Hill repeat number three had been completed and I was enjoying my reward of incredible scenery and smooth road descending. My Garmin ticked over the 100km mark and it suddenly dawned on me I’d be riding well beyond my distance PB of 180km today. I had another 5 & 3/4 ascents to go, each at 19km a pop, include the descent, that’s 38km up and down. 38 X 5 = 190km, add in this descent and I’m going to hit over 300km. Well, I came here for a lesson. It’s going to be a good one…
Probably the most asked question. I didn’t have a simple answer to this, I just knew it needed to be done. I’ve wanted to Everest a mountain (climb it as many times needed to equal the height of Everest 8,848m) for a long time. I mentioned it to Flanners last month and he didn’t seem to question it so I told the boss I was doing it and he jumped straight on board with the idea. Two weeks later we’re driving to Ras Al Khaimah at 4:30am chatting life through over a coffee. This would be my 4th or 5th ‘challenge’ with Marcus and there’s no-one better in the game to have with you. Nothing is made into a big deal and there is never any ‘doubting’ talk or, ‘are you sure’ chat. We both knew I wasn’t getting off the mountain until I’d climbed 8,850m, simple.
Back to the question, the Why? Ultimately it came down to two things in my mind:
- If I can do this I will have my climbing legs for IRONMAN South Africa in six weeks time. There is zero physiology research or scientific explanation for this, it is purely psychological and purely thought up by myself.
- There is a lesson to be learnt here. If my head is craving such a challenge it wants to self learn.
Entering the ‘learning window’
We set off at 6:38am, I reckoned it would be roughly 16hrs of riding and about 20hrs in total on the mountain. With the second ‘Why’ in my mind I knew I needed to be patient, with the first ‘why’ in my mind I really knew I had to be patient. Goal number one was to finish, goal number two would take care of itself.
As you do more long distance challenges you learn that it takes longer to enter ‘flow state’ where a large portion of lessons are learnt. During Crossing the Wahiba I hit the learning window around seven hours in and dipped in and out throughout the night before the unreal heat and epic sand dunes brought me back to present life. I figured similar timings of this challenge would happen so the first half of the day I knew would be purely about the ride itself. Ascent one Marcus rode with me, showed me up the mountain and I got my first taste of Jebel Jais. It’s a pretty awe inspiring place. You begin at the bottom with high surrounding walls that reminded me of an Indiana Jones film, I was looking out for spy holes and the odd arrow flying my way… (none did). You then go past a random patch of lush green grass, with houses built behind them. It’s a bit out of place but a nice change to the usual stone scenery. As you get about 20 mins into the climb you start seeing the task ahead. I wont lie, I got nervous. The switch backs then begin and the legs start to work, Al Quadra is amazing to cycle at and we are so lucky to have it, but nothing beats a mountain climb…nothing.
One hour and 25 mins later we reach the top, one hill rep down. They’ve closed the top top so I rode as close to the road blocking barrier as I could, 999m of ascent…come on…Initially it was thought the top was open which would have put me at 1200m of ascent, that meant seven ascents plus a few more km’s to hit the goal. With the barrier closed it would be 8 & 3/4. It’s not like it changed much, either way it would be a long day. The sun hadn’t come up yet so the ride back down was absolutely freezing, it took 25 mins and I was happy to know my brakes were working. The key to these type of challenges is to keep moving so I grabbed a quick bite from the car and immediately headed up on the second hill rep. Marcus brought his run legs and only fancied one climb so he jumped in the car and headed up to the top where we would set up ‘HQ’.
This was it, I was solo from here on in and I couldn’t have been happier. Reps two, three & four were great. Zero problems and almost bang on the same time for each one. Social media was fun and I even answered a few emails and messages while going up, I was flying down the descents and seeing if I could send it over 70kph without filling my bibs (74.9kph was where I drew the line). Hill Rep five began at around 1pm and I’d just had some special MS rocket coffee. Ride time was roughly 7hours and I was over the half way mark, it was the best hill rep of my life. My legs just wouldn’t get tired, flow state on the way? I was hoping so. It didn’t happen, I just kept on riding it and thinking this has to start hurting soon…As I hit the top and started my 10min refueling window Marcus simply said ‘carry on at this pace mate and we’re off the mountain by 9pm!’ That meant we would total 15hrs, ride time would be more like 13hrs. Winning! But I wasn’t learning anything yet, just that I had missed climbing on my bike a lot.
Looking back at the data, rep five was my slowest so far that day but felt the best. Caffeine is awesome. I had it in my head I was nailing it, nothing was going to stop me finishing this, I even had Marcus’ bike as a spare in case mine decided to try.
Jimi Hendrix went on for the descent, and I flew down ready for rep six. Flow must be on its way soon, surely.
As I turned to start rep six a bloke on a mountain bike was heading up a few 100m down the road, I waved and turned and carried on not really in the mood to socialise. I figured he’d be way back anyway on a mountain bike. 20 seconds later he was at my side and chatting away. I genuinely thought he had a motor in his frame, it was awesome. Chris was from Abu Dhabi and a PTI in the army. He was also doing an Everest that day and fancied it on a MTB instead of a road bike for the comfort (and gears I expect). He was a nice bloke and we chatted for 20min or so. I had a point I liked to be at by 30 – 35min. There were two generators pumping water somewhere at the bottom of the cliff and I liked that point because it was about half way in my head and it was where I could start seeing the top and the zip line. As we went past them Chris was still right by my side and chatting away, I wasn’t doing much talking and started to wonder why, was I tired now? Shit, this is starting to feel hard now. My avg power was in normal range and I hadn’t missed a feed. Fatigue was on its way. Chris rode the whole way up with me to the top, I completely zoned out and was probably the worst riding partner he could have asked for (sorry Chris). At the top I got my usual hit of MS enthusiasm and went back down the mountain for rep seven. Everything now started to hurt; neck, arms, back, hips, legs. Come on number seven! It was getting dark now and ride time was coming up to 12 hours.
Learning window is coming surely!?
Zero events happened for number seven, it was just a normal ride up the mountain. No struggles to get through, no clear thoughts, no flow state. While at the top refueling Chris showed up from earlier just finishing his second. He came over to introduce himself to Marcus and asked how many I had left. ‘He’s got one more then about 800m of ascent after that’, ‘Ah he’s got in the bag then’ Chris said, Marcus responded with ‘He’s had it in the bag since 6am this morning mate’. This is exactly the sort of shit you want to hear before descending down for the penultimate climb of a 15hr ride. One issue I was having since the sun went down was getting cold on the descents, I would sweat buckets on the way up, then be soaked at the top, get cold and then descend. This time I stuck on a head thingy and an extra jacket. Within two mins of heading back down I was shivering uncontrollably, I could barely brake and it felt like my headset had come loose although I couldn’t tell because I couldn’t stop shivering. Half way down I just started to laugh. The hard part of this ride is meant to be going up hill not down! I slowed to a snail pace because it just wasn’t safe any more to go fast and be shaking as much as I was. I got the bottom frozen…Turned to start rep number eight and the tank was empty.
This was now it, finally the wall has come. I met the generators at 38 min, three mins behind my slowest climb so far. I was about 20 watts down, anything above it was horrendous. Suffer time had begun…It had taken 13hrs of cycling but I was finally opening the learning window.
The lesson learnt this time
I couldn’t get my head to shut up about it being over. Constant voice saying it will be over soon, one more freezing cold descent, one more climb. Could I chuck the bike in the back of the car and drive down? Was that allowed? Definitely not, DBAFP. You look up and see the lights at the top of the hill, it’s a long old way to go. Marcus is behind me in the car, he knows I’ve slowed as well. I know I’ve slowed. This needs to be over soon.
I reach the top of number eight, ten minutes slower than normal. I don’t want to stop at the top but I have to. I need fresh lights, I told Marcus don’t pull into the car park I’m not stopping for long, he doesn’t question it, just cracks on. Lights get changed and I neck a can of red bull. While doing so I look at my Garmin, 8080m. ‘Mate, my Garmin says 8080m, how far left do I need to climb’? Marcus tells me the height of Everest for 10th time that day but I don’t hear it. I know it’s eight something but I simply cannot subtract one number from the other. I don’t know how far I need to go down in order to hit the 8,848m of total ascent. My brain has checked out, decision fatigue is in. ‘mate, just tell me what to do’. He answers, ride to just before the bottom where the road splits, turn around and ride up until you hit 8,848m. Fuck, made it sound so simple. Let’s go.
I drink red bull maybe once a year. It’s an absolute fail safe if I need it. I couldn’t eat anything more, so I knew drinking it would give me a kick and the final boost I needed. I shot to the top and headed down ready to start the final climb. I was still shivering but I didn’t care at all, I was ready for this to be over. Scenery is flying past me and I’m descending as if it’s daylight and my life depends on it. I see the split in the road, brakes go on I turn and start my ninth and final climb. But I’ve forgotten to change gear so I’m at a near stand still, pedal hard, ease off change as fast possible, don’t snap a chain. That really hurt my legs, I have 768m left to climb. I need a distraction, I’ve already listened to 3 rogan podcasts, a fourth wont hurt. Anti Ageing with some bloke who does everything possible to live longer yet he drinks diet coke, what a dick. I’ve got a lot of work to do tomorrow, I have swims to catch up on too…going to need to clean my bike, wonder how far is left to climb now? I touch the Garmin to switch the back light on, 8,190m. Hmm this is going to be another hour of climbing at this rate. I’ve done 13hrs 55mins, it’s been an epic day but there’s still another hour left of it! For the next 20 min I tortured myself, I listened to a podcast about a guy who’s full of shit and done all his human longevity experiments on mice, I watch the meters tick up incredibly slowly! I’m just suffering through this. My chin is nearly on the bars and power is at an avg of 198W, 20 – 25W lower than it has been climbing all day. Redbull has done nothing, so I sink a gel. Energy needs to come from somewhere. This thought provokes another thought in my head. The popular Navy Seal 40% rule, this rule states that when you believe you are empty, you are actually only 40% done. I have the brain capacity to think of all the shit I have to do tomorrow, to think how Redbull isn’t doing what it is meant to. I’m listening to something I’m not enjoying at all! This challenge is about climbing 8,848m and I’m watching the meters tick away so slowly and complaining to myself about it. At that point I flicked the switch, I knocked the ear bud out my ear, I stopped watching the meters tick up and the power number, I visualised the energy gel working in tandem with the Redbull and I just started to climb.
Power goes from 160 to 237W, HR goes from 120 to 138bpm, I have roughly 20 mins left on the mountain and murder mode is now engaged. I still can’t remember the number I need to hit but I have 8,850 in my head. I can’t see my Garmin without touching it for the back light and I’m not going to do that. I might even crack onto the top. The next 20mins were a bit of a blur, I avg 266W. The only reason I know it’s over is because a street light shone on my Garmin and showed 8,845m… I sit up and Marcus drives along side. It ticks up to 8,850m and I ask him if 8,850m is enough? It is, and the thought of continuing to the top is long gone! Challenge over, complete, done.
I’ve really pissed myself off on the last two climbs, I went to a negative place in my thoughts and tried to skip forward without going through the process of achieving the goal I set out. Choose an outcome you desire, follow the steps, learn from the lessons. It sounds simple but I think it’s human nature to want to ‘cheat it’. You can read all the inspiring books in the world but you can’t beat actually doing a challenge yourself. You don’t just read the start and finish of an inspiring book, you get lost in the middle where they describe what they are feeling and going through. When in a challenge you can’t skip to the end, you can’t just get the glory, you need to go through some shit first and earn it. That’s the lesson, which honestly I already knew. I do however have a big goal this year that requires some steps in order for it to happen and it’s impossible to achieve if those steps are missed. The Everest challenge reinforced it for me and I’m more present and motivated with my goal than I ever have been.
Ride time: 14hrs 47mins
Total time: 16hr 46mins
Total Ascent: 8,852m
Avg NP: 213W
Avg HR: 129bpm
Avg speed: 21.6kph
Avg RPM: 70
Kcals burned: 9605kJ
Kcals consumed: Circa 6500kJ
Bike: Stock Scentron (2012) Di2 10 speed. 53/39 – 11/28
Wheels: Mavic Cosmic Carbone 40’s
By: Tom Walker, Endurance Coach