Saturday 6 September 2014

Everesting Box Hill, August 18th 2014

It was only a matter of time before someone attempted to claim the popular climb of Box Hill in
Surrey. Thanks to Ciaran for sharing his great ride report of the days events.

By Ciaran O'Hara,

Impromptu Everesting of Box Hill

So the past couple of days I’ve been trying to figure out when I decided to attempt an Everest on Boxhill. It must have been back in April when I was full of energy and training hard and obviously not thinking clearly but I don’t regret this decision for one minute.

So I headed down to the hill early one morning in May and set out for a few hours of reps. I ended up doing 12 in just over 2 hours which was a decent pace and so I figured to Everest I could do 4-5 per hour which would be a total of 18-19 hours not including rest.

Through June and July I was on Muswell Hill and Ally Pally twice a week covering at least 1000 metres each morning. A lovely place to be when the sun is coming up and the roads are quiet. In early June I also discovered Epping Forest as I never realised how close I lived to it and this became my stomping ground for short sharp spins and scenic recovery rides.

As the summer rolled on my desire to ride never waned as I clocked up more hours, more miles and more metres every week. The long all day rides in the Chilterns and South Downs, spending up to 14 hours on the bike, were such a joy and if the sun had of stayed up I would have just kept going.

August soon rolled in and I began my final 3 week block of solid training. Motivation was high and towards the end of the first week I was starting to feel ready for Boxhill and the itch to begin my challenge felt deeper and deeper after every ride. I put in a good solid ride to Brighton one Saturday followed by an all out 2 hour sprint on the Sunday of ‘Hurricane Bertha’, a recovery ride Monday morning with Tuesday and Wednesday being hills and intervals respectively.

I spoke with my parents and Amy after the Brighton and decided that my Everesting challenge would be a good fundraiser for The Foyle Hospice and so after a little hesitation I set up my page on the Tuesday. This spurred me on more as the hospice is a local charity back home that has cared for many of my family and close family friends over the years and they need as much help a they can get.

Thursday the 14th of August was supposed to be hill repeats in the morning but I felt a bit tired so I lay on. I was pretty disciplined in that respect as I was well in tune with my body and if it said no then nothing was done and I rested. Boy would I be glad I rested.

I arrived in work to see I had received my first donation from Thomas Trotzier and also an email querying whether or not a particular group had everested Boxhill already. I was already aware they had done 50 repeats as a group taking rests between each which was a bit different to my plan. Then the dreaded email came.

At 12:54:12 Thomas once again emailed with Roger’s info graphic which stated he was everesting boxhill on Friday morning. Stomach twisted, heart rate spiked and my head was going around in circles. I thought I was prepared for such a situation and I had told a few people I didn’t care about being the first but things just got serious and it became the most important thing to me at that moment.

I started planning and after a few encouraging words from Alan Bruce I was looking at train times and figuring out whether I could do this or not. I knew I could so I went for it. I explained the situation to my manager, left work, got soaked going home and started preparing.

One of the first stumbling blocks was going to be the external power for the Garmin 800 Alan had lent me. I had ordered it at the start of the week and lucky enough it was on the floor when I came in the door. I took this as a good sign, this was mean’t to be. I started getting my kit together and the clothes I had worn to work dried including my shoes. I gathered as much food as I could find including flapjacks, fruit, gels, sweets, chicken, pasta, sandwiches and the protein/carb bars Pulsin had recently sent me.

Next I had to change my rear cassette and chain as they were worn and I was saving the new one for another week or so. I changed my 25-11 for a 28-11 which gave me a bigger gear and some insurance if things got tough towards the end. Sally got a once over and she was in good shape and ready to climb.

The rain hadn’t stopped therefore the train was out of the question so I needed a lift. With no car available at home I turned to my supportive club mates and within 15 minutes I had 3 offers for a lift. Ryan Forde actually hired a car and said he would lift me at 7pm which gave me just under 2 hours to be ready. I continued to gather equipment, lights, spares, medical supplies and also got some food in my stomach as I hadn’t eaten since lunch.

I couldn’t get myself settled no matter what I tried as my body was just pumping with adrenaline. Then I got a phone call that threw a spanner in the works. It was Roger Barr, the other guy. We chatted for a bit and Roger suggested we complete the challenge together on Friday morning. At first I was cagey as I didn’t know who this guy was and he could either hold me up or blow me away. I told him I needed time to think and that I would call him back.

While all this was going on Amy had arrived home from work and was a bit bemused to see me there and all my gear on the floor. Once I explained the situation it didn’t go down well. I got the usual ‘you’re mad’ response but she also made it clear to me that it wasn’t really safe being there on my own. It was left at this while she went for a run and I continued preparing for the ‘madness’.

Ryan was now on his way after collecting another box of gels and a top tube bag from Evans. I had taken another call from Roger and despite finding out he was a superior Ironman athlete I was still very wary and once again told him I had to think about it more. He didn’t seem as keen to go for it that night despite telling me he was going if I was. Amy got back from her run and we spoke some more before reaching a decision. I called Roger back and told him we would do it together. I told him my situation regarding getting to the hill and he kindly offered me to stay at his place and leave from there together in the morning.

I soon settled down and my heart returned to a normal pace. Ryan arrived shortly after and I informed him of the change of plan and the fact I still needed a lift to Hampton. He was still happy to help so we packed the car and Amy wished me luck before we set off. By the time we got on the north circular my adrenaline rush had subsided and I suddenly felt very tired. It had been 6 hours of mayhem and I was pooped.

We arrived at Rogers around 2030; both he and his wife were very welcoming. I unpacked, said goodbye to Ryan and joined my new ‘team mate’ for some dinner. We chatted for a bit about the technicalities of the challenge before doing a few last minute checks and getting to bed.

I had a poor night’s sleep on a soft leather sofa but awoke at 0330 to get a nice stretch and prepare my body for the day ahead. A quick breakfast and we were speeding south to Boxhill. Rogers dad was there waiting for us as we set up camp at the small car park half way up Zig Zag road. After around 15 minutes of preparation we made our way to the bottom of the hill and began our first ascent at 05:18 on the 15/8/14.

I had a target of 5 reps per hour however set off very timidly as I knew it would be a long day. The first hour went by in a heartbeat and the fuelling began as Rogers’s dad Eric handed us our first round of food. As we ticked off the first 1000 metres we had our first companions of the day. John, Nigel and Brian joined us and I was already glad of the company as my mind wandered and we chatted about all manner of things including Miley Cyrus.

This was the toughest part of the day for me as my hamstrings were quite tight and I had a little lull on a few reps but Roger recommended getting out of the saddle for parts of the climb to stretch out and soon I was feeling much better and ready to grind it out. We were averaging 10-11 minutes up and 3-4 minutes down. There was also a lot of traffic as the road to the south side of Boxhill was closed therefore the Zig Zag road we were on was the only one way up.

We ploughed on and ticked off milestones as we moved. 4 hours complete, 2000 metres, 20 reps. These small and regular targets through time, distance, elevation gain and rep number really broke the whole ride up into manageable chunks. We were soon closing in on our first agreed break of 11:00 and still had John Taylor in tow along with Paul Deeney.

The first break was over in a blink as I got my legs raised to wash out the lactic acid, horsed some pasta into me and freshened up my shorts with some talc. Roger couldn’t believe how quick the break had gone but we felt rejuvenated as we climbed back on our bikes and continued to knock out the reps. We had soon ticked off 30 and were getting close to the half way point. Throughout the day the traffic would arrive in bunches and we faced some very angry people coming down the hill and obviously held up just as many people coming up. On one descant I noticed an older guy standing with Rogers dad and I jokingly said it was probably a local complaining about two guys riding their bikes too much and it was, I couldn’t believe it!!

The half way marked ticked past and eventually John Taylor left us after 25 reps having only consumed a banana and a gel. As the day progressed we picked up more riding companions however no one filled John’s shoes. The great thing about Boxhill for this challenge was the condition of the road and the hairpin corners. The corners broke the climb into manageable segments and the glass like surface meant comfort was not an issue.

We stopped briefly on a couple of reps to meet with the local media and say hello to some of Rogers friends and at 17:00 and just shy of 5000m we stopped for our second break. For me the second was the same as the first. I was tempted to change socks and shorts but felt comfortable so talc’d up, ate up and also topped up the batteries on our garmins with the external battery I had purchased.



Our pace so far had been nice and steady with a few slower laps but also some faster laps depending on who we rode with and how much we were talking. As the 5000 metre mark ticked by I began to count down. Fuelling had been good thanks to my homemade date and blackcurrant flapjacks and plenty of orange high 5 gels. My treat was banoffee curd and honey sandwiches which were amazing and gave me a great little boost; I just wished I had of packed more. I had avoided caffeine all day as I wanted something to fall back on later if I did get tired.

Between 6000 and 8000m time got really weird and made no sense. I was measuring everything in metres and was trying to work out how long we would have left. Due to the weather the garmins were not in sync as Rogers read about 90 metres less than mine did. Our target was 8848m but from the start of the challenge I had planned to climb 9000m just to be on the safe side. This worked out at 73 reps according to the strava segment however our actual readings were well off.

At around 20:30 we stopped for lights and a quick snack. I was still holding out hope of seeing a few familiar faces but realised that it was a big ask at such short notice. I then got a call from Amy and she was on the train on her way down. This changed everything. I was already feeling strong but now I felt invincible. She had put up with all my training for so long and the 5am alarm clock and it almost felt selfish that she was there for the end product.

Boxhill was a different animal at night as we now had to focus on the corners especially on the descents and it also seemed that a few of the cars were getting very close to us as we ascended. We had been lucky with the weather all day with only a light drizzle of rain for a short period and although the night had turned chilly it was refreshing and so quiet when there were no cars around.

Around the 60th rep we had a few guys join us for some laps. They had been at the local for a few pints and thought it would be a great idea to see how we were getting on. They were shocked at the pace we were managing and after 5 reps left us to finish up. It was a great little break and set us up well for the home stretch.

On rep 67 I had my first few yawns so got a caffeine gel in me and felt perked up right away. Roger on the other hand was feeling extremely sleepy and so we would stop every few reps for a break. I felt good and kept us moving although the fact that we had not yet decided how many reps to do really played on his mind and it must have felt like there was no end in sight.

I had read somewhere that Garmins cannot deal with a single activity over 20 hours as it causes them to malfunction and that’s exactly what happened to me on rep 70. I had to do a factory reset and unfortunately lost all my data for the day. We obviously had Rogers watch for a back up and it didn’t really affect me as it was only a file and I didn’t need proof or someone else’s approval  of what I had been doing all day.

As we climbed rep 71 we discussed how many more we should do. I was happy at 75 which would have been another hour or so but Roger and his dad weren’t too keen. So as we completed lap 72 I suggested one more just to be sure. This didn’t go down well but I wanted to be sure and 1 more wasn’t going to kill me. After a bit of persuasion and stubbornness on my part we descended for the final time and made Amy and Eric aware of what was happening.

At the bottom of the final climb we stopped briefly, congratulated each other and set off. Eric and Amy followed us to the top in the car and we crossed the finish line arms raised to complete silence at 03:25 on the 16th of August 2014 182 metres above sea level.

There wasn’t much said after this as everyone was so tired and after some brief congratulations I started getting my things together. Due to the impromptu organisation of my attempt I had not made arrangements for getting off the hill. Rogers’s dad’s car wasn’t big enough for four of us and two bikes so we called a taxi to take us to the nearest hotel. The taxi man found this pick up very strange but soon understood when I explained what we had been up to and so took us into Dorking at 4am to find a hotel.

Unfortunately a 4am hotel just wasn’t happening and so we negotiated with the taxi driver who agreed to take us back to Tottenham. Amy and I slept most of the way and had to give the driver directions through the city as he was a complete tourist and was impressed by being in Camden and passing White Hart Lane stadium.

Once home we collapsed into bed until about 11 until the hunger took over and I decided I was time to eat and soon had a man sized breakfast in front of me. I was keen to get out and see some people but the rest of the day was spent snoozing, stretching and eating to see if I could get some normality back. I was also waiting to hear back from Roger as he had the file for Strava. I was still not convinced that we had technically done it so when I got the call around 16:00 I was relieved. We needed to cover 8848 metres and actually ended up at 8...8...5...2 metres, just 4 metres above the requirement!! Roger was thankful I pushed for that final rep and I was also glad that we would make it onto the everesting list at numbers 150 and 151.

In the days after the event I felt fine however tiredness has caught up with me as the week has progressed and I have been glad of the extra hour or so of sleep in the morning.

I would just like to thank everyone for their support especially Amy for being there and also a wonderful club in TriLondon for all their encouraging words. Things could have worked out a lot different on many fronts but as usual they worked out in my favour.

Until the next climb,


Time: 22hrs 07mins         Distance: 340.7km           Elevation Gain: 8852m

Read about Ciaran's next 'Everest' here.

Ciaran's 'My Donate' Page


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