Training for Everest or an 8000m peakCho Oyu 2016 July 20, 2016
With 16 talks in the last 32 days to over 900 people, one of the key questions has been: “What’s next?”.
It’s Cho Oyu. The 6th highest peak in the world … in 6 weeks!
It’s actually lovely to be focusing on a trip other than Everest this year. And it’s flown by. My approach to these things is always changing from experience, and my training has, too. So rather than just posting unflattering cycling selfies or self-timed posed mountain running shots (did you really think I had a photographer?), I thought I’d share my preparation for an 8,000 metre peak. Complacency is a real threat – but I’m actually the most chilled out I’ve ever been before an expedition, for good reason.
After three years I have enjoyed returning to running. If you’ve read my book you’ll know that I used to compete in 10k and half marathons before even stepping foot on a big mountain. I got injured for over a year which threw me into depression. In that hopeless place I first decided 2014 was the year I would attempt Everest. Isn’t it funny how you can find the sweetest flowers in the darkest pit?
Whilst road running is like watching Songs of Praise for me – trail running hits that sweet spot. I love the speed of running down, and the freedom of running up, mountains. However, my ankles have so far been less enamoured, and running around Buttermere a few weeks ago ended with a stumble, a crack and a fit of swearing. I recovered and managed to race a few times since then, until last weekend when I was trying to fit an early 12 mile run in before going hillwalking in Snowdonia. Once again, I encountered a noble battle with a tree root… and I lost.
Forever aiming big – there were also serious plans for a world record attempt challenge this Summer, just before Cho. I’m not going to elaborate, because I’m as competitive as a Spaniel with a stick. But it’s been parked for now at least. Forrest has been gumped; the injury risk is too great and I need to focus on the task at hand.
My coach John Thomson often says to me: “If it doesn’t make the boat go faster, throw it overboard”… So, it’s time to throw running overboard. My ankle will heal. But will be weakened and prone to re-injury. Next time it could be worse. For the same reason, I didn’t run prior to both Everest expeditions. I will be getting back on two wheels.
Training for anything has to have a purpose. It has to be goal specific. I can’t get in the mountains every day so I have to simulate that as best possible. Even at 6,000 metres your heart and body is working so much harder, and 8,000 metres is a different kettle of fish. Everyone will swear by something different, whether that’s fell running, swimming, climbing, or rocking up with a hip flask of whisky. This is just a reflection on what I think works for me.
Cycling builds leg strength, particularly quads, and allows you to elevate heart rate for a long period of time with less stress on the body. Albeit, it requires a bit more time to get the same benefit as running. As before, a sports scientist, Ian White, plans my general training routine, so that I can’t fall into the habit of training too much (or too little).
But what does one of my typical sessions entail?
- Hikes in the mountains – pretty obvious, really!
- Both! Last week I cycled 60 miles and ran 20 miles around the Clwyd hills in between. Mentally this is pretty tough, especially when your legs are fatigued. Comfort just seems so far away.
- Tempo rides – 40 – 50 miles total with 2 x 10 miles at tempo pace (around 160-180bpm). Tempo pace improves your lactate threshold, i.e. the heavy leg feeling you get during exercise of high intensity or long walks, and specifically should help the body cope with less oxygen.
- Long rides (previously 12 – 24 mile runs) – Obvious endurance and the ability to mentally cope for long periods of time in the depths of your own mind, boredom and belligerent car drivers.
- Maximal intervals – Hill sprints on the bike.They go a bit like this:
- Find a hill
- Cycle up HARD for 2 mins – HR over 180bpm
- Cycle down
- Turn round and go back up.
- Repeat x 12
I’m supplementing this with strength & conditioning both at home and at the gym with my PT Chris at BodyHQ. I don’t train every day. I would put myself in the category of a novice. People assume Everest climbers must be super-humanly fit. I think fitness has too broad a meaning…
Someone once told me that Everest is 90% mental, 10% physical. With my limited experience, I would completely agree. For what it’s worth, I believe that 10% counts and the stronger everything is, then you essentially remove a weak chain in the link. When everything else is hurting; your heart is pounding out of your chest and legs feel like they’ve stayed in the tent, I can only imagine it’s helpful to have confidence. Example: If you turn up to work in a Robin Reliant, how do you feel? If you turn up in a Bentley, how do you feel? Exactly.
I always have a high level of fitness. However, from what I learnt on Everest last year, fitness or age doesn’t really stand for much. What matters more is the ability to take care of yourself, to keep taking one step after another; the mental resilience to be flexible and put up with some suffering. The engine is only as good as the steering wheel. I quite like getting to the point of being physically buggered and being able to mentally keep playing the game. I believe you can train your mind like your body – but you have to push the boundaries to achieve this.
For a final ‘mini test’, next Sunday I will be doing a 24-hour bike stage, i.e. cycling as far as I possibly can in a 24 hour period. My current PB is 160 miles in one day; I want to almost double this! My aim will be to head south towards my good mate Paul in Dartmoor, leaving home at 9pm, go through the night whilst still alert, and finish the following day at 9pm. I have no idea how far I will go. I may get further than Plymouth… I may fall miserably short. This is what we love about adventure – the excitement and anticipation of achieving the unknown. Please follow me! (I mean on social media, but if you want to follow me with coffee and biscuits, that’s cool too…)
In that, it’s a busy 6 weeks ahead, with speaking, book signing, and also my Mountain Leader training in Snowdonia so I can fine-tune those hill-walking mitochondria and get out in the Lakes too. It’s also important to spend time with family and enjoy the home comforts before I’m shoved in a dusty tent with powdered milk tea. That way you appreciate the experience much more and feel grateful for a life of opportunity and adventure.
My long-suffering Mum is still determined to find me a new hobby, girlfriend or anything to distract me from climbing. I might have to throw her overboard too. I hope she can swim!
Only kidding… but seriously, if I see one more person hunting imaginary Pokemon in our village, I may well get on a boat and throw myself overboard!