Here’s what a Quadruple Everesting does to the body and mind
One Everesting is hard enough. Four in a row? Extraordinary. Here's what it's like.
One Everesting is hard enough. Four in a row? Extraordinary. Here's what it's like.
You’ve probably heard about Everesting: climbing the height of Mt. Everest (8,848.86 metres / 29,031.7 feet) by bike (or other means) by completing repeats of a given hill.
Thousands around the globe have completed the challenge, both in the real world and virtually, and the arms race for fastest-known times has attracted some of the best riders in the world (CyclingTips’s own Ronan Mc Laughlin still holds the overall record).
Completing a single Everesting is hard enough for most riders, but as is the way with any endurance challenge, there are some who view a single Everesting as a warm-up. Dozens of people have completed a Double Everesting, a select few have done a Triple Everesting, and at the time of writing, three extraordinary athletes have completed a Quadruple Everesting.
For context, a Quadruple Everesting involves climbing a truly mammoth 35,395 metres (116,125 ft) on the same hill, with only two hours sleep allowed after each subsequent Everesting.
The first person to complete a Quadruple Everesting was Italian carpenter turned ultra-endurance athlete Giacomo “Zico” Pieri who, in June 2019, aged 46, achieved the feat by climbing Monte Petrano (10.3 km at 7.7%) in central Italy no fewer than 45 times.
That effort saw Pieri ride a hefty 905 km over the course of 113 hours and 18 minutes (65 hours and 27 minutes on the bike). That’s nearly five whole days on the mountain.
When Pieri did his ride, some researchers from the nearby University of Urbino were there, monitoring his physical and mental state. In fact, working with the university was a big part of why Pieri did his ‘Everesting Unlimited’ ride to begin with.
“My collaboration with the university was a big reason for me,” Pieri told me in an interview for the book I wrote about Everesting. “I love science, I love data, and the university was testing, before during and after. During each Everesting they were testing me for all sorts of data.”
Now, two and a half years after Pieri’s effort, the researchers have published their findings.
The researchers tested Pieri at six points over the course of his mammoth effort: the day before the ride, immediately before his first Everesting, and after each of his four Everestings.
At each of those six points, they ran a raft of tests:
There were quite a few interesting findings to come out of the testing. For starters:
Pieri’s profile of mood states tests revealed some interesting findings too.
The Italian rated his ‘tension’ a two out of 16 the day before and just before the ride, but a 0/16 at each test thereafter. That’s a feeling we can all relate to – Pieri was a little nervous before his big effort, but those nerves disappeared once he was moving.
As you might expect, the tests revealed big changes to Pieri’s fatigue levels throughout his effort. But it wasn’t as linear as you might expect.
As you’d hope, his ‘fatigue’ score started at 0/16, and then increased to 4/16 by the end of his first Everesting. That increased to 8/16 after the second Everesting, but by the end of his third, his fatigue was down to a 3/16. With more than 26,500 m (86,942 ft) of climbing done, and a whole Everesting to go – a truly massive ride for most cyclists – Pieri was feeling the least fatigued he had since he started.
His ‘vigor’ score showed a similar story. He was feeling 16/16 the day before the ride, 11/16 just before starting, and then down to 4/16 at the end of the first and second Everestings. But by the end of the third he was back up to 11/16 – as strong as he’d felt before starting the ride. That number dropped to 6/16 by ride’s end.
Pieri’s visual analogic scales – those 10 cm line tests – were instructive too.
The ‘sleep quality’ metric showed one of the clearest trends. Pieri started with his sleep quality at 99 mm the day before, but that dropped considerably to 6 mm by the end of the first Everesting, and 2 mm by the end of the second. It was back up to 24 mm after three Everestings, but way down to just 2 mm again by the end of the final Everesting.
Pieri told me that battling sleep deprivation was the toughest part of his ride.
“Two hours [of sleep per day] is [the] very limit of human possibility,” he said. “I think it’s possible to go a little bit further, but it’s [impossible] to say how much.
“The strategy for me was to start with the first night no sleep, but in reality I sleep 45 minutes for the possibility of the second night to sleep three hours, because I know the second night is always the worst.
“Worse than third or fourth night — for me the second night is always a problem. A big problemo.”
As anyone who’s done an Everesting or other ultra-endurance effort will tell you, fluctuating psychological strength is an integral part of the challenge. Impressively, Pieri reported good ‘mental well-being’ scores throughout the event.
He started at 91 mm on his 100 mm scale pre-event, dropped to 68 mm after the first Everesting, before reaching his psychological nadir after two Everestings with 53 mm. But after three Everestings he was back at a very positive 83 mm, and 78 mm by the time he was done.
His ‘attractiveness of training’ scores painted a similar picture, showing how keen he was to continue on at various times. Pieri started out at 99 mm, dipped to as low as 52 mm after two Everestings, but went way back up to 96 mm by the end of the third.
These numbers make it clear that Pieri was feeling at his best after completing three consecutive Everestings. Let that sink in for a moment.
His ‘muscle pain’ scores showed a similar trend. He had barely any pain before starting the ride (as you would hope), went up to 68 mm after the first Everesting, down to 53 mm after the second, and then way down to 30 mm by the end of the third.
It’s a similar story with his ‘fatigue’ scores on the visual analogic scales. He started out at 3 mm, rose to 47 mm after his first Everesting, up to 52 mm after the second, but by the end of the third, he was down to just 24 mm.
This study, while quite basic in its approach, does a great job of illustrating the fluctuations that every athlete faces during an ultra-endurance event. There are good moments and bad moments – physically and psychologically – and none of those moments lasts too long. If things get tough, they’re bound to get easier again. The reverse is also true.
This is a worthwhile reminder for anyone who’s planning to tackle an event that will test their limits, whether that’s a gran fondo, an Everesting, or, you know, four Everestings back to back.
For Pieri, it seems clear that he felt best with three Everestings complete and one to go. On the surface it might seem like he felt he was in the home stretch – three down, just one to go (even if the “one” was an entire Everesting).
There might be some truth to that, but it’s worth noting that Pieri didn’t set out with the exact goal of finishing four Everestings. He called his event ‘Everesting Unlimited’ because he didn’t want to impose a limit on himself. He simply wanted to see how far he could go.
In fact, he’d wanted to push on beyond four Everestings, but at the insistence of attending medical staff, and his friends and family, Pieri was convinced to end the ride after four Everestings.
“To push my health was not the perfect message,” he told me. “With my team and my family we wanted to find a solution. A lot of people started [saying] ‘It’s time to stop’ [but I said] ‘I don’t want to stop.'”
Pieri had been battling the effects of sleep deprivation but felt he would soon feel better.
“I don’t want to stop, never, because I know after you feel bad you can feel good,” he said. “‘I want to go. I want to go’ [I said]. But the message was important and we did a solution with my team, my doctor. ‘OK, tomorrow when I arrive we celebrate together in the evening.’
“I think it was the best solution and now I can say it was the best solution … but I wanted to [keep going].”
It’s very hard to imagine spending 65 hours on the bike, over nearly five days, to complete four Everestings. It’s harder again to imagine getting to that point, and still feeling like you wanted to carry on.
But as should be clear by now, Zico Pieri is a remarkable athlete. An amateur cyclist he might be, but there’s nothing amateur about his motivation, his mental toughness, his ability to measure a long, sustained effort, and the way he manages his food and hydration intake.
And that’s to say nothing of the sheer physical strength and resilience required to get through four whole Everestings, back to back, with very little sleep in between.