Audience: Future Everesters
Length: One cup of tea, more for the planning that may come afterwards…
Sentence Summary: What Alice learnt from spending twelve and a half hours climbing one hill
The best thing about Everesting is that it’s open to anyone. No fancy kit needed, no travelling required. You need a hill, a bike and a large measure of determination. A post-dinner discussion egging other women on to give this a go has finally brought this blog into being – navigate to the sections you’re interested in or read the whole thing. I’ll be talking about training, choice of hill, planning, and kit – including the things I’d change if I were to do it again. I’ve tried to split out the advice into what I’d recommend for those looking to complete an Everesting as ‘comfortably’ as possible, and those looking to make it speedy.
A quick recap of “The Rules” (for a full list of the rules and guidance see here)
- Choose one hill
- Ride up and down until you’ve climbed 8,848m (or more)
- Do this without sleeping (/without a night’s sleep), but there’s no upper time limit
Part 1: Choosing your hill + Planning
First things first, you’ll need to choose a hill to Everest. Below, I’ve tried to explain what I think the main considerations are, but it may be that there isn’t a hill which fits all the criteria, and personal preference will make up a large chunk of your choice.
Has anyone Everested it before?
The first is that if you’re the first person to ‘Everest’ your hill of choice you get your flag on it in a virtual way. The Everesting.cc hall of fame keeps a record of all the climbs Everested, and the riders completing them – you can view a snazzy map version of it here.
Gradient: comfort vs efficiency
Things you might consider will depend on your goal, but the gentler the gradient, the bigger distance you’ll need to cover on the ground to clock up the 8,848m required. My aim was to go fast so I needed to be efficient. An average ~15% gradient sorted that, and meant that the horizontal distance required was only 122km. However, I think for most people there’s probably a sweet spot between ~8-10% where the climbing is efficient, but comfortable.
What goes up must come down (to then go back up again…)
Climbing that many metres also means a whole load of descending and this is worth thinking about. If you’re aiming for a fast Everesting then a fast descent will be key – wider roads, no hairpin bends, and a good surface could come in handy. Equally, with the aim of comfortably completing, you might want a descent which isn’t too technical and allows you a little respite from the climbing itself – I found myself exhausted later in my Everesting as there was no chance to ‘switch off’ with the tough climb and a descent which required full attention!
Location, views, and traffic
The likelihood is you’ll be on the hill for anywhere between 12-24hours. Choosing a climb with great views can help while the time away – I had a selection of farm animals to look at on the way up mine – including a friendly horse. However, those blessed with a European or mountainous location can likely find something absolutely stunning to look at for a day (or take a trip somewhere beautiful for the occasion à la GCN ). Traffic is also worth thinking about, and I’d choose a quieter climb if I were to go again. This can also impact time taken to turn at the top and bottom of the climb which adds up if you’re aiming for a speedy Everesting, and especially if you’re riding a short climb (like I was) many (89) times.
Length, and altitude
Length of climb chosen will be entirely personal preference, but I think it’s worth thinking about. Mentally, it might be easier to do 15 reps of a long climb in the mountains, but your body may recover better on a shorter interval with more frequent descents to give your legs a break. This is not something I know anything about so I’ll just put the consideration out there. Equally, whilst mountains may be beautiful, iconic, long, quiet climbs, anything at altitude is going to make it harder. Perhaps that’s partially the draw of doing them…
Since completing my Everest, I’ve seen a couple on climbs with a café or pub at the bottom or top. That seems like a pretty great option, and not least for having a decent loo…
The usual seasonal considerations, and weather considerations apply. The main thing for me was trying to do most of the Everesting in daylight hours as I found it more enjoyable, and quicker on the descent. Opt for summer for long days and shorts weather, at risk of sunburn and sweating. Or choose winter/early spring for some quality time with your bike lights and layers.
Soil, Suburban, Significant, Short
You get an additional badge on the virtual “Hall of Fame” if your ride fulfills one of these categories. Certainly not necessary, but if you need an additional challenge the details are here…
Count your reps
It’s good to know how many reps you’ll need to do. It’s also important to note that only full reps count – so if you’ve chosen a climb which is long/gains a lot of height but isn’t a close multiple of 8,848m then you may end up needing to overshoot the height gain!
Hopefully you’ve got some ideas for hills, so on to the training…
Part 2: Training
At the start of 2018 I’d been cycling for just over six months. My longest ride was little over five hours, and I was yet to tick off riding a hundred miles. In August I broke the women’s Everesting record (an account of which is here, if you’re interested in tired/sweaty photos of me and accompanying narrative). I want this to provide some encouragement that, with a bit of training, Everesting can be for anyone. I’m not an expert, I’ve done one Everesting, but here are the things I did to train:
Audaxes and other long rides
I wanted to build endurance, and Audaxes seemed like a straightforward way of doing that (see audax UK for events, and this great blog which explains the whole thing). I also wanted to know that I could spend ~13 hours cycling in a day and not be in (too much) pain. Hilly Audaxes are great training for Everesting, they’re social and scenic and likely more fun than some of my other suggestions.
- Speedy option: Audaxes to a schedule- Completing a speedy Everest was going to require discipline and a pretty exact schedule of breaks with minimal time off the bike. To find out if this was possible, I rode a 300km Audax with Joe to a minimal stop schedule. In total the event took us ~13 hours, with 1.5 hours of stops which was close to the ratio I’d be riding on the day. Admittedly this was a less fun way of doing an Audax, resulting in less time to appreciate the local cake. On the upside, it was efficient and I learnt that I could ride to a schedule. I also learnt it was possible to get sunburnt through my shorts…
I did a lot of short time trials (~10 miles) pre-Everesting. A theory which I didn’t really test was that if you can increase your FTP (which is particularly possible as a newbie) then the average power you can put out sustainably for the X minutes that you’re climbing increases. I never got round to re-doing my FTP test but I maintain that this was possibly a decent strategy and if you’re training seriously for an Everesting then I think it’s worth continuing some top end work too.
A Quarter Everesting (other fractions also available)
I’m of the opinion that training as close to the actual challenge as possible is a really good idea. The first thing I did when I’d chosen my hill was to ride ten reps to see how feasible it was, as a pilot test in April. In June I went back to take on three hours of reps, aiming for a quarter Everesting. Good training but also a great chance to test my set up.
- I learnt that eating on the climb was very hard, averaging 15% left no time for steady spinning whilst snacking;
- I learnt that my gearing was unsuitable – I was churning up the steeper sections;
- I learnt that I needed to get stronger – I was very sore after 1/4 of the climbing I’d need to do; and,
- I hopefully got a little stronger in the process.
This was also a great idea as it gave me an indication of how long each rep would take when I was riding continuously and what kit I’d need to enable that. Even if you’re not targeting a fast Everesting, this could be a good idea so you can plan for how long the Everesting might take you. Once you know your likely climb and descent times, the Everesting Calculator is great for helping your planning.
Not just legs
The final thing I did, which I probably should have done even more of, was upper body and core training. From the three hour session on Naish Hill, I’d learnt that continuous reps took their toll on my upper body as well as my legs. Trying to squeeze in a core session a week helped.
Practice the eating
One thing I did not nail was eating during Everesting, but it wasn’t for not trying. Well-seasoned cyclists may have a go-to selection of snacks which they know work for them, but I was still pretty new to eating on the go (I love a café stop). I had sort of practiced the eating, but on the day struggled to eat enough – I think mainly because I was working so hard on the climb that eating most things made me feel a bit weird, I’d also bought some questionable ravioli and felt quite sick. I think carbohydrate drinks are a good idea, and a large selection of edibles so that even if you are feeling weird, there might be something that takes your fancy.
Summary: I guess I’d mainly recommend getting to a point where you know you can spend almost as many hours on the bike as the Everesting is likely to take, factoring in some core or upper body strength work – especially you’ll be climbing out of the saddle, and riding some reps of the actual hill to test your set up/kit before the day itself.
A few on the day tips
Make a base-camp
This might be a
nice lay-by like I used, with a lovely view of the M5, or a small car-park, or just a pile of things at the side of the climb. Either way – it’s a good idea to have a base, ideally with something you can go inside if the weather turns, or for a sit down and a cuppa.
Charge your devices
The last thing you want is your computer dying mid-way through – charging devices during breaks can be an option, or for bike computers you can get a charging cable which allows the device to charge whilst still recording.
Podcasts, music, pals
Each to their own for ways to stay motivated – I listened to podcasts when the road was quiet and I was alone and went for inspiring ones preferably with other people suffering. My Everest was at the time of the Silk Road Mountain Race and I loved listening to their podcast. Otherwise, enthusiastic pals are an excellent addition and good morale boost.
Breaking it down
Starting out, Everesting feels daunting. I broke mine down into blocks of 10 reps, with a break after each 10. This gave me something to look forward to and made the challenge seem that bit more manageable
In a sentence – my kit was entirely unremarkable. Lighter is probably better as you’ll need to push the weight up all 8,848m of climbing. Otherwise, the best thing will be a well-fitting bike that you feel comfortable on and know you’ll be happy on for many hours. A change of kit, or just shorts, mid-way through the Everesting might also be nice – especially if it’s a warm/sweaty day but I found I didn’t have time for this.
The one thing I did change was my gearing – I used a 11-40 cassette which was vital to allow me to get up the climb with a sensible cadence and meant I didn’t tire so quickly. A derailleur extender allowed me to fit this on my road bike.
Once you’re done
Celebrate. Then submit your ride here (it’ll need to be on Strava). Then sleep.
I’d love to see more women listed in the Everesting hall of fame, and hopefully this provides a bit of guidance and encouragement. Currently, women make up 5.4% of successful Everestings (158 of the 2932 listed). So, whilst this article is for any future Everester, it is especially for the women thinking about giving it a go. It’s a great challenge, and really good training for other endurance events, but, if you’ve read this far you’ve probably got your own reason/s for thinking about it. This article came about through an Adventure Syndicate training camp which ended with pledging the challenges we’ll tackle in future. Jenny Grahams, Lee Craigie, and Phillipa Battye all pledged to do an Everesting, and others said they’d give it a go too (but pledged other exciting challenges) – Helen, Marguerite, Karen, Kate – this is for all of you, go get it – I can’t wait to see how you get on.