Climbing Everest

I love inspiring other women in sport. I’m a Kiwi based in Sydney and I recently became the 3rd woman in the world to climb as high as Everest on a bike, says Debi Hazelden

The challenge of everesting is to repeatedly climb one hill until you’ve ascended the equivalent height of Mt Everest – 8848m – all without any sleep. Every everesting ride since 2012 has been recorded on Strava and of course there is a Hall of Fame:

To help you get the idea, a decent long hilly Sunday ride would usually cover 1000m – 2000m of climbing. So climbing 8900m of elevation is a decent chunk.

When I first saw someone had done this, I thought it was completely mad, the ultimate test of a cyclists endurance. A few months later I saw someone else had done it. The fact that I knew him sparked something in me. I became obsessed because so few women had done it. Only 2 in the world and I wanted to be the first NZ woman. Then came the questions, which hill? when? where? All the things to think about – like gradient, safety, lights, batterys, garmins, busy streets, is it easy to turn at the top and bottom? Is it close to toilets? Would friends support me? Would I need support or could I do it on my own?… The gradient was important as it can mean the difference of riding 200km or 400km. Not too steep that you can’t complete the challenge, but its needed to be steep enough that you don’t end up riding for 30 hours.

I went riding with a friend to go “hill hunting”. We found what we thought was the perfect one. A 1.2km hill close to home of 6% avg gradient. I asked him if he’d come ride some with me tomorrow. “Tomorrow!! I thought you would train up for months!”, he said. The next day, after a 4:15am start, 14 hours of riding up and down, chatting to the gardeners, tradies and pool men (yes it was a fancy neighbourhood – multi-million dollar houses and convertibles everywhere). I was there till 7pm and I had made a few friends. After 3000m of climbing I found it really hard mentally yet my legs were fine, realising how long this was going to take. I re-calculated it at 21 hours and it would be 315km. I had 2 friends, Tony and Viv ride parts of it with me. At 5pm I had some bad news with the Garmin – it had the blue screen of death and I was unable to recover the file. I wanted to cry, it was all gone. When I packed up and went home I’d done 6300m of climbing and ridden 232km. That night I thought I never wanted to do that again. It was so much harder than I’d thought it would be, and I had nothing to show. Not even a Strava file.

The next morning (Friday) I woke up with a different perspective. Success in life is mostly always hard work. You have to earn it. Special achievements are that because they are hard work. Most of the time you need to fail and have another go. That’s what I did. I planned it for the next Thursday. Not much recovery in between but mentally I just needed to do it again – soon.

I couldn’t look at the other hill again. I picked a different hill – Watsons Bay hill – a steeper one an average of 8% gradient. I thought I’d have a better chance at success on this hill. Steeper meant less km’s and less time. Watsons Bay hill is a common one for cyclists in the Eastern Suburbs so It would add to the kudos of local cyclists. In the mornings people go and do approx 10 hill reps. I calculated I’d need to do 162 hill reps to climb 8900m of elevation… It would take approx 17 hours with each hill rep 55m in elevation. It would be a long day.

I filled the car with snacks, cliff bars, chips, scroggin (trail mix for you aussies), chocolate covered cranberries, coke, 7 bottles of water. Everything I don’t usually eat. I started in the dark at 5:30am and was lucky to have a friend Rachelle with me till 8am. The Bondi Fit triathlon group came out at 6am – 7am for hill reps with a beautiful sunrise over the Sydney Harbour. A friend Dustin brought along an AFL mate who doesn’t ride much, I could tell as he looked afraid of wearing lycra and had his rugby shorts over his cycle shorts! I appreciated the support!

By 2:30pm I’d been cycling for 9 hours and climbed only 4300m. I felt like it was going to take forever. Having a few doubts I stopped to grab a few more Cliff bars and message my friends to tell them to come down. I’d done really well keeping up with eating and drinking lots of water. My foot hurt and my socks were wet. I thought I should stop and change them. When I got to the top it wasn’t sore anymore so I kept going. This happened so many times, and I never ended up changing them. I think I just couldn’t be bothered.

A friend Viv turned up to ride with me from 2:30 till 6pm – what dedication! He soon shut me up when I talked about how much I had to go and I didn’t know if I could do it. During that time I had a bunch of guys turn up and ride and bring me what seemed like magic sausage rolls. I really enjoyed this time. We had a good crew going up and down, up and down chatting about anything. Thanks Patrick, Dave Malcom, Loz, Jimmy, Steve, Tony. Some rode the hills with me, some rode one hill and took one off, standing at the top puffed wondering how I was doing it. Just keep going I was thinking as I stopped to chug down some coke and 1/2 a chicken schnitzel sandwich Loz had brought for me. I knew I wasn’t drinking enough, although I didn’t change it. I didn’t feel like it. Friends rode with me, laughed, cheered, told me I was crazy, said it was awesome, rode at my pace, did their laps and were off.

The guys came and went, but Tony stayed on, he was here for the long haul now and I was thankful to have him. When I was riding in silence I thought about things. I had wondered if the mental or the physical side of this challenge would be more difficult. It started to kick in – the questions to myself. Why? Now knowing my legs would make it but could I mentally?

My team re-calculated how much I had to go. We calculated 20 hill reps. 20 x 6mins = 2 hours. It was just past 9pm. It seemed like so much and I didn’t know if I could do it. It was late and people were in bed. But off I went with Christy this time. She said she’d stay for 5 reps. Right, 20 to go, we did 2 and I needed to stop. My team re-calculated and told me I had 20 to go. Mentally I couldn’t handle it. An extra 2. Oh my god. I had nothing. I was feeling tired, exhausted. I couldn’t talk on the way up, asking Christy, Tony and Kirsty to tell me stories.

Deb Shapira turned up to cheer me on! I was stuffed and she handed me a snickers which I gobbled down. My lights had gone out so it was a quick pit stop at the top of the hill. The team of Tony, Kirsty and Deb S had pit stops down pat. They had coke, water, snickers and lights at the ready.

10 hills to go. More coke. I was surprised my legs weren’t hurting more. My legs felt ok. The challenge wasn’t physical. The mental challenge was tough. I was tired, sick of it and I wanted to go home.

Single digits!! 9 to go, 8 to go. With 5 to go, another break and re-calucation. Yes 5 to go.

With 1 to go I thought I’d go hard. I pushed it for about 20 seconds and I was stuffed. There was no fast one, although it was probably as fast as my first ones, my pace was pretty consistent throughout the day. 162 hill reps done and I had Everested Watsons Bay Hill. It’s mine. It was after 11:30pm and over 18 hours had passed, 8000 calories burnt. 8848m of ascending.

After competing in 4 Ironman events, this was by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done mentally, physically my legs felt fine. I couldn’t have done this without all the people that came and encouraged me and rode with me.

I had Everested! Answer to the questions I frequently get – yes I had dreams of cycling up hills after. No I don’t win anything. I get to join the Hells500 club get my grey stripe jersey that I’ve earned, and get into the hall of fame.

Funny thing is, as I plan and map out a rides now I see the elevation and think what a great hill it would be to everest! I wouldn’t do one on my own again, but I’d say yes if someone else wanted to do an everesting attempt together.

This challenge helped me realise there are two sorts of people in life. The ones I want around are the ones who were forever supportive of me doing this and all the other crazy things I want to do in my life. And the ones that try and bring you down. I had a couple try to bring me down, but most may have said it was stupid and I was nuts, but in a good joking way. They were honestly worried about my safety, but they had faith in me, they didn’t care if I was going to fail. They supported me anyway. I love and appreciate that so much.

What’s next?

I’m heading to compete in Kona World Champs in October after getting the 4th fastest female bike split at Cairns Ironman (including the pros) and coming 2nd in my age group 30-14 in 10:18. I’m also competing in the very first Australian Ultraman next year in Noosa (10km swim, 420km bike, 84km run). After that I’d love to do events like the Norseman Xtreme, Alp d’huez triathlon, then move into events like Coast to Coast in NZ, Able Tasman Coastal Classic. Any events which have a major sense of accomplishment at the end for me.

Debi Hazelden is a web developer and also a triathlon coach for AP10.