Everesting and Marginal Gains

Everesting — riding up a single pitch enough times to match the altitude of the summit of Mt. Everest — is a massive challenge with an elegantly simple set of rules. Which makes it a perfect candidate for a Marginal Gains conversation. Josh, Hottie, and Fatty talk about how the obvious, not-so-obvious, and downright bizarre strategies racers could employ to set a record in this socially-distant challenge.

Got a question you’d like to ask? Text or leave a voicemail at the Marginal Gains Hotline: +1-317-343-4506 or just leave a comment in this post!

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  • Office Furniture

    Good morning, I’m doing related to your post and I have few questions to you. Where did you find informations for your blog post? In papers, maybe in rags or books, or just randomly on the Web? Please respond :).

  • Christopher Bennett

    I did an Everesting 10,000 m (10,037 m to be precise!) the night before we went into New Zealand’s covid-19 total lockdown. Was a great time to do it as there was NO traffic on the road, and the Government did say that exercising was one of the things we were allowed to do.

    Your podcast captures the adventure’s challenges. Well done. Really enjoyed your history of Everesting.

    Even though I wasn’t going for a record (I’m 60 so just doing it would be an achievement!) I considered before the ride what marginal gains I could get. Chose faster tyres than usual, cleaned the bike and drivetrain, minimized the food and drink on the bike.

    To me, the biggest success factor (beyond having the right head space) is the first one you mention: the course. I had tried it earlier on a long course but ended up on a short 6% grade which meant I did 118 repeats to get the 10k. I blogged my adventure at www.tri-duffer.com.

  • Charlie Sullivan

    This was a great podcast and very timely as we are right in the midst of people figuring out how to do this best. I think the elephant the room is the choice of the grade to ride. You said, correctly, that a steeper grade is better until you get to the point where it’s simply too steep to be reasonable to ride. There are two things worth expanding on there.

    One is that many of the other considerations, including aero and rolling resistance, become less and less important the steeper the grade is. So getting that one right can potentially outweigh everything else.

    The other thing that merits more careful consideration is what it means to be as steep as feasible. One aspect of that is simple—using more and more ridiculously low gearing. In round numbers, if a 1:1 gear ratio (34:34, for example) works for a 15% grade, then why not ride a 30% grade with a 1:2 gear ratio (22T chainring with 44T cog)? I see four possible issues with that, and I think the real optimization opportunity is chipping away at those four things:

    1. Unintended wheelies. That should be solvable with geometry and positioning—it’s something that requires some design work but not a fundamental barrier.

    2. Traction. I’m not sure where this cuts in and becomes a real problem. Pulsations in torque are what cause loss of grip so it’s hard to predict, but my guess is that with good tires on clear surfaces it would start to be a real limit somewhere between 20% and 30%.

    3. Psychology. Given that you need superhuman motivation to do an Everesting attempt anyway, I don’t think this is a real problem.

    4. Flywheel effect. On the flats, the momentum of the rider maintains nearly constant speed even if you are applying a pulsating torque to the pedals. As you gear down and go up a steeper grade, this is less true. In the extreme, the pedal stroke stalls and you start rolling back down the hill unless you are provided adequate torque throughout the cycle. It become like riding a trainer with no flywheel. This could be the real limit. I’m not sure whether it would be allowed in the rules, but adding a 1-kg high-speed flywheel might actually help more than it hurt if you were on a steep enough grade. The smoothing of the torque applied to the wheels would also help the traction issue.

    I’m looking forward to seeing people dig into these issues as the low-hanging fruit gets used up.

  • Nate Pack

    The Marginal Gains Podcast is a 5-Star production, guys!

    I am delighted each time you discuss the cumulative benefits of marginal gains that I’ve been striving to employ for years… but I’m also discouraged that you’re revealing the secrets that I’ve been relying on that others have been oblivious to 😉.

    Anyway, after listening to the MG Everesting podcast, and later seeing Contador’s successful sub- 7:30 effort, I really want to address ideas for “optimizing” (i.e., Marginally Gaining) the power input side of the Supply-Demand equation for riding uphill. I know the MGP isn’t a physiology podcast, but I’d posit that the biggest potential improvement toward reducing Everesting time can be had by selecting a lap distance that better balances the physiologic cost of each lap time and intensity based on the power-duration potential of the rider. To illustrate, we all know that riders can produce more repeated average power (and thus go faster/further) during 6x 7-minute intervals each with 1 minute rest than they can during 1x 42-minute interval with 6 minutes rest—despite having identical ratios of ride and rest time.

    So, in addition to reducing overall system weight—obviously!—and maximizing smaller efficiencies with drivetrain, Crr, CdA, ideal hill slope, and nutrition/hydration, etc., I think choosing an Everesting segment length (and time, based on individual testing) that allows a rider to sustain a higher climbing power should be a high priority in the hierarchy of marginal gains. Not just more specificity at climbing uphill for many hours; but more specificity at the particular interval durations to be repeated for many hours.

    I know Contador is an amazing athlete beyond most, but other elites like Keegan Swenson, Phil Gaimon, Lachlan Morton, etc. are certainly considering the impact of course length, which includes steepness, as a factor to maximize their sustained power input for their Everesting attempts.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.


  • Peter Mills

    I love your podcast and have another question. I expect to become a big fan of your new Super Secret Chain Lube, and plan to remove my chain for thorough cleaning regularly. I am reluctant to use acetone or denatured alcohol (which usually contains methanol) because these are nasty solvents. Can I use them over and over or do I need to pour them out after each cleaning? What can I use to wash off the citrus cleaner without using a nasty solvent? Will isopropyl alcohol (mostly ethanol) work? If I use acetone or denatured alcohol, how best to dispose of them? Thanks and Ride On! Peter Mills, Los Altos, CA

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