The inside story and power analysis from Lachlan Morton’s Everesting ‘record’
Jonathan Vaughters is the manager of EF Pro Cycling, a recovering professional bike racer, aviation aficionado, and also way, way into training philosophy, power data, and fishing. He sent over his thoughts on Lachlan Morton’s Everesting record.
I was sitting down for a nice lunch and glass of rosé on Saturday afternoon when a text message popped up from Lachlan Morton. “That was hell.”
“What’d you do without telling us, Lachlan?” was my response.
““Well, I was just going to check it out, but then I just kept going.”
I came to realize that meant Morton had just set the Everesting record, largely unplanned and unannounced. His dad and two pieces of tape on the road were his support.
Preparation… or lack thereof
We’d been loosely planning the record attempt for a few weeks, and we were fishing for the right road and right day to do it. The right road was tricky and less than ideal in Colorado. What we needed was a very steep climb, as long as possible, in thick trees, and with almost no turns or switchbacks on the descent to slow things down. Ideally, this steep and straight section of road would be at as low of an altitude as possible.
Why straight, steep, long, in the trees, and low altitude?
- Straight, so that as little energy as possible would be wasted with brake friction for corners.
- Steep, again, so that as little energy as possible would be wasted fighting air resistance.
- Long, same as straight, use as little energy as you can by limiting the number of turnarounds you need to make.
- In the trees? So, that wind would play as little a factor as possible and not waste extra air resistance energy.
- Low altitude? Since 90% of this effort would be spent climbing at low speed on as steep a gradient as possible, oxygen, or high air pressure, for energy production would be far more important than extra air resistance in the brief moments of descending.
We didn’t want to travel around the country to find such a climb, so looked for something local. But for those of you who live in Colorado, you’ll know a steep straight climb that’s long and at low altitude is something of a unicorn.
Flagstaff was ruled out. Too many corners, too much traffic, not steep enough. Magnolia looked promising, but wasn’t quite right, Cheyenne Canyon: again, too many turns and too high.
Finally, Lachlan found a suitable 2 km stretch of road in Rist Canyon. For me, it was too high and a bit too short, but it fit the rest of the bill. So he rolled the dice.
Rist Canyon stats:
- Short, 1.93 km
- Steep, 11.2%
- High altitude – 2,255 m to 2,468 m
Next, we needed to pick the day.
We looked for the magical combination of low air temperature, high air pressure, and almost no wind.
Low air temp in order to preserve as much energy as possible on riding the bike and as little as possible on extraneous heat generation. Additionally, low air temperature leads to higher density at altitude. More oxygen available to lungs at lower temperatures. And, of course, the inverse: the hotter things are, the less o2 is available for your body.
High air pressure, to offset the low air pressure created by high altitude as much as possible. All back to getting more oxygen to the muscles.
No wind… it all comes back to using as little energy as possible fighting air resistance and as much energy as possible climbing. Finding all these elements in Colorado on the same day wasn’t going to be easy.
But, against the odds, we found the perfect day. Early morning, Wednesday, June 10. Cool, high air pressure, and no wind.
I’d “borrowed” two traffic cones from the City of Denver and scrounged up a pair of race wheels. We even had 50 bottles ready so Lachlan could take a bottle at the top for each and every descent, adding a bit of weight to his bike, and then toss it at the bottom.
Then Lachlan ate some bad BBQ shrimp. The perfect day was off. All due to undercooked seafood.
I cried. Alone. We would never find such a perfect day again.
But Lachlan, being a man of more resolve than myself, perhaps thought that maybe the weight loss from food poisoning would be to his advantage. And quietly, he decided to give the record a go just a few days later when his belly calmed down. He made that decision one night prior while at a BBQ with his dad. His dad who, by the way, was also his support before and after his Kokopelli Trail record ride. A good omen, looking back.
Totally impromptu, he went out very early on a Saturday morning and just did it. Luckily it was a fairly high pressure day (30.09 inches of barometric pressure at 6 am) wasn’t too warm, and wasn’t windy at all.
Lachlan had done enough testing to know he’d need to average about 275 watts (or about 4.4 W/kg) on the climb each lap, which for 7.5 hours at 2,250 meters altitude, is quite the feat. Rist was shorter than ideal for the effort, but it is perfectly straight, so he would waste almost zero energy pedaling on the descent. Just a straight shot, 65 mph (104 km/h) drop each lap.
His times would be fastest in the early part of the ride, and the power outputs the highest. Fatigue would set in and slow this down, but with proper fueling, 275 watts, over and over again, was easily achievable for Lachlan. This was well within reach of his body’s capacity to produce power without having to grab too much at fast twitch muscle fiber, glycolytic metabolism, and start becoming acidic. As long as he stayed hydrated and could keep his blood glucose optimized, Lachlan could sustain this power at this altitude.
One of Lachlan’s great attributes as a rider is his ability to use fats as fuel at medium intensities like this effort. It would keep his glycogen stores intact much longer than most athletes could. To look at this more closely, let’s look at how this ride was most likely fuelled.
To start, the human body can store up to 2,500 kcal of glycogen in the muscles and liver. I don’t think Lachlan was quite there, considering the food poisoning and his dietary choices leading up to the event. So, let’s say he was storing 2,000 kcal. Then he consumed just under 100 g of carbohydrate per hour for the full 7.5 hours, or approximately 3,000 kcal of carbohydrate during his ride. So, that gets us to 5,000 kcal of energy of this ride, but considering he use 6,907 kJ for the ride, or roughly 7,500 kcals, where did the remaining 2,500 calories come from?
Well, some muscle tissue too. Probably a bit of his brain as well.
Any athlete looking to break Lachlan’s record will need to be able to access and use fat stores as energy at very high power outputs. For me, this is Lachlan’s secret weapon in the ultra-endurance records that he crushes regularly.
However, as you see, the power outputs do fall as the day wears on. Lachlan’s power dropped about 13% from start to finish.
While the easy answer is that this is due to fatigue, the reality is that this is probably a combination of higher temperatures, lower air pressure (it dropped as the day went on), higher density altitude, and fatigue. As the temperature rises, Lachlan gets somewhat faster on the downhill due to less air resistance caused by rising temps, and even on the less steep sections of the climb. But on the steep uphill, the higher air temp, and higher density altitude, make it impossible for him to maintain the same power output that he did first thing in the morning.
The good news is that by the time this drop off started to occur, he was well ahead of schedule and would take the record quite easily.
After it was all done, I tried telling Lachlan that by starting earlier in the AM, choosing a day with higher air pressure and cooler temperatures, and perhaps not having food poisoning four days before, that he could go much faster. Low altitude too. We need to be at sea level!
His response? “I’m never, ever doing that again, mate.”
“As painful as it is, we stand by our community’s decision to recategorise this as a (very large) Everesting Basecamp [ed- half-Everesting; 4,424 metres] listing, which means Keegan Swenson is restored at the top of the Everesting leaderboard,” Hells 500 wrote on Facebook. “We believe the new measures we have put in place to pre-qualify segments using independent data will prevent this from happening again.”