also done indoors if you are doing the indoor challenge.
For training prior to attempting an Everest, you will want to do lots of big gear training, endurance zone 2 rides, and as much climbing as possible. You want to be comfortable doing some long days on the bike (7 hours+). You won’t need to be doing any sprints or much training at or above your threshold.
I also recommend performing regular core and strength work to strengthen your back and knees and stretching regularly to improve your flexibility. Your knees and lower back take a beating. I also felt discomfort in my hands, feet, and neck in the final hours.
Nutrition & Pacing
Having watched my client Kevin Vermaerke go out too hard and spend over 5 hours above 300W (zone 3 for him) I realized that I had to be super disciplined with pacing. Using the INSCYD software (learn more about INSCYD testing we are doing with our clients here>) I was able to determine the exact power output where I burned around 70 grams/carbs per hour (around 220W or upper zone 2). At 250W, which is only 30 watts more, I would have been burning over 110 grams/carbs per hour which would not have been replenishable over 13 hours of riding.
My goal was to do the climb around 220-230W each time (over 10 minutes slower than my best time). At first this was very easy but in the final 3 hours I was barely doing 200W and felt empty.
My nutrition plan going into it was to take on 60-70 grams of carbs every hour (taking on carbs every 20-30 minutes) with a combination of diluted Skratch sports drink, Cliff bar nut butter filled bars, bananas, and SIS gels. After 8 hours I stopped to eat some rice. In hindsight, I should have had a greater variety of food and more savory foods and complex carbs. I felt like I was running out of energy towards the end. I could have done a better job carbo loading in the 48 hours before the challenge and I should have eaten more for breakfast and in the first 6 hours of the ride. Your brain will stop working well after 8+ hours of riding. Therefore having a very precise nutritional strategy prior to starting the ride is critical.
We parked our cars at the top of the climb and stopped each lap to grab a bottle and food. This worked well. We took a bottle and some food at the top of every climb to avoid taking unnecessary weight up the climb each time. I feel like I drank a little too much fluids while I did not eat enough.
We chose the climb of Flagstaff which was not overly efficient from a distance point of view due to the undulations. There are parts of Flagstaff at 2-3% and then later in the climb the wall is over 15% gradient! Due to the undulations, we had to ride 139 miles in total which meant 15 times climbing Super Flag! In comparison, my client Kevin did the same elevation gain in 97 miles going up and down a steep climb 104 times!
My recommendation is to pick a climb of a steady gradient. If you are a good climber a climb of around 8-12% for 5-30 minutes will work well. If you are an average climber 5-8% will be a good choice. You will ride longer but the lesser steepness of the climb will make it easier.
The heat on the day was brutal and one of the most challenging parts of the ride. My computer read 39 C or 102 F! The heat almost ended it for me but thankfully some clouds rolled in during the final 3 hours. I recommend choosing a cooler day and, as a bonus, a tailwind day (see Epic Ride Weather app or Best Bike Split software to choose an optimal day).
I had my Giant TCR with Alto tubular 40 mm wheels for the day weighing under 7 kgs (14.9 lbs). I chose my tubular wheelset as they are high performance plus there would be some braking required on the descent behind cars going slow and I wanted to avoid a blow out due to the rim heating up. This won’t be a real issue with disc brakes. I chose a 34 front chainring and a 34 easiest cog at the back for the wall at over 15%+. You will want to pick a gear where you can sustain a cadence quite easily over 70rpm on the climb to save your knees. Getting out the saddle often is also a good idea to help your back.
Halfway through my bottom bracket broke and I had to call my wife to bring my aero road bike, a Giant Propel with a 36 front ring. This made it much more challenging as the position was set-up for flat riding (similar to a TT bike). When I switched bikes I also lost my power data.
The bike issues were my fault as I had been having issues with my bottom bracket. My suggestion is to have your bike serviced 2 weeks out and any issues resolved. If you have a spare bike or wheels make sure you have them on hand. Have some extra brake pads available as well and a change of kit.
So that’s what I learned from the Everest challenge. Sitting here a week later I have just finished a hard interval session and feel good. My back was the biggest issue post ride (the aero road bike did not help). My knees were also quite sore. I took it super easy for 4-5 days and then felt back to normal.
I designed a 12-week Everest plan on TrainingPeaks for those who want to take on this crazy challenge (View Plan >). One thing about taking on a challenge that inspires and frightens you at the same time is that it increases your focus, motivation and overall you will feel greater energy and aliveness. That is my experience. I recommend taking on a challenge that inspires and scares you like Everest. There is no better way to build courage and confidence plus it’s a very rewarding personal experience.
Thanks for reading – Simon
Learn more about the challenge at https://everesting.cc/