Holly Budge: What it feels like to train for Everest

When I first read adventurer Holly Budge’s bio I remember thinking: I need to hear more about this amazing woman. Find her email, now! So I’m beyond happy that she’s my first interview.

Holly is a total badass; her lust for adventure is fearless and accounts for her incredible accomplishments – from being the first woman ever to skydive off Everest (gulp) to summiting inhospitable mountain ranges, snowboarding from the summit of Mera Peak at 6500m, and racing semi-wild horses, self-supported, 1000km across Mongolia in 9 days. Oh yes, and she’s also holder of two world records. Phew.

Holly’s latest challenge, to summit Everest for the first time, began on April 5. Before leaving, she kindly let me quiz her about how she trained for such an epic expedition.

Tell us about what the Everest expedition entails, Holly
I’m climbing Everest (8848 metres) on the north-side, in Tibet, which means flying from Kathmandu, Nepal to Lhasa, Tibet and travelling 900km over the Tibetan Plateau to reach Basecamp, at an elevation of 5,200m. It’s actually pretty crazy to think anyone can drive to this altitude as, without proper acclimatisation, you wouldn’t survive if you came straight from sea-level to basecamp!

The expedition itself lasts for 60 days. We’ll spend about 40 days of this camping on the mountain acclimatising to start with, which involves slowly moving up and down the lower mountain and then getting on with the climb to the summit. Throughout the climb, I’ll be carrying my personal equipment in my backpack which will weigh approximately 10-12kgs. We have an accomplished team of sherpas who carry our tents and set up the camps etc.

How technical is it?
Perhaps one of the most technical elements is called the Second Step, which is one of three lumps of rock on the North East Ridge route. It’s incredibly exposed and you risk falling or running low on oxygen while you wait to climb it. It’s basically in two parts and, although it’s about 40 metres long, it’s situated at about 8,610 metres high with large boulders to scale in the first part and around five vertical metres at the top. It will most likely be dark when we tackle this ascent, which makes it all the more dangerous.

What will be the most physically demanding element of the Everest summit?
The high altitude will be very physically demanding, especially above 8000m, in the ‘Death Zone’, where the air is so thin that, even with the use of supplemental oxygen, you’re basically dying. The human brain can easily become confused and even small movements can require huge efforts.

At very high altitude you can suffer sickness, breathing difficulties and loss of appetite – that last one is more worrying than it sounds, as above 5000m the body starts to consume its own muscles for energy, so losing weight is pretty much unavoidable. Obviously I need all the energy I can get, so fuelling right is very important.

So far, I have been very fortunate with how my body copes with high altitude. I take the commonly used drug, Acetazolamide (Diamox), to help with the acclimatisation process.

Have you included altitude training in your schedule?
I’ve been using a high altitude face mask whilst doing exercise, which reduces your oxygen intake but does not accurately simulate high altitude. I’ve never used an altitude training chamber. The most effective way to train for high altitude is to go to high altitude and spend time acclimatising slowly.

Are you following a specific training programme for your gruelling trek?
I’ve been following a dedicated training programme, Uphill Athlete (www.uphillathlete.com) by Steve House and Scott Johnston, which is a combination of endurance, cardio, core and strength training. All are equally important.

I see a personal trainer twice a week to help me with core and strength exercises. He pushes me really hard, which is good, especially when it gets tough! For the remaining four days a week I’ve been doing a combination of steep hill climbs outdoors, with a weighted pack (12kgs), or long treadmill sessions in the gym, on max incline, with a weighted pack. I’ve also been doing interval training on the bike. These sessions are really tough!

Next week, my trainer has told me I will be pulling my car across a car park!

How about yoga or pilates?
I’ve just started doing yoga twice a week. I’m really enjoying it and will definitely continue when I get back from Everest and start to prepare for leading more expeditions later in the year.
My yoga teacher has put together a short routine for me to follow whilst I’m on the mountain, to help with flexibility.

So is your typical weekly training schedule?
Average week of training involves:
Monday: Steep uphill climb (on treadmill) – 1.5hrs
Tuesday: Core and strength training – 1hr
Wednesday: Easy run/hike – 1hr
Thursday: Weighted uphill hike – 3hrs 45 min
Friday: Weighted uphill hike – 2.5hrs
Saturday: Rest day
Sunday: Core and strength training – 1hr

As you get closer to leaving for Everest, will your training be scaled back?
Yes, in the last 10 days I will scale it back and every other day will be a rest day, with easy runs or walks in between.  I leave in a week so I’m looking after myself right now!

Mentally, how do you prepare for the challenges ahead?
I don’t, really! I feel fortunate to be mentally very tough. I’m not sure how or if you can train for this. I think having quite a bit of experience of high altitude expeditions helps! It’s still venturing into the unknown because I haven’t climbed Everest before, but I know what expedition life is like and, more importantly, I know how I think and feel when at altitude.

Life on the mountain is tough. When you go over 24 hours of endurance lots of things start happening; the brain starts shutting down, and it’s how you deal with that. Most people think they are finished at 75% but they’ve still got another 25% in them – they think they can’t do it, but they can. Women are fantastic endurance athletes because we’ve kind of had that built into us. I think we’re incredibly tough creatures. We’re much tougher than we necessarily give ourselves credit for. When we think we’re done, there is normally some more in the tank!

Do you ever struggle with motivation to train?
Like most people, I do sometimes find it a struggle for sure, especially when it’s raining! Having a big goal has definitely helped and I have felt very motivated for the most part. The last mountain I climbed, Ama Dablam, totally kicked my arse. I hadn’t trained enough for it. It involved rock climbing to 6000 metres and then mixed climbing right up to the summit (6812m). It was a 24-hour summit push; 15 hours of climbing up to the summit and then 9 hours rappelling (descending via rope). It was ridiculously hardcore. By the end of it I was hallucinating and my body was pretty shot. When I got back I vowed that wouldn’t happen again, hence, I am much better prepared for Everest.

What kit do you consider essential for training?
My Suunto Ambit 3 Vertical Watch and heart rate monitor is totally essential. All my training is monitored against my heart rate, so the type of activity I’m doing determines what heart rate range I work in.

Such a huge expedition can’t be cheap – do you have sponsors that support you?
Getting financial sponsors on board is always a challenge. I have been fortunate to find some great equipment sponsors and two sponsors who have helped me financially. These include Olfi action cameras, Buff Headwear, The Lobster Pot in Wales, Zero Six Zero Bespoke Maps, Talia Communications and various individuals.

I’ve also invested some of my own savings into it, as climbing Everest is an itch I just had to scratch! Also, as I work for the company who I am climbing Everest with, they’ve given me a good deal too!

Are you supporting any charities?
Yes, I have my own charity, How Many Elephants (howmanyelephants.co), which I’m supporting. Not many people realise that 96 elephants are poached every day for their ivory, and at this rate, they risk extinction by 2025. How Many Elephants helps to highlight this devastating impact.
I’m also supporting The Mount Everest Foundation For Sustainable Development In Nepal and Tibet, which exists to help local families help themselves to build schools, hospitals and environmental projects, in remote areas close to Mount Everest. I’ve been shown amazing hospitality during my expeditions so I’m passionate about paying this back.

Holly will be posting live streams and updates from her Everest expedition on social media via the hashtag #EverestEveryday. Follow her on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/hollybudgeadventure and via Instagram https://www.instagram.com/hollybudge. Visit www.HollyBudge.com for more information – Holly does amazing motivational talks!