For those who read my training blog, you will know that I just had a couple of months to train for the Everest Marathon. Therefore, when I was finally packed and at the airport waiting to depart, I still had doubt in my mind as to whether I could really do not only my first marathon, but also the world’s highest one! Now I am home and everyday I think back to an experience that was one of the best things I have ever done. So if you are considering the marathon and whether you can do it, all I can say is go for it – you won’t regret it.
On the 13th of May I was on my way to Kathmandu and there was no turning back now! While I was enjoying the comforts of Qatar’s business class flights I had time to recall the various comments I had received when my friends and family found out what I was going to do. They included “Wow, that’ll be amazing”, “Why?! Are you mad?” and “Is that safe?” Over the next few weeks I found that yes, the Everest marathon is amazing, I am slightly mad (and think that it would be boring not to be!) and with a fantastic guide and support team alongside you and back in Kathmandu, it certainly is as safe as the mountains can be.
During the trek up to Everest Base Camp, I was part of a group of 20 runners and each had different stories to tell and reasons for being there. Many were raising money for charity, and some for reasons very personal and close to their hearts. It was reassuring to find that I was not the only one who had not run a marathon before and there were different levels of ability and experience within the group.
We made the trek up to base camp at a steady pace with extra acclimatisation days factored in so that we were as ready for the marathon as we could be.
Many prayer wheels were turned and all mani stones were walked around clockwise during the trek – even those who were not normally superstitious were keen to receive as much merit and luck as possible! Before I took part in this trip I thought that the marathon was the main event and walking up wasn’t that big a deal. While the focus is on the run itself, it is also important to savour the trek and take time to admire the world’s highest mountains, visit the monasteries and take in the culture, watch the locals going about their lives and spot the mountain wildlife. You don’t have time to do as much of this on the way down! It is also vital to take the time to adjust to mountain life so that you arrive at the start line fit and well.
My advice to others would be to keep yourself well fed, watered, clean and warm and take the advice of the support team – after all, they’ve done this before! During the trek up, you can take time to understand the route and it became evident that even small uphill sections of the run would be tough, and there were plenty of these!
The event is at the end of May, but I would advise future participants to expect the unexpected with the weather! While we were camping at base camp, the mountains reminded us that nothing is predictable up there. We had very heavy snowfall which was an exciting experience but meant we needed to trek back to Gorak Shep and start the run from there, with an extended loop to make the distance up.
On the 29th of May, I was standing in the snow at the start line of the Everest Marathon with 130 other runners from all over the world. As we were standing in the crisp morning air below clear blue skies and snow covered giant mountains, I could feel the buzz of excitement all around. I had handed my down jacket to one of our ever helpful Sherpas, and we were finally there and about to go – it was surreal moment and one that I’ll never forget. At 08.08.48 (not coincidentally also the height of Everest), we set off. As I had expected, many of the Nepali runners set off fast and they were long gone even by the time I got to the finish line! At this point I still had no particular finish time in mind, although I wanted to push myself to see what I was capable of.
I would recommend that future participants set their own pace but remember to take it slowly. My strategy was to run all the downhill sections but walk EVERY bit of uphill. I know that at altitude it takes me time to recover after getting out of breath and during this recovery time I may as well have walked up the hill! There were about 9 water stations along the route as well as one feed station and these were the only breaks I took, apart from to take a few photos! The uphill sections are tough; there’s no way to sugar-coat it.
But when my legs were burning and my lungs felt about half their usual size, I remembered that the uphill would end, a downhill section would follow and there was always amazing views to distract yourself with! However, you do need to remember not to look at the views too much as the terrain is uneven and you should keep an eye on your feet!
Just over 7 and a quarter hours later I crossed the finish line, exhausted but incredibly happy! The marathon had been the focus of my life since I started training and it was everything I hoped it would be – a challenge but an amazing experience. This will be a story to tell for many years to come.
My advice to future runners – train hard but unless you are there to beat a record, just enjoy the trek, the mountains, the people and treat the marathon itself as a fun big day out!