Men’s Health Fitness Editor Michael Jennings has already achieved peak fitness – follow his lead.
As I headed into the chamber, I had in the back of my mind, last year’s 2.0 challenge. In that I paced too slow off the start and left too much in the tank on the final climb. Yes, I finished fast, but I left knowing I could have done better. This was a mistake – I should have viewed the challenge in isolation.
I went off like a flash, pulling a 1:35 out the blocks for the 500m row to start. I’ve been using the rowing machine a lot in my training recently, so it was the one element of the challenge I felt confident in… a bit too confident you could say!
Mastermind of the Elevation Challenge, Bobby Rich, offered some sage advice <afterwards>: “The common mistake is to go out too hard and too fast. Your lactate will build up more quickly at altitude to a point that your body is unable to deal with it quickly enough – will end in fatigue or cramp VERY QUICKLY!
“People think about their individual times on the piece of kit in front of them and want to match their PB’s. It doesn’t matter what you’ve previously achieved; the random order of equipment messes with you physically and mentally, so come with a game plan and start strong but steady with room to build.”
On the rower, don’t get sucked into the sense of occasion or peer pressure – instead focus on your form and pull long even strokes, using the larger muscles in your legs to drive you forward.
Next up was the 500m Deadmill. Last year the Technogym Skillmill was set to the sled setting, so you had to create all the power yourself, making this stage more strength-focussed. This year Bobby went for the parachute setting, which adds support and gives your muscles some respite, but the extra distance will make your lungs burn. It went a lot more slowly than anticipated.
Initially I was caught in two minds as to whether I bend my arms and lean into the machine to generate force, or keep my chest upright and extend my arms. Go for the latter, being upright allows you to open up your chest and gulp down as much of the depleted oxygen levels as possible.
Once off the Deadmill it’s onto the bike for 2k. This, Bobby warned me, is where the pain really sets in. The first two elements are to be paced and treated with a bit of caution… by the time you get to the bike it’s all about head down and hard work to the finish. I stayed consistent and was happy with how I rode this one out.
This is where you really need to drive hard with your legs. I was thinking about pushing down on the pedal and pulling up hard. It also allows you the chance to save your arms, which you’ll call on for the Versaclimber to finish.
Find The Middle Distance
When I got off the saddle of the bike to head over to the climber, I really felt the lactic acid build up in my quads. It was more of a wobble than a walk, to be honest. At this point, my muscles were gone, and it became more about how I could stay mentally resilient and not stop to push through the final 500m ascent to the finish.
The Versa is an interesting one. Make your strokes too short and you won’t cover enough distance, however longer and slower strokes won’t serve you well either, so it’s finding a balance. I spent the majority of the climb with my head down, eyes closed just praying the 500m would be over soon. I tried desperately to keep my core tight, chest up and call on my arms as much as I could as my legs were shot. Bobby called on me to sprint the last 250m, but my intensity was already at its peak. Lungs and legs burning, I was gasping for air when the clock stopped at 11:46.
I could have paced it better, but I couldn’t have given more. As the first person to take on the challenge this year, I didn’t have a time to focus on which was a mind game in itself. I’m glad I stepped up first and hopefully set a half-decent bench mark for others.
It’s a challenge where at the time you’re hating every minute, but afterwards you want to do it all over again. It’s a real mental and physical battle of endurance. There isn’t a fitness test like it in London.
Find out more about the challenge here.