To celebrate the 10th anniversary of MitoCanada — a charitable organization dedicated to helping people living with mitochondrial disease — Blaine Penny and a group of friends decided to take on Everest. Not the real Mount Everest, but an Everest running challenge. Everesting has been popularized by cyclists, and it involves gaining 8,848m of elevation in one ride. This is a difficult enough feat on a bike, but some runners have turned it into a running challenge. Penny and his team thought Everesting was the perfect project to commemorate 10 years of MitoCanada.
Penny has completed one Everesting attempt before, but on his bike. His friend Rich MacDonald suggested they try the challenge on foot this time. Penny, who is a self-described sucker for punishment, was immediately into the idea, but he wanted to take it a step further. When he Everested on his bike, he covered 10,000m of elevation gain, so he decided to “keep that record going” and boost his run to 10,000m of climbing. “Plus, since MitoCanada has been around for 10 years, I thought 10 vertical kilometres aligned well with that,” he says.
On a Friday at midnight in mid-September, Penny started running with Megan MacDonald (the earlier-mentioned MacDonald’s wife) and Myron Tetrault in Calgary’s Nose Hill Park. They selected a 380m-long stretch that featured 59m of elevation gain per lap, meaning that to Everest, they needed to complete the ascent 150 times. A few hours into their run, the trio was joined by three more — MacDonald, Chris Hooper, and Kevin Stenner. Of the six, four of them covered at least the height of Everest (with Penny running an even 10,000m of elevation gain) and two (Stenner and Megan) ran half the total height of Everest.
Penny says they chose this challenge for MitoCanada’s 10-year anniversary for a couple of reasons. “From an endurance standpoint, I’m fascinated by what our bodies are capable of,” he says. “There’s that element of ‘Is it possible?’” Secondly, Penny says they went with such an arduous event “in the spirit of using our energy for those who couldn’t. Running for those who can’t.”
Although he wasn’t actually climbing a mountain, Penny adopted a climber’s mindset for the run. “When you climb a major peak like Everest, they say you’re only halfway there because you have to get back down,” he says. “I tried to approach this from the mountaineering viewpoint, so I treated that last 10 per cent from 8,848m to 10,000m the same way a mountaineer would treat getting back down the mountain.” He adds that “coming back down” (or his version of coming down the mountain, at least) was tremendously difficult.
“The highest point was kind of the lowest point,” he says. “When I hit the elevation of Everest, I knew I was shooting to go another 1,100m or so. That was mentally the most difficult part, because it seemed inconceivable at that time. I was kind of at the top, but what I had left to do felt impossible.” Fortunately, with a little over a kilometre of climbing to go, Penny was encouraged by friends and family who came out to show their support, and MacDonald was still trucking along as well and working his way to 8,848m. The two worked together, eventually summiting their respective peaks. In total, Penny covered 132K.
Fewer than 40 Canadians have completed the Everesting challenge on foot, and Penny, Hooper, Rich and Tetrault joined that elite group with their runs. Even fewer Canadians are credited with runs featuring at least 10,000m of elevation gain, and Penny’s run made him just the 11th person on that list. When asked if he would do it again, Penny said he would certainly think about it. “I’d maybe do it on a bigger hill,” he says. He says he is also entertaining the idea of doing an attempt on skis, but for now, he’s just back to enjoying his regular training.
To learn more about MitoCanda, click here.