9022m. 283kms. 15h 27m. 52 repeats.
We awoke at 1:00am to a cold and foggy morning. After a good night’s sleep I was nervous but ready to tackle what lay ahead of me. A short drive out to Yarra Glen and I was ready to start my Everesting attempt with nothing else standing between me and the biggest ride I’ve ever ventured on. 3:00am, I started my first ascent. Freezing cold with only the beam of my light and the strong glow of an almost full moon to guide my way. Pedal stroke after pedal stroke I became more familiar with the road, trying to keep my mind focused on the now-and-then and away from the daunting task of what was still to come. After 3-hours and 15 repeats riding alone in the dark, the sun finally started to peak its rays across the surrounding mountains. The warmth raising my body temperature and my spirits. I’d already experienced my first low point with my body convinced it should be asleep and one block of 5 reps being significantly harder than the others so the sun was a welcome guest.
At 3000m I was joined by my first familiar face. Plenty more would come and go over the next 11-hours but all would spur me on and keep me from talking myself out of finishing. 4400m. Never would I have thought a cup of tea would be what would pull me off the brink of failure. My body aching and my mind tired, I sat in the back of our beat-up 90s hire car, feeling the warmth of a hot cup of tea flow through my body, all the way to my already beaten toes bringing with it a wave of invigoration.
I found out the hard way that the ‘Death Zone’ isn’t called that just to be intimidating. It definitely lives up to its name. From here (7000m) to 8500m the going was tough and slow. 13-hours of riding and my body had had enough. No more did it want to climb. The up and down, up and down and the steady stream of traffic flying past me had taken its toll on my mind and all I wanted to do was stop. But how could I. The sun was long behind the enveloping silhouettes of the mountains. The familiar faces that had been keeping me company had thinned to three. But I had to keep going. 5 repeats – just keep going. 4 repeats – just keep going. 3 repeats – just keep going. 2 repeats – just keep going. Just once more. I had to talk myself through the last 500m. But it worked. After 18 long hours I reached the peak. I took a ‘what-if’, grabbed it by the horns and conquered it and it was probably the most satisfying thing I have ever accomplished.
I don’t know if I were to do this again if I’d do it differently. To be honest, I don’t think I could do it again. The climb I chose worked for me. 2.7kms. 6.3% avg. 173.5m per rep. Some of you asked me what gearing I used. What training I did. What food did I eat. These things definitely played an important roll but I think it’s important you’re doing whatever you can to be as comfortable as possible – physically and mentally. The gearing I used was the same gearing I use pretty much every ride. Standard 53/39 crankset and an 11-28t 11spd cassette. This is what I’m used to and having a familiar ratio definitely made me feel comfortable. If the gradient were any steeper I definitely would have considered a compact but everybody’s preferences will change.
Clothing was just layers. The Vanilla Workshop was kind enough to kit me out in one of their fantastic Castelli team kits. I also went into it with a base layer, arm warmers, long-sleeved jerseys and a jacket. With a starting temp of 0 degrees celcius, I was wearing a lot but just gradually removed layers as needed. As long as the kit is comfortable and you have a few layers you’ll be fine. I had a spare set of shoes and knicks just in case I needed the mental kick of fresh clothing but didn’t need to utelise it in the end – fresh chamois cream was a Godsend though. In terms of food/hydration, I made sure I was eating constantly. I made an effort of eating proper food all day. I had bars and energy balls in my pockets for during the reps but had jam sandwiches and bananas in the car for breaks, and salad sandwiches twice for a larger meal. I had one gel with 7 repeats to go. Eating was important. When you’re riding for 15 hours you can’t afford to get a hunger flat so you just need to eat constantly. The same goes for drinking. One bidon of water, one bidon of electrolytes. Drink often. Eat often.
If I could give one piece of advice it would be don’t overthink it. You’ll psych yourself out. Sure, it’s an immensely daunting task, but it’s just riding your bike. I broke it up into blocks of 5 repeats. After each block, I would have a break at the car, have a stretch, something to eat and start the next block. Not only did it mean I was getting off the bike frequently and giving my body a break, it meant I had smaller targets in my mind rather than thinking about how many more of the 52 repeats I had left to do. I wouldn’t have been able to do it if I was thinking of that all day. In terms of training, I didn’t really do anything specific. I was riding a lot and spending quite a few hours a week on the bike but that’s all I did. I know a few people who did 4400m rep rides in preparation which I’m sure helped but I personally believe it comes down to time on the bike in general. Make sure you’re riding your bike frequently and you’ll be okay.
The other big piece of advise I can offer is support. I was lucky enough that my climb was relatively close the the city so I had people coming out and doing repeats with me most of the day. It helped keep me distracted. It helped keep me smiling. It’s amazing what having someone tapping away at a climb next to you can do. But finally, pick a climb that works for you. If you’re good at short and sharp, pick something short and sharp, but if you prefer long and gradual, pick long and gradual. I know this sounds obvious but people get caught up in finding a ‘perfect ratio’ of distance x elevation gain. There’s no point if an 8% gradient doesn’t work for you.
I want to say a massive thank you to The Vanilla Workshop and Castelli for supplying me with a kit and being a great support during the whole endeavor. Another huge thank you needs to go to all of those people who supported me on social media letting me know they were watching and cheering me on and especially those who came out and rode with me. I honestly couldn’t have done it without them. But the biggest thank you needs to go to Caz, who was there with me the entire day, making sure I was fed and hydrated, snapping some amazing photos and generally keeping my spirits up. She is amazing.
To those of you whom I’ve inspired, just go and give it a shot. There’s no point sitting at home tossing and turning around in your mind whether you can do it or not, you just need to go try and maybe you’ll be surprised by what you’re capable of; I know I was.