Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Everesting – Ain’t No Mountain?!

It’s 430am, the rain is pouring and the wind is howling…and that’s only at the bottom of the 5km hill I’m about to start cycling up…not just once…at least 24 times non-stop for a duration of probably 24 hours. Why? To attain the 8,848 metres that is the iconic height of Everest, in one single ride, on one repeated climb. It’s called “Everesting”, a relatively new concept in endurance cycling. 

Nobody in Northern Ireland has done it, male or female. Only a handful of females have done it in Europe, or indeed across the world, solo.

Yes, but why?..i hear you ask.
Me: Well….why not?
Urrrmmmm, because it’s nuts.
Me: Well….it may be, but I think I can do it.
But you hate laps.
Me: Well…this is different.
Yes, but why would you want to do that? Why?
Me: Well….because it’s there.
(And if you have to ask again, you will never understand!)

I love hills. After all, life is all about hills and mountains – whether in sporty or non-sporty terms. And to be honest, tackling geographical mountains is so much easier than figurative and emotional mountains - even though the former also requires mental “climbing” skills, on top of the physical.

I am a hill-seeker. I always have been. Friends refer to me as “What hill? Harrower”. Why avoid hills and seek the flat? What’s so good about flat? Flat tyres, flat chest (yip!), flat hair, flat atmosphere……there is no life about any of those….particularly the ultimate flat >>> flat lining !

Life happens in the hills. Hill climbing (be it cycling, other sports, or general life struggles) is an opportunity to prove to yourself that you are strong, and is a reminder that if you put in the effort and commit 100% to tackling obstacles, then there is the thrill of a whoopy-swoopy descent and reward for the endeavour of the ascent.

If hill climbing is viewed as an opportunity, then nothing could throw up a greater chance of reaching dizzying heights than tackling “Everesting” on my bike. After all - it’s all about the climb; it’s my domain of endurance sport; it doesn’t cost anything; it can be done right on my doorstep in a place that’s not just preciously close to my heart, but is actually part of my heart and soul; and the unique spirit that is alive there for me means it is do-able – Ain’t No Mountain - even though I expect it will be my toughest thing ever.

Without knowing it, I’ve actually been training for it for years. I say that in a general sense, as there was no specific training for Everesting at all. Indeed, it was only 12 hours before I actually started the attempt that I decided I was doing it. That may sound even more bonkers than the whole thing already is, but to be honest, if I’d spent months … or even weeks….or even days....planning it, training for it and thinking about it….then I would never have done it! In hindsight, it was always going to be one of my spur-of-the-moment decisions, based on a burning last-minute desire and a gut instinct to just go for it.

I first read about Everesting a few months ago, and it appealed??! from the start. Never mind the reasons above, it also alluded to a favourite saying, “Everybody has their own Everest”. Here was a chance to take that figurative quote literally.

My sensible head??! said there was no point doing it until warmer months and longer daylight hours, so I put it on the backburner. Then in April after the UK clock change, it jumped into my head again and on a couple of spins with Jen (my BFF), who I regularly mountainbike the route with, we talked about logistics (in hindsight this was us actually having “planned”??! my attempt). I also checked out fab mate Jo’s Garmin and reccy’d the route for ascent and duration with 2 devices / battery chargers, and a good old fashioned ordnance survey map. But daily life and other events got in the way, so it went out of my head again.

Having missed a few weeks of biking our favourite route, Jen and I suddenly realising during text-chat on Saturday 27th June that it would be a couple more weeks before we’d bike it again, I got a sudden burning desire for Everesting. Ahem. The next day!

I had a clear window with regard to family, friends, commitments etc on Sunday 28th June and therefore no planning was required for me to be free, and deep down I knew that without having trained specifically for it, I was stronger and fitter than I had ever been and that I had the physical strength to attempt Everesting - so I just had to go out and do it. Oh, and dash out to buy food for it !

Once the urge took hold, that was it, I was doing it. And if I started, I would finish. “Do. Or do not. There is no try”…a mantra I used during Ironman…courtesy of one of my heroes. Yoda !

Saying that however, 6 hours into my Everesting attempt I seriously began questioning could I do it. Of all the endurance events I have done since starting 7 years ago, beginning with Ironman in 2008 and progressing into multiday road bike events, marathon kayak events, multiday alpine MTB events, and multiday non-stop Adventure Racing events, Everesting has been the only one that has taken me to the brink of seriously doubting myself and whether I could achieve it.

The mental strength required to keep going, when your body is aching and your mind is tortured by repetition for such a long period of time, is colossal. The mind games used to keep going are colossal. The degree to which you feel like a total nutter is colossal. Everything about Everesting is colossal. But then it is called Everesting, not Wycheproof ! (the smallest registered mountain in the world). In the same way that Ironman is called Ironman, not Tinman !

So, off I go at 430am to “just do it”. The mind games had already begun. I had little hair bands as lap counters in my pocket, to place one at the top every time I reached it, expecting a psychological boost by seeing a visible increase in the number of hair bands at the top, and decrease in the number of hair bands in my pocket. I had also decided that for the first 10 reps I would not use music, so then I’d have my i-shuffle to look forward to and pick-me-up…when I envisaged that somewhere between lap 10 and 20 I would feel absolutely horrendous and want to quit. Unfortunately that feeling got a grip of me at lap 8 !

The devil / angel syndrome kicked in early, around 6 hours in (1030am).

One is sitting on one shoulder repeating:

“What am I doing? Why am I doing this? What is wrong with me?”

The other is sitting on the other shoulder repeating:

“You are doing what you love. Because you can. Nothing, I am normal, it’s everybody else that isn’t normal !”

My wrists, elbows, neck and feet had started aching. Oddly, my back was fine. Having discovered Bikram yoga 8 months before, I was very conscious of spinal compression as each Everesting lap went on, and so on every descent I was stretching backwards as best as I could. Call it “cycling cobra” pose! I dread to think what shape I would have been in if I hadn’t learnt so much about my body position through Bikram, which in a short space of time had become a “must-have” in my life. I love it. And surely yogis have an affinity for all things Asian?! Ie Everest?!

So, I was aching in many parts of my body, apart from my back. And my legs were ok. “As long as my legs are ok, there’s no reason not to keep going. Some people don’t even have legs. Some people would love to have the strength to do 1 rep of this climb, and I’ve the strength to even contemplate attempting 24 reps. Suck it up buttercup. Count yourself lucky”. These are the kind of thoughts running through my mind.

To be honest, Everesting opens up a whole new world of time and place to think. Some prolonged thoughts. Some abbreviated thoughts. Some thoughts flipping from positive, to negative, in the blink of an eye. Like watching the Garmin’s ascent total tick over to 4,424 metres. My knee-jerk thought was “Yay! Halfway!”….instantly followed by “Shit! Only halfway? I can’t do this”.

Good stuff. Bad stuff. I thought it all. Some of them uplifting, some of them depressing, some of them amusing, some of them irritating. But the downside ones were ultimately motivating, as I forced myself to channel the negative thoughts/feelings and use them as a positive grrrrrrrrrr factor to power??! me up another rep.

“Pedal and don’t lose power”, that was a mantra I used often during Everesting. It had a nice cadence rhythm to it for ascending, and was a mantra suggested to me by Jen during the Race Around Ireland road bike endurance event in 2009. I hadn’t thought about it for years, but all of a sudden it popped into my head about halfway through Everesting and it stuck on and off for the rest of the attempt. It’s her add-on to Isaiah 40:31, which ends “..run and not grow weary, walk and not be faint”.

Faint? No, I didn’t feel faint. I felt sick a few times from about 15 hours in (730pm) and shivery a few times. Getting body temperature right was a nightmare. The first 4 hours of the attempt was so wet and windy. It then dried up, but the wind remained strong and affected the actual temperatures I was feeling. I was sweating on the long ascent, even when there was no sun, but freezing on the fast descent. And I began feeling colder as exertion kicked in.

Exertion? I’d read for years about RPE (rate of perceived exertion) and while I had experience of it in my early years of athletics training, Everesting gave me a total, unmatched insight into it. My perception of how I was performing was so flawed. I felt like I was working harder, but slowing with every lap, whereas in fact my times were consistent per lap.

Knowing that my perception was flawed, by registering each lap time every single lap and seeing in black & white that I wasn’t slowing down, helped at times when I felt I was going snail’s pace.

Which reminds me, early on in my attempt, like about the start of rep 3, I noticed a snail on the road just about 15 metres into the start of my climb. Every time I passed it at the start of subsequent laps, I would giggle. That snail’s Everest (“everybody has their own Everest”!) was getting to the far side of the road. I felt like I was moving at snail’s pace, but boy oh boy did repeatedly passing this snail every 45-50 minutes show me how slow snails actually go! In the time that I had been pedalling for 12 hours, the snail seemed to have moved about 10cm. Then, by the time I had been going 16 hours, it had been squished on the road. Its very own “death zone” !

I’d been going for 16 hours? Blimey. It was the boys bedtime, so I stop for bedtime hugs and kisses. Wishing it was my bedtime too. 

Then 18 hours? Blimey. It was now 1030pm and all I’d been doing was cycling up and down this hill, and eating on the descent of every rep. I was suffering in every way, apart from the actual cadence of my legs. Everything else hurt. And mentally I felt fragile. Everything was irritating me. Particularly “everything is awesome” from the Lego Movie playing on my i-shuffle! Everything is awesome? No it’s not. Everything is gruesome! So I started making up new words from the song in a bid to distract myself, amuse myself and drag myself up out of a very dark place. Everest is synonymous with the “death zone” near the end. Was this my death zone?

I had been going for hours, and I still had a few hours to go. It all started to feel very surreal. I had started at 430am, which was a good few hours before anyone I know (apart from Jo!) had got up and had breakfast. Then they had all set about a nice relaxing Sunday morning. Then lunch. Then nice relaxing afternoons. Then dinner. Then TV. And about now they were all going to bed again. Compounding the surreal, what about my BFF?, who had done the getting up, breakfast, motivational texting me, getting across to Heathrow, motivational texting me, lunch, motivational texting me, and then mid-afternoon had got on a flight to the other side of the world, and was just arriving in Bermuda 1030pm - and in all that time, I was stillllllllllllll cycling. And stillllllllll I was hours from bed.

I thought about the people I had seen during my 18 hours so far. Jo had been at “base camp” (halfway up the ascent) for the entire time since 430am, she was the exception to the rule that everybody else was getting about with their relaxing Sundays! My two boys and husband had been up a few times on and off shouting words of encouragement, bringing extra food, and writing motivational messages up the tarmac. My sister and a Belle friend and her boyfriend had cycled a rep and a half with me late afternoon, distracting me with chat, and telling me I could do it. One of my boys’ school teachers, who lives beyond the top of the climb, had driven past me around lunchtime, then again tea-time, and shouted out her car window, “What on earth are you doing?”. And a group of family friends had spent a couple of hours mucking about “base camp”, adding to the motivational tarmac graffiti…and enjoying seeing me suffer for the first time in their lives!

Then there were the people out on the hill for a Sunday afternoon stroll. I was amazed at the number of people. I’m usually up there very early Sunday morning, or on week days, when nobody is around at all. On Sunday afternoon it was heaving, relatively speaking! They were a good distraction, and provided mild amusement, given comments like “I can’t believe you’re cycling up this. You must be a glutton for punishment”…and that was when they thought I was cycling up it just the once! The third such comment I felt like replying that I was to cycle up it at least 24 times, but I thought better of it. How do you explain that? How would anybody understand? And anyway, time taken to explain it would be time on my lap!

Time. How long had it been now? Just over 20 hours. It was pitch black and I was at the top for the 24th time. The ascent total was at 8,867 metres. I HAD EVERESTED! What was I feeling? Nothing. I knew I had to do at least another ½ lap, just to make sure. The warnings about incorrect data readings are stressed in the Everesting guidelines on its website.

So….against everything that my body and mind, particularly my mind, wanted to do….off I went again to the bottom of the hill. It was now just after 01:00am Monday morning. The bottom of the hill, up to “base camp” at halfway would be another 80 metres ascent or so.

That final half lap felt like forever. I was all over the place. I couldn’t keep the bike straight. I felt like things were jumping out of hedges at me. I just wanted to stop.

And then I did. And fell off my bike. Back at “base camp” for the last time. Ever ! I had climbed 9,053 metres, in 20 hours 50 minutes, covering almost 248 km on a mountain bike, over poor surfacing and in inclement weather.

Ain’t No Mountain?! You better believe it.  

Zzzzzzzzzz - been in hibernation

How can it have been 4 years since an update? You may think we've been hibernating....but no! Maybe on the events front, but not in our activity levels! Fitter, stronger and faster?? than ever before! Long hours in the mountains on foot and bike, long hours in the water...5km endurance swim events in 2013, 2014 and 2015. 

And in 2014 we did the Great Glen Paddle in Scotland. What an experience! End of March threw up adverse weather conditions...never mind the challenge of a 5am start for a looooong 100km paddle from Fortwilliam to Inverness in a tippy K2 .....but overnight snow to contend with! 

Never mind tricky portages...

A rough Loch Lochy and even rougher Loch Ness...

...where we met our "monster" !!

Following the "monster" of Nessie....treated ourselves to land sport and luxury pampering. 

Roll on the return to extreme adventure events in 2015 !

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Up The Creek With(out) A Paddle

The Dynamic Duo nearly found themselves up the creek without a kayak...never mind without a paddle....when 3 days ago they undertook a non-stop 60km challenge the length of the Lower Bann on 19 May. The challenge was a fundraiser for a Ukranian orphanage.

Too intent on taking photos at one of the portages, they forgot to hold onto the boat, which began to drift away - and resulted in one of them doing a spontaneous jump into the icy waters to perform a rescue mission, while the other concentrated on a very different watery flow !

The Duo had a fab day, beginning with the success of staying upright in their tippy K2 at the very start in the challenging and choppy Lough Beg (literally, say your prayers!) and ending with avoiding the treacherous Barmouth at the end of the trail before the Atlantic!

A day full of fun, chat and laughter as is always guaranteed together. Even without racing it (particularly the portages!), the Duo had a very respectable paddle-time. Compatability on all levels is the key. And who wants to race it ?......the day doesnt last as long then !

Monday, 7 March 2011

The Comeback : CCAR Castleward AR

The Dynamic Duo made a long awaited comeback to Adventure Racing on 5 March, competing in the CCAR Castleward event and ranking 2nd Female Pair.

With new armwarmers, the pair gave the impression of having all the gear and no idea-r....but that was just to lull the others into a false sense of security. At about the 4 hour mark however, uno of the duo did have no idea-r....about anything....as delirium set in due to a lack of ..... ??!!

Safely back at the finish, the Dynamic Duo relished the buzz of their comeback and maintaining their reputation of causing noise pollution ! Great craic, satisfaction and yummy grub...both feeling at home and not wanting to leave!

Friday, 4 June 2010

3-Legged : Beats Your Own 2 Feet !

The Dyamic Duo came out of a very long hibernation this morning to face the most competitive and political of environments. The stakes were high, reputations were hanging very much in a balance and pre-race heart rates were of immeasurable levels. There is simply nowhere as threatening as the local village primary school sports day!

Of course, it's all about our kids....well, almost all! Having made sure the kids understood it was all about enjoying the experience and the taking part, not the winning.....the adults turned their attention to the parents races. And quickly forgot their own advice!

Tensions were high from very early in the morning, as news spread that the sprint champion in the mummys category in recent years had been out training for 6 weeks - but when she found out that Uno of the Dynamic Duo was going to challenge her, she was so scared of losing her title that she decided she wasn't going to race. So in a bid to inject some fun back into sports day for the mummys, somebody (ahem!) put in a special request for a 3-legged race.

A total of 7 brave pairs stood at the start line, bound together at the ankles by the ubiquitous school tie, and awaited the whistle. Completely in synch from the off, seemingly better on 3 legs than their own 2 feet, the Duo lead the field all the way and took the title. The noise levels soared as the crowd went wild (well, the kids had been wild all morning anyway!), and as the Duo woo-hoo'ed at their victory, and as the other 6 pairs laughter reverberated around the pitch on crossing the line. Goal achieved - a fun race! (ohhh ok then, yes, and the gold medals too!).

In post race interviews the Duo were quizzed as to how much secret training they had done, with well-known local runners saying there was no way that we could be so smooth and at-one without practicing and a strategy. Believe us, there had been absolutely no training at all. Believe us, there was no method. In stark contrast to the other pairs, who were extremely vocal in their instructions to each other during the entire race and will be chanting "up-down-up-down-up-down" in their sleep tonight, the Duo just fell into silent stride and ran on an inherent harmony. What a team. Simply dynamic!

Ahhhhh the sweet taste of victory! Sorry...of taking part!

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Dynamic Duo Take Up A New Sport - Dancing!

Who said endurance athletes couldn't be agile dancers and use their abilities in such a sport to fundraise?! Hmmmmm, well you'd be right. Dancing Queens we are not, but we felt quite motivated by the challenge of doing "the lift" and therefore organised a private showing of Dirty Dancing at a local cinema to help raise money for Anahilt Scout Group.

Billed as an evening for girls to come have the "time of their lives", the movie was preceded in the lobby by a drinks reception and popcorn donated by Golden Popcorn was carried through to the theatre – all film-goers were reported to have "hungry eyes".

A great night was had by all - some had too great a night! - and the fun more than made up for the the subsequent sore muscles experienced by Andrea and Jen after trying to re-enact some of the moves!

Golden Popcorn have posted the snippet about the fundraiser on the following facebook and blog pages -



Friday, 4 September 2009

Dynamic Duo Lap Up "Lap The Lough"

Three weeks on from Rat Race victory, the Dynamic Duo took to their saddles again on 30 August 2009 to bike in the 4th annual "Lap The Lough" event – 140km around the circumference of Lough Neagh, the largest lake in Ireland and Britain and the 3rd largest in Western Europe. At over 35km long and 20km wide, it's quite a water feature. . . .and featured quite a lot of water on the day!

The Duo are no strangers to the area but have previously been on the Lough, battling 10 foot waves (we kid you not!) for 3 hours in a kayak to find Phoney - sorry Coney - Island. That day, which was a complete blast, seemed like 3 minutes instead of 3 hours, and was full of our usual hilarity despite the hostile conditions, we decided that together the immense DW ultra marathon kayak would be a piece of cake! Ahem, watch this space!

Anyway, miserable conditions that day (of paddling rather than pedaling) boded well for miserable conditions in the second half of Lap The Lough – but in contrast to everybody else, we were far from miserable! Again we just kept smiling, chatting and laughing . . . much to the annoyance of everybody else, particularly to one guy who was clearly intent on being as miserable as possible.

The event started at Kinnego marina, Oxford Island, and on arrival it was clear that word had spread since last year and the cycle was set for record numbers. In the end over 1300 fools, who had nothing better to do on a Sunday morning, started the challenge. The queue for car parking and registration was massive but moved quickly with everyone eager to grab a goodie bag that included a "designer" t-shirt, which featured a very bizarre moustache reference. In keeping with the theme, each cyclist was also being handed a false moustache – unfortunately electrolysis hasn't worked on Jen and she was told she didn't need one!

Thankfully her legs had been waxed since the Rat Race barber comment (see previous report), as she wanted to be as aerodynamic as possible on her new speed machine and impressively co-ordinated and classy kit that included white shoes, white/black/pink top and the cutest wee white cycle computer. Apparently she has a great personal shopper. Lucky girl. She is also lucky enough to have the other half of the Duo still pedaling a heap of junk and wearing very old kit, so making herself look even better!

Well, we set off from Kinnego at 09:00 on a clockwise route around the Lough. Our chat was animated as usual from the start, with lots of riders clearly loving our conversations and keen to join in and find out more about our personal lives! Obviously we toned it down a bit! Our chatter kept apace with our cadence and the miles clocked up effortlessly. Before we knew it, we were over halfway and at the lunch stop at Shane's Castle, where coffee, sandwiches and biscuits were accompanied by a string quartet – some people were struggling and fairly unhappy by this stage, so we approached the foursome with a request to "take a sad song and make it better"!

A 15-minute lunch stop was long enough for the Duo and as we started cycling again, Jen's confidence in her ability and performance rose as some struggling participants were pointed out to her, particularly those requiring oxygen before they set off again! No doubt some people thought we'd had an injection of it, with one guy asking us how we had enough oxygen to chat and cycle at the same time!

Just as we left Shane's Castle the weather took a turn for the worse. Those unhappy campers became even more unhappy, putting their heads down to shield themselves from the rain (oh, was it raining?!), the strong headwind and focus on getting to the finish line as quickly as possible.

We on the other hand didn't want it to end. Too chirpy for our own goods, was one comment! At one stage however, uno of the duo became extremely concerned about the content of the conversation and began wondering just how to get through the last hour of the challenge while listening to chat about the pros and cons of granulated and demerara sugar! Funnily enough nobody joined in this thread of conversation!

It took about 2 hours in the wind and rain from Shane's Castle to the finish line at Kinnego marina, including a good Samaritans stop to help a fellow-female (very much in the minority) who had a puncture. We obviously looked so accomplished at the task that none of the guys asked did we need a hand. Guess that puncture repair task in the Rat Race paid off!

Drowned rats we were as we arrived back at the marina, but prize rats again – full of the warm glow of self satisfaction and another perfect day out.

The Rat Race report ended with "had it all. You know that saying, "Blood, sweat and.." ? Well, two out of three ain't bad!". The same applies for Lap The Lough! But thankfully it didn't ruin the new kit!

Lap The Lough took us 5 and ½ hours and we averaged 15.2 mph for the day. Neagh problem!

An epic day, great performance and the poor weather from halfway made absolutely no difference. Oh boy, white lightning can't be matched!