Age is Just a Number: Kent's Everest Attempt
Updated: Jul 11, 2020
Masters athletes do it for the passion. They are not getting paid. It’s simply because they love it. There is an intrinsic drive and motivation that is unparalleled. That’s what I enjoy most about working with masters, they have an unparalleled drive and determination. They’ll do anything you throw at them and come out on the other end stronger.
Of course, we are all fighting the invisible enemy: aging. Even the most driven masters athletes see their performance slowly leach away from them; their former power and vigor being reduced to a husk of their former selves. The passion is being stolen by this enemy.
Yes, aging is inevitable. But what we can change is how we age. We must make training and lifestyle modifications as we get older. With these modifications, we can continue to perform at a high level when many of our peers are slowing down. In fact, many masters athletes that have worked with Aspire Cycling not only slow the aging process, but become stronger than ever.
What does this look like? It requires two key components: a determined athlete, and a coach to guide.
In this instance, the determined athlete is a guy by the name of Kent Yount. Kent is a 58 year old cyclist. He’s been riding for most of his life, and he’s tough as nails. He’s raced on and off as a self-coached athlete since his 20s.
Kent came to me last fall with some ambitious goals. Unfortunately, he was fighting the invisible enemy of aging. He had a high-speed deer collision several years ago. In another accident, he broke his neck while mountain biking. The doctors told him he was one bone away from losing his ability to breathe on his own. He also developed sepsis after the surgery and it kept him off the bike for months. After this, Kent had understandably lost a lot of fitness, but he was determined to reach his old level. Right off the bat, I could see that Kent had one of the biggest determiners of success in cycling: resilience.
Slowly, Kent was seeing his fitness evaporate away because of aging. He needed to fight that aging with proper training. He had all the drive in the world, but he needed someone to help channel that desire into productive training that would make him stronger.
Kent had two primary goals. First, he wanted to regain his old level of 7-8 years prior. Since that time, his performance had been steadily declining due to the effect of aging. Secondly, he wanted to Everest.
Most readers are likely to be familiar with this, but Everesting is repeating a climb, any climb enough times to reach the cumulative height of Mt. Everest (29,029 feet) within one ride. It’s an incredibly difficult feat.
Everesting has become a lot more popular since Covid-19 ravaged most of the cycling calendar. However, Kent conceptualized this idea back in November… way before it was cool. I don’t have any official stats, but at that time, I’m quite sure less than 1,000 people had ever successfully completed this, and many had failed.
For a 58 year-old full time optometrist, it was an incredibly ambitious goal. Was it really possible for Kent to get faster at an age where most are slowing down? And was this Everesting thing even within the realm of possibility?
It was November when we started working together. The days were short and the weather was moody. Of course, I wasn’t going to have Kent ride for 6 hours a day on the trainer to prepare for his June Everesting attempt, so we had to put our energy elsewhere.
Kent has been riding at a high level for over 30 years already has an extremely well developed aerobic base. That wasn’t the issue. He was riding a fair bit, and training the same way he always had. He certainly wasn’t lacking miles in the legs at this point. What was slowing him down?
When I analyzed Kent’s training from the past few years, I saw one big problem. His training was stagnant. There were lots of big rides and solid efforts. But the problem was that he was doing the same thing over and over again. Most of his hard training rides consisted of going out and riding hard.
The problem with this approach was that his body was already accustomed to this type of training. He’d been doing it for many years and it wasn’t making him any stronger. This stagnant training combined with the aging process meant that Kent was gradually slowing down.
A practical analogy for this type of stagnant training is weightlifting. If I start benching 100lbs twice a week, then for sure the first few weeks I’ll get stronger. But if I continue to bench 100lbs twice a week for my whole life, I will come to a point where I stop improving.
We needed to fight the effects of aging by overloading Kent with something his body had never seen. If we could throw his body enough curveballs, we could combat this invisible enemy and make him stronger.
During the early winter months, we didn’t spend any time with base building. Kent already had 30 years of base training behind him. We began to have him do short-structured high intensity intervals indoors. Every few weeks we would switch up the stimulus and give him a new interval set that would challenge his body in a different way.
During the winter, we also spent time in the gym doing strength training. This was important to help fight the age-related loss of muscle mass. It would also serve to improve his power on the bike and prevent injury.
By the time spring rolled around, Kent had seen his power improve significantly to a level he hadn’t seen in years. After just a few months, he was riding like someone 10 years younger.
We spent the winter months with short, intense workouts to build his top end fitness. The plan was to translate his newfound level into Everest-specific training. With warmer weather and the Everesting date fast approaching, it was time to build up the endurance that Kent would need to successfully complete the attempt.
Kent spent the spring months doing massive climbing rides in the mountains. Because we had improved his top-end fitness in the winter, his overall speeds on these endurance rides improved. Something that would help him shave time off of his Everesting attempt.
During this period, we held back on the high intensity. If we did hard efforts it was in a very controlled manner. I didn’t want Kent to burn out with the large increase in volume. If we were to have done large amounts of volume and intensity, it would likely be too much and he would risked over-training. The name of the game was clocking up hours.
This also meant that Kent had to hold back a bit on the endurance rides to keep it in the prescribed zones. This approach minimized fatigue while maximizing the positive effects of the training. It allowed him to put in big miles week after week without too much fatigue.
It was June 13th… barely. At 2 A.M. Kent set out on his Everest attempt on US-40 in Morrison, Colorado. Kent undoubtedly had the mental toughness for such an attempt, and he had done everything right with his training. He had reached the pinnacle of fitness at just the right time.
Unfortunately, the weather had something up its sleeve. Kent was 14 hours into his attempt when a classic Colorado thunderstorm hit. One thing many cyclists know is that rain and Garmins do not get along very well.
Kent was counting laps on his Garmin. He knew he needed 22.5 laps up the climb in order to complete the attempt. Once the storm rolled through, his GPS froze and he lost some data, losing track of the laps in the process. He had lost count of the laps and had to rely on his best guess.
After 19 hours, Kent decided to call it in. He wasn’t sure exactly how many laps he’d gone, but he knew he was close. And then another setback: his GPS had malfunctioned during the storm and missed 4 hours of ride time.
After analyzing the files, Kent counted that he completed 21 laps of the climb for an agonizingly close 27,000 feet. Unfortunately his file had missed about 4 hours of ride time and only showed 20,000 feet. There was now no way to verify his attempt.
It was a bittersweet ending to 6 months of preparation. Kent had the legs, but factors out of his control prevented a successful attempt.
The attempt itself was incredible. For you data junkies, his estimated stats for the 19 hours:
27,000 ft of climbing
9,600 Calories burnt
Regardless, Kent had a lot to be proud of. He’d proven that you can get stronger at 58 years old. He’d proven that you can do anything that you put your mind to.
In his own words, Kent said he was “still feeling good” after 19 hours. What a beast. Of course, 29,029 ft. is completely arbitrary, and coming two-thousand feet shy is still a monumental accomplishment. Apart from the Garmin malfunction, everything was perfect. He had the fitness, he was properly fueled, and he had the toughness to go along with it.
Even though it wasn’t an “official” attempt, Kent still deserves some recognition for this (hence why I’m writing this). The training and dedication he showed while working full time as an optometrist was inspiring.
Aspire Cycling Coaching challenges it’s athletes to Aspire Greatly. We believe that every individual is capable of amazing things when they have the dedication to make it happen. Kent perfectly embodies this ethos.
Aspire Cycling coaching is built on passion. We’re here to help make your dreams a reality. Find out more.