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A month ago we had just got back from our UK trip, complete with lots of memories and carrying an extra 10kg of ‘padding’ between us.
We had the sudden realisation that we only had 3.5 weeks to get ourselves in shape for what was the longest either of us had ever been on a bike…
The Ride 8848 event was the first mass participation Everesting event in the world.
So what is ‘Everesting’? It’s the challenge to cycle the elevation of Everest (8,848m) on your bicycle. Typically, a single hill is selected and ridden over and over (and over, and OVER…) again.
There were 48 riders taking part in the event, some of whom had signed up for the half or quarter Everest event.
The hill that was chosen was Garie Beach hill in the Royal National Park, just south of Sydney. We were to ride up and down it 45 times, totalling a distance of 235km of cycling, 8,848m of elevation, and had 24 hours to do so.
We had to strike a fine balance between doing enough training to be prepared, but not so much training that we got injured or exhausted ourselves before the event.
Weekend 1: We started off at Watson’s Bay hill near home in Sydney, we did 17 repeats the first weekend we were back. It’s about 1/3 of the elevation of Garie beach so we did about 1/8th of the challenge.
Weekend 2: We headed to Garie beach to have a go at THE hill. We did 12 repeats at reasonably low intensity, but it took us 5 hours, taking only short breaks!
Weekend 3: Back to Watson’s Bay, this time for 30 reps. Ben and I were super lucky to be selected as ambassadors for Ribble Cycles, a British bike-builder and one of the primary sponsors of the event. Our new bike, the Ribble R872s arrived mid-week so we wanted to get out on them before the event. They are fantastic, super light, and made me far more confident descending (my big weakness). Ben was sad that he lost his margin on me going downhill, so he didn’t get the recovery time at the start of the climbs.
Now, I can change a puncture, but I’m not very ‘bike-techy’ when it comes to parts and all the lingo, so this event was a good bit of learning for me. The range of a bike’s gears is defined by the ratio between the front and back gear-rings. Your easiest gear is the one where the rings are the closest in size (i.e. small on the front, big on the back), and your hardest is where they are most different (i.e. big on front, small on the back).
So, if you want to make your easiest gear even easier, you either need to get a smaller front ring, or a bigger back ring. Ben’s previous bike had 23 ‘teeth’ on the biggest ring at the back, and mine had 25. The Ribbles came with 28 teeth (i.e. bigger) so were already an upgrade on our existing gears, but to make it even easier for ourselves we ordered cassettes (i.e. rear gears) where the biggest ring has 32 teeth.
It was a pretty quick job to switch the cassettes over and we did Ben’s one halfway through the Watson’s Bay training ride. It made things easier, although I expressed slight disappointment that I still had to put effort in to get up the hill, to which he fairly responded ‘What did you expect? It’s not a motor!’
We (he) didn’t trust me to do mine until the day before the event. Reason being, that once you’ve got a bigger ring on the front, unless you make your chain longer then if you go into the big ring at the front and a big ring at the back then you can snap the chain off, or other important bike parts.
The Ribbles also have a ‘compact’ front gear, which mean that the small ring at the front is smaller than normal, thus reducing the ratio further, so we had 34 teeth at the front and 30 at the back….almost 1:1.
It was a dream yesterday to just be able to spin up the hill and there were only 3 points where we needed to get out of the saddle to peddle.
During the week I was doing my standard daily commute by bike (about 18kms a day) and doing rides a couple of mornings a week with the local Cheeky bike shop crew. I was also getting a weekly sports massage from MAT which I find massively helps prevent injury when I have a big event coming up.
Weekend 4: The real deal!
Now, I felt like I was genuinely packing to trek up Mt. Everest the amount of stuff we needed for this event.
The ride started at 10am. I was repeated checking the weather forecast in the week leading up to it (not that there’s anything we could do except take waterproofs and get wet!) and when we woke up on Saturday it was raining. However, it cleared as we were driving down. Perks of a later start meant we could sleep until a decent time. Cons are that I was still cycling at 4am this morning!!
I knew that each lap would take roughly 20 minutes, so made a decision to break the ride up into 9 block of 5 laps, and for each block give myself 2 hours to complete it and whatever I had left of the 2 hours could be ‘break time’ to eat, drink, pee, get changed, whatever I needed to do.
The first 15 laps, I was riding ahead of schedule, so I was doing 5 laps and a break in 1hr 45mins. In hindsight, if I’d stuck to pace I may have felt stronger towards the end, but I did monitor my heart rate throughout and just took it easy and kept spinning my legs. Some people were speeding past me up the hill but standing out of the saddle, pushing away and puffing their heart out…that’s okay for 1 lap but when you have 12/23/45 to complete…. no thanks!!
I think breaking it down into sets of 5 is how I got through the event. I never thought ‘only 40 to go…’ I just kept working on each 2 hour block and finishing each set of 5, it seemed so much more manageable, and then I could plot what snacks I’d have in my next break, or what item of clothing that was annoying me I’d swap out, or whether to apply yet more butt cream!
To be honest, strange as it sounds, I didn’t actually think about that much, despite having 18 hours to do so. I played the alphabet game a few times, thinking of things starting with each letter of the alphabet for different categories. I spent about 4 laps doing countries, I finally got a ‘W’ country and Ben had to help me out with an ‘O’…
I got a bit stuck on the fruit and vegetables alphabet trying to think of an ’N’…in fact I still haven’t so I’m going to google it now…NECTARINES! Duh.
I also tried to listen to a podcast, but I hadn’t prepared by downloading it to my phone. When on long drives in the UK Ben and I listened to a few episodes of ‘My Dad wrote a porno’ (check it out!) and it made me laugh. But given headphones weren’t very safe for the event, it’s probably a good thing that I didn’t have erotic fiction blaring out of my jersey pocket. I settled for music instead!
Physically I felt okay. The low gear helped my legs not get too tired. Lap 25 when I stopped for dinner I really wasn’t hungry and felt quite light headed. I tried to eat a bit but didn’t get far and then about 5 laps later was RAVENOUS and was practically suffocating myself shoving a Clif bar down my throat as I climbed the hill.
Laps 25-30 I found tough. 30-35 I got a good second wind (probably after digesting food) and then I got to midnight, 14 hours in, with 10 laps to go. By then everything hurt, my feet hurt because my shoes were too tight (thankfully Ben had a 2nd pair I borrowed…) my knees hurt on the ascent, my back and shoulders were tight, and then when I’d turn to go downhill, my triceps and hands hurt from holding the bars and brakes.
Ben didn’t take a proper dinner stop so from 25 on he was 2 ahead of me. The hardest time was when he was on lap 41 and I was on 39, so he was on countdown, whereas I had 6 to go…over 2 hours! But I just got stuck in and got through it.
The crew and supporters for the event were fantastic. There were volunteers stationed at the top and bottom of the hill. Those at the top had music blaring and were so enthusiastic and support EVERY. SINGLE. LAP. I loved it, it made me excited to get to the top each time and I’d put in effort from a couple of bends away.
The support from our fellow members of Coogee Triathlon Club was incredible. We had 4 different support groups visiting at different stages throughout the day, and it really broke up the monotony of the hill and was such a boost to see some friendly faces – thank you guys!
More of the ride was in the dark than in the light, but there were giant generators all down the road which lit up pretty much the whole thing. It was cool in the darker bits though to just look up at the stars and moon – not for too long though as you’d veer off into the ditch! Thanks so much to the various people that donated multiple lights and power packs to us, we used them all!
So Ben finished in 17 hours, at 3am, and I finished in 18 hours at 4am. I think I was the 2nd female finisher (though there were only about 6 of us doing it!) and 13th overall.
We were thinking of staying over at the surf club down at Garie beach, which a few people were doing, but made the decision to just get home and get into bed. We got home about 5.45am and the sun was just starting to rise (and all our crazy triathlon/cycling friends were already awake!) so it was: shower, eye masks on, and blinds down.
We only managed to sleep until about 9am, and when I woke up it was like I’d been hit by a truck. I honestly felt like someone was standing on my chest (and still do) because of the muscles around my ribs being so sore. To the point that Ben made me laugh this morning and that then made me cry because it hurt so much to breathe deeply, which then hurt more!!
I won’t be Everesting again in a hurry, but it was a fantastically run event and great to do something that tested mental and physical endurance, rather that short term speed like most racing I do!
Let’s hope I can laugh again soon….