There are two questions I am frequently asked when the topic of the upcoming Everest climb arises. The first is "What are you doing for training?" The second is "What will you do after climbing Everest?"
In a very real sense I have spent the last six years training for Everest. In the course of my other major climbs I have worked hard to improve my fitness, skills and knowledge of mountaineering. This is a given. So I believe the question is really asking "What are you doing for training that is different for Everest?"
I had a stress EKG performed. My Physician thought this was a waste of time/money and I rather suspected he was correct. "You would know by now if something was wrong," he commented, alluding to my prior climbs. But close family members are understandably concerned about this climb and I thought this might offer them some comfort. After all, I turned 50 last year and heart disease runs on both sides of my family. The attending Physician said they needed to get my heart rate up to 170 beats per minute. I cruised along on his treadmill, electrode wires flapping away, but my heart rate barely budged. We got there eventually though, with me running full out on a 25 degree incline.
Everything checked out fine.
I also had a full workup done on my blood. This revealed an unacceptable colesterol level. The nurse called to report this finding me. "We recommend you go on a statin and begin a regular exercise routine," she counseled. I reminded her that I am already training to climb Mt Everest and asked if she thought I could actually get more exercise than that. She agreed, explaining this was the standard recommendation. In the end I passed on the Statin, feeling it makes more sense to listen to the message my body is sending me and make some dietary changes. Subsequent tests have shown solid progress.
I hired a Trainer to completely redesign my workouts. Mike Locke at the Bellingham Athletic Club has, for many years, prepared Olympians, Professional Athletes, College and everyday folk for performing at high levels. He designed the workouts I used to prepare for Denali six years ago, putting me in the best condition of my life. We met at his office and discussed in detail the various physical requirements for the Everest climb; a great big stamina gas tank, solid core strength, mental strength, but only moderate load packing muscle groups. It would be just as important to not build muscle that was not necessary for the climb. Such muscle would constitute additional weight and demands for oxygenation. Mike borrowed from the training used by First Responders and Navy Seals. The result is a series of three distinctly different workouts that rotate Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Each relies on timed intervals with very limited recovery time between sets. Every time I start to feel capable of getting through a workout we increase the repetitions, the weights, or both. "I want you to spend enough time at that pushed-to-the-limit level that you will feel familiar and confident when it happens on the climb. That's a big part of the mental toughness," Mike explains, standing over me in a pool of sweat.
Each of Mike's workouts is finished with 30 minutes of cardio work. Some days I do 500 meter sprints on the rowing machine. Other days I put on a twenty pound lead-lined vest and grind out time on the inclined treadmill. When I start to feel run down I think about Everest. Always Everest. It inspires me, haunts me, taps its watch patiently.
Tuesdays are pure cardio. Again I put on the lead vest and aim for 160 beats per minute for an hour and twenty on the inclined treadmill or step mill. Thursdays are a rest day. Sweet sweet Thursdays! On Saturdays Lin and I hike the Pine and Cedar Lakes Trail near our home. This is a 1,800 feet elevation gain in 50 minutes. I wear a pair of climbing boots I am breaking in, and a pack with 40 pounds of water in it. It feels great to be outdoors, even when the cold rain is pouring down on us. I like to eat sunflower seeds on the way down. We talk about time.
Most Sundays Lin and I do a six mile walk that runs the shoreline of Bellingham Bay and up Taylor street, then back. A central component of this workout is the hot coffee drink we treat ourselves to at Woods Coffee. Fitness first! In a few weeks I will add morning workouts as I look to peak my training by mid March, then start to taper down through the last few weeks before leaving.
"What will you do after climbing Everest?" Such a nice problem to have! The thing I like best about this question is that it assumes I will summit Everest. The thing I like least about this question is that it assumes I will summit Everest. The simple fact is that I cannot see past Everest to even consider what will follow and to whatever extent I do so I risk taking my eye off the ball.
Last summer Lin and I went to a gathering of the Teachers she works with. At some point we all became distracted watching the host's dog chase his tail on the lawn next to us. He was very fast, but his tail was always that much faster. "I hope he never catches it," I commented, "life would be so disappointing after that." "So how about it, Dave," one of the teachers asked "what about after you summit Everest?" It was a poignant moment that caught me by surprise. "I'll probably chase my tail," I answered.