Thursday, December 12, 2019

My Virtual Everesting: Opportunity and Preparedness

I did it!  I fulfilled my goal of a Virtual Everesting!  As I await approval from the Hells500 folks as to my inclusion into their vEveresting Hall of Fame I just want to get the message out.

I have wanted to do a vEveresting for a couple of years now, and finally my health and schedule got together and allowed me to do this.  My coach, Mark Fasczewski, devised a several-week master plan that took me through the end of Cyclocross season and into pre-vEveresting.  Although I had already climbed Alpe du Zwift 27 times since its creation in March of 2018, starting this October I now had a new purpose.  In 6 weeks of training I climbed it another 29 times, not all at once, of course, and I really got to know the ins and outs and what I could reasonably expect my pace to be while vEveresting.  I was looking at 8.54 times up this climb so I had to be prepared.

The rules of vEveresting state that it needs to be done on a very reliable trainer and that it needs to be set at 100% difficulty.  I purchased a Wahoo Kickr and the Climb, and it was a giant leap forward in my Zwifting experience.  The Climb makes riding the trainer such a dynamic experience and one can then be “all over the saddle,” just like riding in the real world.  I have become a real Wahooligan! 

The gearing on my Specialized Venge was a generous 36 x 34, but I realized that while it was good for interval training on the Alpe and anything I wanted to do in the real world it was just going to be a long 60 rpm slog on the day of vEveresting.  The guys at Dick Sonne’s Cycling came to my rescue, just as they had with the Wahoo setup, and transformed my Specialized Crux into the bike of my dreams, installing a cassette with a 40 tooth cog and getting it to work flawlessly.  I also purchased a Specialized Mimic saddle which I can’t say enough good things about. What gifts!

All this training required super attention to nutrition and hydration.  Back to back 4 and 5 hour days are no time to skimp on anything.  The products from my sponsor Hammer Nutrition were always there for me and my familiarity with their use made me even more aware of how much and when to ingest.  I always remind people that nutrition and hydration are things that we athletes have a large amount of control over and to not squander that advantage by neglecting to learn or implement the things that work best for them.

So vEveresting day came along and I was excited.  I was also a bit nervous since I had no real idea how my body was going to react over the long haul, but I had good faith in my preparation.  I also had a great wealth of cycling history to fall back on, from completing a record setting Team RAAM in 2017, three Leadvilles, several Mount Washington Auto Road races, several BUMPS series, and Whiteface Auto Road races.  Alpe du Zwift is taken from the GPS info for the famed Alpe d’ Huez in France, but it is also very similar in average grade and length of the Whiteface Auto Road.  It even looks the same at the top and for the last mile or so on Alpe du Zwift  I am always transported back to those Whiteface finishes.

Although I slept well I woke at 3 and, after trying to go back to sleep I got up and got ready.  I had to do my final prep, like make bottles with Perpetuem and get Hammer Gel flasks ready. I took my Hammer Nutrition supplements.  I had some coffee.  I also had to take photographs for my documentation for Hells500.  This included my weigh-in and its setting in Zwift.  I had calibrated the Kickr the day before and taken screen shots of that as well as photos of my pain cave and gearing.  Then it was time to sign on to Zwift and at 4:39 AM I was off!

Wow, that was early for me to be on a bike so I took it easy getting to the base of the mountain and babied myself on the first climb.  I listened to my usual music (House) and that did nothing to inspire me.  My lower back hurt. Really?  This was going to be a long day.  But I rolled over the top in under my goal time, at 77 minutes and change.  OK, this was going to work.  I hit the descent and spun my legs out.
The second climb was a little slower but then they started getting faster.  I switched from music to watching Belgian and Dutch Cyclocross.  There were some that I had not yet seen.  GCN racing, yeah!  I kept track of my fueling, hydration, and Hammer Nutrition supplements on an index card so I would not have to wonder when I needed more.  Looking at that card now it looks like chicken scratch, but it worked!

While I was riding I got so many “Ride ons” from people I knew and the people riding around me.  Next to my name I was encouraged to add vEveresting so that everyone would know that is what I was up to.  It sure was an attention grabber.  I also had friends drop into my ride and do a bit of climbing with me.  One of my athletes was doing some Alpe repeats on his own, for training, having his own personal suffer fest. They all offered encouragement through texting, and although my replies back were cryptic at best I appreciated them being there.  I was so intent on focusing on my pacing (not too hard, not to easy) and taking care of myself when I needed to that I was less than social. And I just did not want to hit the wrong thing on my phone, causing the whole game to crash.  Note that I have never done that from the Companion App on the phone but I have done so from a keyboard which is why I did not use one that day.

The time really flew by, which is something that I found happens with longer events.  Especially events that have some kind of cut-off like Leadville.  Being able to break this up into eight equal parts and then the finish to 29,029 feet made it mentally easier and I just took it one bite at a time, like all those other events.  I was thrilled with my pacing and how I was feeling.  I was able to take such good care of myself and my support crew of my husband Phil and friend Wendy B was able to fill in the blanks when I needed them to. 

Before long I had completed my eighth time up Alpe, and watched a lot of Cyclocross.  It was time for the last push to 29,029!  Some more friends magically appeared near me on the Alpe and were cheering me on.  I apologized, with a lot of typos, that I could no longer text.  I just kept riding.  Phil took some more photos and some video.  And then I got that Zwift banner announcing to me that I had achieved an Everesting, at 12 hours, 42 minutes and 40 seconds.  OMG, I was so excited!  I rode another couple of hundred feet to just make sure I had done the right thing.  Wow, I had done it, after planning this for so long.

So then I got off the bike and was frantic to save the file to Strava before some mythological electronic gremlin could come along and eat the Zwift file I had just worked so hard to make.  I was terrified that this would happen. I had a backup going, off my Power Tap pedals on my Joule GPS+ which recorded that power, cadence, and heart rate, but I really wanted to have the Zwift file.  It saved.  Yay!  And then the adrenaline left me completely and I could barely stand or walk.  I felt like I did after just completing a Leadville.  What a surprise?  Not really.

So two days later I am still ecstatic about this.  Yesterday I submitted all my documentation to Hells500.  I am working hard on my recovery.  The evening after I completed it I started by chugging two bottles of Recoverite.  Then I moved to a couple of Hammer Nutrition’s bars.  Eventually I ventured into solid food. My sleep was predictably lousy, and I kept hydrating and nibbling throughout the night.  Yesterday I felt the effects, but after a three hour nap in the afternoon I began to feel like a new person.  Today is even better.

So what is next?  Well, Christmas and some time with our daughters and our granddaughter.  And while you’d think that having a total of 64 climbs up Alpe would be enough I can’t wait to do another vEveresting.  There is also a challenge to climb for 10,000 meters instead of a mere 8848.  There are other worlds on Zwift that have some good climbs, although that will take longer as well.  And there are some good hills around here, outside.  Stay tuned…

I really want to thank my sponsor  Hammer Nutrition for helping me with this.  Also Dick Sonne’s Cycling for all their instantaneous help with my bikes and their dealing with Specialized and Wahoo when I needed some more information.  They even had some of this attempt going live while it was happening! Thank you to my athletes and friends for the continual Ride Ons all day.  Also thank you Bear Mountaineers for your support, especially Paul Zucker for rounding up the troops that popped in – himself included - every now and again. Ed Ickowski was there in the beginning doing his own three climbs.  Bryant Stafford, Pam Peloso, Mily Noyola and friend Danielle Madore were there for a photo at the end. If I forgot anyone please forgive me.  Sometimes I was not looking at the screen or may have been less than coherent.  Everyone was so helpful.  Of course a giant thank you Phil Thompson and Wendy Bowers for being there in the flesh for me, and then guiding me during the aftermath – like climbing the stairs!

I am so fortunate.  There is a saying that good luck is the combination of opportunity and preparedness.  Having the treasure of good health and having the time to train opened the door for this opportunity.  The intense in-depth training and support that Coach Mark provided provided me, layered on top of my past experiences, left me with unparalleled preparedness.  I had the best of times doing this, and with time being such a precious commodity I am beyond grateful.  Thank you, again, for all who helped me out in any way.