“To get over something really hard, you have to do something harder.”
That’s the quote that inspired Liz Peixoto—our Vice President of Product Design—to sign up for a 29029, an event series that involves gaining roughly the elevation of Mt. Everest by hiking, running, or biking. She chose a 29029 challenge at Whistler in British Columbia.
Invented by road cyclists in the ‘90s, the concept of an Everest challenge didn’t really take off until the pandemic. Accumulating this much vert usually involves a lot of repetition—climbing up the same mountain, hill, or even stairway (a few have indeed done this by climbing their stairs) over and over.
"I am tough and hard things happen, but we all have it in us to rise above."
Liz's motivation? To eclipse her battle with Lyme disease by doing “something harder.” As Liz explains, “The fact that 10 years ago, I could barely walk down the block was a huge motivator for me to sign up!”
Floored by Liz’s story, we sat down with her to find out more about her battle with Lyme disease, what her training plan looked like, and whether she’ll be taking on another 29029 anytime soon.
Cotopaxi: How did you go from chronically ill with Lyme disease to healthy enough to attempt an event like a 29029?
Liz: One thing about me is I don’t give up, so I spent every moment I could researching and trying every single treatment option out there. When you have a disease without a clear treatment path, it can be devastating. Most people with Lyme also have co-infections, so you have layers to treat. You have to find the few specialists willing to treat a complex multi-layered issue. The best description I’ve heard was that people with Lyme are like a house with termites: Not only do you have to get rid of the bugs, you have to rebuild the house.
How did you get Lyme disease? What’s your experience been like living with it?
I am not sure when I got Lyme disease, but when I was finally tested correctly, the results showed I had a very old infection, most likely from my childhood. I grew up in Minnesota camping in the Boundary Waters and hiking through the woods. We lived on a lake, so picking ticks off of us was a common occurrence. I always had strange ailments growing up—joint pain, migraines, brain fog—and no doctor was able to figure it out until 16 years ago.
In January 2012, I relapsed from my LONG battle with Lyme disease. I was bedridden and in and out of the hospital for months. I had to take medical leave from work and eventually had to leave my job. It seemed like everything around me was falling apart.
"The best description I’ve heard was that people with Lyme are like a house with termites: Not only do you have to get rid of the bugs, you have to rebuild the house."
Has Lyme disease impacted your relationship with outdoor activities and being outside?
For a few years, it was really triggering to be in nature. The place that I found comfort and restoration became the most dangerous and I was super vigilant about long pants, bug spray, and checking myself constantly. I had a few panic attacks. Eventually, I was able to ease up. I have worked with a lot of great practitioners and I now have a toolbox of treatments that I can use if anything happens. I also learned that living in fear is the opposite of healing, but that took a long time to grasp.
What was your training process leading up to the 29029 Challenge?
I had already been hiking quite a bit, so I intensified that. I tried to hike at least 3x a week and each week, I increased my distance to hike around 20-25 miles total per week, and 30 per week by the end of training. We have a hike near our house that is one mile up and almost 1,000 ft elevation gain, so I did that almost every day.
"I literally gave it everything I had, and I am proud of that."
Anytime my husband and I had a chance, we went up to Mt. Hood for elevation training. During the summer, we road tripped to higher elevation places to hike. I also worked with a trainer 2-3x a week to increase my muscle strength and cardiovascular ability. One of the co-infections I have (Babesia) affects the oxygen levels in your red blood cells, so increasing my cardio ability was one of the challenges I had to deal with.
Give us a brief recap—how did it go?
I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect. I am not the type of person that does huge group activities, and honestly I was a bit overwhelmed, but excited. The energy of the group was very motivating and supportive. The event was three days long (the hike was 36 hours). It all started with motivational speakers, information, and preparation for the hike.
What was the best part of your experience?
The most inspiring part outside of the really phenomenal speakers was the other people. I would say at least 70% of the participants had multiple marathons they had run and would identify as endurance athletes, but the rest were just people who set out to do something bigger and harder than they ever imagined. Those are my people.
What was the most difficult aspect of the competition?
The event itself was probably the hardest thing I have ever done, outside of fighting my way out of illness and some of the gnarly treatments I did. Physically, it was hard: 32 miles and 32,000 vertical feet in 8 laps (each lap being 4 miles/4,000 vertical feet). But mentally, it was even harder. I have done some really hard things, and pulled myself out of dark, dark places, but this was another level. I wasn’t able to finish the whole event. I was dealing with an infection and a knee that I had surgery on just 5 months prior, but I literally gave it everything I had, and I am proud of that.
"I also learned that living in fear is the opposite of healing, but that took a long time to grasp."
How did this challenge change you? Would you do something like it again?
It ingrained in me what I already knew about myself: I am tough and hard things happen, but we all have it in us to rise above. Every single week, people reach out to me who are lost and sick and have nowhere to turn, and I am able to be a bit of hope for them. The coaches on that mountain were that for me. I can’t say enough positive things about the supportive team from 29029. Yes, I will do it again. Not this year, but maybe next.
What would you say to other "non-athletes" considering taking on an athletic challenge?
I would say, try it. This is only about you, not about anyone else. It is an amazing feeling to do something greater than you ever imagined.