This was my second year in a row that I've done 21 Summits in one day.
It's still hard.
You can read about last year's 21 Summits adventure (and warnings) right here:
If you just finished reading the above link, you should know that nothing has changed... it's still a tough day. What was different this year? The route planning for this year was created with a goal of 28 Summits (four laps) in one day, and I wouldn't be doing it solo unsupported this time.
Dave Franks wanted in on the madness and I was happy to have him join me. Dave is a hard nut, we've raced lots of 24hr Solo's together and he's been on the Solo podium at most of them. As well as being a great ultra-endurance racer, Dave can maintain a good attitude when things get tough, and that's something you need on a 28 Summits attempt. No doubt, 28 Summits is a pretty aggressive goal, it's a tough puzzle to crack and things have to be optimal to improve the odds of success. Mechanicals and weather are just a couple of the variables that conspire against such a big day, so doing it with someone who has a sense of humor helps a lot. On with the story...
Friday morning Dave began driving from Calgary to Rossland, Friday afternoon I was up at the North trailhead of the Seven Summits stashing a cooler of enough water and Infinit for two racers to do the two North to South laps.
Friday evening we prepped gear, tweaked the bikes, and had a few laughs. The plan had us riding South to North, North to South, South to North, North to South, for a total of four laps or 28 Summits. Because I get asked this a lot, each lap consists of riding from the starting trailhead, all the way across the entire Seven Summits, to the finishing trailhead. The two trailheads being the Cascade Highway/Seven Summits intersection (South trailhead), and the Nancy Greene Summit (North trailhead parking lot). The normal routine is to ride a lap, grab new bottles at the trailhead stash point, then start riding back in the direction you just came from - kinda like a windshield wiper effect. If you just bumped into this blogpost by accident, and you didn't read the warning link at the start of this post, just know that everybody rides the trail from North to South because it makes sense to do it in that direction - it's the easiest route, it flows nicely, and there's nothing particularly hard about it as compared to the South to North route. Nobody I've talked to has ridden the Seven Summits 'backwards', mainly because it's so much harder than the North to South route - there's more hike a bike, an additional 600' of (hard earned) vertical gain, lots of loose (sketchy shale) steep climbing terrain, quite simply it's a slower and more physically/mentally grueling route.
Soon enough it was Saturday morning and we were standing at the start of the South trailhead (Cascade highway), wheels rolling at 0800hrs under a cloudy sky.
90 minutes later we were standing at the top of Record Ridge.
Two hours later we were rolling into the North trailhead. A quick chat with some tourists thinking about doing the Seven Summits, a bit of bike work, ditch the old bottles, grab the new bottles and head out on our North to South lap. Stats at this point were 3.5hrs for the South to North route and an additional 18mins for the admin time at the turnaround.
The temperatures were perfect as we started the second lap, and with the riding being easier, it made for some nice flowing efforts. During this lap we were passing people who were out for a one lap day, which helped break up the remoteness of the ride. At exactly 6hrs into the ride we bumped into some local friends/riders on one of the ridges and hung out with them for 17mins. Here's a photo of us rolling up to the group.
This meet-up provided a good opportunity to take a break from the workload, have a few laughs, and enjoy an awesome friend-supplied sandwich. Soon enough it was time to jump back on the trail, and an hour later we were arriving at the South trailhead. Stats at this point were Lap 2 taking 3:35 (including 17min sandwich break), we hung out at the South trailhead for 32min while we mounted lights, changed bottles, did some bike work and chatted with friends some more. Wheels rolling on the third lap just before 1600hrs, just under 8hrs into the adventure.
Now if Dave could step in at this point and start telling the story, I'm sure he would mention things about the third lap like 'Brutal', 'Cracking', 'Nuts' and other choice words. The kind of stuff that I was saying to myself last year. I don't recall seeing Dave suffer like this on any ride we've done together, and that's a key element as our multi-lap day unfolded. Doing one lap is easy, doing two laps is hard, doing three laps is really hard and not just because it's three times longer. The Seven Summits isn't a linear challenge, it's an exponential challenge. The more Summits you add to the day the more exponentially harder it gets. And with Dave not used to riding this kind of terrain on a regular basis he was suffering more than I was. Somehow I find that to be extremely satisfying, because Dave has made me suffer once or twice (or more) in the past. ;-)
That third lap took us 4hrs to complete, along the way we ran into several mountain rain showers. Uugh! The wind picked up and the temperature dropped. We would get soaked for 15mins, then the skies would clear. Then we would get hit with more rain. The views were awesome when things were clear.
Unfortunately, this repeated soaking cooled us down a bit too much, and being totally wet in remote mountain conditions is never a jump for joy kinda thing. Even my Alma looks a bit cold and wet.
We were both feeling a bit beat up by the time we descended off Mt. Lepsoe, my hands and feet were numb during those last 15mins of descending. Arriving at the North trailhead parking lot meant we weren't shivering from the windchill of fast descending anymore, but it also meant we had to make a tough decision. We were now 12hrs into the adventure, with another Seven Summits to go. I felt strong enough to go for it, but the weather wasn't cooperating with that idea. In the failing light we made the decision to bail on the fourth lap, a smart decision then and an even smarter decision now that I look back on what the conditions were. Here's a photo of us after discussing the bail out plan and laughing about how cold we are and how cold we were about to get. We look happy on the outside but we were both crying on the inside. ;-)
And with the decision made, we both turned on our lights and pointed our front wheels towards Rossland, 22kms in the distance. So began the unceremonious and miserably cold ride back down the highway.
It. Was. Cold.
At one point we were both shivering so bad that we were having problems keeping the bikes straight at high speed due to the uncontrollable shivering. We had to keep stopping on the side of the highway so we could shake our heads and complain to nobody in particular. Then it was back on the bikes again to continue the suffering in the hypothermia zone. This went on and on for far too long and eventually I did the unthinkable, I made 'The Call' to Doreen. You know, the call that kinda goes like this... 'Hi it's me, Dave and I are on the side of the highway and we are in the hurt locker. Any chance we could get a lift back into town?' I haven't had to make a call like that in quite a few years. The trick is to sound kind of nonchalant while balancing that against the fact that you never make those kinds of phone calls so it must be pretty bad if you are calling for a pickup. I must have achieved the right balance because Doreen and the boys arrived in record breaking time.
Once we got back to our house, Dave went straight upstairs to hit a hot shower. I grabbed my winter down jacket and threw it on over-top of my dirty Orbea race gear and started cooking some dinner. Eventually, the shivers went away and my ice blocks thawed out.
Things were back to normal somewhere around the second or third sip of this mighty fine Logsdon Farmhouse Peche 'n Brett. The adventure seemed much funnier from the comfort of the kitchen.
Is 28 Summits doable in one day? I'm not sure it is unless everything goes pretty much perfectly. Would I like to nail that 28 Summits? Well I do like a challenge, and as Evan put it to Dave and I shortly after we finished this ride 'There are now two of you in the elite club of 21 Summits in one day, but there is nobody in the elite elite club of 28 Summits'. In one simple sentence my 10yr old threw down a gauntlet he doesn't understand, and one that I will no doubt pickup next year. The question is, who else wants to have a crack at that gauntlet in 2015?
Just sayin'. ;-)
The remainder of this post is written for a lot of my athletes, as they are into this kind of stuff. I'm sure there will also be a few ultra-endurance racers, whom I may or may not know, that will read this next section and laugh (if they know me). Enjoy...
A lot of the suffering that came out of this day was a natural result of the terrain, but some of it was self-imposed. Now's the time where I explain the self-imposed suffering portion, and I'm sure this will make more than one person shake their head.
A recent paper had me in an experimental mood. The paper, "The physical, mental and hormonal responses to short-term intensified training in well-trained cyclists with a high carbohydrate nutritional intervention" presented at the 2nd World Congress of Cycling Science, had me curious enough about a handful of things that I decided to use the third lap as an experimental model. I decided to do that 4hr lap on nothing but water... no calories at all. Why no calories? Well I believe part of my job as a racing coach is to push my own horizons so I can better inform my own athletes. For over a year now, one of my many pet projects has been practically exploring the subject of how things play together when looking specifically at fuel source/energy systems/intensity factor/timeline as part of training and in race, with a primary focus on ketosis/low carb. Over the last year I've learned quite a bit on this specific subject, primarily due to newly published research and the modern day ability to connect dots that weren't previously there a year ago. But beyond the academic focus, I've done a lot of experimentation while I've been out on longer rides, I've also done races this year (two of them were 24hr Solo's) using an experimental fueling model in order to test against some theories - it's been fun and enlightening. I've learned things over this last year that I wish I would have know about 26 24hr Solo's ago.
Looking at this adventure as a whole, the first two laps (8hrs) had me burning approximately (based on wattage output, environmental conditions, full body engagement due to terrain, etc) 7000 calories and only taking in 2000 calories. Not a big deal based on my fueling strategy/Intensity Factor. For the third lap (another 4hrs) I was going to be burning off another 3500-4000 calories and not replacing it with anything, now it's starting to turn into a bit of a big deal. To make things even more interesting (for me) I decided to use this last 4hr lap as an intervals based effort, letting Dave ride ahead of me until he was well out of sight and then hammering hard enough to gap back up to him. I lost count of how many times I repeated that hard interval protocol, and it certainly changed things into a much bigger deal. Effectively, I was diminishing the advantage of smart IF pacing by incorporating a more stochastic pace intermixed with IF values higher than .70, thus banging away at my glycogen stores and in my opinion reducing them to essentially zero. Was I successful in completing the 4hrs in a no-fueling condition, all while applying poor pacing strategy, in a minimal reserves condition? Yes, but I did start to feel the intervals becoming harder and harder as the hours slipped by. And by the time I hit the North trailhead parking lot with Dave, I was pretty excited to jam a handful of dates into my system followed by some Infinit, because I was getting a bit bonky.
What did I learn from the experiment? Uhmmm those final 4hrs were hard. Beyond that, I learned quite a lot. It once again confirmed what I already knew through lots of other similar situations - the reality being that pacing and fuel uptake rates are critical for optimal performance in ultra-endurance events, but also, a lot can still be achieved under imperfect pacing and fueling conditions. Of course there are a lot more observations that came out of the experiment, but I'll save all that for another time.
This was my second year in a row that I've done 21 Summits in one day.