Mt. Kilimanjaro & Comic Relief: Training & Preparation
Bullet & Bone Brand Ambassador, Sports Scientist, Olympian and Physical Performance Expert Professor Greg Whyte OBE
I’m about to embark on an epic test of endurance with nine celebrities to reach the summit of Africa’s highest peak – Mt. Kilimanjaro – for Comic Relief. I can’t wait to get up there again, having completed the same challenge back in 2009. It’s gruelling though and I’ve been tasked to help this intrepid crew get up to the summit and back in one piece.
This will be my 31st challenge for Comic Relief and we’ve managed to raise over £40 million in that time! I’ve helped a whole host of celebrities for this great cause along the way, but each one has thrown up different challenges. Preparation, performing to the best to your abilities and managing recovery is crucial in training and will be during the climb. Below are some examples of what we’ve been doing to get ready to climb a mountain…
Kili – a cruel mistress
For many of the celebrities, it will be one of the toughest weeks of their life and it’s been my job to try and prepare them for that, both mentally and physically. All our bodies are different and such a unique challenge requires specialised training programmes for each individual. Everyone has been having to fit their training into already busy schedules and it’s been tough going for some. However, I’ve seen enough from them in training to give me every faith that they’ll succeed. Here are some key Kili facts to give you an idea of what we’re dealing with:
- At over 19,000 feet, the mountain is Africa’s highest peak and the highest free-standing mountain in the world.
- There are five different ecological zones on the mountain – cultivated land, rain forest, heath & moorland, alpine desert and an arctic summit. So plenty of adaptation will be required!
- The mountain plays host to three volcanic cones.
- Temperatures on the summit can get as low as –18C before you even factor in the wind chill.
- 25,000 people attempt the climb annually but only two-thirds are successful. Our group will be aiming to defy that stat.
What makes Kili so testing is the combination of physical endurance and altitude. It is effectively a marathon uphill walk and with each step the oxygen levels will fall, making it far more difficult for everyone. The trouble is not knowing how individuals will respond to the altitude – even the fittest can find themselves debilitated by it. I remember Ronan Keating and Fearne Cotton particularly struggling back in 2009 as they suffered from severe altitude sickness.
We’ve been using the altitude chamber in the last couple of weeks which helps to give an indication of how this years’ crew will cope. I then gave them all a bespoke training programme specifically tailored to ‘pre-acclimate’ them. For example, Ed Balls really struggled in the chamber so we got him using a hypoxic generator in training to help his body get to a level where it would be able to deal with the altitude. Age, fitness or gender doesn’t dictate how the body will respond to changes in climate and the chamber produced some varied responses throughout the group. The young female members were particularly impressive!
At 19,000 feet, the summit of the mountain is exceptionally high, and that zone is known as ‘extreme altitude’ – the point where the human body can no longer adapt to the conditions. Therefore, the health and safety of the group will be our main priority and we’ll be helping them in every way we can. Nutrition and hydration will be key, as will making sure everyone is fully equipped with what they’ll need.
The skin is the largest organ of all and keeping it in optimum condition is often overlooked when being physically active and dealing with the elements. That’s why I’ll be supplying the group with Bullet & Bone – a new range of topical sports care products that soothe the skin and aid performance and recovery. The baseline natural ingredients for the range include maca extract – which has strong links to high-altitude performance, given its Peruvian heritage, of course.
The Protective Moisturising Spray will prove to be really useful and the Muscle Activating Rub will help with aches and stiffness inevitable after walking 14 to 15 hours a day. The pleasant smelling Vapour Release Balm will also help to open the airwaves in the hypoxic environment.
Our preparation has been turned around at breakneck speed but I have no doubt that this lot will be determined to succeed for such a brilliant cause – and we’ll also have some laughs along the way. You can follow our progress on www.comicrelief.com.