Training needs to be specific to a goal.

When I decided to climb Denali in 2007, I wanted to reassure myself that I was in good shape for the attempt. I just took a VO2 max test simply because it was a popular metric and I was very curious. It is about your maximum rate of oxygen consumption by looking at your CO2 output. However I was confused: I had friends who had lower VO2max levels but I was not able to keep up with them most of the time. So I later learned that it is not a measurement of endurance performance. Nonetheless the Denali climb went well and I felt very strong (although I have to add it was a relatively short expedition of only 12 days thanks to great weather).

Since even before then, I have been constantly doing ultras, adventure racing, rock climbing, occasional big mountain climbing. In addition, I have been reading a lot trying to learn more about training, new research, etc. However all this came to a point where I felt like I could do only so much on my own: I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I only knew for sure that intelligent training needed to be always guided by goals and I had an ambitious goal ahead of me: to be able to experience the top of the world. 

In the past few years, I came across a series of stories about Adrian Ballinger who is a well-known mountaineer and a guide. He had climbed Everest in the past but recently was trying to do it without oxygen.  He failed at his first attempt and started to question what he was doing wrong. Long story short, he started to work with Scott Johnston and Steve House, the authors of the book Training for New Alpinism published by Patagonia, who later founded uphillathlete.com. They need no intro – they have incredible resumes in the mountains and I have been a big fan for a long time.  There is so much Adrian Ballinger had to change in his training regime and ultimately he was able to accomplish his goal of climbing Everest without oxygen without any issues (you can Google these names and find out more). 

I also wanted to accomplish my goal. Simple. I have been already heavily embedded in high-altitude mountaineering: through climbing mountains for more than 20 years, having been to Everest in the past, following expeditions and stories to satisfy my curiosity, and doing academic research on risk marketing and risk consumption. As part of these experiences, I had long learned the fact that there was/is a lot outside of my control on the mountains.  So I knew I had to put all my focus into what I could control: my training was on top of that list.

  at the start of my metabolic efficiency test

at the start of my metabolic efficiency test

In summary, the training story I mentioned above motivated me to look into my training carefully. I got in touch with Steve House and Scott Johnston and started working with them. I feel very fortunate that they accepted me as one of their athletes. Scott became my coach and eventually my mentor. First, he asked me to get a metabolic efficiency test (including lactate threshold, energy utilization, etc) done to see where I was. In addition, he asked me to give him all the info on what I have been doing.  After looking at everything, one of the very first things he told me was to slow down. Yes. He was on point: I, for the most part, thought I was doing great training if I tired myself up a lot – but I was overdoing it at times (simply because it was relaxing my mind). He told me my body was tired and I had to learn to slow it down.

  not sure if it was the age of my boots or my overtraining in them... :)

not sure if it was the age of my boots or my overtraining in them... :)

The point was to make my baseline even stronger than it already was. Endurance is about having the ability to sustain a workload for a long time not at but below your maximum capacity. So he threw at me a 2-month training program first to see how I do and then we continued afterwards for months interacting everyday and modifying things according to my needs. I learned a TON from him, from myself, and from the process. I had to undo some of what I thought was working for me and had to do better training specific to my goal. Thus my training plan was overall a brilliant mix of low intensity and high intensity, aerobic and anaerobic, short and long workouts. And at the end of 6 months, I felt stronger than before and very content about my decision. 

As in the case of many ambitious projects, progress comes over a long period of consistent hard work.  And what I love about being an endurance athlete in uncertain environments the most is that it teaches (forces) you to be patient. Given your mind is open, perseverance is something you can learn, though only if you want to accomplish your goal real bad. At times you fall - then you simply get up and continue. With each step, you learn so much what you are capable of: physically, intellectually, emotionally. It is an ongoing process in which you have to leave your comfort zone and push yourself - and it feels great to be able to do so - a bit more, every time. There is no other way or a shortcut. And at the end, feeling content from hard work and thus accomplishing what you set yourself for is unparalleled.

The start of my relationship with Everest...

I traveled to Nepal for the first time in 2004 in order to trek to and stay at Everest basecamp. My purpose was to collect data for my PhD research on risk marketing and risk consumption. I flew to Kathmandu, stayed in a hostel in Thamel, and flew to Lukla. I hired a porter among the crowd hanging out at the airport looking for a job.  I travelled alone: I was not part of a group nor I had a guide. I trekked 10 days on the trails to Everest base camp.

  from a Puja ceremony, Everest base camp, Nepal, 2004.

from a Puja ceremony, Everest base camp, Nepal, 2004.

For the first 3 years of the doctoral program (and afterwards), I visited the world's biggest outdoor industry trade show regularly, met key players along with well-known climbers, and interviewed them (and got some gear sponsorships along the way). Also, I had read anything and everything about risk taking behavior, using theories from psychology, sociology, economy, along with other disciplines. As a matter of fact, before changing my career into marketing through an MBA and a PhD, I was an engineer and my master thesis was a risk assessment study of tanker traffic in Bosphorus (yes, I have 4 degrees). I already had a decent understanding of how risk was thought in technical terms. And along with my mountaineering experiences since age 17, I was immersing myself more into risk literature in a different way with a focus on its commercial aspects. This included not only popular press articles and books, but also academic publications along with learning from my connections in the outdoor industry.

At first, I was asking the why question only to realize that it was an elusive one. There were/are hundreds of books/stories out there where people would try to explain why they take risk - subjectively - so there were hundreds of answers.  Yes, you could identify patterns etc. but the why question was no longer interesting to me. And it didn't have much of the commercial side. I shifted my focus instead to “how” and “what” questions. I was in marketing at a business school and questions around how the markets for risk taking form and continue, and what their dynamics are, etc started to intrigue me more and more. How was risk marketed? How was it consumed? How was risk negotiated between marketer/service provider and consumer? How were the contracts unique to outdoor industry working? These became my driving questions which ultimately led me into more intriguing ones about this market (I talk about these more in my publications but just as an example a similar market is financial products/services market).

  One of my tent sites, Everest base camp, Nepal, 2004.

One of my tent sites, Everest base camp, Nepal, 2004.

During my 10-day trek to base camp, my porter got sick and I found myself sitting on a rock with 2 duffle bags in the middle of nowhere. Not after too long, among the ones coming back down from the basecamp, I found another porter who agreed to continue with me. I finally reached and stayed at Everest base camp in a tent on rock and ice on the glacier for the whole climbing season (about 2 months) for my ethnographic research. I was able to stay with three different climbing teams (I set up my tent at their site and paid their kitchen staff for food). I participated in their daily routines. I interviewed key players, backstage actors, climbers, with particular attention to the unspoken/less visible to build on what I read and what I already knew. Being a mountaineer and having a relatively good understanding of the experience gave me enough legitimacy to establish rapport with people ( more details of my field work are in my publications).  However, it was a very challenging experience both physically and emotionally with so much pressure on me. My PhD supervisor summarizes it well in this quote in a book (Prof. Russell Belk, one of the authors):

 Belk, Fischer, Kozinets (2013) "Qualitative Marketing Research," Sage Publications, 1st edition.

Belk, Fischer, Kozinets (2013) "Qualitative Marketing Research," Sage Publications, 1st edition.

  page 205

page 205

  page 206

page 206

  page 206 cont'd.

page 206 cont'd.

I finished my PhD having shaped my research agenda mostly around these topics for years. And my work resulted in academic publications in top marketing outlets. So if you are interested in reading something other than those predictable and mostly cliché popular press materials on Everest, here is a list for you (if you don't have access to an academic database, email me and I'll send you a copy):

Tumbat, Gülnur and Kent Grayson (2016), “Authority Relinquishment in Agency Relationships,” Journal of Marketing, 80, 42-59.

Tumbat, Gülnur and Russell W. Belk (2013), “Co-construction and Performancescapes,” Journal of Consumer Behavior, 12, 49-59.

Tumbat, Gülnur (2011), “Co-constructing the Service Experience: Exploring The Role of Customer Emotion Management,” Marketing Theory 11 (2), 187-206.

Tumbat, Gülnur and Russell W. Belk (2011), “Marketplace Tensions in Extraordinary Experiences,” Journal of Consumer Research 38 (7), 42-61.

I established great connections and friendships all these years within Everest network and the outdoor industry. I kept most of my gear sponsors who helped me conduct my research in 2004 and also afterwards. At the end, I was and am happy with all the hard work and the intellectual, professional, and athletic investments I made along the way (I'll write more about the athletic part later).

After the climbing season and my field research was over, walking down in the valley back to Lukla, I remember my tears mixing up with the midst of the already-started monsoon season and dropping down on my face... I knew I was going to come back. And I did.

2004: PhD field research at basecamp.

2014: 10 years later. The year of the biggest avalanche in Everest's history: it was an utter heartbreak (I wrote my blog regularly at the time, please check the archives on this site)

2015: Consulted/took part in a commercial production (https://vimeo.com/126148951)

2018: Everest summit! (First Turkish Woman Ascent from the Nepal Side) 

Thanks Turkish Mountaineering Federation and NTV News (and many others) for all the cheer! 

Lassen & Shasta

Sonbahar tam hizini almadan San Francisco’ya 4-5 saat uzakliktaki Shasta dagina (4320m) antreman cikisi yapmaya karar verdim. Ilk basta ekibi 3-4 kisi olarak dusunmustum, ama tirmanis oncesi son birkac gun icinde sayi ben dahil 2ye dusmesine ragmen planlari iptal etmedik ve haftanin bitiminde Cuma ogleden sonra yola ciktik. Ilk duragimiz Lassen tepesi olacakti. Kizil cam agaclari altindaki kamp yerinde gecelemek uzere cadirlarimizi kurduk. Ertesi sabah, 2650m’teki park yerinden 3190m’lik Lassen tepesine 1.5 saat icerisinde hizlica kosup/tirmanip indik.  Bu hizli aklimatizasyon tirmanisindan sonra, park yerinde birseyler yiyerek tekrar arabaya atlayip Shasta’ya dogru devam ettik.  Aksamuzeri, tirmanacagimiz rotaya giden patikanin dibine parkettik ve hemen cantalarimizi hazirlayip yola ciktik. Cadiri ve diger agir extra malzemeleri ben aldim, uzun zamandir agir canta tasimamis omuz ve sirt kaslarimi uyandirmak icin. Karanlik basmadan once 1830m’den 2590m’deki kamp yerine ulastik. Hava hafif ruzgarli ama acikti. Sabaha karsi 3te kalkip sicak birseyler icip zirveye dogru yola ciktik, 6-7 saat icinde varmak uzere. Fakat, hava tahminlerinde sadece zirve sirtinda olacagini gosteren ruzgar biz yola cikar cikmaz basladi ve hic dinmedi. Her adimda da siddetlendi. Oyle bir noktaya geldi ki artik rota uzerinde iki sarhos gibi ilerlemeye calisiyorduk ruzgar ile mucadele etmekten. Birkac kere de tokezleyip dusunce ve de hemen kalkamayinca donme karari almak zorunda oldugumuzu farkettik. Bu arada agzimiz gozumuz hep toz icindeydi ve birbirimizi bile zor duyuyorduk. 3 saatlik mucadelenin ardindan donuse gectik. Kamp yerine geri indigimizde cadir zar zor ayakta duruyordu ve ici toz toprak dolmustu fermuarda biraktigimiz minik bir bosluk yuzunden. Dinmeyen ruzgar altinda zar zor cadiri toparlayabildik ve inise devam ettik. Araba ile donus yoluna gectik ama ruzgar hala siddetle esiyordu ve San Franciscoya gelene kadar da devam etti.  Isin icinde bir gariplik vardi. Ertesi sabah, is kokulari icinde evimde uyandigimda, internette birkac saat kuzeyde cilgin yanginlarin oldugu haberini ogrendim, oyle ki kokular ve is buraya kadar gelmisti. Meger bizi zirveye cikarmayan ruzgarlar, buralarin kuzeyinde buyuk yanginlara sebep olmus. Neyseki biz tam zamaninda o bolgelerden gecip cikabilmisiz ama ruzgar sebebiyle sondurulemeyen ve neredeyse bir hafta suren bu yanginlarda bir dolu insan tum varini yogunu kaybetti malesef.

 On way up to Lassen Peak / Lassen tepesine dogru

On way up to Lassen Peak / Lassen tepesine dogru

 To the basecamp site with Shasta in the background / Shasta eteklerinde, anakampa dogru

To the basecamp site with Shasta in the background / Shasta eteklerinde, anakampa dogru

 Relentless winds / Dinmeyen ruzgarlar

Relentless winds / Dinmeyen ruzgarlar

Before the Fall started to progress, I decided to do a training climb up on Mount Shasta (14180ft), 4-5 hrs north of San Francisco. At first we had a 3-4 person team, but a few days before the climb we ended up as only 2 people. Still went ahead with the plans and left Friday afternoon first to Lassen Peak (10460ft). We stayed at the campsite under the redwood trees at the base. Then from the parking lot at the trailhead (8590ft), we did a quick 1.5hrs ascent/run and down on Lassen. After this acclimatization climb, we ate some food right at the parking lot and continued driving straight to Mount Shasta, to the base (6000ft) of the route we were going to climb. After packing our backpacks, we climbed up to the campsite (8500ft) before it got dark. I carried the tent and a few other extra heavy items since I wanted to wake up my shoulder and back muscles a bit. It was a clear night. We got up early am and had some tea and started climbing towards the summit by 4am. We thought that it was going to take 6-7 hours for us. The weather forecast had showed some wind on the summit ridge but the wind already started to pick up in the morning and got stronger with every step. At one point we looked like two drunken people trying to stay up right in that wind. After falling a few times and not being able to get up right away, we realized it was perhaps time to turn around. Our mouths and eyes were covered in dust and we were hardly hearing each other.  After 3 hours of struggling in the wind, we turned around only to find our tent almost ripped off and full of dirt thanks to a small opening one of us left on the zipper. It was an effort to put the tent down since the wind did not quiet down at all and right after we continued our descent. After we got into the car at the bottom, the wind was still howling and continued to do so during the whole drive back to San Francisco. Something felt very weird. The next morning, when I woke up to some smoke in the air, I checked the internet to find out that those big winds that beaten us down caused some massive fires in the north. We were fortunate to drive through that region right on time. But those fires went on for almost a week due to relentless high winds and unfortunately lots of people lost everything they had including their homes.