October 2018, Vermont, USA
The Mission: Within 36 hours, scale #Stratton Mountain 17 times, the equivalent height of Mount #Everest, 29,029 feet.
🏔Hike up, Gondola down, Fuel up, Avoid injury, Repeat🏔
“We're gonna tap into something that we didn't know we had...we're here to tap into a reserve tank" - Jesse Itzler
The 40% rule was first explained to me by Jesse #Itzler (29029 event founder). When we think we've given our all, we've only given 40% of our max capacity. When our brain tells us to stop because we've done enough or that we cant handle anymore, it is simply the beginning. Acknowledge that, take it as a cue and dig deeper. This was the main objective of this 36 hour event. We were there to tap into the reserves that we are unaware that we possess, mentally and physically.
"With every step we get one step closer. We just keep chipping, keep chipping. We finish one, we turn around, there's no decision! We go back up, we finish one, there's no decision!” - Jesse Itzler
The first 5 ascents were overwhelming as this was my first ultra event and I was unaware how to properly fuel my body. I was under the impression that I would be able to function with a few bananas and some water.
❌🛑Wrong! Way Wrong!🛑❌
Thankfully I scaled Ascents 4 and 5 with my new friend and ultra athlete Paul Zani. At the end of our second ascent together, I was struggling to keep pace with Paul, my head started spinning and I was close to vomiting. Paul gave me a couple of nutrition tips and made it clear that the banana idea probably wasn't the greatest. I got some food, took an hour break to rest my legs and recharge the batteries.
At this point, I was fairly discouraged. I wasn't convinced that I would be able to finish. I had Everest in front of me.
"Babe, you suck?!" - my wife
When I got back from my hour break having only completed 7 ascents to date, well behind the pack leaders, Emanuela, my wife who had come with me to "cheer me on" asked in an innocent but blunt fashion "Babe, you suck?!"
Well, that was exactly what I needed to hear to get me going again. Taking offence to that "question", I chugged some pickle juice, swallowed a banana and headed back out.
🏔No, I don't suck🏔
“Two becomes four, four becomes eight, eight becomes double digits! And we keep going until the finish is in sight!” - Jesse Itzler
Although I ascended the mountain solo during numerous ascents, thankfully I did complete a handful of ascents with various fellow athletes who were all extremely friendly and supportive.
After 16 hours of hard work on the opening day, with 11 ascents under my belt, I decided to get some rest for the night and knock out the remaining 6 ascents the next day starting early in the morning and finishing before the 6pm cutoff on Saturday evening.
Having completed the 11 ascents after an initial slow start had me feeling really good and I was on pace to complete this event with ease. However, once I sat down, the nagging pinch in my leg that I was trying to ignore began throbbing. I figured that I'd apply some cream, change into some fresh clothes and hopefully sleep it off. It was past midnight by the time I crawled into my tent.
I remember being scared to get up.
I had my alarm set for 6am but I woke up much earlier than that. The pain was still there and appeared to have intensified. I applied more cream and had a seat on a recliner chair inside the chalet at 5am.
With minimum sleep, increasing leg pain, and 6 ascents left to conquer, I was sitting with compression leg-wraps on, staring at the mountain through the exterior glass wall of the chalet. It was pitch black out and I remember being scared to get up. In the Darkness, fear had overcome me.
I was already preparing the story in my head that I would tell others, explaining why I couldn't complete all 17 ascents:
"Ahh, I did my best, but I got injured 🤕, what can ya' do? Maybe next time, I guess 🤷🏻♂️"
But that didn't sound right, it didn't feel right. I knew it didn't. The clock was ticking, the gondola was running but the fear was still there. I continued to stare into the Darkness.
"Either work hard or you might as well quit" - M.C Hammer
The mountain overtaken by Darkness, my mind overtaken by fear. I sat in that recliner chair for more than 2 hours nervously staring at my Everest. I was working hard on transforming my excuses into justifications.
At this time, other athletes began to enter the chalet having pulled an all-nighter and completing the 17 ascents. I then realized that the finishers were awarded a wooden plank with the words "Stratton, VT, 29029 Finisher" seared into it.
I had no idea they were giving out these wooden planks to the finishers, but once I found out, I told myself:
🏔"No way am I not gonna get an award that they are handing out! No way am I gonna leave here without one of those!"🏔
This is exactly what I needed to reprogram my #mindset. Looking back, it seems silly that a wooden plank was what got me up out of the chair, but it did. I wasn’t missing a wooden plank at home nor did I really need one, I had simply made the decision that I wasn't going to be left behind. Whatever it takes, I was gonna get there.
Would the ambulance be able to ascend the mountain?🚑
At 7am I headed out. I had 11 hours remaining to complete 6 ascents. At that point, my average time was 90 minutes per ascent. I now had 110 minutes to complete each remaining ascent with leg pain but a newfound determination. I told myself :
🏔"If I have to crawl up this mountain 6 more times, I will"🏔
Nothing was gonna stop me. If I ran out of time, then so be it. If they would have to call an ambulance, then so be it. The ambulance would have to figure out a way to come get me on the #mountain.
I began Ascents 12 and 13 with a limp, dragging my injured leg, trying to avoid pain and further injury at all costs. Surprisingly, as I began Ascent 14, I realized that my leg felt fine, my body felt fine and most importantly I was in the right mindset. I found my stride and decided to ditch the limp. No stress, no issues, no worries. I was enjoying myself and I had gotten used to the mountain's terrain and incline. Nothing seemed painful or difficult anymore. And just like that, one after the other, Ascents 14, 15, and 16 were knocked out like clockwork.
Before beginning the final 17th Ascent, athlete's white bibs were replaced with red bibs signifying that the final ascent was in progress. One foot in front of the other, hiking poles in hand, shoes covered in mud, I passed one check point after the other and it was smooth sailing to the top.
My wife accompanied by our 5 month old son were waiting for me at the finish line with my sister and Jesse Itzler. Congratulations and pictures ensued.
More than 3 years after the event, these moments and lessons have not left me and I continually tap back into them to remind myself that celebrations often come after trials of pain and #patience.
The road to success is rarely a straight line and in our Darkest moments, digging deep through the valley is what is most important.
"Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me" - King David, Psalm 23