Mind Over Mountain Diary
The Mind Over Mountain Adventure
Back in April, when I was on holiday in Japan, I had an email from Alan Colville, a friend, telling me about a project he was planning with charities Mind and Calm in order to raise awareness of mental health. Critical to raising awareness is the content you’re able to put out and he wanted to have a chat to see if this was something I wanted to get involved in.
The main event? A world record attempt by him and a friend – endurance athlete and coach Jon Fearne – to cycle at the highest elevation, a record currently set at 7,211 meters, achieved on the slopes of the Muztagata in the Xinjiang province of China, on 10 July 2009.
To fund the world record attempt, there would be a crowdfunding campaign and preparations would include two other, smaller challenges, the first on Mont Blanc and the second on Mount Kilimanjaro.
Very exciting, but daunting as well. I had loads of questions, so we decided to meet for coffee as soon as I was back in the UK.
This is what followed. Most recent post at the top, so start at the bottom if you want to follow the timeline.
One week to go until Mont Blanc!
Another Sunday, another milestone. Base run has gone up to 1 hour and 20 minutes. I found a really nice route that mainly covered parks, picturesque neighbourhoods, an estate and forest and ended up meeting my wife and girls for breakfast outside at Bristol’s waterfront. Longest and nicest run so far.
152 average bpm (yes! Slow pace made it work)
I absolutely suck at push-ups.
It’s Sunday and today I had another nice challenge waiting for me: a 12 minute run to the base of a 4-minute steep hill, running this up and down 6 times, followed by a 12 run back home on flat. A mixed plank session was next, then 20 minutes of stretching. I burnt some calories that morning…
The instructions said I needed to increase effort with each rep, but I think it’s fair to say that happened automatically without me attempting to go faster. I was just happy that I made it.
Final camera kit list for Mont Blanc
I’ve decided on my photography/video kit list and placed an order at Amazon for everything I need. It took a LOT of time to figure out what to get within my tiny budget.
I’ll now have something that has a relatively small footprint which I can attach to a clip on one of the straps of my backpack.
I decided not to work with an external screen. It just added too much to the bulk and shape of the set.
When I’m hiking/climbing I will take:
- Canon 5D IV
- Canon EOS 24-70 f/2.8 II lens (with a Genustech Eclipse ND Fader Filter and a Hoya Pro-1 Digital Circular Polarizing Filter
- Rode VideoMicro Compact On Camera Microphone
- Tarion TR-V1 LCD Display Viewfinder (it attaches through a magnet, which makes it really flexible)
All attached to a SmallRig cage to which I added a SmallRig NATO rail handle. The cage attaches to a Peak Design CapturePRO Camera Clip, which in turn is attached to my backpack. All in all it’s quite heavy, but it works. The big test is Mont Blanc though. I’ll report back on how I got on.
My existing backpack (Lowepro ProTactic 450) also contains a medium Movo CRC23 Storm Raincover Protector, the Joby GorillaPod 5K kit, a load of batteries, memory cards, lens wipes and a couple of toe warmers (yes!) in case we go in sub zero terrain and I can use them to keep the backpack warm inside and make the batteries last longer and deal with any camera issues when it gets too cold.
I think the backpack is not going to be great on long walks and challenging climbs, but it’s all I have and can afford at this stage. Once the funding comes through for the big expedition I will go for an F-Stop one.
I haven’t decided what other lenses I will bring and I can leave at camp when we go on more challenging hikes, but I’d like to be flexible when we do have time and space to get some good shots for the website and social media. I’ll probably bring my 70-200 mm f/2.8 and maybe my 50 mm f/1.2 and my 16-35 f/2.8 as well.
The first 1-hour run!
There seems to be a new base run milestone every Sunday and I’ve been looking forward to doing today’s all week. It’s the first time I’ll be running for an hour straight, something I couldn’t imagine myself doing when I started a month ago. And it’s amazing how far you can go in an hour. Got lost on the way back, so had a 20-minute hike back home. It went well and I felt great.
Brought my iPhone this time, so I could track the route and stream music from Apple Music. I got a bit bored with the tracks I downloaded onto the Fitbit.
Average bpm: 163
892 calories burnt
Figuring out the camera kit at the rental house
Had an appointment with the rental house today to see how they could recommend me getting the 5D into something compact with all the right accessories. After a bit of discussion we got a SmallHD 5 inch screen and a Rode VideoMic Pro on a t-bar onto the hot shoe of the camera, with a long enough HDMI cable and a clamp to attach it flexibly to the Gorillapod I’m planning to buy.
It was all on the camera and it worked, but I was hoping to get something more compact and easier to carry, so I went home to have another think.
Heart rates, no control
My legs are still sore from last Wednesday’s leg strength exercises. The run was a 40-minute hill rep one. Keeping the heart rate at the right level is still very hard. I check my watch as I run, slowing down or speeding up when necessary, but I seem to get stuck on just over 170 bpm. On base runs it needs to get to 50 bpm under my maximum, meaning around 150 bpm. But I’m only a month in now and should be proud if where I got so far, I suppose.
Family, risks and investments
Alan and I had a long phone conversation about family, risks and investments. Risk control and family go hand in hand and we agreed that this was not some sort of mid-life crisis project. I mentioned Meru (see yesterday’s post). Preparation is everything. And we’d only attempt to summit Mont Blanc if the conditions surrounding such an effort would be perfect. It’s more likely than not that it’s not going to happen, but that’s fine. It’s about getting experience towards the final expedition, that’s the goal.
I need to put more money in this shoot than I expected. There’s money going towards getting my camera ready, the running kit, the stuff I need to buy and rent for the mountaineering, it’s all adding up. We talked it through and I need to see a lot of things as an investment for doing more of this type of work, which is what I really want to do.
Jon and Alan pointed me in the direction of the work of Jimmy Chin, a photographer, filmmaker, and mountain sports athlete. Incredible stuff. A source of inspiration and frustration in equal amounts. I bought his film Meru, which is great. It did scare me as well. Although they do things we’re not even getting close to, there were some random accidents in there that could easily happen to one of us.
It’s my birthday
I turned 47 today. Jon had a nice birthday surprise lined up: squats, lunges, calf raises, and chair step-ups. The lunges and squats were the hardest, but thought I’d done alright until I decided to go downstairs to get some more water and almost fell down the stairs. My legs had turned to jelly. Ouch!
I finished the edit of the crowdfunding video and sent it off to the guys. They liked it so we’re good to go on that one.
I finish the day with a real – delicious!! – birthday treat at The Ethicurean restaurant.
Mont Blanc kit list
Jon sent through a kit list for Mont Blanc. I’ve never been a keen camper, so a number of things on the list that other people may already have I’ll need to purchase, such as a 3-4 season sleeping bag, a sleeping mat, etc. Some other things such as crampons, a harness and a helmet can be hired in Chamonix. That helps as these are things you don’t use a lot when you live my kind of lifestyle. Still a lot to buy. Have to have a think.
The maximal test
The base run went up to 50 minutes yesterday and today I had to do a “maximal test” to see what my heart rate would get up to. It involved at least three long hill sprints. Phew! I hit 190 bpm, which means that my maximum heart rate would be around 195-200bpm. My base runs are currently around 170 bpm average and Jon is looking to see this go down to 160 bpm for the same pace.
Jon reports that the Guinness World Records application has been put in. It takes 12 weeks to get approval.
Headphones for running
I decided that now the runs are getting longer and longer I would like to listen to music. I’m on a limited budget with everything I’ll need for Mind Over Mountain, but I’ve found the Anker Soundbuds Slim bluetooth earphones and they’re pretty decent for £20. The Fitbit Versa has the ability to store and play music through bluetooth, so off I go.
Slight change of plan
Jon proposed to see our time in Chamonix as fitness training and a testing exercise for us. We can get mountaineering experience, exercise, test equipment and see how we work as a team. To summit Mont Blanc we will need a guide and the guys need to find a cost-effective way to make this happen. And if not, we won’t attempt to summit. It makes perfect sense to me. Treating it more as a training session and test will give us a better chance of succeeding on the following expeditions. I would still very much welcome a chance to make it to the summit though, as it’s a real milestone, both for me personally as for our goal as it gives us something to write/shout about. But we’ll see how things pan out.
Our first shoot
Had to do a base run with summit sprints yesterday, which was super hard. My legs were too tired for today”s run. I struggled through it and did not feel good. This was followed by a timed core challenge with push-ups, sit-ups, etc and did really bad on this too. Not great! Tomorrow is a rest day. I guess part of what I’m training is persistence…
We shot the crowdfunding video today and I met Jon. Really good for the three of us to discuss everything so far and do our first project.
I’ve been looking at ways of getting stabilised footage in a compact and light-weight package. Zhiyun Crane gimbals look good and get decent reviews, but are a bit expensive. DJI will release the Ronin-S soon as well, but again, quite expensive. I think it’s going to be quite heavy as well. Then I stumble upon an article on No Film School that contains a video describing some really clever ways to use a Gorillapod and that convinces me to put it on my list. If I add a long enough HDMI cable between my camera and the screen I can flip the whole thing upside down, move the screen to the top using a clamp and I’ve got a basic stabiliser. Could work!
It’s all about the heart rate zones
My Fitbit Versa arrives, so I can start monitoring my progress.
Because mountaineering mainly involves long duration, low- to moderate intensity work, using heart rate zones as the basis of my training makes perfect sense. Heart rate zones use percentages of the maximum heart rate, with 1 being the lowest intensity aerobic training through 5 for maximal effort. Jon’s mainly training me in zone 2 (keeping around 50 beats under maximum bpm) in which I should be able to have a conversation whilst running, with days where I’m pushed into zones 3 and 4 and occasionally short bursts into zone 5. Zone 2 does the most to establish the basic endurance qualities. It’s still surprisingly hard, but it does suit me. I’m not a sprinter. It feels safe too. I’m worried about getting an injury and not being able to do the shoot.
Training is five days a week and I get up at 6am to do the exercises before work and the streets get busy. The running is OK, but I suck at push-ups, sit-ups, planks, etc. Hate them.
Background resource for my training
Jon is training me remotely through Training Peaks and I can ask questions, but I’m hungry for information. I find a great book called “Training for the New Alpinism: A Manual for the Climber as Athlete” by Steve House and Scott Johnston. As far as I can tell it gives a good background to how Jon is training me.
The book describes two types of training. The first one being the general conditioning that readies you for event-specific training and secondly the training that prepares you in a specific way for the event itself. The first one is being covered by the mixture of strength and endurance training that Jon has put in my programme. It’s an attempt to get me as fit as possible for the specific training and testing we’ll be doing on the expeditions leading up to the main one.
Jon is giving me a constructive, consistent and progressive training schedule based on my current fitness level and where it needs to be when we head to Mont Blanc. I found it fascinating to read about the human body’s ability to adapt to physical stress and how this can be used to manipulate it to overcompensation, leading to a higher fitness level than before the stress of training was applied. This includes adding in rest days to allow the body to respond to the induced stress. It was really helpful to read that it would take at least 4, sometimes 8 weeks before any changes could be detected in the body. This certainly helped me manage my expectations. Jon added that that was one of the reasons people give up going to the gym in February after starting training as a new year’s resolution. You have to have patience and let your body do the work.
The book has a great quote by legendary coach Renato Canova: “Training is not the work that you do, it is the value and the cost of your body’s response to the work.”
I had a chat with Alan. The original 10 days were to include the races they are going to do around Mont Blanc, but in reality, without support it’s going to be really hard for me to be in the right place at the right time. We discussed me going for 5 days instead and just focus on the mountaineering part. We would be on foot, which will make shooting a lot easier. We agree on terms and Alan books my flight to Geneva. It’s on!
I’ve had some bad news. It doesn’t look like the guys can get me on board to cover the 10-day races and exercises at Mont Blanc. The expenses and fees are just too high at this stage without any funding or sponsorship. I propose to defer payment if they cover costs, making sure I’m not out of pocket.
Training - the family gets inspired
Training starts properly now. I abandon the Runner’s World programme and start on Jon’s. No couple of minutes running, couple of minutes walking for half an hour. We go straight in with a 30-minute run! I manage it though, and feel great. There’s a lot of stretching involved in this programme. My daughter won’t be able to work to this schedule, but it seems my wife has caught the bug and wants to start running with her. We’re going to be a very fit family!
Preparing to start training with a coach
Jon signs me up to Trainingpeaks, the online coaching platform he uses, and asks me to fill out a couple of surveys so he can tailor a training schedule for me. I need to get a heart rate monitor and GPS to get the most out of the training. I own an old Fitbit, but it fails after using it twice. It looks like I need to go shopping again, but decide to wait until the decision on Mont Blanc comes in.
Training, still a very long way to go
Started week two of the running programme. Only a couple of minutes of running, on and off for half an hour, already feels like a lot of work. I’ve got a long way to go! My Saucony shoes are great and I bought a couple of dryfit t-shirts now too. It’s fun being out with my daughter although she’s finding getting up early in the morning a bit taxing…!
Camera kit decisions
I use a Sony PXW-FS7 as my film camera. I shoot everything with it and I love it. I’ve had it for 3,5 years now and working with it is second nature. But it’s simply too big and heavy to bring on this shoot. I need to take stills too, so that would mean bringing two cameras. Not an option.
I upgraded to a Canon 5D IV in January and one of the first things I did when I got it was send it off to Canon for a service upgrade to enable filming in Canon Log, enhancing the camera’s dynamic range. The 5D shoots stills and good enough video, so that was going to be the camera I’d bring. Lenses are heavy too. I’m thinking I’ll only bring one lens when we’re hiking and climbing. The obvious choice is the Canon 24-70 f/2.8 II. It has the perfect range for a combination of landscapes and portraits and is fast enough to perform in low-light conditions. It would need a variable ND filter for filming at wider apertures and a polariser to deal with glare in snowy conditions.
The main challenges with using the 5D as a video camera are that you can’t see the screen at an angle or when the sun is out and the onboard microphone won’t do a good enough job. I decide to go and see a rental house I work with to see what I could use in terms of grip equipment and sound and monitoring.
Exciting and daunting in equal measures
Alan and I meet for coffee. Only now the full extend of what I’m considering to get on board with becomes clear. It’s too big to get my head around though. I’ve been interested in doing more adventure based shoots, but this is way bigger than I envisioned. To begin with, there are several cycling events on Mont Blanc at the end of June, plus going to the summit, at 4,800 meters, then an expedition on Kilimanjaro in February 2019, which is 6,300 meters, followed by the huge expedition in September 2019, in a location that needs to remain a secret for now to protect the world record attempt. That would be a 17-day trek and climb and I know so little about this size of adventures it sounds absolutely insane.
I don’t hesitate in saying yes to it all though. I’ll worry about the practicalities later. All I can think about is the pictures and footage I’ll be able to shoot and the chance to raise awareness with the incredible stories I’ll be able to tell.
I talk it through at home and we agree that safety and preparation are absolutely key, something I know Alan has at the top of his list as well.
So, the main ‘practicalities’ for me are 1) my fitness and 2) the kit I need to bring.
Fitness. I’m a healthy 46-year old (48 when we do the main expedition), but I’m not very sporty, let alone an endurance athlete. I walk a lot – my daily commute alone is 10,000 steps – and that will help a little bit, but I’ll need to become the fittest I’ve ever been in my life for this project. This is exciting (and intimidating) in itself. There’s nothing better than training with a goal in mind. It helps that Alan’s partner in this is an endurance coach and he would train me if it all goes ahead.
Mont Blanc is two months away and it’s not 100% certain there is funding for me to go and shoot for 10 days, but I decide to start running anyway. A couple of months doesn’t seem that long to go from couch to summiting Mont Blanc! While I wait for news on Mont Blanc, I start a running schedule I found on the Runner’s World website: The 8-Week Beginner's Program. My 11-year old daughter is up for coming along with me. I go to a running gear shop to get gait analysis and pick out a pair of trainers and some good socks, that will hopefully help me run comfortably and avoid injuries. My knees and lower back are my weak points, so I have to be careful.