I’ve done plenty of hard things in my athletic career, from 12 hour skis, to 60km races, to 700km of bike riding in 4 days, to extremely painful interval sessions that make me want to vomit. None of those come close to this. I’ve been tired before, but nothing like this. I’ve collapsed to the ground at the end of something before, but nothing was as satisfying as this. Most importantly, this one I’ve done for a good cause, not just for myself, although as you may guess there is a certain amount of personal satisfaction that comes from this…
Neverest is an on-foot version of the cycling challenge ‘Everesting’, or climbing 9000 vertical metres in a day, by doing laps of a hill. Founded by Jackson Bursill last year to raise money for earthquake relief in Nepal, this was its second year, and it was held on Mt Ainslie in Canberra, and the Lyrebird Track in the Dandenong Ranges, near Melbourne. Once again funds raised are going to the Australian Himalayan Foundation to provide school scholarships to girls, disabled and ‘untouchable’ kids, i.e. those that otherwise wouldn’t get an education. These scholarships cost only $200 a year so money raised goes a long way. The program also has trained over 1000 teachers over the last 15 years, who can then go out and train other teachers, which improves the education of thousands of kids. Last year, after an initial target of $10000 was smashed ($41000 was raised) it was looking like a huge challenge to match it again this year, particularly because Nepal has receded from everyone’s consciousness, but has no less need of support now.
I’m thrilled to announce that at the time of writing, the campaign is at $39420, a whisker short of the $40000 goal for this year. Check out projectneverest.causevox.com/nick-montgomery to donate specifically to my page, or projectneverest.com. Cash donations in the next few days will still be doubled by Westpac, so if you can find me I’d love to take cash off you!
Cassie and I were running the Melbourne leg of the event, which consisted of 34 laps of the Lyrebird Track, which many may know as the one they walk down after walking up the 1000 Steps. Thanks to our local sponsors:
- The Bread Street bakery in Mont Albert, for the bread and other baked goodies
- The Wursthütte butcher in Glenferrie Road Malvern, for the delicious sausages that pulled us out of our hungriest moments
- Toscano’s in Hawksburn, for the bananas and oranges
- Melbourne University Athletics Club and
- Strathcona Girls Grammar School, for the tent, tables and other necessities.
After not sleeping more than a couple of hours due to nervousness, a hardy band of us turned up at 5am to set up the ‘base camp’ on the track, where people in relay teams would be hanging out, eating and sleeping through the extremely long day. Once 6am hit, I set off, as I had the furthest distance to walk of anyone. Others started soon after, including three teams of two who would be running a true consecutive relay, and a whole lot of others who decided to summit Mt Everest concurrently.
I did my first of what I thought would be 36 laps in the dark, as the sky slowly began to brighten. I set a solid pace, hoping that I’d be able to hold sub-30 minute laps, which would have me finish in 18 hours. Already there were a few others out on the track, and this trickle became a flood during the day, to the point where it became irritating, and then later in the day and into the night slowly reduced to no one. We also witnessed the full variety of people who use the tracks, from the gym junkies to the very fit to those who are still a fair way off fitness. They were wearing everything from high tech running gear to jeans and a shirt, but what stood out was the multitude of inane and ‘motivational’ slogans, which wore me down with their… uhh… Donald Trump-like level of cleverness.
At the end of each lap I would mark off my lap on our specially produced lap counter (thanks Jackson) or more likely would get someone else to do it for me, grab something to eat and a drink of water, then turn around straight away and head back up. It may have been an extremely long event but I did not want to stop if I didn’t absolutely have to, knowing that any time wasted now was time I would have to pay for in the middle of the night while still out on the trail.
To numb the repetitive nature of the task at hand, each lap I would think about how many vertical metres I’d done (265 per lap) and then think of something that height. For example, after one lap I’d done the International Poma at Falls Creek, after three laps the Burj Khalifa in Dubai (the world’s tallest building), after 6 laps the height of Falls Creek village, 8 laps the top of Karel’s T-bar at Thredbo, and 9 laps the top of Mt Kosciuszko. I then had to start moving around the world, mentally summiting the peaks of the European and New Zealand Alps. This brought me more or less to what I thought was half way, at 18 laps, shortly before 3pm. I was on track, but suddenly keeping under half an hour per lap was becoming a daunting task. I was still power up the hills at basically the same speed, but jogging most of the way down was no longer an option, and at various times my feet, calf muscles, hamstrings and quads started to tell me it was time to go home. I was starting to doubt my ability to finish this thing: I had been moving for almost 9 hours, walked 50km, climbed the equivalent of the Eureka tower 16 times, I had indigestion from eating on the go, and the thought of having to do the whole thing again gave me a huge fear of failure.
And then, a miracle! People started reporting that the vertical on the climb was more than we’d expected, thanks to some dodgy contours. What we’d previously estimated at 255m vertical on the map (although other maps showed 265 and 270m) was turning out to be more like 265 or 270m, which, dividing our target height of 9000m by this number, gave us only 34 laps to finish! Suddenly I was over half way, with *only* 16 laps to go, and it wouldn’t be too long before it’d be only 10. Combined with one of the donated sausages, I had a huge energy boost and recovered some of my mental spark.
It didn’t last more than about 2 laps; I was soon back to the exhausted state I’d been in before. The end was coming closer, but then I’d realise it would still take more than 7 hours more to finish, more than double what a normal ‘long’ training session is. The sun set, most of the teams had gone home, and soon it was just me, six girls doing the half distance, and a collection of parents and supporters. Our perfect cool sunny day had turned into a dark (duh!) and stormy night, with a few lightning strikes visible in the distance. The dread of not being able to finish because of exhaustion was now replaced by the dread of having to stop because of external factors. All I had to do was keep plodding, as each downhill got more and more painful.
To be honest I don’t really remember a whole lot of the last few hours, except that I decided I couldn’t bear the thought of any more sugar (which I normally don’t eat), everything hurt, and that at some point the girls all finished their relays and went home, which I completely understand because it was after midnight. Extra kudos to Xanth and Ellie who, after finishing at the top and then driving down, called in one last time to see me at bottom of the last climb.
The last four or five laps was the hardest thing mentally I’d ever done, and with accumulated vertical of 8000m, I gained some appreciation of the term ‘Death Zone’, which describes the dangerous upper reaches of Everest above 8000m elevation. Sure the air wasn’t thin, but I was approaching the 100km mark, which was already more than twice as long as I’d ever walked or run (45km in 2011 or a marathon in 2013), and about three times the vertical.
At the top of the second last lap I saw blue and red flashing lights, and thought ‘oh god the cop’s going to pull me out’. As I approached the top, where my mum was waiting for me with a drink of water, I considered turning off my headtorch so I could avoid the policeman and hide in the dark, so desperate was I not to fail to finish. It wasn’t necessary; he was just a little concerned why there was a woman going for a hike at 12:15am.
The last lap was easier than the second last: spurred on by the girls at the bottom I actually set a fairly good pace and made it up in 20 minutes, which compares to about 15 minutes on my faster laps. Rounding the last corner before the top (where I would finish) I even broke into a celebratory run, although in reality it probably wasn’t much faster than a normal walking pace. I finished, but instead of crying out in celebration I just lay down on my front on the cold gravel, and stayed there. I was too exhausted to do anything. At 12:46am, after 18:46 minutes of which 17:42 actually moving, over 9000 metres vertical, 34 laps and 103km, it was over.
I was pretty much useless for the next two days, rarely leaving the couch and sleeping at random intervals. My form of mobility was shuffling rather than walking, every single muscle in my body hurt, and I just felt a deep exhaustion. I had pushed my body very much to the limit in a way I’d never done before. It took me a full four days before I could even contemplate exercise again, and a couple of days of hobbling around uni and trying not to fall asleep in class.
I still can’t quite fathom just how long it was, or just how much climbing I did. Even half the distance is a huge amount even by my standard (congrats Melbourne girls who did it), so it’s almost like I have to pinch myself to realise I’ve done it. Kudos to Jackson Bursill (who completed it for a second time), Chris Wilder, and Thomas Banks (the latter of whom finished his 53rd lap of Mt Ainslie at 8am the next morning)! Also there were two who Everested on bikes at Mt Ainslie: William Barker and Sebastian Wende, plus Mark Pollock fell agonisingly short doing it on foot.
Thanks to everyone who donated to my page or to Neverest in general; I was blown away by your generosity, although I won’t name you here! Also a huge thanks to everyone who volunteered on the day, particularly my parents, and even more particularly my dad, who was there from 5am until 1am the next day, and then cooked me scrambled eggs at 2:15am before I crawled into bed!
It’s still not too late to donate, the link is projectneverest.causevox.com/nick-montgomery and the Facebook page is fb.me/projectneverest. To view the files check out https://www.strava.com/activities/561080339 or https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1152925350.