Before, during and after my first ever (unsupported) ultra cycling race, BikingMan Oman, 1000km with 7,200m elevation meters, I said it countless times; selling it to myself and also attempting to convince others (who just looked at me and laughed… “yeah yeah… you have no idea, just wait and see”), I WILL NEVER DO IT AGAIN!
Ultra cycling is one the most ridiculous thing I have ever done in my life.
I’ll tell you why:
It’s long, it’s stupid long, there is just no need to cycle that long, what for?
It’s lonely. Yes, the actual event is lonely, from start line to finish line, but that I don’t mind that so much, because something happens when the gun goes off and I know I have to deal with myself and my mission, totally alone. This is actually a unique opportunity to learn about one self. In my opinion, it is more so the demands of the training which is the harder part. Because how can you possibly ask someone or anyone not into ultra “hey, you fancy going on a 8hr slow ride?” Hell no they don’t! Training is ultimately long and lonely. And this is even coming from someone who is very comfortable in her own company and even so often prefer yet. Yet, I still think it is lonely at another level. Do I enjoy the long and lonely training – and the long and lonely drives to training? Not that much.
It’s painful. Yes, it’s going to be painful. It will probably happen to most riders. We just deal with it. And then we heal. But during the times of dealing with the pain and no way to escape it, again I swear to myself; I will never do it again!
Wet, cold, tired, even freezing. How about dealing with bad weather? There’s no escape. Fun? No!
Mechanical issues. Well well, if you are not a bike mechanic, or like myself, don’t have any interest in repairing bikes, well then you might be screwed.
Organizational stress. Organizing a million small things; some mandatory, some personally selected, some I don’t have a clue if I will need or not. To carry it, or not to carry it? What if? This might be useful, but what if I’m not going to need it? Borrowing from other riders. Asking for help. Getting help. Argh… It’s stressful. Stressful organizing. Stressful packing. I have said twice now (as I head off to my 2nd Ultra Race); I will not do it again!
So this is the reason why I am going back. I can’t stop where I started. I am not satisfied. I need to know for myself if I can do better. If you remember from Oman, I rocked up with ‘all the gear and no idea’. I jumped on the bike and started pedaling into the unknown. I had ups and downs, I has mechanical issues and I had pain. I was on a mission to learn about myself, and I dealt with every situation as it appeared. In the latter part of the course (final 300km), I hit race mode, flicked my psycho switch and will-powered (because there was zero physical power left) through the ridiculous Omani hills, crossing the finish line Top 10 overall and 2nd Woman (53 mins after female winner Jasmijn Muller). I was overwhelmed and surprised, but admittedly pretty chuffed with that result for my first ever ultra. I remember my exact feeling at the finish; Good I did so well, I have now proved to myself that I can do ultra cycling well and there is no need to do it again!
Was I physically strong in Oman? I am not sure. Was I mentally strong? Yes. Was in control of myself and my situation? Absolutely yes. Was it beginners luck? No, I had plenty of problems along the way. Was I efficient? No (not enough). Did I waste more than 53 mins? I would say yes. Do I know where I wasted time? Absolutely yes = unfinished business.
I have to know.
I went to Oman as a beginner. I will now go to Corsica with experience. I am by no means an expert, it takes years and many races to build solid experience. But I have one ultra race under my belt and I know where I should be able to save time (as long as it is within my control). I want to know how I do with my time saving strategies, if I will be able to cover the entire course faster, if I can handle it mentally and physically (there is also risk of breaking down) and if I can be efficient, when there is also the option to take it easy.
BikingMan Corsica – 700km w/ 13,000m elevation.
This is not Oman. This is Corsica. It’s way more hilly, it’s colder, it’s wetter. There may even be encounters with angry stray dogs. I have never been to Corsica, but it also looks absolutely stunning, I hope I will be able to take in the breathtaking views and not miss too many beautiful places while I pass during night time. Once again I will be heading into unknown territory, geographically. But this time, I believe I know what to expect, from myself. I believe I know my ultra cycling strengths and weaknesses, to a certain extend. I have mentally prepared myself for above mentioned reasons for not doing it; loneliness, potential bad weather and PAIN.
I aim to go all in. Push myself harder than Oman. Enjoy the dot watching.
I only decided, spontaneously, in the same week to give it a go, to hook onto someone else’s Everesting attempt. The timing wasn’t super great; I had family visiting and for personal reasons, at the same time, I felt rather emotionally drained. The night before, I confirmed my attendance and organized my bottles, fuel, clothing, lights and chargers to last me most of 20-24 hours. Honestly, I wasn’t much up for it and that was also why I didn’t tell a single soul that I was heading out to potentially complete one of cycling’s toughest challenges. I wanted a ‘bail’ option. I didn’t want any pressure. I gave myself permission to quit at any time.
What is Everesting?
It’s a simple concept, but a fiendishly difficult challenge to complete. Pick any climb, anywhere in the world and ride repeat after grinding repeat until you have notched up 8,848 elevation meters; the height of Mount Everest, in one activity. It is open to anyone, anytime, anywhere. It is not necessarily an organized event. All you need is a bike, a hill, a tracking device and a huge amount of determination.
The rules: One hill / One activity / No sleep / No time limit
This is the Middle East, the likelihood of rain, is minimal. Although the UAE is made up from mainly desert, we are very fortunate to have some pretty epic mountain climbs too. The chosen climb for this Everesting challenge, was Jebel Jais, hosting the highest point in the UAE, at 1,934m above sea level, with the challenge segment at ca. 24km of 5.4% average gradient. To reach the height of Mount Everest, Jebel Jais had to be climbed just over 7 times.
6am start, right at dawn. It was miserable from the first ascent, wind pushing hard against the bike on certain sections. Followed by an even worse first descent, with rain hammering down; it felt like hail hitting face and skin, riding straight into the raindrops at high-ish speed. As I naively hadn’t respected the weather forecast, I arrived at the bottom of the first descent, in a thin soaked windbreaker and frozen fingers. Although not planned already, I had no choice but to make my first stop at my ‘base camp’. I was cold to the bone, soaked and shivering.
My planned ‘base camp’, was basically my car parked a few hundred meters before the start of the segment. It was my shelter and my fuel station. I changed to a rain jacket, then continued up on ascent number two, still with numb fingers and soaked shoes.The pure misery continued, although of course, as I started climbing again, I got warm and peeled off my layers. The final 4km to the top of the section and top of the mountain, is very exposed hence very windy. It takes a bit of courage and some decent bike handling skills to control the bike both up and down, but nothing more than I couldn’t handle. On the second descent, the roads were wet, but as we have good road conditions in the UAE, I didn’t want to lose time on the descents and it was so cold, I wanted to get down FAST. I nearly swallowed my heart! In one bend, three cars appeared fast on the road in front of me, with the one car coming straight towards me in the wrong lane. He was overtaking on a prohibited overtaking section. I had nowhere to go and no choice but to hit my breaks hard. My back end of the bike skidded left, right, left, right….. I envisaged: either losing control and crashing on the road in front of the car, or taking a hard right turn into the gravel and crashing into the mountain side, to avoid getting hit by the car. Miraculously, I managed to keep the bike upright and narrowly missed the car and the selfish, impatient, irresponsible driver. Breathe!
To bail or to continue?
Heading back to the car, I seriously considered bailing, it was just too miserable and clearly dangerous. It didn’t help by the fact that other riders on the mountain disappeared one by one. I got it! Why ride in miserable conditions, when most days are gorgeous and warm? But then I get stubborn! This is not a valid reason for quitting. A bit of rain shall not stop me. Holding on to the thought I would warm up when making my way up for the 3rd time, I headed back to the car to stuff more cheese sandwiches and snickers in my pockets. The weather must change. It must.
2,000m, 3,000m, 4,000m…. 5,000m. This was my crucial point. Final decision; go home or go all the way. Anything between 5,000m and 8,848m and it is not acceptable to quit; not in my head anyway, then it just turns into wasted effort.
No turning back
I am healthy, my bike is working and I still have more hydration and fuel in my car. I am pretty organized. Do I even have a valid reason for not completing? The answer is NO. I have no valid reason for not going through with it. Quitting would mean I would have to go back and do this to myself again. No thanks. I am doing it now. Now is now. And I am doing it! I know I can do it. I never doubted it. Of course I can climb until the target is reached. Yes, it’s miserable. Yes, it’s lonely. Yes, it’s cold. Yes, it’s dark. Yes, it’s a mental struggle every time I need to start a new ascent. Yes, it’s hard on the legs, very hard. It’s A LOT of climbing, it’s beyond what I have ever done before. But ultimately, I believe in myself. I came to do it. I am not going home without it. One more factor to push me in the right direction; no woman has ever completed the Everesting Challenge in the Middle East (probably no one ever tried). I will be the first. Determination switch on. No turning back.
Enter the Darkness
By 5,000m of elevation, and riding 100km uphill and 100km downhill, dusk is upon me, just after 18:30. Here comes the darkness, it will be a long, dark and lonely night. The rain stopped a long time ago, the temperatures a bit milder and the wind on the mountain side much less aggressive. I can do this.
By 21:10pm coming down from the top again, I just missed the last food truck, at the 20km viewing point and plateau. It was open on the way up, but closed on the way down. Damn. I had calculated, that to get me through the night, I would need more ‘real food’. I was running out of home made sandwiches. One last truck was in the process of closing, he had only tea, small bags of crisps and cup noodles. Argh, give me all. I sought shelter from the cold wind, warmed up a bit from the boiling water. But that was it. There was no nutrition in that food. Too bad. I have to manage on my own fuel. I will.
By around midnight, going up, again, Jani Brajkovic, former pro rider, came down the mountain side, for the last time. Mission complete. As the only other lonely soul out there, Jani had completed the challenge in around 19 hrs. Now there was only myself left. I still had another 2 ascents to complete.
The loneliness of Ultra
It was a very long and lonely night. I was also going slower and slower, and my fuel stops became more inefficient and more time consuming, as I was fumbling around in the back of my car in the darkness, warming up and organizing my re-fuel. As I was ascending for the last time past 3am, all lights on the mountain got turned off. All. And there was no one around. No one. On the way up thunder and lightning started to roar and flash in the distance. Oh no. Please don’t come closer. As I reached the open area, 4 km from the top, the flashes were cutting sharp and came too close. I stopped. The wind pulling me while standing still. I had clocked up ca. 8,600m. I was so close. But not done. I doubted my safety. I pulled out my phone and googled: How likely is it to get hit by a lightning on the top of a mountain? Apparently in the Rocky Mountains it happens a lot. I decided I HAD to complete my challenge. Admittedly, I was frightened. I turned my lights off, swerved to the wrong side of the road and crept up along the mountain wall to blend in with mountain. I couldn’t get to the top (and down again) fast enough. I as reached the top, I had logged 8,818m. Argh, I am still not done. An unexpected loud roaring thunder appeared right above me. Then the rain came. Pouring. It rained hard. I couldn’t see much on the descent. I had also lost my gloves at some point in the night (probably while pulling out a survival snickers), I couldn’t feel my fingers either. I had to check and check again during the descent that my fingers were actually wrapped around the breaks. At the same time I knew I would be able to finish the challenge in under 24 hours, if I got down fast. With the rain came dawn, coming close to 6am. I turned around quick at the segment start, and started my 8th ascent. I needed only 30m elevation more to reach the target of 8,848m. That would be done quick and it was now light. I climbed 1km, 2km, 3km, 4km… The ‘total ascent’ figure on my Garmin didn’t change, it was stuck at 8,818m. No no no no no no! My Garmin 520 Edge took A LOT of water from the downpour and roads splashing on the final descent. It must have frozen. I had no choice but to continue climbing and praying the meters would start to tick. I HAD to reach the Everesting target, otherwise this misery would have been for nothing. Time was moving past 24 hours. Okay what to do. 5km, 6km… elevation meters started to increase again. My target was 9,000m elevation (just to be 100% I had officially covered 8,848m on the actual segment). I reached my target 1/3 of the way up the mountain, after climbing just under 8km up again, for less than 200m extra elevation. Okay, but it’s done! MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.
We couldn’t have chosen a worse day. It was pure misery, with unusual winds, rain and just freezing cold on the descents. I continuously kept motivated by reminding myself, that the challenge was made harder by the miserable conditions, and that I would grow stronger from staying with this battle till the end. There was no need to complete a grueling cycling challenge like this, in worse conditions than standard. We could choose any other day. But now was now. I was there. I had started it. And I completed it.
Why do an Everesting?
Honestly, I don’t really know. I just decided to do it. And I saw it through. I get stubborn. When I have it in my head and when I set out to do it, I don’t stop till it’s done. Even my self-approved bail out option didn’t work and the weather misery couldn’t stop me. I think the key is that I believe in myself and my abilities. I know I am physically healthy and I trust that I am strong. The ability to overcome or remove fear contributes too. And so does the sheer determination to complete the mission. The way I looked at it: after all, it is nothing more than to keep going up and down the very same road until the height of Mount Everest has been reached. It is achievable.
Power to the women
Only 175 women world wide have officially completed the Everesting challenge. That accounts for 5% all completions. You can check the Everesting Hall of Fame, to see who completed in your area.
I had no idea what to expect when I entered my first ever ultra cycling event in Oman, covering over 1,000km and 7,200m elevation. But I aimed to push myself to the limit. I share my journey capturing my highs and lows. The result is surprising….
“You have no idea what you are capable of unless you try”
Back tracking three days, I climbed up this epic mountain for the first time ever via the Bedoin side, the most famous of the three; the side you see in Tour de France. It was cold and windy at the top and I could hardly see that epic tower although standing right below it, by the summit sign. I couldn’t get down fast enough either due to the cold wind ripping through my sweat soaked cycle kit.
2 days before…
The day after, two days ago, I took the scenic route via Gorges de la Nesque (20K at 2.3% avg) to Sault, which is another entry to the summit of Mt Ventoux. It was a very windy day; in fact, it was an extremely windy day. It was pretty much a battle all day, beautiful too, without a doubt, a beautiful battle. After climbing a total of ca. 40K I reached that epic bald part of Mt Ventoux (6K to the summit on the open bald top of Ventoux) and that’s where the wind or lets refer to it as ‘the storm’ took a decisive and firm hold of me and my bike with 60mm rims. The descenders passed me slowly and narrowly as I moved upwards, half of them walking down, almost leaning up against the mountain side with a firm grip on their bikes, while the others rolled slowly past, on the wrong side of the road, the one with the least chance of getting blown off the side, with one foot clipped in and one foot ready to catch them on the road. I continued upwards, with the firmest grip I ever had on my handlebar, biceps fully contracted, core as ready as if I was taking a punch to the stomach. On the steepest section towards the ‘windy pass’ at 1,830m (Col des Tempetes), I got blown off my bike. One, two, three… Push hard to get back on! I reached Col de Tempetes – and stopped. I have never experienced wind that strong in my life. The Summit was only 600m away (or 79m of elevation (of 1,909m total). I couldn’t actually see the tower for the dark cloud that I was already surrounded by, and moving with storm like speeds. But I knew it was right there above me, because I was there yesterday. The wind on the ‘windy pass’ was so hard, I gulped big lumps of air when breathing in (and talking to my Instagram storyline, because it would be rude not to show those crazy wind conditions to those who would care). ‘’To continue or not continue’’, was the question on my mind as I was fighting to even stand straight and hold on to my bike. Make a decision quick. It wasn’t easy. 79 meters from the summit and then bailing? WTF. I was there yesterday, also covered in a grey cloud, there was nothing to see. Continue the last few meters, see nothing, and take a risk of getting blown off the bike? WTF. That doesn’t make sense either. Arghhhh….
I am super proud of myself for turning around. Not worth the risk I decided. There is also a day tomorrow. With a 60mm flat racing wheel set, I opted for the ‘one foot clipped in’ option and descended like most others in the wrong side of the road, believing the risk of hitting the front of a car was far less than getting blown off the mountain side.
The day before… Rest day?
Yesterday, it was another crazy windy day. I decided to ‘stay away from the mountain’ and instead venture out on a relatively flat and easy day. I chose to explore the vineyards to the west of Mt Ventoux. This day however turned out to become a 3 hours fight with the wind through the open grape fields. A mental and physical battle on the ‘easy day’. I did though enjoy the concorde like 15K ride home from Malaucine to Carpentras. Into the drops, catapulted forwards by the wind, highest watt output possible, time trial mode; -1% or so average too. I was home in no time, with 5 QOMs to my name. Sometimes I really do LOVE the wind. That part was fun!
Going Triple Whammy
Today, finally, it’s a beautiful day, with a blue sky and from what I judge on my hotel balcony, less windy. I feel like a long day on the bike, a nice one, not one going into battle. Ever since my amazing travel buddy Jannie casually mentioned, on our road trip from Cote d’Azur to Provence, that there is always the option to climb Ventoux from all three sides in one day, I initially brushed it off as being a little crazy, but it kinda stuck to my mind too. Anyway, I stuffed my jersey pockets accordingly, 3 gels (one for each potential climb), 2 natural energy bars (a few bites here and there for sustainable energy and avoiding getting hungry) and a wind jacket. I know I would be kicking myself if I had ‘a good day’, but with empty pockets. My friends had other plans for today, so I took off solo.
SUMMIT ONE (via Malaucine) – 21K @ 7.2% (max 12%) and 1,540m of elevation – 1hr 53mins
I had already climbed up Ventoux the days before via Bedoin and Sault, so of course I started here. I would go as far as saying this is my favourite side. The climb has some very steep and unforgiving sections, but what I love on this side is that you are also randomly met by sections of 4-5% which certainly feels like a nice break from 10 and 11%. While counting down the kilometres one by one via the road signs, the gradient varies all the time making the kilometres tick by even faster, in my opinion. Furthermore, as you pass the 10K and halfway mark, you get frequently surprised by the utterly breath taking French Alpine mountain range behind Ventoux. The temptation to stop is as great as when you pass the ice cream shop on a warm summer day; however I resisted. And I promise you, no need to stop along the way, just take in what you can while continuously pedalling towards the top, because by far the greatest view of the French Alps in the distance, is from the very top. As you turn around the bend with 2K to the summit, that EPIC tower appears before your eyes for the very first time, standing tall, close and visible (under a blue sky at least). Boom! Suddenly it’s there, so close. WOW! I am pretty certain that no matter what it took to get to that 19K mark, what went through your mind in the last 1hr 45mins and how loud your legs might have been screaming at you; it’s already forgotten. And even better, anything can be concurred in only 2K.
For me personally, I felt good. I stuck to my plan, climbed steadily with average watt output a little over target. Completely blown away by occasional peeps through the trees over the mountain range. Minimal wind and warm sunshine. It’s only midday as I reach the summit. Body, legs and mind feeling completely normal. Another day, another mountain – as some would say. No drama. No problems. But that was EPIC!
Let’s do it again!
SUMMIT TWO (via Bedoin) – 21K @ 7.6% (max 12%) and 1640m elevation – 1hr 50mins
The descent from the summit to Bedoin town is one of my favourites ever! There are almost no switch backs and there are both longer straight and steeper sections and perfectly proportioned bends to really get some none-nerve wracking and truly exhilarating speed going. You can take on almost the entire 21K downhill without breaking hard and without breaking much. It’s A-MAZING!
Quick coffee in Bedoin, where it’s almost too hot to sit in the sun – and up I go again. As I pass through the first 6K in the open landscape, the tower seems so far away. My Garmin is a bit frozen and doesn’t record either gradient, elevation or temperature. As I climb through the uncompromising 9-10K middle section I am quite happy to be unaware, visually, of the gradients on the climb. While physically, does it really matter? For every pedal stroke I will get closer to the summit, no matter how steep or how long it is. The last 6K of the climb from this side is that EPIC bald part. The gradient drops a bit, the view of Provence appears and the tower is now within reach. It is truly EPIC! I reach the summit for the 2nd time today feeling nothing, but happiness. Again I was pretty much on target with my watt output, only a little over target again. Time has no relevance today. Only power. I can do this again, of course I can. It’s only the middle of the afternoon. It is still warm and sunny, with only very little wind. Would I even consider ‘just’ climbing up twice on a day like this? Never. When it’s in my head, it will be completed.
Let’s do it again!
SUMMIT THREE (via Sault) – 26K @ 4.5% (max 11%) and 1,220m elevation – 1hr 45mins
There’s some work to be done on the descent to Sault. Quick coffee stop in the warm sun – and off I go again. The first few Ks run through the open lavender fields. Two days ago I was being bashed around by the wind here. Today is much calmer. Let’s put it this way, I can now feel my legs. They are not fatiqued, but I can feel them. I have long forgotten about my saddle sores; it’s like they never existed. My neck muscles are starting to feel a little tender. I strategically left the Sault side to last as it is the easiest. Not too much pressure on the legs; just keep pedalling. It is also the least exciting side. There is not much to see really. Most of the road is hidden away by trees and mountain side. Every now and again the view over the landscape towards the Nice area appears. It’s nothing to write home about. There is some false flat the last few Ks before reaching the bald part, it feels really good to collect some speed here. Hello! There it is again, the bald part and the tower. I am still feeling good. It is now around 5pm and I have surpassed the crazy busy window of cycling enthusiasts moving up and down the mountain side. I pretty much have that EPIC road to myself. I am still feeling good. I have no problems reaching the summit for the 3rd and final time this afternoon. I am a little under target with my power output on this final ascent, no surprise there really (and also, I am of course already planning a ‘recovery ride to the summit’ tomorrow).
My unofficial Mt Ventoux Triple Whammy… Done!
Just because it was a nice day for it 🙂
For once, there were no obstacles on my way. I never felt any mental or physical fatigue. I just wanted to ride my bike all day. I thoroughly enjoyed every pedal stroke. I am even convinced I smiled all the way. I never had any doubt if I was capable or not; of course I am capable. It was a beautiful warm and sunny day; not too hot and not too windy. I just took one climb at the time. Standing at the summit for the final time, I smiled to myself; honestly I am still not tired, luckily, as I still have around 40K home….
And sure enough I did the next day summit Mt Ventoux (via Malaucine) for the 6th and final time, in 4 days total.