After successfully Everesting in January of 2018, TrainerRoad athlete JJ Zhou decided to take on a new Everesting challenge —Everesting on Mount Everest. On this week’s successful athletes podcast, JJ goes over his preparation for his Mt. Everest ride and what he did to adjust his pacing, training, and planning for a high altitude goal.
For JJ’s full interview check out Successful Athletes Podcast Ep. 6.
What is Everesting?
To Everest, a cyclist must ascend 29,092 feet in a single ride – the elevation of Mount Everest’s summit. There are a number of ways this challenge can be complete. Generally, a cyclist will repeat the same section of a climb until they’ve accumulated 29,092 feet in elevation gain.
Cyclist JJ Zhou first completed this challenge in January of 2018 in Nanjing China, a city that sits just 50 ft above sea level. The ride took 15 hours and 59 minutes to complete, and to this day, he holds the fastest Everesting time in China. After his successful first attempt at Everest, he took on this challenge again —this time at 16,500 feet above sea level. Taking the Everesting challenge onto the side of Mount Everest proved to be a whole new level of difficulty. But with adjustments to his pacing, his preparation, and his nutrition JJ was able to successfully climb all 29,000 feet above 16,000 feet in 27 hours.
The Road to Everest
So how does someone find themselves in Tibet on the road to Everest Base Camp repeating a 1 km segment of road 177 times? For JJ, the road to Everest began on the water. In college, he was a walk-on rower at his university’s rowing team. As a collegiate athlete, JJ would frequently train fifteen to twenty hours each week. This high volume of training laid the foundation for the many hours he would come to spend on his bike. After graduating from college and making the switch from a competitive rower to a rowing coach, JJ steadily became more and more interested in cycling. In 2017 he got serious about setting some cycling-specific goals, signed up for TrainerRoad, and put his first Everesting goal on the Calendar.
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Everesting at Low Elevation (492 Feet)
In August of 2017, JJ got started with the High Volume Sweet Spot Base Plan then followed it up with the Mid Volume Sustained Power Build Plan. While he didn’t have enough time to complete an entire training progression before Everesting in January, JJ was equipped to take on the ride with the best possible training for the time that he had.
Key Takeaway: If you don’t have enough time to complete an entire training progression before an important event, you can use Plan Builder to build a custom training plan that a plan for the allocated time that you have.
For his first attempt at Everesting, JJ chose a climb with 100 meters of elevation gain (382 ft) in a single kilometer. The steep grade of this climb offered the type of quick and consistent elevation gain JJ needed to accumulate lots of elevation without unnecessary pedaling. During this low elevation, attempt JJ’s goal was to maintain a consistent 0.7 Intensity Factor throughout the effort. Including a break to stretch and recuperate, the entire effort took 15 hours and 59 minutes.
Everesting at High Altitude (16,500 feet)
Everything becomes more challenging at altitude. From processing fuel to taking in oxygen, our bodies are less efficient at higher elevations. This can make racing or completing a hard effort at altitude a daunting task. JJ took these additional challenges into account by making adjustments to his pacing plan, making sure his nutrition was dialed, and keeping his set up organized. Here are the changes JJ made for his high altitude Everesting.
Building a Pacing Plan
The higher the elevation, the relatively lower your FTP is, and the more difficult it is to maintain higher Intensity Factors. When JJ completed the attempt at sea level, his FTP was about 325. By the time he was ready for the Everesting attempt at Base Camp, his FTP was 335. But up in the Tibbetten mountains, JJ calculated that his FTP was approximately 240 watts. Further, he and his team estimated that this particular attempt could be somewhere around 27 hours to complete. With this information in mind, JJ settled on an Intensity Factor of 0.5 to pace his way up Mt. Everest.
Key Takeaways: If you’re completing an event at a significantly higher elevation than the elevation where you train, there could be a discrepancy between your power outputs at altitude and your power outputs at sea level. Try taking elevation into account when you build a power-based pacing plan.
Building a Nutrition Plan
JJ’s 27-hour ride was powered by bananas, rice, beans, porridge, and some noodles. JJ knew beforehand that these foods agreed with his stomach and wouldn’t create any distress to his stomach. Every few laps, he would take in a banana or an alternative. Because the effort was so long, getting solid food in his stomach also helped him keep full for such a long duration. JJ also ate while he was riding uphill instead of stopping to save time, and prevent himself from getting too cold or cooling down. He would eat on the climb, and let it settle in on the descent.
Key Takeaway: Experiment with different types of fuel during training sessions. That way, you can know what does and doesn’t agree with your stomach before race day. If you do have time to acclimate before your event, try testing your favorite fuels during a training ride at elevation to make sure your favorite snacks still agree with your stomach.
On this trip, most of JJ’s comrades had jobs and commitments outside of cycling that made it challenging to spend the two to three weeks at elevation necessary to acclimate fully. The team was only able to spend a week at altitude before the event, but in this case, it was best to take the time they could and roll with it. JJ was able to do a couple of rides at high elevation beforehand and spent a week getting used to the feeling of high altitude. While it may not have offered a physical advantage, spending some time at elevation did give the athletes time to prepare for the elevation mentally.
Key Takeaway: Sometimes, a busy schedule paired with outside responsibilities makes it difficult to spend time at high altitudes before an event. This is okay, though! If it offers you a mental advantage, take as much time as you can at high altitude before your event. If that’s a week or even a few days, riding a few times at elevation and knowing how it feels can be helpful.
You probably won’t find yourself doing many hard efforts at 16,500 feet. But if you’re wondering whether or not you can take on that event above sea level, you can! Racing at high altitudes is both mentally and physically challenging, but with the right mindset and appropriate preparation, anything is possible.
For more cycling training knowledge, listen to Ask a Cycling Coach — the only podcast dedicated to making you a faster cyclist. New episodes are released weekly.
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