Another round of dark green chunks shot out from my lungs as the bronchitis cough violently twisted me once again. "This can't be happening to me!" I thought to myself. "Six months of training and perfect health all down the drain? Why?" What started out as a head cold one week before the 2006 Everest Challenge had grown into a nasty sinus and lung infection the day before the race. Foolishly, I had made the decision to still start this insane two day event and try to climb the 29,000 feet in below normal icy cold conditions. I had hacked my way through the first 15,000 feet of climbing on day one in freezing temperatures. However, that left me up all night, more sick than I had ever been before. It was now just after 10:00am on day two and I sat slumped over my handle bars unable to breathe without coughing. "I can't quit now. I am so close."
I had somehow dragged my ailing body through five of the six EC climbs, but I presently sat motionless at the base of the daunting 10,100 foot high Bristlecone climb, the final ascent of this epic race. Like a dark shadow, despair and fatigue quickly consumed me. I could not continue. I made the painfully difficult decision to DNF, just one climb short of the finish. An hour later, I made the dreaded phone call home. 10 year old Hannah, who had not yet even started cycling, answered the phone. "Hi Daddy! How did you do? Did you win?" While that phone call was both humbling and depressing, it made the 2011 Everest Challenge all the more sweet. In my wildest dreams, I could have never imagined that a mere five years later, that little girl who answered the phone would avenge my DNF, annihilating that final climb I could not face to become the youngest female ever to finish the Everest Challenge at age 15.
The Everest Challenge, a Hammer Nutrition sponsored event put on by AntiGravity Cycling, is the undisputed most difficult two day stage race in America. It is run with incredible support and exceptional execution in an Eastern Sierra venue that is breathtaking. However, it is also brutal and unforgiving. 208 miles, 29,000 feet of climbing, multiple trips up to 10,000 foot elevations, 20+ mile long climbs, and unrelenting sections of double digit grades make EC a strong man's race. It is the ultimate test of endurance. Of the 335 participants this year, 300 of them were men, the majority of whom were ripped climbing machines. It is not a race for 15 year old girls. Then again, Hannah Swan is not your average 15 year old girl. She had already experienced an incredible year on the bike. Riding for Strive Racing, she had tallied up 10 wins and 18 podiums. She had won her USAC local association division (Women's 15-18), all three Road State Championships (Women's 15-16 Road, Crit, & TT), and got a top ten finish at Nationals at age 14 racing Women's 15-16. However, she had one more goal that she was determined to accomplish in 2011; finish the Everest Challenge.
Fortunately, Steve Barnes, the
EC Race Director, is a good friend. He had watched Hannah race all season long and knew that she had the drive and determination
to conquer these brutal climbs. After just two emails, we had Steve's blessing to go for it and we started training.
Hannah's preparation went very well. Before long, we were riding 100+ miles with 10,000+ feet of climbing and I was
10 pounds lighter. In a flash, race day was upon us. After praying for her peace, safety and strength, we sent
Hannah off to the starting line. She lined up with the rest of the women, 35 total, who would all go off together at
6:40am. The starting group of women included thirteen who were racing Cat 3, eight who were racing Pro/1/2, and seven
who were racing 40+ Masters, so Hannah knew the pace would be fast. The whistle blew and the race was on. Just
two miles up the first climb the trimming had begun and the group of thirty five women was quickly reduced down to eight riders.
Hannah was able to hang with this group for the first 4,000 feet of climbing, until an attack from the over-all winner shattered
the group into pieces. Hannah would then climb solo for the next 11,000 feet at a steady pace with just survival in
mind. 7 hours and 22 minutes after the start, Hannah crossed the Day One finish line. She fueled on Heed, Sustained
Energy, Hammer Bars, Endurolytes, and Endurance Aminos. Hammer products were in abundance at every aid station, which
worked out perfectly with our fueling plan. Thank you, Hammer!
While I will never forget that horrible day in 2006, I am certainly not the only person to DNF at EC. Even with the perfect weather this year, the brutal climbs slayed 82 if the 335 starters. With a DNF rate of nearly 25%, we are incredibly thankful that Hannah was able to finish. Conversely, we had no idea that she could do it that fast, especially at age 15. Being the youngest female finisher of the Everest Challenge is a record that the Swan family is humbly proud of. That said, Hannah has three younger sisters who all race. While her sisters are all genuinely excited for her, they are also determined not to let that record last for too long. Strive On! Hammer On!