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Just under two weeks ago Alex Amiri and Caleb Bender successfully completed their Everesting for MS. Alex reflects back on the day and how the idea originated.

A few weeks ago I reached out to a friend of mine, Caleb Bender and pitched the idea of Everesting instead of just doing the Virtual MS Bike. He was all over the idea and luckily, Caleb has a ton of experience with MS Bike. We were also fortunate that our coach Houshang Amiri has an endless amount of experience in training athletes to perform and recover at their best.

First off Caleb and I set up a donation page through MS Bike deciding on a team goal of $2,000, ($1,000 each). At the time of writing this we upped the team goal to $4,000, $2,000 each and we are happy to say we have PASSED this goal. The feedback has been incredibly humbling. The involvement of the local and the cycling community was the real motivator when things got tough during the ride.

Alex near the top. Photo by Jay Wallace.

So to the ride. We planned on a time just over two weeks from our decision date, which landed us on August 1. Neither of us really knew just how hard it would be, or just how important it was to pace our effort. Two weeks before our August 1. effort we agreed it would be smart to see what kind of pace we could maintain.

First, we talked to Houshang, and he told us what sort of pace would be realistic. We both did 10-15 efforts, once a week for two weeks. We hit the climb on the first week and we felt the pace was manageable. We agreed to do this again the second week. But this time we had a bit more riding in the legs. The pace still felt fine by the 11th effort. Once we got off the climb that time we started thinking about nutrition as that was going to be even more important on an effort like this, compared to the Zone 2 riding we had been doing.

After a nice slow ride to get to Goldstream Heights, south of the Cowichan Valley, where we were going to do the climb, we were ready to start at 7:30 am. We set our own respective performance goal of what sort of time we want to finish in. I was aiming for 8:30. Starting out, we were a bit ahead of pace so we quickly adjusted and carried on. For the first five hours I was feeling comfortable with the pace I was holding, and the speed I was targeting on the climb. As the fifth hour carried on the wind started, first it was a cross-headwind, then by the sixth hour it was a headwind, and it only got worse. While the pace waivered it became more and more difficult.

 

The support helped moral. Photo by Jay Wallace.

Thankfully around this time is when people started to show up in support. We had friends on the side of the road, and fellow cyclists riding up with us. This helped the morale. Around this time my mind was blank, and the effort along with the 31 degree heat and the headwind took its toll. The pace dropped but this was okay because until this point I had been ahead of schedule. After 45 minutes, I slowly rebuilt the pace back to what was comfortable. For the last hour of the ride, I was doing okay mentally. The legs hit a point where I couldn’t go much slower, but I couldn’t go any harder either. You start to think about everyone who supported you along the way, and each person you think of makes you feel a little bit stronger. This is what really drove the final hour home for me (the two cokes I had during this hour might have helped to). I ended with a time of 8:40, completing the first section of Goldstream Heights Drive 73 times.

It has been 12 days since the effort now and its given me time to collect my thoughts and get the body properly recovered. That effort sucked but now it’s probably one of the things I’m personally most proud of. Beside the effort, the fundraiser went incredibly well. Our donation pages are both still active, I urge you to check it out and read the donor list, as all those who supported us there are listed and deserve recognition beyond what I can provide.

Alex’s fundraising page

Caleb’s fundraising page

Team fundraising page

If any of you out there want to try Everesting, talk to Houshang, He’ll set you up for success no matter the effort. Photo by Jay Wallace

 

PCC Athletes Caleb Bender and Alex Amiri successfully everested for MS on Saturday – raising much needed funds for the MS Society of Canada. Choosing the gruelling hill of Goldstream Heights, south of the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island here is Caleb’s account of the training and the day. 

Wow, what a crazy couple of weeks it’s been. From when Alex and I decided to Everest for the MS Society of Canada to now, three weeks later having raised a combined $3,800 (and counting) the community support for the cause and the effort has been absolutely insane. I’d like to start by thanking everyone who read about our connections with MS, to everyone who donated, and to everyone who came out and supported us on the day. I feel so lucky to be a part of such a close-knit cycling community, and your support of the MS Society of Canada the past few weeks has been beyond belief.

Caleb on the climb. Photo by Jay Wallace

When Alex and I decided we would Everest for the MS Society of Canada, we were hoping to raise a bit of money and to raise some awareness to a cause close to both of us. This year, MS Bike had to cancel all of their in-person bike tours in exchange for the “Virtual MS Bike.” The idea was for riders to challenge themselves on the bike as a means of fundraising over the summer months in leu of an in-person event. An Everesting qualified as a challenge, so when Alex pitched the idea, I was 100% on board.

This was my 10th year fundraising for the MS Society and participating in MS Bike, and I’m happy to report that despite funds being raised entirely online (rather than my usual door to door approach in my small home town) this was shockingly also one of my most successful years of fundraising, having to up my standard fundraising goal of $1,000 after just over one week. The support from friends, family, and fellow cyclists far exceeded expectations, and for that I am extremely thankful. The donations and awareness make all the difference for those in my family and my hometown who live with MS, and so the support means the world to me.

After two weeks of adapted training and pacing work thanks to coach Houshang Amiri and Pacific Cycling Centre, Alex and I were ready to take on the Everest Challenge last Saturday. Knowing full well from the experiences of those who had done an Everesting before I knew the challenge was going to be a big one, but I don’t think I fully realized the challenge until that morning. The 70+ efforts up our chosen climb on Goldstream Heights was bound to be a challenge, but the repetitive nature of the effort really did take its toll. Thankfully, we had Houshang at the top of the climb giving bottles, food, ice, and words of encouragement throughout.

Coach Houshang Amiri providing support at the top. Photo by Jay Wallace.

The support on the day was incredible, with friends and fellow cyclists joining us for the climb and cheering from the roadside. The cheers and the faces were amazing, and at times were the only thing to keep me sane (sort of) through every rep.

Albeit by far the hardest day I’ve had on the bike, I kept motivated knowing what we were working so hard to do. At the end of the day we’d end up sore and exhausted for a few days and then be right back up and training as usual. However, we both knew that climbing a hill all day doesn’t compare to the daily challenges those living with MS deal with every day. There are no rest days from MS, and so as hard as the effort was, stopping was not an option. Rep after rep I encouraged myself with the strength and courage I’ve seen from those in my family and community facing MS. And rep after rep I was reminded of an old joke between Dad and I at my first MS Bike Tour 10 years ago; “just one more climb”. Year after year Dad and I would ride the MS Bike at Riding Mountain National Park (which was surprisingly hilly for the prairies) and would repeat this joke after every hill knowing full well there were more on the horizon. The joke was oddly fitting considering the effort, and brought back good memories from the 10 years at MS Bike and the stories that kept me motivated during those early years when a 75 km day on the bike was just as much of a challenge as an Everesting.

The experience on Saturday was incredible, and largely made possible thanks to the help of Pacific Cycling Centre and the support from the entire cycling community. Without this support the funds raised and the ride itself wouldn’t be possible, so I want to thank everyone who made the day great and our fundraising a huge success. This experience sure won’t be one that I will soon forget.

You can still donate to the Everest team by going to:

Caleb’s fundraising page

Two PCC athletes have announced they will be taking on an incredible challenge. Alex Amiri and Caleb Bender will be Everesting for MS on August 1 as part of the Virtual MS Bike.

What is Everesting? Alex and Caleb will ride a hill multiple times until they reach an elevation gain of 8,848 metres which is the height of Mount Everest. They will climb a 1.3 km portion of road (average of 9%) on Vancouver Island, south of the Cowichan Valley on Goldstream Heights Drive 73 times in order to reach the target elevation.

Alex Amiri – photo by Jay Wallace

Both have been personally affected by MS. Alex’s mom has had the disease for over 20 years, and Caleb, who has ridden for MS Bike before, had a family member diagnosed 10 years ago.

“This year I haven’t been able to spend real quality time with my mom, and have been limited to window visits,” said Alex. “It’s difficult to see her some days, and now I feel I can really make a difference, no matter how small or how large.”

“I quickly realized how heavily my local community was impacted by MS when raising funds for my first tour,” said Caleb. “This disease can have a profound impact on families and communities, with Canadian MS rates being one of the highest in the world.”

They are asking for donations to help continue to fight this debilitating disease and assist in funding leading-edge research and support programs. They are encouraging anyone in the area on August 1 to cheer them on in this challenge. They are hoping to start between 6 – 7 am depending on the temperature.

Caleb Bender

“Our team will take the spirit of the Virtual MS Bike and strength of those we know living with MS with us, as we push our limits for a hard day in the saddle,” they said.

To donate:

Alex’s personal page

Caleb’s personal page

Everesting for MS team page

 

 

PCC cyclists have had a challenging few months. The pandemic forced many to train indoors, some faced lockdown after travelling out of the country or province and now it is safe to cycle outdoors this has to be in small groups. In the first of the series – Training during a Pandemic – we asked PCC cyclists how they have been coping and what has kept them motivated. We start with Alex Amiri from Team California. 

Lately things have been chaotic, with COVID-19, the cancellation of the 2020 NA cycling calendar, travel bans, and many other complications, finding ways to stay self motivated can become difficult for some people.

This is a journey through my time with training during the pandemic. It starts back in March, after pre-season training in Tucson, to heading home early and being quarantined to my house for two weeks, all the way to the present day and what I am doing now.

In Tucson I was able to get in the quality training needed to perform at a high level in North America, things were going great on the bike, all the while the situation was rapidly deteriorating in Europe, Asia, and unknowingly at the time, in the North America as well.

From warm sunny days in Arizona, to hearing Justin Trudeau telling all Canadians to come home. On such short notice this was a bit of a shock. It was grey and rainy for the whole two weeks of my quarantine. During this, I was not allowed to leave the house. That meant lots of time on the trainer. For some, this is a non-issue. For me, this was a hard adjustment, and mentally it was tough. Things were still uncertain for the 2020 race season, so motivation to turn myself inside out on the trainer was nonexistent.

Coming into April post quarantine I was excited to finally get back outside and on the road. Rain or shine, I was getting out on the bike for my own sanity. While this was great, the two weeks on the trainer took its toll. Physically, I had lost the fitness I gained in Arizona. Mentally, I lost some of the drive to keep up with the prescribed training. Thanks to my team, Team California, I was able to have a major shift in perspective, understanding that I am not alone. And thanks to my coach, we were able to formulate a plan to maintain and build fitness in a way that I could enjoy, and I was committed to the long road ahead, regardless of what the racing season might look like.

Throughout the month of March, my focus had shifted from high intensity back to the off-season style of training. This was a still a major adjustment, going into May and the “start” of the racing season.

Alex on a gravel ride near his home in Mill Bay. Photo by Jay Wallace.

May brought more favourable weather, but it also brought the bad news of our 2020 race calendar being all but cancelled. While the month started with the Virtual Redlands Bicycle Classic, it ended with lots of time spent on the Gravel bike, as well as the TT bike. The goal was to build the base fitness, without too much thought towards building the high-end power sustainability. This allowed a lot of time to explore the roads less traveled. It allowed opportunity to keep things interesting, from 8-hour gravel epics, to 4-hour rides on the TT bike to find comfort in the aero position. Towards the end of the month, I was feeling refreshed.

June meant summer. With that came earlier sunrises, and later sunsets. That greatly affected the amount of riding I was doing. Finishing May with 90 hours of riding in the legs led to a big boost in fitness, and in turn, a morale boost. Feel-good do-good right? It was a refreshing feeling having the freedom to ride to my hearts content, keeping in mind that racing will eventually happen, even if it is eight months away. This became the perfect time to push my limits. Without pushing limits, its hard to find areas to improve on, making it difficult to formulate realistic cycling goals. The last time I had really “pushed” my limit was in 2017. The big training loads, for me, help me build my self awareness on and off the bike. Teaching me what I can and cannot handle. This began one of my biggest months of training, logging 108 hours on the bike.

The last week of June was a solo 37 hour training block over the course of eight days, with one day off (the second day). The beginning of the week was rough, coming off the Virtual Joe Martin Stage Race and heading into a training week like this was a shock to the system. After the rest day began six days of training totaling 30 hours and 900 km. Feeling terrible on day one was a bad sign, but I was committed. You are not always going to feel amazing on the bike, and what I found was that as the week went on, and the hours and km’s started adding up, I started feeling better and better. By the end of the week I felt like I had just had an easy week. I felt great. I learned I can handle a big training load like that, and I learned just how hard I can push myself with that much time on the bike all at once.

Now going into July, I’ve started with an actual easy week. With the last months weighing on my mind it became abundantly clear that nothing lasts forever. If you’re up, you’ll come down. If you go down, you will come back up.  Cycling is a tough sport, everyone has a different journey, and everyone develops and goes through these highs and lows at a different rate. Mentally you need to find what drives you, on and off the bike. A big fault many cyclists struggle with is feeling vulnerable. If you feel vulnerable, you’re out of your comfort zone, and in the gain zone. So embrace it, and just keep pedalling.