New Years Eve 2016. I'm sat, or more accurately wedged into the sofa. Christmas has past and I've completed the Festive 500 and my mileage goal for that year. I hadn't set any goals for 2017 and was looking for something different to target other than riding as far as possible. Almost simultaneously an article from Red Bull pops up on my Facebook timeline and someone sends me a link. Titled "Seven incredible stats on Strava" it starts with a piece about someone that rode a million feet of elevation in a year. Immediately I knew I had my goal.
Rather too hastily I went on Twitter and declared my goal for 2017. Only then did I get out the calculator and realise what an epic mistake I'd probably made. It turns out 1,000,000ft over 365 days is 2,800ft (850m) each day. That's presuming you ride every day of course, which I definitely didn't intend to. It starts to look even more impossible when you consider the weather in the UK; you've got ice for a couple of months and probably a strong chance of rain for the rest so that means a few more potential days off so some big days of climbing ahead.
As we all know, in my world nothing indoors goes towards your annual total. That's my choice and as ever, I don't hold that on anyone else. So no Zwift climbing for me if I was going to get to a million.
In the first quarter of the year I fell quite far behind my goal owing to work and the dark, miserable days but knew that come summer I would be able to make some of that lost elevation back. The key was keeping how much I lost to a minimum. A week long dose of man-flu in April did nothing to help me there and stole another 20,000ft from my grasp.
Spring and summer were much better and allowed me to make up significant amounts of elevation without too much trouble other than getting tired. The problem with UK climbs is that they are short and punchy. You'll probably top out around 600ft per climb and it will average 15% so you're not getting much for each hill other than a dose of lactic in your legs.
Come late autumn I'd managed to get back on track and sneak ahead a little and started to realise I might actually finally have a chance at ticked off the million. I was going out after work and finding the hardest route home I could; 3,000ft in 25 miles is a strong way to make sure you get a good nights sleep. By December I'd realised I could be done at Christmas so just found every hill I could until finally on the 22nd December I ticked off the thousandth foot of climbing at the top of the hated Langbar near Ilkley; it's a hill I like to avoid normally but it ticked the box to finish the job.
Throughout the year consistency has been the key. There was no point trying to smash 20,000ft of climbing every weekend only to suffer for days afterwards and not be able to ride. I told myself that 10,000ft during the week from commuting and summer training followed by 12,000ft at the weekend would be sufficient. That worked out at 22,000ft a week which gave a bit of wiggle room if I had to miss some days for any reason.
It's probably not something I'll ever do again but I think it was worthwhile doing. It's a challenge that you can't do particularly fast and doesn't necessarily involve going particularly far if you plan the right route but it takes you to some of the highest roads around wherever you choose to ride and opens up some immense views along the way. It's also worthwhile for cake consumption; my daily calorie intake far exceeds 3,500 calories but I can't get an edge of 66kg because of all the energy it takes to drag yourself skyward every day. Not that I'll complain about being able to eat more cake.
If you're looking at doing it as a challenge it's not going to be easy. Plan well, fuel well and prepare for the occasional setback. Alternatively, channel your inner goat and move to the Alps because trust me, it would be a whole lot easier!