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  • Writer's pictureNathan Moody

Everesting: A COVID-proof Ultra

Like everyone else, this spring and summer season has been like none other. My coach challenged me to "Everest," which is a challenge that involves picking a vertical feature (mountain, bridge, stairs, etc.) and continuously ascending / descending it as many times as needed until reaching a cumulative elevation gain of 29,029' (the altitude of Mt. Everest).

Having gone through it, I recommend this event for all runners looking for a mental refresh. It was like stepping into another life for 20+ hours and it does change you a bit. I chose our beloved local ski hill, Pajarito Mountain, with an elevation gain of 1,063 ft. I reviewed the rules, developed a nutrition plan, and set up my own aid station at the bottom. Since this was the first attempt at any such challenge, I did not set time or speed goals, but rather endeavored to experience the process.

It starts out deceivingly easy because I've trained countless times on Pajarito. Unlike a 'normal' race, this feels so familiar! I knew almost every major rock and trail feature, the views, the numbering on the ski lift towers, etc. I arrived and set up my aid station before dawn, got out the poles, and hit Start on the S9. I get to the top in what feels like a few moments, catch the first rays of the sun-rise and it's like I'm on top of the world. First goal accomplished!

I then descended gently thinking 'OK, I just have to do that 28 more times!" The next 5 climbs seemed like a breeze and things felt great. I got into a rhythm of hydration and fueling (Hammer's Heed and Perpetuem) that worked well nearly the entire time. About mid-way up the 7th loop, I began to encounter people hiking the trail and started using my mask. Several people would ask me what I am doing and I told a few, which I think was a mistake! These same folks, knowing my goal of doing 29 laps, encountered me later on and said "great job, let me guess you are on loop 13 now!!?" I was only on loop 9 and for some reason the gap between my actual progress and what they expected caused me to think of the long road ahead and notice how the day had gone from early-morning to mid-day already. I completed loop 10 in 5:45 and felt strong.

The next 5 loops seemed to take as long as the first 10 and I adopted a mental strategy of not thinking about progress at all but only my breathing and being efficient with my steps. I then got a HUGE mental boost at loop 20 when my family showed up and encouraged me. I made sure I smiled and looked confident but I could sense that the real journey was ahead as dusk approached.

I made sure to stay on top of my hydration and fueling, taking in about 220 calories per hour. I never bonked and somewhere near midnight my family returned with hot ramen noodles, packets of almond butter, and boiled potatoes!! After twenty-some servings of Pertetuem, this variation tasted amazing. The mountain seemed to get steeper these last few loops and instead of being the easy climb I was used to, an ominous feeling crept over me. I was using my small light which was going out and when descending lap 25 (maybe?) I convinced myself that the electricity had gone out in town because everything went black down below me. When I got back down, the lights had come on again! This happened twice more before I noticed that the lights in town and at the lodge "went out" at exactly the same place on the trail. Finally I realized that it was just a patch of trees that occluded the views and made it seem so dark!!

I switched to my big Petz Neo+ and it was a whole new experience for the last few laps. Instead of feeling dark and ominous, the bright light made it seem like another familiar trail and I was able to make the last few climbs in pretty good spirits. Then my S9 started giving me low-battery warnings, so I tried and succeeded in remembering how to switch to ultra-conservation mode. I stopped ascending the last lap when I got to 29,060' and hit 'save' on my S9, thinking all was good! I started walking down the hill, however, and happened to look at my watch and its screen had gone black, except for three blinking dots. This got me a little worried because I thought maybe the watch went nuts and didn't record or save the run!

With that possibility in mind, I gathered my aid station items and hobbled back to the Rover. At home, I decided to reset the S9 (something Suunto said should only rarely be performed) and this brought it to life and thankfully the data synced with the app no problem! The Strava entry is here and the validated result is on the Eversting Challenge website. In all, this event was about the mental journey of simply embracing a consistently hard climb over and over again. I'll never look at Pajarito the same way again!

Huge thanks to my family who visited and supported me on this run and for coach C who pushed me to give this a try! Something like this will be part of my future for sure.

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