Everesting – off-road on a mountain bike
One might wonder why you would choose to cycle up and down a rocky path on your mountain bike until you accumulated 8,848 metres of elevation – the height of Mt. Everest. Therefore, I put together some information on ‘What is Everesting?’ as well as a personal report on the off-road Everesting mountain bike challenge on the Skelp that took place on June 19th 2021. Moreover, I’ve included some notes on my training and preparations for the Everesting that might be useful for others attempting a big endurance challenge.
How I first heard about off-road Everesting on the MTB
A few months ago, my friend Padraig got in touch and asked if I would be interested in doing an ‘Everesting Challenge’ on the mountain bike. He planned on using a hill around the back of Croagh Patrick and had already found some other cyclists who were up for the challenge. Not knowing any other details, I said yes. This off-road Everesting Challenge sounded like some serious craziness and I was sure the boys are good fun.
At first, all of us started training separately. Then, as the Covid restrictions started to ease, we decided to meet up for a first group training session at the scene of our off-road Everesting Challenge – the Skelp. This is when things started to get real…
What is Everesting?
“FIENDISHLY SIMPLE, YET BRUTALLY HARD.
EVERESTING IS THE MOST DIFFICULT
CLIMBING CHALLENGE IN THE WORLD.”
The concept of Everesting is fiendishly simple: Pick any hill, anywhere in the world and complete repeats of it in a single activity until you climb 8,848m – the equivalent height of Mt Everest. Complete the challenge on a bike, on foot, or online, and you’ll find your name in the Hall of Fame, alongside the best climbers in the world. (everesting.cc)
Since the start of worldwide lockdowns and due to travel restrictions, ‘Everesting’ made it onto the ‘to conquer’-list of many endurance cyclists. Especially because the Donegal man Ronan McLoughlin is currently holding the world record for the fastest Everesting on a road bike, the term Everesting has become a topic of conversation here in Ireland.
Everesting for a good cause
We took on this off-road Everesting Challenge in aid of Mayo Mental Health Services and Croí.
Croi aims to lead the fight against heart disease and stroke, with a particular focus on the West of Ireland. Their mission is to prevent disease, save lives and promote recovery & wellbeing.
The Mayo Mental Health Association aims to promote positive mental health and wellbeing for all individuals and communities and to support people with lived experience of mental health challenges in their recovery, bringing practical expression to national policy objectives.
A big shoutout to all the amazing people that supported our team before, during and after this Everesting challenge! You are legends and we couldn’t have done this without your support!
Many thanks also to everyone who donated for our fundraiser! Your support is much appreciated!
Committing is the first challenge
When we first started talking about the Everesting Challenge, I hadn’t been on a mountain bike in well over a year. Since my big event of 2020 was the TransAtlanticWay I had spent a lot of time on my road bike while my mountain bike was sitting in the shed untouched. Nevertheless, I was intrigued to find out if I was able to do an off-road Everesting challenge. Besides, I would be great to spend more time on my mountain bike again. But I didn’t want to sign up for a challenge that I wasn’t ready for. After all, it’s not worth risking an injury by showing up to a challenge like this badly prepared.
To get my body and my mind straight for this challenge, I made a training-agreement with myself:
- Cycle a ‘half-Everest’ on the road bike to assess where I’m at.
- Do 3000m elevation on the Skelp to get back into mountain biking mode.
- Do 5000m elevation on the Skelp to assess if the body is able for an off-road Everesting.
- Sign up for the Everesting.
Step 1: Cycle a ‘half-Everest’ on the road bike
Step 1 of my program went very well. Because of all the road biking training I did in the past year, I didn’t have any difficulties accumulating over 4,400 metres of elevation over a distance of 166km. It took me about 8 hours and I concluded on a steeper, shorter hill I would be able to do it a lot faster.
Step 2: Do 3000m elevation on the Skelp to get back into mountain biking mode
It was only 8 weeks before our planned Everesting attempt when we met up at the iconic climb called the Skelp for the first time. At this point, I had only half decided to take on the challenge, because I wanted to base my decision on how this training session felt.
I had been here before about 10 years ago during ‘The Gaelforce Adventure Race’. Obviously, my memory was a bit blurred, since I didn’t remember the terrain to be this rough.
The first team meeting
This was also the first time we were all together. Myself, Padraig the postman and chief ring leader and Trevor the vegan bike mechanic and part-time comedian, both of whom I already knew. For the first time, I met the other two lads, Bryan, a perfectly sculpted machine who runs a mussel farm on the east coast and claims to be Ireland’s fastest Guinness ‘taster’ and Colin, the cool, calm and collective of the group. I immediately liked the vibe of our little team, which is a very important factor to me.
Training means making mistakes to learn from
We decided to do 3000 metres on our first training session as a group. While the boys had been training on the mtb for a few months, this was my first proper mountain biking session in a long time. Therefore, I made lots of little mistakes, but I suppose that is what training sessions are for.
For instance, I put my new Infinity saddle (the most comfortable saddle ever!) onto the mountain bike. After just one repeat, I realised this saddle is not ideal for the task at hand. Due to its unique shape, I couldn’t sit back on the downhill. Hence, I looked a bit like Miss Daisy herself on the downhill, sitting on my bike in a very upright position. Lesson #1 – don’t mount your super comfy road bike saddle on the mtb.
Additionally, my saddle was slightly too high, and my tyres fully blasted with air. This all resulted in me bouncing around like a mad woman on the downhills. I was struggling to keep a line and not to crash into the lads coming up on the left side.
The tricky terrain
The path was narrow and rocky so it was crucial that we all stay on the left. Some of the lads were like bullets on the downhills, hitting 60km/hr easily. I, on the other hand, was a bit more reserved since I was just getting used to being back on the mountain bike. The bumpy and narrow path wouldn’t allow room for mistakes. This was going to be a serious challenge once we all got tired and fatigued. Afterall, we could expect to be on the bike for around 20 hours.
Learnings from the first training of the skelp
Although my overall pace up and down was a bit slower, the others took longer breaks. As a result, I finished the 3000 metres a bit before them. Overall, it was a super day with lots of learnings. I needed to work on my bike setup and I now had more of an idea how to plan my food and hydration strategy. The lads now knew that the clock wouldn’t stop when and that they needed to speed up their picnic breaks.
The toll on the body
After this training my left arm started to worry me. It started to hurt and it felt as if there was grit inside it. The range of motion was restricted and I didn’t even have the power to lift the kettle. Even though the legs were fine I had to take a week completely off the bike. The vibrations of the repetitive motion on the downhill had caused a serious strain on my forearm. I suffered from a condition called ‘pump arm’ and it took over 2 weeks before it was back 100%.
Step 3: Do 5000m elevation on the Skelp to assess if the body is able for an off-road Everesting
The next group training was supposed to happen 3 weeks later. With the event itself happening 2.5 weeks after. I was concerned that my arm might flare up again and said I would only commit 100% to the challenge once I had done 5000 metres.
In the meantime, I raised my handlebars, changed and lowered my saddle and let a little air out of my tyres.
On the way to 5000m
When I told my friends about the off-road Everesting on the Skelp, most said:
‘I don’t think it’s possible, but if it is – you can do it!’
It was nice to get their support, but my own thoughts sounded more like ‘Just because you now banked up a few endurance events, it doesn’t mean this is actually possible’. I definitely had some more training for my mindset to do, as well as for the body.
When time is running out
I did a few training sessions of 2500 metres on my local hill at Glanduff. It felt good but I was still not sure how my body would react to over 3 times this evaluation and on rougher terrain. Time ended up passing, the weather conditions weren’t ideal and before I knew it, it was too late to do our 5000 metres as a team!
Step 4: Sign up for the Everesting.
Are you committed or not?
Even though I had not completed the 5000m session, Padraig and the other lads seemed confident they could take on the off-road Everesting challenge as planned. I, on the other hand, had decided not to sign up 100% until I had 5000 metres in the legs. Since it was too late for that now, I didn’t know what to do…
A message went out on our group chat asking who’s in? The press release is going out. With 3 weeks to go, it was time for me to get off the fence. After struggling with this commitment for some weeks I decided: ‘I’m in!’ -And that was it. 5 of us had now committed to take on the mammoth task of climbing an accumulation of 8848 metres on a hill called Skelp.
Last minute training or rest?
I now had 2 choices.
- Putting in a big training day to train shock and test the body with the risk of getting injured and/or totally fatiguing the body OR
- Just taking the pedal off and relaxing for over 2 weeks before arriving to the starting line on June 19th.
I choose the second option, continued with yoga each day and did short sessions to keep the legs moving. Five days before the event, I went to ‘the hill’ for only the second time. This time on my own, I only did 1000 metres.
Plan of action
I used this session to get my mental state in order and come up with a plan of action. Therefore, I worked out the details regarding all the logistics, timing, food & hydration needed, stretch stops and how to break down the day to keep me motivated.
This detailed plan of action helped me to no longer concern myself with questioning my physical ability. Having a realistic plan and playing my own game to get to the end was now the key.
The off-road Everesting challenge on the mountain bike
The night before
Bryan, kindly invited me to stay in his house the night before as it was only a 20 min drive from the Skelp. It was so nice to meet his lovely wife and 2 children. As always, the best thing about these events is not the event itself, it’s the journey and all the amazing people you meet on the way to share the experience.
After a good sleep, I got up and had my usual porridge and banana breakfast with a strong coffee. The five of us arranged to meet at 5.30am at the venue with a starting time of 6am. Myself and Bryan arrived 10 minutes early, next up was Trevor. Time was going on, then Noel, our chief crew master arrived and informed us that Padraig and Colin had overslept, but were on the way.
The 2 lads arrived like Rockstars 😉, 20 minutes late and Padraig announced we would now be starting at 6.20am. Within minutes the marquee for the basecamp was set up and we were back on track. We were all strongly focused on what was needed to be done. Everyone had individually played out their own strategy on how the day would go. The five of us were a team coming out here together, sharing an incredible experience. But in the end, it was also clear that this was an individual challenge. Hence, to succeed we needed to create our own rhythm and follow our own individual plan.
And we’re off! Nice and steady up the 700 metre hill with 88 metres of elevation. Padraig had put up a big stop clock at the basecamp, so we could see it each time we turned at the bottom. To be honest, I totally forgot it was there and once we set off I didn’t even look at it once. All that mattered to me was sticking with my own plan.
- Drink 500 ml each hour
I had mostly water mixed with Skratch Labs electrolytes but I also drank a litre of mango and banana smoothie and a litre of chocolate soya milk. Maybe these things could also count towards food though.
- Eat a minimum of 350-400 calories per hour.
For me cycling is a moving buffet. Therefore, I rather eat something small every 20 minutes than have a sit down feed. For this reason, I only stopped at the basecamp 3 times during the day to fill up my pockets and front bag with food.
Variety is key
I try to vary the food as much as possible and keep it similar to what I would usually eat. Some of my favourites are
- Baby potatoes with lots of Achill sea salt
- Homemade Protein balls
- Banana and walnut bread
- Nakd bars
- Wraps with hummus, tofu and cucumber
- Soy protein and vegetable stew
I think people were surprised with how much I was eating, I told one man that passed a comment that I was still growing 😉
My experience in endurance sport has taught me that a consistent stream of fuel is needed to provide your body with enough energy. An endurance sport event is certainly not a good occasion to lose weight!
My energy seemed to be consistent throughout the day both physically and mentally, so I think I got the fuelling 100% on this occasion.
I had no idea how my body would react to this challenge and being realistic, I was not ideally trained for this event. Hence, I had to be extra humble and listen to my body.
Often times people try to ignore niggles that creep up; however I believe in doing the opposite. Therefore, I am always trying to tune into the body, to be aware of potential issues arising. As a result, I can find a solution for an issue before it becomes a serious concern.
Focus on what’s important
In this case, this meant to get off the bike and stretch, loosen my shoes, relax my shoulders, shake out my hands and so on. My goal was to get to the end. This challenge was not a race. Therefore, I was not concerned about the time. However, we all know that the longer you are out there, the tougher it gets. Darkness would arrive at some point and that adds to the logistical challenge. All in all, you want to find a happy medium between resting enough and keeping up a good pace.
Breaking the big challenge into smaller bite size parts helps
I broke down the day as follows:
1250metres- stop, refuel, load pockets with food, 4 stretches,
1000 metres- stop, refuel, load pockets with food, 3 stretches
From there on, I stopped every 750 metres to stretch for 2 minutes. The marquee and food were at the basecamp, but around the half way mark, I got a foam roller and yoga mat put at the top and this is where I did my stretching. Psychologically, it was easier for me to stop at the top and away from the crowds. Everyone reacts different under pressure and this strategy gave me some mental and as physical release.
For the last 1500 metres, I stopped every 600 metres, did 2 fast stretches and continued. While cycling uphill, on each repeat I stretched my neck, shoulders and rolled my wrists and cycling downhill I stretched my back, calves and hip flexors. All this really helped me. Surprisingly enough I had absolutely no niggles throughout the day. Even though I expected to have issues with my shoulders, arms and struggle to have enough leg power to get up the hills towards the end as my bike doesn’t have a huge range of gears. However, I started to feel more powerful for the second half which was a pleasant surprise.
The period – an add on to the challenge
I was facing an additional small logistical challenge because I had my period during the event. This means, I had some cramps at the start but luckily the adrenaline put them to sleep. On the positive side, I know that I am physically the strongest at this point of my menstrual cycle, and my recovery is the best. I didn’t take pain killers this time. Personally, I try not to take them until absolutely necessary. From my experience it gets more difficult to tune into my bodies needs and it can have after effects when the numbing result of the pills wear off.
Tuning into your body is the most important part
For all menstruating cyclists reading this blog, I can highly recommend tuning into your body, tracking your menstrual cycle and working with it. Physically and mentally -since it can make a remarkable difference. For more information about menstrual cycle-based training and cycle tracking I can recommend reading ROAR by Dr. Stacy Sims, and Period Power by Maisie Hill.
Sum up on the body
Although this was an epic challenge to take on, I personally didn’t feel it was particularly physically challenging to get to the end. In other words, I had a good day in the office and executed my personal plan well. My focus was to complete 9100 metres to be sure I accumulated the required elevation and I had estimated this would take me 17 hours. In the end, I completed 9107 metres of elevation in 16 hours 52 minutes and a moving time of 15 hours 37 minutes. In effect, I was 8 minutes ahead of the plan I wrote out in my notebook a few days previous. Was that thanks to consistency, experience, years of training on the bike, luck, or realistic planning? Ultimately, I believe it was a good combination of all.
Mountain bike setup & cycling gear
I used my Van Nicolas Revelstoke titanium MTB for this Everesting challenge. It’s a hard tail bike with 29” wheels.
Thankfully, the weather stayed dry, and the temperatures were ideal. Therefore, I used the cycling shorts, jersey, light gilet and buff of my ‘Rachel’s Irish Adventures’ branded cycling gear from GOBIK and didn’t need any rain gear.
When taking on a physical challenge, especially on this scale, mental strength and mindset is the most important element of the game. Nobody before had ever completed an off-road Everesting on the Skelp. Hence, the first challenge was imagining that it is possible.
How to convince yourself to do the impossible?
When I told people about our off-road Everesting attempt, even hardcore athletes, believed it was simply mad and doubted it was even possible. It takes a certain inner power to turn this around and realistically convenience yourself you can and you will do this.
As I mentioned before, I was on the fence up to 3 weeks before the event. All things considered I wasn’t sure if I had the physical ability to take on the challenge. I just hadn’t done enough training to be 100% certain.
Once you’ve signed up it’s too late for doubts
Once I then committed to doing it, I knew it as too late to work on my physical abilities, but I had enough time to get my mental state 100% right.
My advantage was that I knew I had taken on different challenges that were a lot longer in the past. Therefore, I concluded that I had the experience and physical strength to push through this. After all, I didn’t have to worry about getting lost in a jungle, running out of food, getting bitten by a snake or falling off the side of a cliff in the dark. In short, I just had to cycle up and down a hill with 4 friends during daylight hours. To top it off, I knew we would have lots of support and I could plan out the day. Sure, look it… how hard can it be 😉
Crafting your own pole position
Five days before the event, I got up at 5am to drive to this famous hill at the back of Croagh Patrick. It was a fabulous and calm morning. The plan was to do 1000 metres at a nice steady pace- my only diesel engine pace. While I was on the bike I imagined myself at the start of the event on Saturday; I pictured myself at the midway point and how it would feel to complete the 8,840 metres of elevation. To be as prepared as possible I started to think about and plan out all the details. Like when I would stretch on and off the bike. What stretches I would do and for how long. I also decided at what point on the hill on each repeat I would drink and eat and when it was time to definitely keep two hands on the handlebars. Once I started to break it all down in little segments, the whole challenge suddenly seemed very manageable and I knew there was no need to panic.
Reminder to myself: I’m doing this because I love it, it’s my choice
Then 5 days later, on the day of the event, I wasn’t nervous at all. There was simply no reason to be. At this point, I had convinced myself that this was just a day out with friends doing what I love. During the day I reminded myself many times how privileged I was to be physically and mentally able to take this Everesting challenge on, and how proud I was of myself for showing up.
Stay calm and tell the nerves to shut up
Throughout the day, my mindset was 100% in the right place and I really enjoyed the experience. Having the support of friends, family and people I didn’t know but felt a real connection with, really added to the motivation and kept the mind focused yet distracted. Although the five of us were on our own personal journey to complete this challenge, the unspoken bond created between us was powerful. Going up was slow and steady and going down we were all pumped. I often let out a YahooOO and did a little jump.
It’s all about the balance
In the end the key to success was to keep the balance – literally on the bike but also in the mind. Even if for example the atmosphere is electric, it is important not to go too high. I had to make sure I don’t get carried away, go too fast or push it too much in the beginning.
Equally, going too low needs to be avoided. This can be especially tricky when the others start to struggle around you. Or even just when innocent bystanders repeatedly tell you how they could never go up a hill as steep as this. It’s important to stick with your plan, listen to your own body and to not let someone else’s truth become your reality.
Both states, too high and too low, are in themselves exhausting and will cost valuable energy. My advice for anyone taking on personal challenges is: Get the mindset right and you are over halfway there. Furthermore, listen to your body and come up with a realistic plan. Most importantly, visualise everything from the start to the end – If you can think it through you can do it too!
Luckily, the toll on the body wasn’t too big this time for me. Nevertheless, it is important to give the body the chance to recover properly. This time, it was enough for me to take it easy for the days after. Besides that, I got a good massage, drank lots of liquid and tried to eat healthy. After consuming around 400calories per hour for almost 24 hours it always takes me a few days to get my appetite back down to a normal level as I just want to eat everything at every hour.
For the next event on my list I’ll be back on the road bike. The Wild Mayo Ultra 650km will take place on July 24th and I’m very much looking forward to it. Then, for the rest of the year I plan to spend more time exploring in the kayak and on foot, hiking & trail running. After all, I hope to be able to get back into adventure racing in the coming year.