For most people, attempting the Everesting Cycling Challenge will be the hardest ride they have ever done. I was no different. I attempted an “Everesting” for the first time in 2017 and failed miserably. I attempted one again later that same year, but failed again. This is the story of my first TWO unsuccessful Everesting attempts; what I learnt and what I did to finally conquer Everest the third time round!
I was grossly unprepared from my first ever Everesting attempt. At the time, I had only been cycling for one year and the longest ride I had ever done was 201km. Not good! A double century is a long way to ride, but not nearly as long as an Everesting. I now recommend that if you want to do an Everesting, you do a ride with 2 000m of climbing, then 3 000m and then finally 4 000m in the weeks or months leading up to an Everesting attempt. This will give you a true indication of what you are capable of and save you from doing an Everesting when you are not ready.
I do not think I was physically prepared for my first Everesting attempt, but an even bigger mistake I made was to not drink enough water. It seems silly now, but remember I had only been cycling for one year at the time. A few of you might remember how you learnt the hard way exactly how important hydration is and how much you need to drink on a hot day. The day of my first Everesting attempt, was a very hot day! The African sun can be brutal at times. The sun cooks you here, so much more than it does anywhere else I have been to. When I bicycle toured through Europe I would spend 12 hours a day under the sun, riding through the south of France and sitting next to the side of the road waiting for the Tour de France riders to come past. If I spent that much time in the sun in South Africa, I would be “out of order” for at least a few days after. I think it has to do with the UV index or something.
A big problem I also had was that I was eating a lot! I was paranoid that I would not eat enough and suffer from a “bonk”. In cycling terms, “bonking” is what happens when you have exhausted your body’s glycogen stores. You lose all power in your legs and your ride is basically over. It had happened to me a few times during my first year of cycling and I was intent on not letting it happen on the day of my Everesting. The thing is, if you are going to eat enough food and especially carbohydrates, you need to make sure that you wash it down with enough water. If you do not, you will get dehydrated even quicker than you would otherwise. I would not say I ate “too much” during my first Everesting attempt, only that I did not drink enough water along with the food I was eating. When I urinated from the first time around 3 hours into the ride, my pea was a bright yellowish color.
There is a saying in cycling: “If you have waited till you are hungry to eat you have waited too long. If you have waited till you are thirsty to drink, you have waited too long.”
After reaching 3000m of climbing, things kept going downhill. Well, everything except the actual CLIMBING! The heat got more intense. My rest stops got longer. My hill reps got slower. It was to this day the worse ride of my life. I called it quits a little over 4 000m of climbing. Completely exhausted, I freewheeled back home. I only stay 1km from the base of the climb. When I got home I downed a liter of water. Something was not right. I felt tired, but not in the usual way you feel when you have just done a long and hard ride. I figured it must be a mild case of sun stroke. Well, after an hour or so I started vomiting and later that night my mom had to drive me to the ER. I spent the night in the hospital, while they pumped fluid into my body. The doctors said it was a combination of dehydration and sun stroke.
The next morning when I woke up in the hospital bed, I called my mom to tell her how hungry I am. I said “Why didn’t you bring me food to eat for when I wake up, I’m starving.” She told me she came to see me during the night and asked if I wanted her to bring me a pizza or something. I told her I was not hungry and that she can go home. The scary thing is I have absolutely no recollection of this conversation. That is how out of it I was.
This story is far less exciting than the one above. I was in Thailand when I attempted the Everesting challenge again. This time I had a friend who agreed to do it with me. We started very early in the morning and rode the whole day in the heat and humidity. Anyone who has been to Thailand knows all about the humidity. It hits you like a wave when you step out of the airplane.
My friend abandoned the attempt at around the 6 000m mark. At that point I was feeling great. I was eating enough, drinking enough and pacing myself correctly. I even said to my friend when we stopped to eat dinner, “I’m going to finish this. I’m feeling great!” Our dinner stop was the longest stop of the day. It was also when my friend decided to quit. We sat and ate food for around 20 minutes. When I started riding again my one Achilles tendon muscle started to pull. At first I did not think much of it, but soon it became apparent to me that it was not going away. Instead, it got worse and worse.
The climb I was attempting to Everest was 16km long. There was a convenience store a little over halfway up the climb, so I stopped and bought some ointment for aching muscles. I can not remember what it was called, but I guess you can compare it to Deep Heat which we get in South Africa. A friend who was with me massaged my Achilles tendon with the cream I bought, but it did almost nothing to ease the pain. I tried everything; stretching it, massaging it and I even tried to cycle with one leg. Eventually I called it quits. I was gutted. I made it to 8 100m. So close to the 8 848m Everesting mark, yet so far.
Nearly 2 years after my failed attempt in Thailand, I decided to attempt the Everesting Challenge once more. I chose the same climb that I used for my first failed attempt. As I mentioned, the base of the climb is only 1km from my front door, so it is very convenient. This time I decided to do the Everesting in the peak of winter. I had had ENOUGH of the sun! I started the ride at 4:30am in the mornig. I have never in my life been so cold. I called home to ask a friend who stayed at my house the night before if he would be able to bring me long finger gloves, but there was no answer. After making it through the first hour or two in the cold, it became an excellent day for the Everesting Challenge..
I was a far more experienced cyclist than I was two years ago, at the time of my last Everesting attempt. The only mistake I made was that I was not as fit as I could have been when I attempted the Everesting challenge the third time. A quick look at the training I did on Strava in the two months leading up to the event will confirm this. When I reached 6 000m of climbing my legs started to hurt, A LOT. That was okay though. I was not going to let sore legs get in the way of me finishing the Everesting challenge. I was eating and drinking enough, and there were no signs of any injury popping up out of nowhere.
I felt a great sense of accomplishment when I finally finished the Everesting challenge. It meant a lot to me, because of the fact that I had tried and failed twice before. The professional cyclist who complete the Everest challenge in under 9 hours have made it seem a lot less epic than what it actually is. If you have completed an Everesting challenge then that is something to be proud of, no matter how long it took you! You can hold your head up high knowing you climbed 8 848m in a single ride.
I actually wanted to reach 10 000m of climbing during this Everesting attempt. My legs were hurting, but like I said I had no injuries and mentally I was feeling strong. The reason I finished my ride at 9 500m of climbing was for the sake of my mother. She was driving behind me for the last two hours of the ride, up and down the climb. There were no street lights on the climb and the road was extremely corrugated. She did not want me to ride up and down it in the dark, so she drove behind me with her lights blazing. How amazing is that? When it got to 1am in the morning and I saw I still had 500m of climbing to do I decided to go home. I was tired and I wanted to stop, but more importantly my mom was tired and while I could sleep in the next day, she had to go to work.
Why people fail at the Everesting challenge
At the time of writing this I have failed at the Everesting challenge twice and completed the challenge on the third attempt. I have learnt from friends who have attempted the challenge, some who failed and others who succeeded. I have also done equally epic rides, such as a 300km ride with 8 000m of climbing I did in the Czech Republic. It is fair to say I have learnt a lot from these endurance climbing challenges. These are what I believe to be the main reasons why people fail at the Everesting challenge:
- Not enough water. Not drinking enough water will kill your ride before it has even gotten started. It could also be extremely dangerous, as in my case. Check your urine to make sure you are hydrated at all times during your Everesting attempt. Aim for clear urine every 2-3 hours. Do not be afraid to drink a lot of water, especially when it is hot outside.
- Not enough carbohydrates. Not eating enough carbohydrates will cause you to “bonk.” It is a mistake all cyclist have made and one even professional cyclists make from time to time. Read “How to avoid BONKING and conquer every long ride” if you want to be bonk proof from here on out.
- Improper gearing. It is very important that you have good gearing on your bike. Test ride the climb you are going to use for your Everesting attempt and make sure that at no point during the climb does your cadence fall below 70. I prefer a higher cadence than that, but would use 70 as a minimum. If your cadence is too low, then seriously consider changing your gearing before the Everesting attempt or choose a climb that is less steep.
- Poor sun protection. The sun can make or break your ride. Protect yourself from the sun by using either a chemical or a physical barrier, or both. A chemical barrier, provided by sunscreen, is good. A physical barrier that you get from arm and neck covers is even better.
- The incorrect climb. Choose a climb that is a good length and a good gradient. A longer climb is always better than a shorter one. A good gradient is anything above 7%, but not so steep that you are grinding at a low cadence for most of the ride.
- Poor conditioning. If your body is not prepared for the extreme nature of the Everesting challenge, it will start to “pack up” during the ride. This is what happened to me during my second Everesting attempt. I obviously was not conditioned enough to handle 8 848m of climbing in a single day.
Visit the Everesting website by clicking here.
I would estimate that 99% of the time someone fails at the Everesting challenge, the reason as to why they failed will fall within one of the categories mentioned above. I failed my first Everesting attempt by not drinking enough water and poor sun protection. I failed my second attempt due to a lack of physical conditioning.
Lately I have floated the idea of completing another Everesting. The only thing holding me back is that I have a few cycling races coming up. Everesting takes a toll on your body and disrupts your training for at least a week or two. I think I will definitely do an Everesting again in the future, just not right now.