Park City mountain biker now owns world record for the ‘Everesting’ challenge
PARK CITY, Utah — Keegan Swenson is a born competitor.
All you have to do is talk to him for a few minutes and it’s apparent that he loves to compete and push his mental and physical limits to see how far he can go.
But with the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down the sports world, the Park City, Utah, rider was forced to put his professional mountain biking career on hold, and with it that competitive fire that drives him each day.
“All of our races are canceled for the spring and summer, or at least until September, so that’s been weird. I was really thinking I needed something to focus on to make my training, which I’m still doing, really worth it,” Swenson said. “So for the last month or so, I’ve been thinking of some challenge to do but also something that has purpose behind it. I wanted to get that race day mentality back and feel those race nerves and adrenaline again.”
Not only did Swenson find that challenge, he accomplished it.
Swenson is now the world record holder in the ‘Everesting’ challenge after he ascended 29,029 feet in just 7 hours, 40 minutes and 5 seconds on Friday, May 15.
The ‘Everesting’ challenge, which has been around since 1994, has riders attempting to climb the elevation of Mount Everest (8,848 meters) in the shortest time possible.
To achieve this goal, Swenson spent time looking for a good area to do so, one that would have enough climb to provide a solid balance between ascension and distance. With the help of his buddy Jonathon Lee, who Swenson says is a “data nerd and loves this stuff,” eventually they settled on a section of Pine Canyon Road in Midway.
“We figured out that the fastest segment of Pine Canyon was from the gate at the bottom to the first switchback, so it made it perfect based on the distance and the climb,” Swenson said. “We figured it would be faster to not have many switchbacks to do on my way down, and with the consistent grade going up it was the most efficient way. I also wanted to do that road because it’s my hometown road and I climb it multiple times a week. … I figured it would be badass.”
The distance Swenson eventually traveled was 3.64 miles each “loop,” which featured 1,023 feet of climb. Swenson would have to do one loop 28.5 times, or over 105 miles.
Adding to the intrigue, Swenson found out that a new record time was set four days prior to his attempt by Phil Gaimon in California. So instead of trying to break the old world record of 8:29, Gaimon did the challenge in 7:52, meaning that Swenson had just a few days to adjust his plan.
Swenson went in knowing he needed to keep his laps around 16 minutes in order to break the record, which forced him to pace himself. As he got going, he kept telling himself to keep his pace even though he felt like he could go much faster, but in the end that proved to be the right move because around hour six is when the challenge became one of the toughest things he’s ever had to do.
“I was stoked to finish it because I wasn’t sure that I could hold that sort of pace for that long of a time. … And the world record is just a bonus on top of it,” Swenson said. “I don’t think there’s ever going to be something that I’ll ever do that is as mentally or physically challenging as that. There won’t be a workout my coach can throw at me or a race that will be this hard. … So I know I can handle anything now because this has just raised my mental training for racing.”
But according to Swenson, this challenge was so much more than filling his competitive fire and breaking a world record. It was about his friend and roommate Ryan Standish, and the fight that hundreds of thousands of people and their families go through in battling multiple sclerosis.
“My dad was diagnosed with MS back in 2012 and I honestly didn’t know much about it. But then as I learned more, I really wanted to get involved so last year I made it a point to do a fundraising ride with them,” Standish said. “Obviously it’s been hard to do this year, but then Keegan came and told me he was doing this ride and wanted to do it as a fundraiser also. … And it meant so much to me and my family.”
Swenson had other ideas though.
Standish is also a competitive rider, so Swenson called him three days before he was to start and asked that if he raised more than $1,000 for the MS Society, would Standish do the ‘Everesting’ challenge with him?
“Literally within two hours of me saying yes, we raised over $1,000, so I didn’t have much of a choice but to (get ready) to ride,” Standish said with a laugh.
Standish, who had been training at the time but not for something of this magnitude, took it a step further and decided that he would climb an extra foot for every dollar raised over $1,000. It took him just over 11 hours of total riding time on the same course as Swenson, albeit going a bit higher each time, but he also completed the Everest challenge and then some by riding over 120 miles on the day.
In the end, Swenson set the world record and Standish had raised over $5,000 for the fight against MS. It was a day that served many purposes from helping those in need to discovering new limits to ones mental and physical state — but both Swenson and Standish can agree that it was a day they’ll never forget.
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