- Kerry Sutton
The Ups and Downs of Running up Everest (virtually) ~ Clare Coverdale
The saying, that good things can come from bad situations has never been truer this last year. From people rallying together to sew scrubs, and volunteering to help deliver people’s shopping, to restaurants making free meals for NHS staff and communities coming together to help each other, it’s been hugely heartwarming to see and hear so many true acts of kindness and selflessness. At the same time though, you feel guilty if you’re not stepping up and doing those things. At the beginning of lockdown #1 I was redeployed to work in the new Compassionate Community Hub in the Food Team which involved helping people to access emergency food parcels, or their nearest food pantry or maybe organising meals on wheels for elderly callers. So although I was doing my bit, when I wasn’t working, it was a case of surviving the stresses of home schooling and single parenting and when I had time off from that, all I wanted to do was decompress or later in lockdown, spend time with my new boyfriend ( another wonderful thing to be borne out of this pandemic!). So when it came round to Lockdown #3, and after a week spent mostly sat on the sofa glued to my phone in a state of apathetic induced paralysis, I made a conscious decision, that I needed to do something positive and that I could be proud of when Corona has finally been knocked on the head. It also needed to be something physical and be long enough to last the duration of lockdown and beat the Corona blues! And so, the idea of virtually running up Everest, an elevation of 29,032ft was spawned! I remembered hearing about someone doing it on the radio a few weeks before so I quickly did the maths and worked out that if I ran up some hills every day for 6 weeks, I could probably make it work too. The key was not thinking about it too much and just using that excitement and initial motivation to set myself the challenge and also set up a just giving page on the same day to make myself accountable – backing out now was not an option! This is how I’ve ended up doing most of my challenges by being spontaneous and just booking a place on a race and not giving myself time to think of all the reasons/excuses NOT to do it, because I know that once I’ve committed to something, I won’t give up until I’ve completed it. What appealed to me about this challenge was that it was going to get me out of the house, whatever the weather, but meant I wouldn’t have to be gone for more than an hour or so with the boys (age 10 and 13) at home alone. Having done hill training with Kerry on her Tough it Out Tuesday sessions I knew it was a great way to increase strength and fitness, but due to working on Tuesdays for the last 18 months it had been hard to motivate myself to get out and run by myself, let alone do a load of hill reps! I was managing to get out once or maybe twice a week for short 20-40 minute runs, so I knew it was going to be tough making the gear shift to running every day as well as the additional challenge of running mostly hills, but now I had that added motivation of having to reach a goal and that I would be raising some money for charity, that gave me the confidence I needed to believe that I could do this!
So on the 11th Jan, I initially set out to try and complete the challenge in 6 weeks which would have meant averaging 4838ft a week, but I quickly realised after 7 days straight of hill running, that would mean no rest days at all, which was probably not realistic or sustainable. So I increased the challenge by a week to make it 7 weeks long and that would allow me to take one or at a push, two rest days a week if I needed to. To track my progress and to record each days stats, I set up a nerdy spreadsheet which was another huge motivator as I could see how each run I did was getting me closer to my next milestone. The first milestone on my Everest journey was Lukla which sits at 9200ft and is where you’d fly to if you were actually making a real attempt to climb Everest. However, to run from sea level to here, took me 17 days with two day off. There are hills of every length and gradient in Bath to choose from, so really it’s a city made for this kind of challenge. To keep things as interesting as possible, each day I’d try and choose a different set of hills, and sometimes do a few long hills or choose a short sharp one and do hill repeats. Even on my doorstep I had the Poets Corner hill challenge which is a set of 8 parallel hills. Prior to this challenge, I wouldn’t have dreamt of running up and down all of them one after each other, but after the first time and realising it wasn’t as gruelling as I thought (only takes 34 mins) I ended up doing it about once a week – and enjoying it! Many people shy away from running hills as clearly, they’re harder work than running on the flat, but the way I tried to look at it, was the harder you have to work, the bigger rewards you’ll reap in terms of fitness. However, I certainly didn’t start to feel those benefits for quite a few weeks it has to be said. In fact, even after the first week, I was having quite a few niggles and sore points especially in my ankles and knees from the repetitive impacts of running downhill after each uphill climb. I would often have to stop midway down a big hill and rotate my ankles to stretch them out, but thankfully it never got to the point where I felt I couldn’t run, but having those rest days were essential to give my joints a break.
Most days I would just do a half hour hill session and then twice a week do some longer ones for about an hour or so. I was extremely grateful to have my partner George join alongside me on his bike on these longer ones and it made a massive difference having someone working just as hard next to me and to celebrate with at the top of some of those loooooong hills. The greatest elevation gain I racked up in one session was 1331ft by tackling North Road, Claverton Hill and Bathwick Hill back to back on Day 7! Saying this out loud, I can’t even believe I was bonkers enough do that, but more often than not I would set myself a more achievable goal and then found once I was in the groove of running, and had the endorphins flowing, I was able to squeeze in one or 2 more hills that I hadn’t set out to do. That’s the funny thing about running (or any form of exercise actually), is that you rarely feel like going out and busting a gut, and it’s only once you’ve got past that first 10 minutes or so of your muscles and lungs waking up, that you start to enjoy it.
How I motivated myself to get out each day is an interesting question as during the 7 week challenge there was rarely a time, where I would look forward to my hill session, almost the opposite if I’m honest. I would very often be quite reluctant and need to give myself a stern talking to, to get my running gear on. The weather was a big factor in this as January and February were pretty vile as you’d expect in winter! And when you’ve got to run every day, there’s no avoiding whatever weather is out there. I ran in subzero temperatures, pouring rain, howling wind, hail, sleet and snow over those 49 days. However, the great thing about running, and especially with the added hill factor is that you quickly warm up, so actually for me, the biggest hurdle was getting undressed and into my running gear and stepping out the front door. I made sure I wore a warm headband to keep my ears warm, a double layer of leggings a wind proof top and gloves and that all really helped me to face whatever weather was out there – even Storm Cristoph! And I always told myself that something was better than nothing, so even if I could go and do 10 minutes of hills I’d still be heading in the right direction and it would be 10 minutes less I’d have to do the next day. And actually once I’d done 10 minutes, I’d say to myself, ‘well I’m out now, I might as well just do another 10 minutes, to make getting all geared up, worth it! ‘ And when the going got tough, I would reach for my little packet of pick me ups, aka Refreshers! I don’t think I’d had a Refresher since I was a kid but one day I was out running and just had a massive craving for some and as if by magic, the next day, George appeared with 5 packets (courtesy of Amazon of course!). In terms of what else I was eating and drinking to fuel myself, I would just make sure I was well hydrated before a big run and had eaten some carbohydrate throughout the day. I’m always really hungry after a big run so I just take that as a sign that I need to compensate for the calories I’ve burned and eat a slightly bigger portion or have an extra snack before a meal. Over the 7 weeks, I didn’t lose or gain any weight, so I guess that was a good sign that my calories in were balancing my calories out.
As I said earlier, having the different milestones to aim for and following a map of the actual route that climbers take to reach the top of Everest was really motivating. Apart from the half way point, the next major milestone was Everest Basecamp at 17500, which I achieved on day 31 by running from lower Weston up the side of Victoria Park, and the approach golf course and up Lansdown Road all the way to Beckford’s Tower. One day I hope to trek to the real Everest Basecamp but I still felt a huge sense of achievement having got that far along in my challenge and by that point, there was no way I was giving up.
In an attempt to somehow recreate the steepness of the next section of Everest I decided to mainly do step repeats over the final 10 days which would take me up and over Camp 1, 2, 3, and the infamous South Col. Where more perfect to do this than up the Alexandra Park and Beechen Cliff steps! As some of you will know they are SOME steps. They’re big and there are lots of them! Fantastic for racking up quick elevation though and by this point I was really starting to feel my fitness improving.
The final summit day couldn’t have been more glorious weather wise with wall to wall blue sky and light winds. I choose to finish the challenge on top of Little Solsbury Hill, but I still needed a few hundred extra feet to reach the total so before that I ran up the nearby Bannerdown. That is one long hill, but my god the views are worth it! So it was then straight on to Solsbury Lane and my final hill! Reaching the top of my virtual Everest was a fantastic moment I have to say and I admit to feeling rather proud of myself. I’d run 175 miles in order to achieve 5.5 vertical miles, and had spent 32 hours running up and down hills and raised over a £1000 in the process. You deserve a bloody medal I hear you say. Well lucky for me, the lovely wonderful George had pre-empted that and presented me with a fabulous gold medal at the top with my name engraved and everything. The truth is he deserves one too for cycling up so many of the hills with me as honestly I don’t think I could have stuck with it without his incredible support. Thank you George! And thank you to everyone to sent messages of support on facebook, came for a run with me and to Kerry who started me off on my first hill 3 and a half years ago.
I can well and truly say I no longer have a fear of hills.