It all started with a conversation with my coach, Aitor. We were talking about ways in which we could test how well my training is going as we approach my main target of the year; a second attempt at the fastest crossing of Route 66.
One of Aitor’s other clients, Ewan (who was a great help in my attempt – thank you!), had just completed another Everesting challenge. For those who don’t know, Everesting is when you ride your bike up and down the same hill all day until you have climbed the same elevation as Mount Everest; some 29000’.
While I liked the idea, I wanted to make it more specific to what my main goals were and that meant having repeatedly stressful efforts, day-in-day-out. This was where the Seven Summits idea was born. Why not climb the same elevation as the highest peak on each continent…
It is simply one of the ultimate tests of both mental and physical strength, I would have to achieve a total elevation of 142,103’ (43,313m). Firstly, that would mean finding a hill suitable to climb and descend, all day for a week. In Southern California, that presented a challenge in its own…
The hill needs to be sufficiently steep; a less steep hill would mean you’d have to ride farther to achieve the distance, but it needs to not be so steep that it might pose an eventual injury risk (through long times at low cadence; stressing the knees etc.). You also need to consider the fluidity on the hill, you can’t have any stops midway, nor can you have something that will take a while to turn around at either end – it can’t be a loop neither you must descend the part you climbed and start/finish at fixed points. It needs to be near some amenities, but also have somewhere you can hide supplies – unless you are being fully supported (which I wasn’t). It also needs to be fairly close to your base, so you don’t have to commute too far every day.
I eventually settled on Pacific Island Drive, an almost 1.5 mile hill that averages 8% gradient, with ramps of up to around 14%. At the bottom there was a community sign built into a wall, behind which I could safely hide my supplies, get changed and have a pee when needed. While the road surface on PID is pretty good, it’s not often cleaned and I would need to be paying attention to avoid rocks, broken glass and nails. It would be cold without the sun, although pretty warm and lacking in shade during the day. In February I would always have to start before sunrise and very often finish after sunset – meaning I would need appropriate clothing.
Given the distance of the hill, I would need to repeat it around 226 times, or well over 725 miles, in order to reach the required elevation. We estimated that this would be around 65 hours of riding time. We planned the biggest day, Everest, first and then a gradual taper towards one of the smallest peaks on the final day. Later on I detail my training diary and you can actually see that I deviated from my daily structure (which mountain I rode that day), in order to achieve more elevation – however, we actually planned it so that I didn’t go from the highest peak on day one right into the second highest peak on day two.
The Training, Nutrition and Mentality:
My training didn’t really vary from what we had planned for the second attempt at Route 66. As the Seven Summits wasn’t a main target, we wouldn’t need to focus all our efforts on it, however it does have enough similarities to my main target to ensure that it was a good test. A lot of the focus has been on training while sufficiently fatigued and there was a large amount of upper power based work; intervals, sprints and anaerobic efforts. The main idea behind this is to ensure my body recovers quick, while also increasing various thresholds which will allow me to be faster on each day – we certainly wouldn’t suggest that ultra-endurance athletes simply ride their bikes…
Easier days were usually fasted in order to ensure I was efficiently burning fat as a fuel, but on higher intensity days carbs were the focus source of energy. This periodisation of nutrition ensured that my body was fuelled well on days it needed it, while not limiting any potential gains from being fat efficient. Both systems would be used when trying to maximise energy production on both our record attempts.
The biggest challenge we faced would be keeping my mindset positive. Riding the same hill for 226 reps, over 65 hours, would be as mentally tiring as it would physically. We employed a number of tactics to get through this. The main one would be listening to something while riding – in California the law states you may ride with one earpiece only. We even went to the trouble of testing battery life of my phone, to ensure that it wouldn’t die mid ride; thankfully, other than day one which would be close, it would be fine! I then put together a list of audiobooks and music playlists that would help keep me focused on what I needed to achieve.
During the attempt, I kept my mind focused by using visualisation; imagining how I would feel if I achieved the world record. I also broke the days down into smaller chunks – as I mentioned earlier, this looks like reps of 4-5 with a break to relax. Very rarely did I consider the total reps I had left – at least not until I got closer to the end when this became a motivating factor.
Positivity is something that you need to maintain and be proactive with, refocus when negativity starts to creep and find ways to correct that mindset – you’re capable of so much more if you believe you are.
The support element would play a huge factor. Thankfully I had access to a team that I built around me who would all play pivotal roles. The main person would be my wife, Noelle, who would help me commute to and from the hill, help me prep my meals and keep me motivated and focused. I also had my coaches, Aitor and Alan, the former being performance and ongoing nutrition, the latter being mental fitness. I had Jess, my nutritionist, and Scott, my strength and conditioning coach. They made up my team – all part of demonstrating the power of bringing experts together, a huge part of the Spokes ethos.
Forming product support, I am grateful to have the support of three businesses. Lee from Zed Bike Wheels, provided me with a lightweight set of wheels for the attempt. Handmade with string spokes, the wheels went downhill as well as they did up – it was a revelation and huge improvement over the stock wheels that came with my bike.
Providing clothing was Etxeondo, a Spanish company who make everything inhouse and honestly produce the best kit I’ve ever used. Comfort plays a huge role in ultra-endurance and their bib-shorts didn’t disappoint. Given the temperature difference between start, midway thought the day and finish, layers were important. I also wanted to be able to ride slightly hot/cold so I wouldn’t have to stop outside the schedule to take off or add layers; so the breathable kit made it easy to persevere when the sun came out.
Infinity Bike Seat provided the saddle. Again, I’m grateful to be supported by such amazing businesses. I make no secret of being supported by businesses, in my past, where I have wished for a different or better product. Thankfully, all of these businesses are at the peak of their industries and, despite looking odd, the Infinity Bike Seat makes riding all day, every day, a much more pleasurable experience.
It took me a while to work out how to tell the story of the record attempt itself. Think about the last time you did hill reps, it’s not something that is a beautiful or creative story… but what I’d love to give you a glimpse of is my training diary… so here are my daily notes.
Day One: Everest:
Crazy!! Probably the hardest day I’ve spent on the bike. There’s just no hiding with this.
Good solid start and got to about 7:15am before running out of food & water. Noelle got held up bringing this down, so I waited at the stop place for her – no real issues, but a little time lost.
I stopped every 3-4 reps. Only wanting to carry one bottle, but the stop gave me a chance to stretch. I stopped for a bit longer every 3 hours or so. Back is quite sore, will get Noelle to massage before bed.
Food plan worked well, I think it was about hour 10 before I started struggling and felt nauseous. Pav Juice worked well though.
Had twinges of cramp early on, so doubled up on some salt and that solved it.
Overall, I’m really happy with this and glad we banked an extra 1000′. I nearly did an extra rep too!! Glad I didn’t, had issues calculating it. It was quiet on the road until later, so I was able to go farther down the hill and turn, adding a bit more elevation.
Stoked to be done with this. Looking forward to getting a good night sleep.
Slow puncture on my rear, I will chuck some sealant in it tonight and hope that solves it.
Day Two: Aconcagua (planned was Denali):
F*** yea!!! Managed to sneak Aconcagua in today. I realised that if I cut the top off the reps, where it flattens out, I can save maybe 30″ per rep. It is an illegal turn and a bit dangerous, so only good when traffic is light.
That and stopping less (or for less time) seem to have scraped me this. Nothing major in the bank, but with 1000 feet already, I can start to relax a bit more.
No GI issues today, very grateful to have had two bowl movements this morning! I did under dress slightly, wrong gloves mainly.
I had one very close call with a car at dawn, thankfully they saw me last minute, but I did start to question why I was doing this. Having said that, mind has been strong all day.
Piriformis has been aching today, mainly because my adductor was hurting so I changed how I was pedalling. It gets better after a massage so I’m going to work it tonight. Feet are constantly elevated when I’m home anyway.
Noelle & her brother came to take pictures & film today, that was cool! They brought me coffee too so I ate a little less the hour I drank that to compensate.
Day Three: Denali (Aconcagua planned):
In car on way back now. Tough day, never really that happy until the last 3 reps. Body did feel better after about 30% done, was a real slog at the start.
Got really motivated at the end, powered up those last 3, having to hold back from going too hard.
Think I may have been dehydrated today, pee was less frequent & dark when I did. Might explain the fatigue.
Going to salt bath when I get home & get on top of it.
Looking forward to getting over halfway tomorrow. Might aim for 30 reps & see how I go.
Day Four: Kilimanjaro (Elbrus planned):
Power meter died 2/3 way through, although I can guess it was similar to yesterday.
Uneventful day, knees were crazy sore this morning – well over an hour to get warmed up and better. Shredded the rear tyre too, no spare so hoping that the shop get my other wheels sorted or I’ll be using a heavy 32″ tyre/wheel combo tomorrow.
The thru axel on the back keeps working loose too, very annoying and could be reason why the tyre is worn, maybe its shaking too. Anyway, onto tomorrow!!
Day Five: Elbrus (Puncak Jaya planned):
Well I’m unsure how, but felt pretty good all day. Just the start & end where I found it hard. It’s all but done now really, just got to look at the bikes brakes, keep stretching & looking after myself.
The day started the same as yesterday; moderately tired, but knees screaming! They warmed up after about two hours and I modified my reps from 2x 4 reps (one short break in the middle to get a bottle/food & then longer break) to 5 solid reps and then a nice break. Slower progress, but my body and mind responded really well to the change.
Brakes started to squeal big time towards the end, causing me to brake earlier and softer. Thought they were due to fail, which isn’t great descending at above 50mph! Took a look at the pads tonight and they’re not completely done, but there was a lot of dust in there!
Well up on target again today, leaves me with less than an Everest in elevation to finish – it is highly unlikely I will finish tomorrow, but another solid day means Monday will be quite short. That is very pleasing!!
Day Six: Vinson Massif (Kilimanjaro planned):
I took four ibuprofens this morning, not sure it made much difference – my knees were still screaming for at least an hour and a half. Shouldn’t be too much of an issue to finish tomorrow, they do warmup.
I did notice being quite hungry and couldn’t wait to eat my sandwiches this morning, my weight was down so I’m presuming I was a little empty.
Couldn’t get picked up until 3:30pm so I did a few extra reps. I’ve re-calculated what I need to do based on Strava and removing the ride to the hill from the first three days. Just 16 reps tomorrow.
Day Seven: Puncak Jaya (Vinson Massif planned):
F****** DONE!!! Check that last rep out… 😉
Accumulatively completed with 98′ over target. I’ll calculate exact time, but around 6 days & 7 hours.
Thanks, man. I really appreciate your help!!!
Will be good to rest up my knees now – no other issues today. I will create a list of s*** we need to address before R66 asap.
Bike was the only concern, definitely had me concerned with some creaking and I could not figure out where from!!
The Next Steps:
Of course, this is a learning experience and the main planned outcome was to get a look at what we need to work on if we want to continue this success. I’m happy enough to detail these for you below:
- Knees; the long time spent at low RPM, coupled with my saddle height being marginally lower (to help with posture discomfort), meant my knees suffered largely. It took several hours, in the later days, for them to warm-up and stop hurting. Day six I took some ibuprofen, it didn’t seem to make any difference. Method to fix: bike fit and knee strength work.
- Bike; despite being fairly handy with a bike, I’m not a bike mechanic. Six of the seven days I had to spend some time in the evening, crucial recovery time, fixing issues. Having a mechanic on hand is ideal, although not always viable. Method to fix: look at local stores to support.
- Feet; foot pain was an issue and when it got hot my feet swelled. This made my custom shoes too tight and caused issues. Method to fix: approach footwear manufacturer for a couple of pairs of shoes, one slightly larger sized would be ideal.
- Hands; hand pain was becoming an issue, although only marginally and mainly this was a reminder of what happened during Route 66, when my hands were in agony after the rough road surface on day one. Method to fix: double wrapping bar tape and testing gloves will be something I need to do before September.
- Back; I get repeated back pain in between spine and shoulder blades. Method to fix: I will consult with Scott about how to remedy this – I have a feeling it is an imbalance rather than a weakness.
While some might look at this and consider it a big list, it’s really not much to do. A couple of bike fits with my friend Nate Loyal should solve some of the pain and discomfort I felt. I can also work harder in the gym to correct any imbalances and we have some businesses lined up to provide us with mechanical support, shoes and other kit that will add to our chances of success.
Overall, without being big headed or egotistical, I have finished this world record easily believing I could have done more. Of course, it wasn’t easy and of course there were times when I questioned myself, but this was minimal compared to the strengths I’ve built.
I move onto the next world record attempt with gratitude for where I am and appreciation of those who support me. Find out more during this episode of my Bespoked podcast.
Total time to climb the Seven Summits: 6 days, 7 hours, 18 minutes and 29 seconds.
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