Initiated by Wimpie van der Merwe, with contributions from successful and prospective Everesters. Kindly note the rule for Everesting:
Climb the height of Everest (8,848 m) on one hill, anywhere in the world, as one activity, with no time limit and no sleep.
1. Select your course wisely.
You can select the climb you want to test yourself on. Many make the mistake by bringing a knife to a gun fight. You can decide your ‘weapon’. A flat gradient rides easy, but you ride very far in distance to get to the desired height. The opposite is true too. A steep gradient demands heavier climbing, but the distance shortens. In both instances, if you ride at the same effort (Watts), they ought to be covered roughly in the same time, but at a point you can go so flat that you cannot maintain the same vertical speed per hour as a steeper incline. You start sacrificing time, which is sleep time and sleep deprivation becomes your enemy and not the ascent. Should you go too steep you physically cannot supply the gears for the incline plus making provision for the decrease in physical performance over time. That means you will have to ride a heavier mountain bike, which can supply the gears. At a point the gradient can become so steep that your leg revolutions are higher than your wheel speed and we know wheel speed delivers the gyroscopic stability for a bike to stay upright.
The way to select a gradient is to first select the heart rate that is low enough to maintain for a day’s riding. Correlate that with the gear which will supply you a leg revolution of 70-80 rpm. After that, see to it that you have at least 2 more lighter gears as spare on the cassette. You need to make provision for a headwind uphill and tiring towards the end. I have 36 chainwheel up front and a 10 speed 11/36 at the back on my road bike.
2. Define your WHY you do it, first.
You will be tested to the core. You will ask the question to yourself multiple times, WHY am I doing this? not only during the bad patches of an Everest, but during the preparation of it. You will ask yourself this question when you are snuggled under the duvet and it is cold and raining outside and it is time to go and train. Do I have to go and train or do I want to go and train? Big difference. Your WHY is unique to you. It is found and not given. It is revealed to you and not an instruction.
Your WHY is limbic brain activity, which is difficult to verbalize. It lies at the level of feelings. The HOW and the WHAT of the activity is easier to describe. To gain insight into this read more of Victor Frankl’s ‘Will to Meaning’, Pavlov’s hierarchy of needs and the golden circle of Simon Sinek. You need to understand what makes you tick? who are you? what motivates you? If you cannot answer this when you cannot go on and want to give up, you will quit. The pulling force of your WHY will pull you from the pits of despair and fatigue.
3. You must have fun
If you don’t enjoy what you do, why do it then? Enjoyment should fit into your WHY you do it. I don’t know any real person who craves physical and mental anguish, but somehow this is part of the event you cannot escape. So, despite the physical and mental discomfort you can enjoy it. It is the sense of achievement, stretching the envelope, adventure, being in nature, knowing that you are revealing things about yourself you don’t know yet, etc. that makes it fun. It should be fun despite failure. Many able athletes quit because they did not define what the parameters of their enjoyment will be. Many unfit athletes conquer the mountain, because they made fun of it. It is all a head thing and less a physical thing.
4. Create memories
One tends to become blasé about extreme events like this, but I need to remind myself, having done more than a dozen of them, that they are still extreme and awe inspiring. Take photo’s, make recordings, if not for yourself, then for the sake of your family, especially the unborn ones and those you will never meet personally. This is something you will be remembered by. It becomes part of your legacy. It is a memory no one can take away from you, even if you lose everything in life. You will be rich in memories. I have found that by taking photos and videos on the ride it connects me to reality and they become memory pegs to remind my subconscious of things that happened. It keeps me sane.
Everesting is mostly ridden on your own. Not many have the luxury of sherpas riding along and keeping you occupied. When you ride so long on your own the internal conversation between ‘me’ and ‘myself’ can only endure so much and then you run out of topics. This leads to boredom and wandering minds. These wandering minds lead to the brain clutching out and that creates the slippery slide effect for quitting. When boredom sets in, involve the brain. Find games to play. I play with the information on my Garmin, others listen to music, but I find monotony creates boredom too eventually. It is the altering of ‘states’ that brings the focus back to where you need it.
6. Find your ‘sweet spot’.
Ride according to your strengths and protect your weaknesses. Don’t test your weaknesses in the event. That should have occurred in training. You must have an understanding of who you are as an athlete at that moment in time of your life. The secret of an endurance event is knowing the correct pace to spread your energy to last you the whole distance. Only experience can tell you that. Youthful testosterone rushes will not benefit you in any way. It will just uncover your inexperience later on. The secret is ALWAYS, start slow and if you feel you can pick up pace towards the end, do so, but if you had a rush job in the beginning you will hardly ever recover.
7. It is not over until it is over.
The lack of patience will be one of your biggest enemies. Pace yourself correctly. This event is done step by step, meter by meter, until it is finished. It is not finished until the fat lady has sung and she sings at 8,848 m and the encore at 10,000 m! It is an endurance event, not a sprint.
Everyone tries to break the total amount of work into ‘digestible’ pieces. Some eat the elephant bite by bite and some chunk by chunk. Some eat it from the back and others from the trunk. Whichever way I try to explain it to myself, ‘myself’ is not that gullible to be fooled every time! I find that ‘myself’ continuously needs to be approached differently. I first convince myself to finish the 1,200 m part of High Rouleur first, before starting with Everest. However, ‘myself’ finds that out soon enough and renegotiates the 1,200 m back into the kitty for the Everest attempt. Then I try another approach. Every 100 m is 1% of HR. So, I start a count-up and later a count-down of what is left of the total. Keeping your mind active and playing games makes eating the elephant bit by bit possible.
8. Keep your motivation for the difference between HR and Everest.
The extra 1,200 m from Everest to High Rouleur can be as hard as the Everest itself. From experience I know ‘rarified air’ starts at 7,000 m. That is about at 15 hours. From that point you might have experienced the ‘graveyard shift’ before sunrise, have become dehydrated and depending on when you started, sun fried. The relief of reaching Everest can be just as big a demotivator to continue to HR as it is to find the courage to continue the needed two to three hours of extra climbing. The longer you go the more the effort increases exponentially. It does not increase linearly.
9. Respect the event.
For the lack of respect, you will pay interest later. Cockiness and too much confidence will make you pay interest later. You don’t need sherpas who will lead you into temptation to race them, even for a couple of meters. These little games become stumbling blocks later. A healthy amount of apprehension will keep you safe. It is not how you start the event, but how you finish it.
10. Be big enough to swallow your pride.
You will have good and bad patches over the duration of the Everest. There will be times when you doubt your WHY. Be big enough to slow down your pace, even if ‘that is not you’. Do not try and ‘maintain face’ for the schoolboy sherpas who make you look like a beginner and see you struggle or who think you struggle. Move, as long as it is upwards and forwards, it does not matter how long it takes. You will eventually reach your destination.
11. Sleep deprivation
An Everest is an event done without sleep breaks. I prefer to do most of my Everests in summer during night time and vice versa in winter. To get most of a night ride you start at sunset. That means you already forfeited the sleep for that night for riding. Being sleep deprived comes with the territory. Caffeine only helps so much, then it drops you badly. I prefer to stay away from it, except towards the end, but then caffeine does not make any difference anyway, because you are so tired that the moment you go and sit still you fall asleep immediately. The danger for me has always been driving home after the event and falling asleep behind the steering wheel multiple times. Stay awake by keeping your brain involved, that will be by speaking, making noises, whatever it takes to get the brain in gear. I sometimes assault myself by slapping myself in the face to wake up!
One can ‘bank’ sleep by going to bed longer the week or so before the event. You need to get up rested every day. Your circadian rhythm happens in 90 min cycles. You are better off with sleep for 7.5 hours than 8 hours. If your alarm was set whilst in deep sleep (Delta) you are more tired than having been woken in the previous Alpha state, even though you slept shorter. If you plan to start the event at a time that is still in your sleep time, slowly adjust your sleeping and waking pattern according to your start time.
Sleep hygiene is a science and it is worthwhile to familiarize yourself with it, especially if you struggle to sleep through at night. After an Everest your circadian cycle can be really messed up and you need to force yourself back to normal patterns. As easy as it is to mess it up, just as easy it is to correct them.
12. Give attention to detail
I found that continuously making lists of things to do, pack, make, buy, well in advance, takes the stress off the day when things must happen smoothly. I have a notepad on my phone to jot down ideas of things I deem important for an Everest. There are no surprises. After an event I do post mortem and evaluate what I could have done better or differently? The closer you take notes or do a recording of what you could have done differently directly after the event the greater the chance you will remember it. Your subconscious has a way to suppress pain and discomfort and only let it bubble to the top once it feels the mind is able to handle it. Research has found that ultra-, multi-day events tend to cause memory loss due to sleep deprivation.
As you progress longer into the event you might find yourself doing ‘stupid’ stuff and not giving attention to detail. It is therefore important to follow the advice of the seasoned riders who pack their food in a certain way so when they get to a pitstop they know exactly what to eat and drink at that point and what to pack in the pockets of the jersey. Since you will ride at night and safety is important, you need to have a back-up for your back-up. Consider lighting, powerbanks, spares, foodstuffs, medical, clothing for changing weather conditions. Mountain passes are notorious for having two climates; one for the top and one for the valley.
13. Meet the real you!
Let me introduce you to yourself. During the Everest you will meet yourself, the real you, stripped of all your facades and role playing. You might not like what you see. Fatigue will reveal the real you. Be prepared to deal with that persona. Others have been dealing with that persona over your lifetime. You will meet others participating with you as they really are. Doing an Everest in a group can be dangerous for your success, because complaining, moaning and bitching are contagious and you need to quarantine yourself from it. Fatigue makes cowards of us all, but avoid those who become a coward before you do.