The Fitness Requirements for Conquering a Climb Like Everest

The Fitness Requirements for Conquering a Climb Like Everest

Cory Richards is one of the world’s most extreme athletes and talented storytellers. That combination of physical prowess and creative genius is a rare find. He’s recently climbed Everest with no supplemental oxygen—only about 200 or so humans have done that—and he documented the expedition on Snapchat. In years prior, he became the first American to climb Gasherbrum II, a mountain in Pakistan and China, commonly known as K4. It was that very trip where he and other adventurers narrowly escaped an avalanche, a humbling, life-threatening experience that produced a National Geographic cover shot, and video footage which became the impetus for the award winning film, Cold. In 2012, Richards was named National Geographic’s Adventurer of the Year.

More recently, it’s been confirmed that Richards will ascend Everest again in April 2017, and Fossil will be releasing a Cory Richards signature smart watch.

After wrapping up a keynote session this year at SXSW in Austin, Texas, Richards gave us the low-down on what it physically takes to climb Everest, the best and worst foods at high altitudes, mind games to beat the cold, plus why his signature smart watch is so much more than a time piece.


“People think that to climb a mountain like this [Everest] you need to have a huge lung capacity and a high VO2 max,” says Richards. While an improved VO2 max would be beneficial for a runner looking to improve their time, training for an extreme mountain ascent like Everest is different. “Some people think being an elite athlete has to do with punching out as hard as you can, getting your heart rate as high as you can, but for this kind of climbing, the best thing you could ever do is long, slow runs,” he says. Richards explains that their his strategy is to do extremely low-intensity, long-term aerobic exercise that, “doesn’t feel like you’re even exercising.” In short: interval training is out.

As far as how much training you actually need. Richards is in the “more is better” camp. “You should be training as long as you can before you go, because the idea is to be as fit as you possibly can be before you get outdoors,” he says. “More time and more commitment is always going to yield greater returns.”


In training, Richards will go on his 6- to 7-hour runs on a completely empty stomach, also know as a fasted state. “It trains your metabolic system to work with your intramuscular fats versus your glucose,” he says. “Your body burns more like a diesel engine versus a petrol engine.”

On the mountain, while he eats as much as he can, the contents of what he eats is the surprising part. “There’s not a lot of value in eating high fat content foods up there—we just can’t digest them well,” he says. “There’s an argument that would even say that even above 10,000 feet we have an incredibly hard time digesting fats,” he expands. This means the jerky and trail mix you’d see in an everyday Joe’s cub scout pack wont cut it. So what’s Richards’ go-to? Ramen. “On some level it’s kind of a perfect combination. It’s a lot of fluid. You’ve got a lot of carbohydrates in the noodles and then you’re taking in a lot of salt, so it’s like eating a salt tablet, which is going to make you drink more. It’s going help you hydrate,” he says. While some would argue over Ramen’s questionable health value, Richards justifies eating it: “It’s not healthy, but at altitude, healthy is a misnomer. You’re not going to eat anything healthy, because the healthiest thing you can eat is the thing that’s going to keep you alive.”


You can have the toughest hostile-weather gear in the world, but there’s only so much you can do to stop sub-freezing temperatures, hurricane force winds, and a brutal wind chill. The next best thing is a strong state of mind, and Richards has a couple tricks to get him in the right space. “I’ll turn the temperature in my house down a little bit, so I’m sort of living in a colder environment. I’m not necessarily wearing T-shirts around and being cold, but I’m layering up and I’m getting used to being in not a very warm space,” he says. His next one, which came from his dad, is to specifically prep his fingers and hands for the cold. “When I go skiing, depending on the temperature, I will try my best to ski without gloves,” he says. Richards candidly and openly admits he doesn’t have any scientific basis to these ideas, but he feels they work for him. Let’s just say his physical accomplishments speak for themselves.


A climb like Everest is a once in a lifetime experience for most. For Richards, his abilities, talent, and hard work, with the support of his sponsors, have taken him to places some will only dream of. And what reminds Richards of his own real-life dreams is his intimate connection to his watch. “I had a Fossil watch when I was in my teens. I bought it. I wore it. I just beat the hell out of it. I cracked the face. It filled with salt water. It started to corrode. It rusted over,” he says. While it no longer took time, it became a representation of his memories and points in time. “It became a reminder of the things that I’d done, the places I’d been, the people I’d met, sort of this life-lived versus a reminder of all the stuff that I had to do that hadn’t yet even happened.” Richards’ limited-edition Fossil Q smartwatch runs on Google’s Android Wear 2.0 operating system with features such as comprehensive activity tracking, downloadable apps, and a microphone+speaker.

The limited-edition Fossil Q x Cory Richards smartwatch will be available for pre-order on March 27th at

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