A great read indeed...
By Ciaran O'Hara,
Everesting Leith Hill
So even before I had even completed everesting Boxhill I always knew I would maintain my original date of September 6th and stamp my name on another climb. Boxhill was such an enjoyable day however it did not satisfy my hunger for pain and suffering. I wanted to set a personal benchmark, I wanted to know how far I could push myself and so I set out once again in search of this on Leith Hill in Surrey.
My body felt absolutely fine the week post Boxhill and was helped by a lot of stretching and a visit to my physio. I rode a hard 290km out and back over the Saturday and Sunday of the following weekend and then on Tuesday it all caught up with me and I had 3 nights on the trot with 12 hours of sleep. Unfortunately my grandmother passed away the following Sunday and so I was back in Ireland first thing on Monday morning.
Very selfishly, one of my first thoughts was that I wouldn’t be able to go for the hill on Saturday however I spent Monday morning alone in my parents’ home back in Greysteel thinking and eventually coming to the conclusion that I could have no greater motivation and that I would do it in her memory. My grandmother was cared for by the Foyle Hospice, the charity I am raising funds for, back in the early 2000’s and I always remember going to a lovely Sunday morning mass there to visit her with a lot of my family.
So having decided to carry on with my challenge I spent the next two days at my grandmother’s house catching up with the rest of my family and trying to avoid the unlimited supply of tea and buns that are a necessity of an Irish wake. I said my final goodbye to my grandmother on Wednesday morning, spent the final few hours with my family and arrived back in London at 2am on Thursday night.
On Thursday morning two of my club mates, Alan Bruce and Roz McGinty, started getting the word out that I was going everesting again and organised support crew for various stages of the day. As usual the response was epic and I got my buzz back, the tingle down the back of my legs and the itch that I had felt a few days before my impromptu everesting of Boxhill, I felt ready once again. I had learn’t my lesson from the last time and decided not to announce my hill until the last minute. I spent Thursday night prepping food and organising my equipment and put the finishing touches together on Friday evening before heading off to bed at 2100.
At around 1030 I was met by Olivier Tourre coming down the hill, another Tri Londoner willing to offer his support. This gave me a little boost and I blasted off 4 more reps which took me to 3400m and my first substantial break.
It took me quite a while to get over as it was a stuffy night and I only really got 5 hours of sleep before getting up at 0300, getting some breakfast, packing the final things in the car and we were on the road for 0345. My girlfriend Amy was kind enough to drive me to the hill which was 90 minutes away however I was very edgy and full of nervous energy and did not make a good passenger. I arrived at the hill at 0530 to the sight of three club mates (Adrian O’Sullivan, Ryan Forde, Mauricio Saldias) and Adrian’s friend Mark waiting for me. I couldn’t believe that people would cycle 80km’s through the night just to watch me climb a hill, it really fired me up.
After some photos I set off for my first climb at a pace that felt too fast right away. As I climbed I started to get worried. I worried because I had never actually been on this hill before and didn’t realise how steep some sections were. I had tried a reconnaissance ride in previous weeks but due to a mechanical and just not having the time I never got around to it. I had used Strava and Google maps to assess the climb and the gradient had looked ok with the added bonus of having an area at the top and bottom for supporters and cars.
I completed my first climb in 7:25 and the descent took me around 90 seconds. It was a decent road, a little heavy in patches with a few gentle corners on the descent that I would be able to handle at full speed. The first hour went by very quickly and it took me until the 7th rep to settle into a nice rhythm and calm my body down. I had used my heart rate as a guide on Boxhill however here it spiked and dropped so much with the out of the seat climbs that I just had to go at a pace that felt right and see how things panned out.
The morning ticked by and I was consistently hitting 10 minutes per rep and climbing 700m metres per hour. I had set a target of 600m per hour so I was a little worried I was going too quickly however my rhythm was good so I ploughed on. Amy, Adrian, Ryan and Mark had left by 0830 and I was awfully thankful that a very tired Mauricio continued to be my lone supporter as he alternated between cheering me on, having a snooze and popping up at various sections along the climb taking photos.
I never aimed to keep my breaks short and decided to just take what I needed however I did have a bit of a schedule in place. First of all I got some warm clothes on, rested my bike against a tree, lay on my back and raised my legs onto the top tube. This got the legs loosened out and ‘clean’ and was followed by ten minutes of stretching before I got down to the important part, the eating. I had prepared some tasty chicken pasta and also two pizzas, a ham & pineapple along with a tuna & banana. I had also baked some banana bread and brought along a camping stove and kettle so that my supporters were as well looked after as I was with tea, coffee and cake. My pizza and pasta went down a treat with some coconut water and coke and after a change of socks and shorts I was ready to go again.
My next target was the half way point and the arrival of Roz, Kevin Linehan and David Glover. They came down the hill at around 1300 and were greeted by a huge hello and a smiling Irishman. I stopped to chat for a few minutes at the bottom and was very glad they were there for me and also to keep Mauricio company. Shortly after their arrival I ticked over the half way point and decided to reset my garmin and save the first section of my ride to avoid the glitch I had experienced at Boxhill
when it simply stopped working on rep 70 and I lost everything. I had now completed 38 reps and was averaging 118 metres gain per rep which was 5 metres more than I had expected. Again I was leaving nothing to chance here and was aiming to complete over 9000 metres to be sure and avoid a repeat of Boxhill were we ended up being only 4 metres above the magic 8848. This time I wanted to be standing on a 100 storey tower at the top of Everest, not a step ladder.
So I continued. I gave my dad a call and told him I was past the half way point and feeling good, again a great pick up just hearing his voice. Amy was on her way back down and became my next target. I also decided to tell any riders that I met on the hill what I was doing as their reaction of disbelief gave me a surge and some extra kick. By this stage I had ridden all but 9 reps solo (5 with Adrian, 2 with Ryan, 2 with Olivier) and I was happy with this as it added to the challenge and continued to test my mental resolve. I also felt very emotional around this time as I thought about my grandmother and had to keep reminding myself to stay focused and keep moving before I welled up.
Roz, Kevin and David left just before Amy arrived back at 1530 and she immediately took a very tired Mauricio to the nearest train station. I gave him a very sincere man hug and even included some beard action to show him how appreciative I was of his support. I was just starting rep 50 as they left and decided my next substantial break would be at rep 55 and 70% complete. Amy arrived back bang on time as I completed rep 54 and I completed one more climb and descent as she prepared my food.
My break was as routine as the first and included a phone call to my mum and also to the night crew of Alan Bruce and Chris Baylis to warn them I may be finished sooner than expected. I changed back into some fresh socks and my morning shorts that were now dry and set off again as Amy got her bike ready to join me on the next rep for a while. We had a very enjoyable three reps together with Amy questioning how I could do so many before she decided to retire for some pizza.
Shortly after 1900 the night crew arrived with their supplies and I could tell they were definitely fairly ‘jolly’ already. They settled in with Amy before they all joined me for the next climb and soon decided one was enough and that beer was more important. Chris did join me for one more ascent however did not come back down on his bike. As we came to the first corner on the descent I heard two huge bangs and looked back to see Chris sitting on the road with no bike in sight. I dropped Sally and ran bike up shouting if he was ok. He said he was fine although I was still a little worried as the pain of an injury can hide behind a sudden rush of adrenaline.
It turned out his front and rear wheel had exploded with the rear also disengaging from the dropouts and rolling past him as the bike skidded into the undergrowth. He had also skimmed the side of a car that happened to be coming around the corner at that time so he was very lucky and thankfully the car driver was more concerned about Chris than his car. We spent 15 minutes looking for the wheel before I realised I needed to keep moving so told Chris I would send Amy and Alan back up.
I completed 2 more reps by the time they had found the wheel and only had 5 to go when we all regrouped at the bottom. I was very quiet for the next few laps as my supporters sat in the shadows at the bottom of each turn around. Each lap Amy would ask me if I was ok but never got much of a reply. My nutrition had been good with a mix of flapjacks, Pulsin protein bars and sweet fruit supplemented by water, hydration tablets and a carbohydrate drink so I felt fine. I was where I wanted to be, completely zoned out and focused on completing and enjoying the final few reps.
As I completed the 77th rep I informed the guys (and girl) I was doing one more. 78 had been my target from the start even though I knew it would take me well over the required elevation, I just wanted to be sure. So on lap 78 I went for it, took a sip of Alans beer, dropped the gears and smashed my way to the top in 6:07, my fastest rep of the day by almost 90 seconds. I took a minute to myself at the top to let things sink in and savour the moment before descending the dark windy road at full pace for my final lap with Amy.
We cruised to the top together and I was so grateful she was there to complete with me and actually enjoy the finish especially after the anticlimactic ending at Boxhill. After a few photos at the top we glided back down the hill to be welcomed by Alan and Chris who were standing with a big bunch of flowers. They had decided on the traditional race finish with a presentation and a double kiss on the cheek would be appropriate. I’ve never heard Contador complain about stubble rash from the podium girls so I guess I just got unlucky.
I got some warm clothes on before being presented with a ‘King of the Mountain’ coconut and lime cake Amy had baked that morning and I was soon tucking into this with a can of Cidona. We mulled around for a bit before packing the car up which was now a mission with 4 people, 4 bikes and all my gear but we got there and left O’Haras Hill shortly after 2300.
We arrived back in North London around 0130 on Sunday morning after dropping the boys off and had the arduous job of unpacking the car and dumping all the kit in the living room before heading straight to bed. I have felt fine ever since apart from the outside of my right knee being slightly tender and also being absolutely hyper on Sunday and clearing up most of the house.
Leith Hill was a different animal compared to Box and in the weeks leading up to it I did have some slight doubts as I hadn’t been riding much and felt sluggish. Coupled with the events in the days leading up to the climb I can honestly say I am satisfied with the outcome and that I have started to realise that maybe I am a decent cyclist and that I will move on to bigger and better challenges.
I will however always look back on the day I spent on that hill and think about the people that gave up their time just to watch me go up and down and will smile and remind myself I will always be in their debt.
I have no doubts I will climb again and the next one will be very special.