I Went To 29029 Everesting, And Here’s What Happened…

The number 17 is just a number to most people.

But to me, this number holds a special significance and meaning. And at the end of this story, you’ll understand why.

It started when I had heard about the event 29Zero29 through Jesse Itzler’s group WeDoHardStuff on Facebook.

It’s a group where he posts workouts, and if you complete them, he donates money to charity. He calls it Fitlanthropy — a combination of fitness and philanthropy.

The event was taking place on October 13–15th at Stratton Mountain, VT. And the goal was to climb 1,750 feet straight up the mountain 17 times, totaling 19 miles and 29,029 feet — the height of Mount Everest from sea level (not Everest basecamp).

“This sounds pretty awesome…” I thought. But who would want to do it with me, let alone, pay $3,500 to do it? (I don’t even think many would do it even if they were getting paid $3,500!)

So I kind of forgot about it for a little while.

Until one day, I got a message from some friends of mine:

I thought about it for a few hours.

What would be my excuse?

  • No thanks, I don’t like challenges.
  • No thanks, I don’t have the money. It’s too expensive.
  • No thanks, I think I have something going on that weekend.

I really WANTED to do this. And any reason for not doing it was just some lame, bullshit excuse. So I responded back, fuck it count me IN.

$3,500 later, I started training while wondering what I had gotten myself. 17 climbs here I come!

Training:

Most of my training took place at my favorite hiking/trail running spot the Sourland Mountain Preserve in Hillsborough, NJ.

The mountain is around 500 feet of elevation from the parking lot and has around 12 miles of trails and connectors.

What made it the perfect training spot was The Texas Pipeline trail — a straight-shoot up from the bottom to the top with a couple steep sections of 30–35+ degree inclines on loose rock and dirt.

I would run 6–8 miles on the outer trails up and back down, then afterwards run up the Texas Pipeline 2–4 times, or until I thought my legs were dead.

It looks mild in this picture, but it gets steep at the top.

After 3 weeks of doing more trail running and hill climbing than I’ve probably ever done, followed by a last minute binge of deadlifts, squats, and a few thousand steps on the stairmaster, I was ready.

Or so I thought.


Day 1:

I pack last minute the night before and get to sleep around midnight. Then I’m up at 5am to catch the train from my hometown in Princeton Junction, New Jersey up to Newark Airport to get picked up by my buddy Stefan. Then we drive up to Connecticut to pick up tent-mate #3 Ryan.

As we drove up, we took a few unintended detours after allowing the the beautiful Northeast scenery to totally distract us from the GPS telling us where to go. Whoops.

When we finally arrived at the event around 1:30PM, my first reaction when I see the mountain was, “Hmm, is it me or does the look TEN TIMES BIGGER than in the photos…?”

There’s not much time before the event starts, so I go to the tent section and find our tent: Tent #39.

On my bed, I find a personal nametag and a bunch of sweet gear. It was a very nice touch and made me feel right at home.

I had no idea at this point how wonderful it was going to be sleeping in this bed at this point.

I look at the clock and realize how little time we have to get ready.

So we quickly get some lunch and I demolish a bowl of vegetables, rice and some protein as Jesse begins his kickoff speech.

For lunch they had an outdoor buffet of fresh fruits, veggies, meat and rice. I threw a bunch of things together that looked good and started eating.

I’m still wearing jeans while everyone is dressed and ready to go. Oh well, at least I’m here!

I meetup with my friend and business mentor Ed O’ Keefe and my tent-mates all grab a quick photo together before we start the event.

Tent #39 crew and Ed O’ Keefe.

After I finish eating, I hurry to get my gear on and head to the trail.

With my camelback half-filled with water and a solid meal beginning to digest in my stomach, I think I’m ready to start my first lap.

There is electricity in the air. People are excited and nervous at the same time.

Everyone starts off pretty quick, not knowing what pace is too fast or too slow.

I’m really pumped, but again have clue how difficult this is going to be.

The first few minutes into my climb I’m thinking to myself, “Ok, this isn’t THAT bad. I think I got this.”

10 minutes of hiking a steady pace later, we pass a sign that says 500 feet elevation. (Thanks Marc!)

That’s when I realized, we haven’t even STARTED the real hike.

Another 5–10 minutes later we reach an aid station with tons of water, energy bars, gels, and bites to keep hydrated and fueled for what would be a non-stop 2 1/2 day grind.

This aid station was a real life saver.

After the aid station, we hike up a dirt road to a point where the real hike began — 1,000 feet of climbing over roughly a half mile distance.

Between those two poles is where I start to think, “ Fuck, this is REALLY steep.”

After we completed that section, it sort of flattens out a bit for 30 or so yards — then shit get’s real.

We hiked up a muddy steep trail that seemed to go on forever. And the longer we went, the longer it felt like we had to go. It just kept going up, up and UP.

Every minute of hiking up this section felt like 5 minutes. When your calfs and glutes are burning and you see one of these signs and you realize you’ve only climbed 250 feet of vertical, reality begins to sink in:

This is going to be REALLY hard.

There is a lot of conversation going on since the group is still in one large pack. I keep to myself and just focus on one foot in front of the other. I don’t have the extra breath to hold a conversation or even small chit chat.

But I find the background conversations to be a nice temporary distraction from the 40 degree muddy incline ahead of me.

After more hiking we finally get to this 1/4 mile sign. Seeing it for the first time was a relief — but ONLY for the first lap.

Nobody realized on the first hike that this 1/4 mile sign marks the beginning of the hardest and steepest section of the hike.

The sign might as well of said:

Hey there buddy, guess what? It only gets HARDER from here!

I keep putting one foot in front of the other, maintaining a swift but not too quick pace.

At this point, the pack starts breaking up. Some people are slowing down, some are staying the pace they started. Everyone is kind of wondering if we’re anywhere near the top.

I can’t remember if it was before or after the 1/4 mile sign, but we got to a point where you felt like the top should be just right over this next hill, then you see this sign:

Nope, not done yet. Still 500 feet of vertical to go!

My calfs and quads are on fire at this point. I’m not totally winded, but I’m breathing deeper as I keep putting one foot in front of the other.

35 minutes later, we get to point where you can see the top of a fence just over the hill. As we keep going, the fence gets taller and we can see the top of the gondola.

The wind got a lot stronger as we get to the top. It seems like all of the sudden, we go over one more hill and it flattens out for a bit, then gondola appears.

We made it!

I take a deep breath and let my legs regain circulation. I look at my phone and see we made it up in around 40 minutes. Then I realize the sobering reality:

That was only lap 1. I have 16 more to go.

I hop into the gondola with Jesse and a few others and I’ll never forget the look on everyone’s face.

What the hell did we get ourselves into?

Even Jesse, the 100 mile man, was shocked at how long and hard just 1 lap was.

On the gondola ride down, we watched others climb the mountain one step at a time. We were all really happy to be in the gondola for the time being.

But knew we couldn’t get too comfortable because that was only climb #1.

Climb #2–6

I hiked with the same group for the first 4 laps. We kept a pretty steady pace of 45 minutes per lap, having little idea if it was sustainable or not.

I noticed a couple people had ski poles and were flying by me. After 4 laps hiking without them, I realized why.

Because the mountain was so steep, I was basically balancing all of my weight on the balls of my feet, which put a lot of stress on my tendons and calfs.

Sometimes a gust of wind would come or I would missstep and lose my balance and start to lean back down the mountain.

It kind of hit me that if I fell, I would be rolling for a LONG time. And that’s no fun from what I hear.

So I decided to ask some staff members at the mountain if they had any extra ski poles in their rentals. Fortunately, they did. And I grabbed a pair.

What a game-changer! The poles made all the difference in the world.

On lap #5, it started getting dark. So the staff required everyone who wanted to keep hiking to go put on their headlamps.

I’m glad I brought mine, because without it, I don’t think I would have completed all 17 climbs. There just wasn’t enough time on Friday during the day to get in more than 5, unless you are Mark Neilan. (You’re a beast!)

With my headlamp and ski poles I completed lap 5. Not too bad, I thought.

Dinner was ending soon, so I took a quick break from the mountain and went upstairs.

There was a self serve buffet of sandwiches, salad, and chili.

I opted for a bowl of chili, which was delicious by the way. I wanted to eat more, but knew if I stuffed myself, I would probably be tasting my dinner for a second time around halfway up the mountain.

So me and my tent-mate Ryan hit the mountain again for climb #6 at around 9:30PM.

With a dinner in my stomach and my headlamp lighting the way, we struggled up for what seemed like the longest hike of the whole event.

It was cold. It was windy. It was brutal.

But in strange way, it was totally awesome.

When we got to the top, the wind was kicking our ass at around 30+ MPH. All the warmth I generated hiking up evaporated and I got cold really fast.

So we hopped in the aid station tent next to the gondola to shield ourselves from the weather. I was doing ok, but my buddy Ryan was not. It looked like the wind drained the fire out of him. He was in pure survival mode now.

The winds were 30+ miles per hour so we stayed in the tent.

As we froze our assess off waiting for the trucks to pick us up to drive us down the mountain, I started questioning whether I had another lap in me for the night.

It was around 11pm at this point and my bed sounded REALLY nice. But getting just ONE more lap in would put me at 7 total for Day 1. A great start for the weekend.

But after the 15-minute “dune-buggy ride” down, my body felt destroyed as I stepped out of the truck.

The road looks smooth in this picture, but it was the bumpiest ride I’ve ever been on.

A part of me wanted to get just one more in. I knew I could force myself up the mountain, but would I regret the lack of sleep the next day?

I decided instead to catch up on sleep and recover as much as I could and power through Saturday.

Before going to sleep, I lathered DMSO Cream and Magnesium Oil all over my knees, calfs, and tendons to help speed up muscle recovery and reduce joint inflammation.

This is the stuff I use. Don’t get the Gel!! It sucks and it burns. Get the Aloe Vera cream!

For those who aren’t familiar, DMSO (Dimethyl sulfoxide) is an organic compound that has the unique property of being able to penetrate the skin and other membranes without damaging them.

Most importantly, it can carry other compounds into a biological system.

That means, when used with something like Magnesium Oil, it can dramatically improve the absorption rate deep into the muscle tissue and joints.

Another amazing benefit of DMSO, is it’s ability to block conduction in peripheral nerve C fibers. That means, it can immediately reduce the sensation of pain upon application.

Lastly, DMSO is a VERY potent anti-inflammatory agent. I used to have severe tendonitis in my elbows from rock climbing, as well as in my Achilles tendon from overtraining.

In both cases, after several weeks of consistent application 2–3 times a day, the pain has completely subsided and hasn’t returned, even after I discontinued using it. I swear by it. This shit works.

Magnesium oil, on the other hand, is another amazing compound every athlete MUST have in their arsenal.

I can’t even begin to explain how beneficial this has been in terms of faster recovery, lower inflammation, better sleep, and increased energy and well-being.

And it’s not just me yapping about it either. Ben Greenfield has a really great post about it here that I highly suggest reading if you are at all skeptical.

To summarize, here’s what you need to know about Magnesium:

  • Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP), which is your cells main source of energy, needs to be bound to a magnesium ion to become biologically active.
  • If you are low in magnesium, you will feel low energy and experience problems with muscle function, which can lead to muscle cramps and spasms.
  • A deficiency in magnesium can also cause a decrease in metabolic efficiency, which means, your heart rate and oxygen consumption must increase in order for your body to maintain ATP production. In other words, your return on sheer will and effort diminishes because it takes MORE oxygen and energy to produce the same energy output.
  • Magnesium is an electrolyte. Your body burns through a LOT of electrolytes like magnesium when you are under physical and mental stress. When doing a physically demanding event like 29029, unless you are replenishing electrolytes faster than they are used, you are likely to experience a deficiency and all of the negatives that come with it.
  • Studies have shown magnesium combined with zinc can boost testosterone levels up to 30%. More testosterone means more energy, vigor and drive. It doesn’t matter if you are male of female either. You NEED testosterone!

I prefer using magnesium oil over pills, because the absorption rate is much higher and as a result, you’ll need much less. Orally ingesting magnesium pills have a poor absorption rate, plus most magnesium sold in stores is garbage.

Go with the oil and thank me later.

Anyways, I coated my muscles and joints in both and then go to sleep. It takes a while to fall alseep because I’m still slightly wired from all the caffeine I didn’t know was in the energy gels, but once I finally fall asleep, I sleep like a rock.

By the way, magnesium oil really helps with sleep too, which is one of my favorite hobbies. ;-)

Day 1 = Complete!


Day 2:

I wake up around 7am and feel like my body is drunk. I know it’s from the massive amount of magnesium oil I lathered all over myself last night.

I drink some water and start feeling better right away. I still feel a little stiff and achy, but nowhere near how destroyed and inflamed I felt before going to bed the night before.

I eat a solid breakfast of eggs and delicious fruit smoothie with a scoop of protein powder and lots of chia seeds.

By the way, chia seeds are awesome for athletic performance as well, because not only are they rich in Omega-3s, they also can prolong hydration and improve nutrient absorption of electrolytes. Pretty cool, right?

I enjoy the shit out of my first real meal since Friday and let it digest for a bit before I hit the trail.

After a quick espresso shot and an efficient trip to the men’s room, I head to the trail and start hiking at 8:20am.

My first few steps are slow and stiff. My body doesn’t hurt, but it’s still asleep. I know once I get blood flowing I’ll feel much better, so I just keep moving at a pace that feels good.

The weather is a cool 45–50 degrees. I realize I have a big day ahead of me today and try not to let the challenge ahead intimidate me.

I know I need to complete at least 7 hikes to have a shot at finishing with some down time on Sunday. 8 would be even better.

I’m doing the math in my head as I’m walking to the midway aid station. If I hike non-stop at a pace of 1 lap per hour plus the gondola ride, that will bring me to 8 laps for the day.

A 12 minute gondola ride down means I’ll be cutting it really close, so I have to maintain a steady pace to finish my 7th lap and get to the bottom of the mountain before 5pm so I can catch the last gondola down.

It seems like a big feat and I’m not even sure if I’ll be able to do it. But regardless I decide I’m hiking this mountain until the gondola shuts off.

No exceptions.

Before I know it, I’ve completed lap 1. I’m on the gondola heading back down and get to the bottom around 9:30AM.

Despite being a little sore and stiff, I’m making good timing for my first lap.

I keep hiking, one step after another. One section of the hill after another.

Pass the 500ft sign, the 750, 1250, 1/4. And boom, I’m done lap 2. 10:20AM.

I start lap 3 and I’m feeling much more loose. My body is warmed up now and I’m starting to get into a good rhythm. Up a hill, Pass the signs, Cheer some people on. Take some deep breaths. Waddle like a frog. Shake out my legs out. Now I’m at the top. 11:15am.

Some people are leaving the trail to go to lunch. I’m devouring Clif bars and energy squares like starving dog.

For a moment I think about how good it would be to sit down and have a bite to eat. But I remember the committment I made to myself.

You’re staying on this mountain until the lift shuts off dude, remember?

So I pack some extra clif bars into my Camelback and keep going. FUCK LUNCH!

I complete hike #4 around 12:25pm. Now it’s getting HOT and the sun is glaring down on me.

Mmmmm, the benefits of being Irish.

I take off my shirts and I’m wearing nothing but my race bib. I sweating like a pig and I see some guy wearing FULL under armor covering his arms and legs AND a beanie on his head.

I ask him how he is isn’t completely dying because I am absolutely drenched. I’m wondering if it’s healthy to sweat this much. Am I overheating? I hope not.

I complete hike #4 for the day and feel like I just crossed a huge milestone. I’m halfway to my goal of 8 for the day with plenty of time to spare. So I take the gondola down and snap a few pictures.

I get to the bottom and feel a temporary sense of relief. I’m halfway done for the day, but I still have to keep going. So I chug some more water and go straight back to the trail after I brand my spot on the leaderboard.

Before I start again, I realize I have to use the bathroom. I really don’t want to go because of time, but I have no choice. So I run to the John by the tents, take care of business, and run straight from the bathroom to the trail to begin lap #5.

Lap #5 feels great. And I finish in at a solid pace at around 1:35PM.

https://youtu.be/RmYISM7_NUw

As I start lap #6, I notice I’m getting a little slower, but I still have more in the tank.

I finish lap #6 around 2:30pm. As I’m riding the and realize if I pace 1 per hour including the gondola ride down, I’ll get to the bottom just before 5pm and be able to make it up for lap 8.

At this point, my body is really starting to hurt. My face is burnt. My muscles are sore. My tendons feel like they’re going to snap.

And I’m REALLY hungry. Even worse, I don’t feel like eating. I try to finish a Clif bar but it doesn’t want to go down. Maybe some energy gels will do the trick? Nope, I can only force 3 before I start to feel sick.

Now It’s Game Time.

I get to the bottom after lap 6, brand the board really quick, and start pushing hard on lap 7.

In the back of my mind, I keep thinking that a few minutes difference in pace could mean the difference between 7 laps or 8 laps for the day.

The more I think about this, the more I realize I DO NOT want to do 4 laps on Sunday.

I pass each sign over each hill, trying not to take any breaks unless I feel like I’m going to die.

Finally, I get to the fence at the top and it’s 4:38PM. I realize I’m just barely going to make it. So I skip getting water at the the top and hop straight on the gondola.

On the ride down, I’m watching the minutes go by as we watch people hiking up. 4:40… 4:45… 4:50… then we finally get to the bottom at 4:55PM.

At this point, I feel like the day is over. I’ve made it.

I don’t give a shit how slow I am on this last lap, because I made it before 5:00PM. So I take my sweet ass time and complete lap #8 by 6:00PM.

What a relief.

Should I Shower?

I head back to my tent and my tent-mates are raving about how awesome it was to take a shower. Then I realize,

“I haven’t showered in two days and I smell like ASS.”

I’m so tired that I contemplate skipping a shower because it’s a 5 minute walk from our tent and I don’t feel like moving. AT ALL.

But they insist it’s AMAZING and not that far of walk, so I reluctantly pack a bag with a change of clothes and my DMSO and Magnesium Oil and head over.

There’s 11 people in front of me waiting for the shower when I arrive. I ended up waiting for around 40 minutes until a shower opens. Once I feel the cool water running over me and the sweat and dirt rinsing off, I understand why my tent mates were so insistent.

This. Is. Amazing.

After I’m done, I take my time sensually lathering more DMSO and Magnesium oil all over my knees and calfs, trying to convince my body that YES, I do love you and NO I’m not trying to kill you.

Then I get dressed and head to dinner. When I show up, Jesse is giving a speech to everyone and I grab a seat to listen. I managed to find a full clip of the speech and uploaded it to YouTube here:

Jesse’s speech gave everyone reassurance that 1) Yes, this is really hard, and 2) No, you shouldn’t feel bad if you don’t finish all 17 laps.

Dinner was delicious. Maybe it was because I was starving, but no really, it was absolutely fucking delicious.

I had 3 servings of ribs with some cheesy potato stuff (no idea what it was) and 2 servings of Mahi Mahi with some vegetables and other somethings. I really don’t even know.

You know when you’re so hungry that things you wouldn’t normally eat look and taste delicious? Yeah, that’s where I was:

In My Happy Place: Food Heaven.

After dinner, we contemplated staying out for a drink and socializing for about .5 seconds, then decide it’s a better idea to go straight to bed. Solid choice Tent #39.

Back at the tent, I apply a second round of DMSO and Mag Oil then crash. Hard.

Day 2 = Complete!


Day 3:

I woke up on day 3 feeling pretty sore. But I knew with only 3 laps to go it was inevitable that I would finish 17 laps.

So I went to the lodge, got some coffee and breakfast and woke up my body as best I could.

Before I went on the trail, I applied some more DMSO and Mag Oil to help ease the stiffness, then headed off to the trailhead.

The first lap felt slow because I was very stiff. My knees were creaking and my tendons were not liking this.

I ended up completing lap 1 in around an hour, a time I wasn’t thrilled with, but I wasn’t rushing at this point. I was only trying to warm up my body and build momentum for the last two laps.

Once I got to the bottom after lap 1 my legs were cleared of the initial lactic acid building and my body was warmed up.

My joints felt so much looser as I went up the second lap.

I made it to the first aid station and feeling pumped I snapped a photo with the staff.

My tentmate Stefan was right behind me and caught up at the midway station. I was pumped to see him still going for it on day 3 even though he knew he wasn’t going to finish.

After a quick drink of water I start grinding up the last hard section and pass Sara Blakely and some of her friends as they cheered me on. Sara is a super positive person and it got me really pumped, so I started pushing a little harder without trying to burn myself out on the last lap.

I finished the 2nd to last lap much quicker than I thought, getting to the bottom of the mountain around 11:20.

The Last Lap

Realizing it’s my LAST LAP I jog over to the board, brand lap 16 and get my red bib which signals I’m on my last lap.

It was an awesome feeling knowing that I made it this far. I was literally smiling on the last lap because I was both elated and sad that after this it would be over.

Happy because I could finally give my body a rest and drink an ice cold brew.

But also sad because all of the momentum and positive self-talk I used to make it this far would fade after I made it to the bottom and relaxed.

Why Not Grind Even Harder?

So with that in mind, I decided to grind as hard as I could, because fuck it- why not? I can drink a beer, eat a burger, and REST after this.

I get to the aid station and look at the time and it’s 11:36. Holy shit! I realize I’m at aid station in only 16 minutes. (The poles helped a bit.)

I down some water and text my other tent-mate Ryan and he goes up the gondola to meet me at the top.

Knowing I’m making great time and it’s my last lap, I start hauling ass.

Apparently Ryan was passed me on the gondola and was yelling and banging the plexiglass, but I didn’t even hear him. I was just staring at the ground, one foot in front of the other.

Another 20 minutes of hiking and I finally accomplish what I set out to do when I first started — 17 laps.

*Shout out to Ryan Skelly for being super generous and going to the top of the mountain ahead of me to film me getting to the top on my final ascent.

I ended up making it to the top at around 12:01pm. I did the final lap in around 40 minutes which was close to my best time up.

After getting some pictures I head back down the Gondola and then I realize I’m finished. It’s done.

I’m both extremely relieved and yet sad at the same time, just as I felt at the beginning of the final lap.

After getting off the gondola and going back up nonstop for nearly 3 days straight, a part of me wanted to keep going. It almost felt un-natural to rest.

But 17 is a good number to end on. That’s what I said I was going to do when I started.

And that’s what I did.


After The Event

After the event, I had an ice cold beer, ate a few burgers and talked about the event with my buddies Ryan and Stefan.

However, as I’m sitting there I hear a group of people cheering and I turn around and see some dude named Brad running off the gondola to the mountain to do HIS final lap — lap 34.

Brad Weimert set out to do 34 laps during the time we were there, and it was really amazing to see him accomplish this.

For a moment I wonder what it would be like to go for another lap, then I tap a sip of my beer and just soak in the feeling of accomplishment and realize that’s enough. I mean, there’s always next year.

My Biggest Takeaways From The Event

  • What Is “Difficult”. The number 17 has a special meaning to me after this event. 17 laps seemed extremely difficult (almost “impossible”) at the beginning. But through keeping my head down and focusing on just one step each time, I progressively realized with lap it was going to be possible, so I just kept grinding, and completed all 17 laps.
  • Mindset Matters. I made up my mind on day 1 I was going to find a way to complete all of them. No-matter-fucking-what. After the first six laps on day 1 I felt like I was set back. So on day 2, I started early and kept a steady pace until I caught up.
  • EMBRACE THE SUCK. If I can do this challenge, then what else can I handle? Probably a lot more. If the game of life throws shit in my face, I know I can handle it. It might suck, but I feel like there is a switch I can turn on to CHOOSE to embrace the suck if I need to. That feeling brings me massive confidence.
  • Next Level Fitness. There is a whole next-level of physical fitness and endurance I saw first hand that I never knew existed. For example, Mark Neilan completed the event Saturday morning while most people were asleep. Brad Weimert did 34 hikes in the time it took me to do 17. So. Fucking. Badass.
  • The People. Challenging events like this bring out amazing people — both in character, professional success, and physical endurance. There was a world record holder, Spartan Pro Team racer, trainer from the biggest loser, 24 Hour Fitness CEO (who I met in a Gondola ride down), and a ton of other amazing, positive, dynamic individuals. Never have I been to an event with so many amazing people in one place, except for maybe Ed O’ Keefe’s mastermind events, but that’s another story.
  • Remember 17. Whenever I feel any fear or doubt if I can accomplish a goal, I’ll remember “17”.

Thank you Jesse Itzler and the entire 29029 staff for making this work. I’d say it was $3,500 well invested and recommend to anyone looking for a demanding physical and mental challenge to go next year in 2018.

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