Words by Marco Merati
Here in Northern Italy, it is so cold outside! The average temperature of my last several rides was very low and I’m tired of seeing -7 °C on my ELEMNT BOLT.
I am feeling pretty fit so I thought…
“Why not give Virtual Everesting a try?”
Let me explain: Virtual Everesting is like outdoor Everesting. “…..Pick any hill, anywhere in the world and ride repeats of it in a single activity until you climb 8,848 meters (29,028 feet) – the equivalent height of Mt Everest.” The only difference is that it will be accomplished indoors using your KICKR Smart Trainer and KICKR CLIMB on Zwift.
There are several ways to make an Everesting attempt. Some prefer to do it with friends, some prefer to promote the attempt by finding sponsors, and others organize great content or film projects around it. I consider all to be “noble” causes, but I chose to do it alone.
“Sit down on your bike and ride alone
higher and longer than you think,
Quietly, behind the scenes, only you, your bike, your pain and a long way to the top of the hill.
The night before I prepared my pain- cave meticulously. I completed a KICKR “spindown” then connected to Zwift. The KICKR and the CLIMB make the virtual climbs on Zwift so realistic and the data, effort, and ride feel is the same as when I’m on the outside.
At 6:00 AM I set off on my attempt. The selected climb for my Virtual Everesting ride is “Alpe du Zwift”, the virtual reproduction of the most famous climb in the world, Alpe d’Huez! Alpe du Zwift is a brutal 12,2 kilometers long with an average gradient of 8.5 % totally 1036 meters of elevation gain. All this and the 22 iconic switchbacks which on their own are an endless reminder of how far you have to go with each climb up its slope.
A few days before I kicked my attempt off some friends asked me “why do you want to do this.” I never answered them because there are no answers for me. I love to climb mountains on my bike and this comes very naturally to me and is one of the best ways to know if I’m a “real climber” and if I am capable of achieving this type of effort.
I’m started, I find very difficult to face off the first climb cause I’m now realizing that my warm-up was not enough, my legs are cold and my heart beat high. The first part of the Alpe is brutal and is unforgiving. The gradient does not drop below 10% on the first part of the climb. I needed to ease into this and get the legs warm and my heart rate under control.
During the first climb I had many thoughts and doubts creep into my mind:
“Will I be able to handle this?”
“I’m only on the first of eight ascents of the Alpe du Zwift climb, how it will be for the following ascents?”
“I’m feeling some little muscles pain….What’s happening? Yesterday I felt fine!”
I try to just focus on climbing and doing it the way I know how then the time and repetitive ascents start going quickly. My legs are now moving well, my breath is under control and no concerns enter my mind about my attempt, I am in the zone.
I had to constantly stay on top of my nutrition and hydration. The Alpe requires a maximum effort each and every time I make the climb up. I am consuming close to 750 ml of water and minerals for each climb ascent. After each ascent, I have a long descent which affords me the opportunity to eat and drink as I prepare for the next effort. I take note of how I was feeling on the last climb and what/ if any adjustments need to be made.
The time is moving quickly and the repetitive ascents are ticking off with ease. This feeling shortly subsides and is replaced with doubts:
“How much longer do I have left ?”
“How many climbs do I still have to do?”
In this exact moment, I begin to realize the difficulties of a virtual Everesting. The overwhelming feeling is that I am alone, all alone in my pain cave like in a tunnel you entered ten hours ago and have still not seen the light at the end.
“You are climbing toward the finish, but despite your best efforts,
you can only see darkness.
No lights at the end, no cars, no friends, no trees or sounds from the city….
nothing, NO WAY OUT!”
Thankfully my legs are still feeling good and with the encouragement of fellow Zwift riders, I am able to put these thoughts behind me and keep moving toward the goal, 8,848 meters. My wife, Selene brings me some welcomed encouragement and some liquid motivation in the form of coffee. I am now prepared to enter that tunnel again for my last two climbs up the Alpe.
I close my eyes, it is pitch black around, I can feel my breath, I can feel every single heartbeat, I can feel my legs moving up and down in a smooth cadence. I can trace every single drop of sweat rolling down on my face, I can feel the flow of the road under me and my bike and finally, the most important thing I can feel is the desire to climb again and again as I reach my 8,848 meters. Success.
My Virtual Everesting Effort:
Distance: 213 km – Time: 11H 48M – Elevation: 9003M – Gradient: 8.50%
Check out the Equipment Marco used for his Everesting Ride