The top of the Col – not exactly a tourist attraction
Everesting is a simple concept: choose a hill and ride up and down it until you climb the height of Mount Everest (8848m). No time limit but no sleeping.
I first heard about everesting back in 2015 and have been blogging about my 8 weeks of training for it, but at 4.51am on Sunday July 16th 2017, alone in the French Alps, I couldn’t remember what on earth had made me think attempting it would be a good idea.
So, how did it go? Read on …
I very nearly failed even before I began. The journey to the Alps started on the Friday night but involved delays at the tunnel and on the autoroute so I’d had a maximum of 8 hours sleep over the two previous nights. When I woke at 4.25am, going out to attempt an ‘everest’ was the last thing I wanted to do. I was too tired; perhaps Monday would be better than Sunday; perhaps later in the week was more sensible; why was I risking spoiling my week in the Alps for something I was going to fail at. I had to lecture myself sternly that at least I had to start, even if I wouldn’t finish, and I had left the apartment very reluctantly.
It’s often said that choosing the right hill is a vital part of a successful everest. I hoped that I’d chosen well. Most of my hill training had been done on a 1km hill in Oxfordshire with a 90m climb. It had taught me that everesting a 9% gradient was perhaps steeper than I wanted – and that I’d struggle with the prospect of needing to do 100 reps of anything.
Accordingly, I’d adopted the ‘goldilocks’ approach to hill selection: not too steep, not too shallow; not too long, not too short; not too busy, not too remote. My chosen hill was from Les Carroz d’Araches to the Col de Pierre Carrée in the Haute Savoie – 11.3km with over 700m of height gained per lap. ‘Only’ 12 laps needed: surely even Goldilocks would agree that was just right?
Helpful posts ticking off the kilometres and giving the next km’s average gradient
The first climb started well, accompanied by the dawn chorus and cowbells. Unfortunately my left knee started to hurt before the half way point of that first lap – the Iliotibial Band Syndrome again. Over the next few hours it would be joined by pain in my feet, hands, right knee, thighs, shoulders, neck and back. Happily each pain came and, eventually, went of its own accord. Interestingly, no sign of cramp throughout the day.
It was a bit cold on the first ascent and bitterly cold on the descent despite a long sleeve compression top and a wind stopper jacket. I’d set up base camp by parking a car in the centre of the village and at the end of that first rep I had to sit in the car for 20 minutes, engine running and heater on full to thaw out – a great start!
Base camp in the gloriously named Place de l’Ambiance
I put on leg warmers and set off on lap 2. On the ascent I was overcome with tiredness and found myself cycling with my eyes closed for a few seconds at one point. That convinced me that there was no way I was going to finish the attempt but, miraculously, within 15 minutes the feeling passed and didn’t return.
On this lap, in the absence of long fingered gloves, I descended using my patented hand warmer – the anti-fog mitt from the car. My bib shorts also split at the seam needing another longer stop to change and warm up at the end of the rep.
A good thing about a longer lap is that each makes a material contribution to the whole thing – two laps in and already over 16% of the way – even if a bit slow because of the enforced stops.
An Old Man in Lycra at the top of the Col de Pierre Carrée with the Flaine skiing bowl behind.
The plan had been to do each climb and descent without stopping (which I managed with all the climbs and all but one descent when I had to fix a dropped chain) and to have a short refuelling stop (water, gels, oat bars, peanuts etc) at base camp every rep – with longer breaks once that became necessary. That worked to the end of the sixth rep when I stopped for a few extra minutes to enjoy a coke and a double espresso at the bar in the square.
At this stage I was doing a full rep, comfortably, in under 1h 30min – not climbing very fast and descending carefully as I’d invested too much in the climbing to want to throw it away on a foolish crash.
I’d decided that my choice of hill had been very good. The route markers showed a decently steady gradient with 6 kms at 6%, 2 at 7% and 3 at 8%. The traffic was a little heavier than I’d guessed as there must have been a sports and classic car event in Flaine. Despite that, in the busiest hour I don’t suppose I saw more than 30 cars – and generally they were driven very courteously. Happily, there was virtually no wind and it wasn’t even too hot, which was good as there was little cover or shade. Add to that the fact that it was quite an interesting route with some great views.
A ski lift, avalanche protection and a road going up – could a man want more?
Early in lap 7 I was in entirely new territory. Celebrating my 60th birthday by joining the Club des Cinglés du Mont-Ventoux in 2015 had been a day with 4500m of climbing but now I’d left that behind.
Being beyond half way was a real boost and at the end of rep 7 I was feeling as well as a man of 62 who had been out for over 11 hours and climbed 5000m could reasonably expect to feel. My bike, a Rose X-Lite CRS 3000, was terrific: very light and really comfortable, given its relatively aggressive race geometry.
Sadly, that general feeling of well-being didn’t extend to my backside. My carbon fibre saddle had been tested and found to be comfortable up to about 6 hours and 111 miles but, having had to change my preferred shorts after the second lap, I had discovered the limits of the saddle’s comfort and I was now spending time cycling out of the saddle merely to relieve the pressure and pain.
The friends I was out in France with had been out for a day’s cycling of their own but now rallied round magnificently. David rode with me for rep 8 and then Philip proved how good it is to have a doctor in the ranks. I was suggesting doing rep 9 and then stopping to eat proper food. He recommended eating straight away, as I was probably under-fuelled which was great advice as, by the time we had sat down, I was shivering from mild hypoglycemia.
Happily, the prescribed croque monsieur (French cheese on toast with ham) and coke worked a treat. After Philip rode with me for rep 9, Rosario took over for 10 in the twilight.
I was pretty knackered by now, the light had completely gone so the ascents were slowing and the descents were particularly slow and potentially dangerous. At this stage, having the second rider with good lights was a real bonus and, being so close, I was determined to finish.
I was accompanied by Phil for rep 11, in complete darkness by now. It was getting colder again on the descents so it was back to the car between reps to warm up. Dave then came out for rep 12, starting just before 1am, which was well above and beyond the call of duty!
The everesting calculator said I would need to do 11.9 reps but after the 12th the Garmin was showing ‘only’ 8765m of climbing so Dave kept me company for another part-rep to take it to 8912m, just to be safe. In all, 282km – finishing just after 3am.
Just before the end. I guess the lap counter was counting double because I was doing ‘up and down’ rather than proper ‘circuit’ laps
A terrific show of support from them all, and one that made a huge difference towards the end of over 22 hours for the whole attempt, with 18 hours of cycling.
So, success! Delighted, astonished, shattered.
It was an epic and, let’s be honest, ridiculous day in the saddle – but with a real sense of achievement at the end of it. I consumed about 5 litres of water, 7 oat and honey/maple syrup bars, 5 banana bars, 5 peanut and salted caramel bars, 2 gels, 150g of dry roasted peanuts, a croque monsieur, two cokes and a double espresso – inadequate by all calculations but it worked.
I expect all everesting attempts are different and my experience is limited to one, but some of the key things I learnt include:
- Don’t underestimate it – it is hard, both physically and mentally
- Don’t overestimate it and psyche yourself out before you start – if I can do it ….
- Lightness and sheer bloody-mindedness are your friends
- Keep eating and drinking – Strava suggests I expended over 8,000 calories
- Some mates can make a real difference, especially late in the day
- Don’t leave it until you are 62.
I celebrated with a beer and a peach in fromage frais at about 3.30am – neither has ever tasted as good.
Waking at 8am on the Monday, after about 4 hours sleep, I felt surprisingly well but for mild aches in the thighs and shoulders – and the very major tenderness in my backside.
I took the day off the bike but rode on the following 4 days (wearing two pairs of cycle shorts), clocking up about 5,000m of climbing, including the excellent HC climb to the Plateau de Solaison. The legs felt a bit empty but performed well enough.
A week after the everesting I’m back home, included in the Hell’s 500 Hall of Fame, feeling really well, able to sit comfortably and wondering what to do next ….
Thank you for reading. Best of luck with your own challenges – if my experience can help in any way, I’m delighted.