I hate hills. That’s the whole and simple truth. There’s nothing to it, no “unless’s” or “but’s.” I hate hills. I can’t deal with them, I’m slower than a snail while on them, and can’t catch enough breath. And so, when I saw that virtual race called Limitless Vertical Challenge, I did what any other normal person would do. I stayed as far away from it as possible. Actually, no, I did the exact opposite – and that’s why I can now tell you about the hardest week in my running “career” so far.
Limitless Vertical Challenge was put on by Aravaipa Running, and filled perfectly the void created by all the cancelled races. The rules were simple; run as much elevation as you can in 7 days.
There were 6 levels, starting at The Empire State Building at 1,250 feet, and ending at Double Everest at 58,058 feet. I was shooting for Mount Everest, or 29,029 feet of elevation gain in one week. I’ve never done that in a month, even though I live in a quite hilly area, and after doing some math that included the steepest hill I could find, I knew I’d have to run more miles during the race week than I’ve ever run before in a single week in order to get the elevation.
For some absolutely stupid reason, I didn’t run at all on the first day. I think I reasoned that Mondays are my recovery days, but I haven’t done that many miles the week before, so I don’t know why I thought it was necessary to take a rest day.
Anyway! I kicked it off on Tuesday after work, at 10 at night, running on repeats the street where our house is – it’s a quite nice hill, even though it’s not the steepest one. At 1.30 in the morning, I called it quits. I had some 12 miles and 2,975 feet of elevation under my belt, completing the first two levels.
During the run, sometime around midnight when I was starting to get a little tired, I tripped over a root-raised pavement and literally flew out of my shoe. Great. Road rash on the very first day of running this race. What a pleasure!
On Wednesday, again, after I was done with work, I headed to the hills. This time I came to Alta Mesa, which is the steepest hill I could find in our town. I asked my friend if he’d like to come join me for one climb. When he realized I was doing this hell of a hill on repeats, he genuienly thought I’d lost my marbles. I don’t blame him, by my third way up, I thought the same. 10 repeats gave me 3,041 feet of elevation gain in some 7 miles.
On Thursday, I didn’t want to get out of bed, much less do anything else, much less go running after work again. So, at 8 in the evening, I ended up on a treadmill, stomping away on the most incline that thing could give me. It was less steep than Alta Mesa, which was a welcome change. I hate treadmills, but I didn’t waste miles on going downhill, which was the bright side. That short session gave me 1,641 feet of elevation gain in 2.5 miles.
On Friday, I ended up back on the treadmill, starting at half past 10 at night. 1,597 feet of elevation gain later, I was asked to get off since aparently that thing is so loud that people could hear it upstairs and couldn’t sleep. Mind you, the treadmill is in a dungeon under the house.
On Saturday, I knew I needed to spit out a lot of elevation gain to be able to finish. Again, after work, at 6 pm, I got on that monster of a machine as to not waste miles on going downhill. After 2 hours of that, I had a huge dinner, and at 10 pm, headed to Alta Mesa to finish the climbing off there, since the treadmill would be keeping everyone up again – and at this point, my mind was starting to go to ugly places in the dungeon. Combined, I did 6,103 feet of elevation gain in a bit over 11 miles.
At this point, I had some 15,000 feet of elevation gain climbed. I’ve reached level 4 called “California Dreamin'” – I’ve climbed Mt Whitney fron sea level. Well, that’s something I guess. I crawled into my bed and slept like the dead; after 4 days of working and climbing, not even sore legs could keep me up.
On Sunday, I woke up with one of those headaches. I think I’ve lost the will to live at that point, but the kids had a birthday celebration which I still had to bake a cake for and staying in bed all day long wasn’t an option anyway. I calculated how many more miles/hours I would have to spend on the treadmill if I wanted to finish off Mt Everest. It’s not like I believed I could do it, it was more of a morbid curiosity.
The calculator spat out this wonderful number: 8 hours on treadmill if you want to reach Mt Everest. I told myself, hey, you climbed Mt Whitney. That’s good enough, man. In fact, that’s awesome. You’ve never climbed that much within a month, let alone 4 days! You can just stop here, you know, and it’s all good.
Then I got out of the bed, threw some breakfast in me, and got back on the treadmill. I don’t think I thought I could do it – it was, again, this morbid curiosity, the need to see how far (or high) I could go. And, also, possibly my strong-headedness. I can’t call it a resolve. This was beyond reason. One hour and 2,484 feet of climbing later, I got off, turned myself into a human being, treated all the horribly chafed areas on my body, and got down to making the kids’ birthday cake.
Lunch, celebration, and back to the treadmill. At this point, I don’t think I was thinking clearly. This treadmill session was the worst one ever. Total mindfuck. No way around it. After 4 hours on this torture machine, I had 14 miles and 8,870 feet of climbing in my legs. I couldn’t think and even if i wanted to, I couldn’t even cry. I was dead in my mind, and my body was quickly following suit. My skin was so raw it was bleeding in places where the chafing got out of control. My feet were blistered from heels to toes. Let me repeat this one last time: I hate treadmills. It was just after 6 and I wolfed down some dinner which I don’t even know how tasted.
And at 8, I headed out to Alta Mesa. You’re fucking insane. I know. My friend, the one who told me this at the beginning of the week, came out and brought me duct tape for my feet, then went the first repeat of the hill with me before wishing me good luck and heading back home. 8 repeats, 2 hours, 6 miles, and 2,400 feet of elevation gain later, I slumped down against my car.
I was drained. Completely. If you’ve been wondering if climbing 14,000 feet on one day is a good idea, the answer is “NO.”
I just finished climbing the equivalent of Mt Everest. It took me 60 miles and 17 hours, 14 minutes over the span of 5 days.
I was sitting next to the car, sipping on some electrolyte drink I couldn’t even taste anymore. This took more than I thought I had, I thought. And then I realized that can mean only one thing; I had more than I thought.
There was no finish line, no music, no people laughing and congratulating me. It was dark and quiet, and all the people that were nearby were in their houses, watching TV or sleeping. Not a single one had any idea what was going on outside their walls.
It was a different kind of achievment. Forget the medal. This was about something else.
I spent the next day icing every joint in my legs, thankful work was easy that day. The kids brought me teddy bears and water while I was laying on the floor, legs up on a couch, with a headache in one hand and feverish chills in the other. No, I wasn’t sick, just exhausted I guess.
My friend KK was the first one to see the insanity and be as encouraging and enthusiastic as ever with her comments. I still didn’t have the power to be actually excited about it, so I was glad she did the celebrating part for me.
That week overall was a Type 2 fun thing – even though, to be completely honest, the 5 hours of treadmill on Saturday still fall into the Type 3 fun category – not fun while getting through it, and not fun afterwards, either. Maybe I just need more time to get over the complete horror of that.
My other races: