vEveresting. Why I’m elated with doing a thing badly – by John Pratt

Everesting? What is it?

Everesting is an activity in which cyclists ascend and descend a given hill multiple times, in order to have cumulatively climbed 8,848 metres. (the elevation of Mount Everest).

The first event described as “Everesting” was by George Mallory, grandson of George Mallory, who disappeared on Everest in 1924. The younger Mallory ascended Mount Donna Buang in 1994, having ridden eight “laps” of the 1,069-metre hill. The format and rules were cemented by Andy van Bergen, inspired by the story of Mallory’s effort. In the first official group effort, van Bergen organized 65 riders, 40 of whom finished the Everesting attempt. 

Bergen et al. set up HELLS 500. They describe the concept of their group as: “We liked the fact that as hill riders we were on the fringe, so rather than race – we would set ourselves goals that no one else was doing. The prerequisite for any challenge that we set was that it had to be tough. To qualify, it needed to be too difficult to just go out and ride it. We would spend months training up for each new epic – usually timed with the onset of spring. This meant that the crux of our training every year was undertaken in the cold, dark, and wet winters when everyone else would stay under the doona.

It was this approach that would eventually lead to the mark of the cloud emblazoned on every Hells 500 rider’s arm, and the grey stripe across their chest. It is a symbol that reminds others that while they are taking it easy over winter, that’s when we ride the most. Each challenge completed led to another more difficult, as these things tend to do. Soon we were clipping in on a hellish 2-day 500km epic through the High Country, including 10,000m of climbing. It was all kinds of tough, and word traveled. We started to get introduced as “those Hells 500 guys”. It stuck. Hells 500 are not afraid of the odd epic. In fact, the more odd, the greater the appeal.”

For vEveresting (Virtual Everesting) the rules are pretty simple. Trainer difficulty needs to be at 100%, direct drive only and no ERG (Ergometer) mode. (This is when you set your desired wattage and your tubo will vary resistance to keep you to that wattage) It does not matter how long the ride takes, but it must be ridden in one attempt (i.e. no sleeping in between). Breaks for meals etc. are fine. You can break for as long or as little as you like. Rides can be of any length, on any hill or mountain within the Zwift framework. Essentially anything that has a vertical gain can be used to complete an vEveresting. Rides must only focus on one hill or mountain per ride.  You cannot ride different routes on the same mountain. If there are 4 routes, that means there are 4 possible ‘vEverestings’ (think of it like the North and South face of Everest). Rides cannot be loops. The descent must be via the same road. Rides must be full ascents each time. You can’t commit to a combination of full and half laps within the one Everesting attempt. The exception to full repeats of the same section/segment of hill is once you hit 8,848m you can abandon that repeat. Finally, there is no need to stay on the trainer on descents.

For those who don’t know, Zwift is a multiplayer online cycling and running physical training program that enables users to interact, train and compete in a virtual world. Zwift allows players to ride their bicycles on stationary trainers while navigating through various virtual worlds. Players may cycle freely around the game world and join organized group rides, races, or workouts with other users. 

Preparation

So, I have been using Zwift for around a year and a half, primarily for its training plans. Come lockdown I ventured into the wonderful world of Zwift racing too. Most of my Zwift activity had been between 30 to 90 minutes. However, come April and I was crossing out all races on my calendar. I completed a 100km ride because it was something new to do. Then, because the word “metric” in the metric century felt like a caveat, I did a “proper” century ride a couple of weeks later with about 2,500m elevation. Owing to my improving Zwifting ability it’s enabled me to keep up with most people on those virtual roads and I spent a lot of those 100mi having little ‘battles’ with people, whether they knew it or not! It passed the almost 8 hours and left me sitting in the shower feeling sick and unable to stop my legs shaking. Looking back this is when I think I started linking Zwift with an accessible way of pushing my boundaries. If I can go a bit dark. The pain & fatigue during and after, is the memento of pushing your boundaries. It’s like a sadistic t-shirt or medal which you wear on your soul until your body heals. Then you wonder what’s next?

While I’ve been on Zwift, I’d seen here and there Zwifters on the Alpe du Zwift route with “vEveresting” next to their name and initially assumed they were just doing the Zwift Everest challenge. (This is where you set the challenge going in the background and then it just counts up your elevation to 8,848m over as many weeks/months as it takes) Then at some point I noticed a rider maybe 100+km in and decided to give it a Google and see what was what. That’s when I saw what it actually was! I don’t think I gave it much more thought than admiration for the riders doing it but thought it was one of those next level things real athletes do. Plus, we had started the HPH Tri Zwift Race Series and that was filling my gap of chasing targets or goals.

Eventually it became apparent that the nearly three months of Zwift racing had run its course. Lockdown restrictions had eased, the weather improved and people could get out and about doing some of the things they had missed being able to do! So as the final series ticked down to the final race and something in me thought “ok, can I do that”? Obviously, my response was “err yeah, probably”.

You have to understand that I know how naive my thinking seemed in hindsight. That naivety is also totally what made me decide to take a crack at it. Sometimes maybe naivety isn’t always a bad thing? I was caught in this cognitive dissonance which enabled me to understand that this isn’t just something anyone does. (looking on the “Hells 500 Hall of Fame” there were roughly 1,500 vEveresters compared to the “Zwift Insider” stat’ that over half a million separate Zwift accounts have completed at least one Zwift ride) The other side of this dissonant thought process was that it was just riding up the Alpe du Zwift which I had done loads of times in the past 18 months, it was using kit and technology I know very well. 

I decided that as it’s a “big challenge” maybe I could do it to raise a few £s for charity. Alzheimer’s is a disease which I’ve seen too much of. With both a Great Uncle suffering and my Grandmother suffering with it for a decade. My Mum was heavily involved in her care and you see the level of damage and despair it can cause. So that was my charity sorted.

On the day

So apologies here as there is only so much interesting things I can say about repeatedly climbing the same virtual hill. Let me give you some info regarding the Alpe du Zwift.

It is 1,036m (3,399ft) of climbing across 21 hairpin turns. The terrain changes in keeping with your elevation as you zig-zag your way up the mountain ridge. 

Alpe Du Zwift takes inspiration from the legendary Alpe D’Huez which is one of the famous stages of the Tour de France. To complete the challenge I had to climb this adhering to the Hells 500 guidelines 8.5 times.

My tactics were to stay within what I thought of as a comfortable wattage, have a stretch and a bite to eat after each climb and to keep drinking. I thought I’d concentrate on getting to the top of Everest and if there is still something left then go for the 10km elevation as an added bonus. I weighed myself and found I had acquired an extra 2kg at entirely the wrong time! That’s an extra 2kg to carry up a virtual bloody mountain. Damn it. I intended to start at 6am. I set off 45 minutes late after the usual breakfast of muesli and coffee. 

To be honest, climbs one and two looked after themselves. The old phone I’d charged up to stream the challenge died on the first climb as it couldn’t hold enough charge even whilst plugged in. Aside from that all was well with the world. I had a lovely morning first listening to my best friends new album:

I then moved onto listening to a resurgent England taking the West Indies apart on TMS.

Massive Kudos to Naomi Kellett who popped round as I was on the third climb I think, bringing gifts of delicious homemade vegan brownies. I’ve never been a cake person but they were lovely! Just chatting away whilst Graeme was getting his haircut managed to kill off the third climb. However, I think it was at this point that I started to feel it.

Both Naomi and Graeme popped on to Zwift and we Discorded all the way up the fifth climb. For those who haven’t joined in with any of the Tri club Zwift sessions we’ve used a communications app called Discord to chat to each other during the sessions. I’m pretty sure it was during this 5th climb I admitted I was “feeling it a bit” and the nausea had crept in. I think I’d just not been eating properly on the descents. The 5th was the significant point in my attempt. I hit 5000m of elevation, I got a Zwift achievement of “Masochist” I think that was for climbing the Alpe 25 times and I realised I was over half way. However, I kept up the fairly positive chat externally trying to sound like I was still good but completing that 5th climb I had a cold sweat on. I was done. I felt awful and empty, like I wasn’t sure I could get up again.

To put it in context, I recognise in a lot of my personality traits what people often refer to as “imposter syndrome” when doing things. It’s not full time but it’s certainly not infrequent either. So I’m there watching my little Zwift avatar make its way down a hill thinking. Ah yes! This all makes sense now. Of course you can’t do it. This is why so few people have done it and those who have are serious, talented and dedicated cyclists. You are a skinny, average club runner who has got a bit too ambitious/arrogant. I thought about the Just Giving page which had been pinging up all day with amazing donations from people. How do you tell those people you didn’t have what it took to complete it? The worst part of it is I knew it was my fault! I hadn’t done ANY endurance specific training. I’d only decided to attempt Everesting a month ago. All the forums and Facebook groups etc.. are full of people discussing their 3/6 month training programmes for an Everesting attempt. All this was swirling round my head at the end of the 5th when both Graeme and Naomi INSTRUCTED me to eat. I’m pretty sure I hadn’t let on how close I was to admitting Everesting was beyond me but maybe something in my voice gave it away. That, or it was just obvious I hadn’t eaten enough.

I put a pizza in the oven and Naomi being the legend that she is, decided to do a little loop round Watopia while I ate but wanted to join for the next climb. The good thing is about not verbalising that I couldn’t do it, was that it was just accepted that the next climb was happening. I force fed myself some pizza, had a change of shorts as the err… chafing had become difficult to handle. I also applied an unholy amount of body glide to places which will ensure no one will want to borrow my body glide… ever! Whilst I ate my pizza I also realised that my palms had become really tender, likely from gripping the towel on my handlebars too tightly on that last climb. So yeah. Maybe I hadn’t taken this as seriously as I perhaps should have. Karma was exacting her toll. 

However, the amazing power of a pizza and a pepsi and I was starting the 6th climb. By this point I HATED being at the bottom of the hill. It only started feeling like I was progressing when I got to turn 14/15 of the 21 turns. We were also joined by Jo Rhodes which really helped too and we all just chatted away as we went up. My memory isn’t 100% but I THINK Jo joined for climb 6 with Naomi and me. Completing climb 6 was HUGE! Knowing that I’d done 6 and have only 2.5 seemed to provide that first little pin-hole of light at then end of the tunnel. Please remember that it was taking me between 70 and 90 minutes per climb plus maybe 15\20 mins for the descent before I could go again. Even having ONLY 2.5 left that was still roughly 5 hours of the challenge to go.

I have a friend. He doesn’t like Football. He knows next to nothing about it. He once told me he can’t understand why people complicate it with all the tactical information. He said to me “My team talk would just be, get the ball, in the goal”. “No one needs to be confused about all these things”. “Just. Get. The. Ball. In. The. Goal”. Obviously he’s not going to be the next Guadiola and we had a giggle at his oversimplification at the time. It’s bizarre what pops into your head sometimes and it was this chat which randomly came to mind. “Get. the. Bike. Up. The. Hill.” I said to myself. 

I was checking in with the socials all the way through and saw this lovely little community of Hyde Park Harrier Zwifters were logging onto Zwift to follow my progress! I think Jo Rhodes reminded me that with repetitions or intervals you only need to worry about the penultimate one as the last one looks after its-self. I completed the 8th and was coming down the hill for what I knew was the last time. As I had only half a climb left it meant that it was just my least favourite part of the hill left to do. It was about quarter to 10 at night and my brain was pretty fried. “Just Get. The. F**king Bike. Up”. The. F**king Hill”. 

So I’m counting down the elevation left to climb and that horrible second where I thought I’d miscounted as I’m on 8,848 and nothing is happening. Then it ticks over to 8,849 and there it is. John Pratt, you have just climbed the simulated height of Everest in one bike ride. Unreal. 

I remember that the advice is to always log some extra elevation when Everesting. I put on Ready to Win by Tokyo Police Club on Spotify and I click down into my easiest gear and start moving again.

I get a message on messenger saying “You can stop now” I get to 9000m and that’s it. I’m done. I don’t regret doing another climb to get the 10km climbed “badge”. I didn’t have it in me. I didn’t have the 9,001m I ended up doing in me and, still can’t really tell you where it came from in the end. I just “Got. That. Bike. Up. That. Hill”.

After

For those who like numbers. They look ridiculous to me. As we’ve established, I’m no endurance athlete so i’m not used to seeing them like this at all.

I was asked in the couple of days after if I was achey or sore I realised I wasn’t particularly. (Chafing aside but I caught that just in time) What I was and still am is tired. I’m writing this 4 days after completing it and I’m still sleepy. I guess when Garmin tells you your average HR was 123bpm for 15 hours 40 minutes and you’ve burned 7,386Cal in an activity it’s expected and ok to be sleepy. 

On Monday the loveliest things happen. I get a message on my vEveresting Strava activity from the Founder of Hells 500 Andy van Bergen and an email to confirm they have reviewed my attempt submission and confirmed that I have “Officially Everested”! Yes! completed it mate. By my count I was the 1,554th person to successfully complete a 8848 vEverest. (They have all sorts of mind bendingly hard challenges in their Hall of Fame) I looked at the times people did it in. They range from a WR in under 7 and a half hours to 20+. My time of 15 hours 40 was certainly on the slow side.

I didn’t do it very well at all. I did it badly. I didn’t train for anything like the distance/time that I had to ride to complete an Everesting. I didn’t have anything like a thought out plan. I didn’t eat properly. 

What I did do was rely on the help and encouragement of friends. I also learned how to dig in. Not the type of digging in I do to varying extents when getting through to the end of a high intensity training session or race. This was deep. This was KNOWING I was done as there was still 5 or so hours more to go and being embarrassed and ashamed of myself. This is why when I saw the image above on an email on a tired Monday morning which confirmed I was in the Everesting hall of fame I had a lump in my throat, and may or may not of had to wipe away a tear. I’m elated as I didn’t know I was this person who could find a way to get it done from where I was with so long left to go.

There are no real tangible reasons for doing things like this but sometimes the Mallory quote of “Because it’s there” is enough.

We raised a fantastic £524 for Alzheimer’s Society. This shows how lucky I am to know the people I do. Thank you so much to all who donated. If you would like to make a donation please use the link: www.justgiving.com/fundraising/johnprattveveresting 

Ride On (y)

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