The Big Four-Oh

| February 13, 2009

Having hit 40,000′ of climbing and skiing at the 24 Hours of Sunlight, I’d like to say I can now rest easy, except I’m still in too much pain.  Someday, hopefully soon, I’ll rest easy, but the best I can do until then is just to be very psyched.

The first year I did the race I had absolutely no idea how much vertical I could do as my biggest day of touring before that had been about 12,000′.  So, 20k?  30?  I ended up hitting about 36,000′ that year and right at the end realized if I had been more consistent, I might have hit 40.

40k and not an inch more. I can skin no more forever. Photo by Lou Dawson -

Having a goal for a race like this is incredibly useful as it helps with pacing.  Forty thousand feet means a lap average of 53 minutes, or climbing at an average of about 1,850′ per hour.  This isn’t bad at first, but at least in my case, I had to assume that I was going to slow down towards the end, so the first laps would have to be a bit faster, the middle would have to be right on average, then the end could get a little slower.  The subtleties of this is that if you start out too fast, you’ll burn out faster as well.

My main interest in hitting 40k was that;
    a) it is a nice round number,
    b) I came close to it last time
    c) One of the first times I met Greg HIll he had recently done a 40k and I thought,and still think, it was a very cool goal
    d) There is/was no way in hell I will ever hit 50k.

The good hearted announcer kept referring to me as a "cagey veteran" although at this point it was more like "the crippled veteran."  Photo by Courtney Phillips.

The good hearted announcer kept referring to me as a "cagey veteran" although "crippled veteran" was closer to it at this point. Photo by Courtney Phillips.

While the race itself was fun and all (??!?), one of the great things about busting out a new personal high is that now a “big” day of touring, like 15,000′, no longer seems so daunting, especially as you now know what to expect.  It’s a bit like rock climbing exposure in that after you have climbed something like the 3,000′ El Cap in Yosemite, little 1,200′ walls in Zion seem like child’s play.

As a soloist, the race itself is pure drudgery.  Contestants go up one groomer, then down another, then repeat until they explode.  At one point my stomach was so hammered that I ended up doing a progressive four-part hurl on the course, which alarmed the racer nearby me much more than myself.  “Hey #1 – are you alright?  Do you need help?”  I actually felt much better and kept going.

Comparative lap charts from the two years I've done the race. The one on the top is the first year, which was erratic. The one below was from this year which was more consistent (my goal).

In the Misery Loves Company department, it was interesting to hear Eric Sullivan (the race winner and course record setter with 51,000’+ a year ago) say that he had withdrawn for a few laps as his stomach was punched out as well.  He said something to the effect of “You need to consume a lot of high energy food and drink, but it is hard to digest a stomach full of it in a single lap.” Keeping solid food down is definitely my biggest challenge during 24 hour races and it would probably be well worth it to stop in the future and just force something down.

From a techie standpoint, there are quite a few little tricks of the suffering trade if you are interested in giving it a try.  An attentive pit-crew is essential, and in this case we were lucky to have Courtney Phillips from Salt Lake City and Lou and Lisa Dawson from Carbondale helping us (Polly, Andrew and Rick) out.  Having two pairs of skis and multiple pairs of skins helps so that you can step out of one and go directly into another.  An outside tent vastly increases the creature comfort of the pit crew, especially if you can set it up with heaters and a stove.  It gets fairly cold at night, so drinking warm (but not hot) fluids is a luxury.

Polly, Courtney and Lou looking at the real-time results in our tent.

Perhaps the biggest advantage of hitting 40,000′ is now I don’t feel compelled to do the race ever again.  :)  But, it is a great adventure in human endurance & spirit, so I hope to be back next year either as part of a team or better yet, to help someone else hit their goal (Courtney… Griber…).

Help support and get credit for every inch you climb with a Suunto X6HRM Stainless Steel Altimeter Watch from Click on the photo below…


Category: Racing

About the Author ()

Andrew McLean lives in Park City, Utah and is a gear designer, writer, photographer, ski mountaineer, climber, Mountain Unicycle rider and father of two very loud little girls.

Comments (10)

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  1. Ralph S. says:

    What types of nutrition were you consuming? I ask because I have run a couple of 50 milers and a few marathons and had problems until I switched to Hammer Perpetuem (liguid). I still eat solids, but not as much. I am always surprised at the stomach maladies at endurance events. “Get ready, here comes the newborn baby tar shits!”

    I am still in awe of 40,000! When I look at my watch and see 10 or 11k, I couldn’t imagine 4x that!

    Can I use your pit crew for the Le Griz 50 Miler this year? Sounds like they really rocked!

  2. Andrew says:

    Hi Ralph – I ate/drank a variety of food over the course of the event including tea with milk, hot chocolate, turkey, cheese, plain water, soup (lots), drinkable yogurt, Nuun drink supplement, Clif Blocks and Ritter Sport chocolate. The soup went down pretty well throughout the entire race, but the solid foods were a chore as the race wore on.

    To me, eating, or at least holding food down is the crux of a 24 hour event. Obviously, sitting down and having a good meal would be ideal, but at that point you are burning time, so it may not be worth it.

  3. Montana says:

    Music? You must have had some ear buds in…Curious what an old “Cagey Veteran” was rockin. My bet…Van Halen with a little Twisted Sister teased in.

    Congrats on the race…way to kill it and show all thoes young punks whats up!


    Young Punk

  4. Derek says:

    Good personal account..and congrats on hitting 40k.

  5. d3 says:

    Who was the announcer? ;)
    What did Polly eat? Did she hurl too?
    I love that you both bronzed out. w00t!

  6. Andrew_L says:

    Hey Andrew,

    Congrats on hitting the 40K in a day. That just sounds…huge. Every year I hear about this event, and I think to myself, well that kind of sounds like fun. I should give it a try.

    And then I say, Naaaah. :)

  7. Skiing says:

    this is going to be fun… Added you to my feed reader. Sorry I’m late adding this.

  8. Andrew says:

    Hi Montana – I went straight to the headphones on the first lap. :) It was about a 22 hour mix of just about everything, but it seemed like classic Beatles tunes went down the best – happy, upbeat, not too angry, full of hope, etc..

  9. doubleA says:

    Anybody on hallucinogens to pass the time? Or is this a “clean” event?

  10. ed says:

    congrats & way to go

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