Postscript: Thanks to a family wedding (my brother's in fact!) and urgent surgery, this adventure has been postponed for 2 years until 2020. But I'm sure I'll find another adventure in the meantime 🙂
I feel nervous and unsettled as I write this on the morning of Monday, 29th May 2017.
The date is significant.
It means it’s “only” 12 months today until I participate in the Everest Marathon, a race held in Nepal on 29th May every year to commemorate the first summit of Everest by Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary. A race that’s been on my bucket list since I heard about it on my first trip to Nepal in 2007.
I hadn’t planned to talk about my goal at this early stage.
But if you’ve listened to my conversation with Natalie Cook on Sparta Chicks Radio, you’ll know she turned the tables on me and I ‘fessed up to my goal during that conversation.
For a long time, it was one of “those” goals. You know the ones you talk about for years and tell your family and friends “one day” I’m going to do that race.
Well, about 9 months ago my beloved husband Rommel got sick of hearing me talk about it and told me to pick a year. I picked 2018. And here we are 🙂
So I thought I’d share a bit of my journey over the next 12 months as I back myself to set, pursue and hopefully achieve a goal that scares the shit out of me.
The Tenzing Hillary Everest Marathon isn’t so much a race but an adventure.
Did I mention it’s also the world’s highest marathon? 🙂
The adventure starts with a short domestic flight from Kathmandu (the capital of Nepal) to Lukla, an airstrip carved into the side of a mountain (also, supposedly the world’s most dangerous airport).
From there, it’s an 11 day hike to Everest Base Camp. Yes, you have to walk to the start line!
You could certainly do the distance in far less time but acclimatising to the altitude is the challenge. Lukla airport is at 2860m and Everest Base Camp - and the start line - is at 5,362m where there is approximately only 53% of the oxygen available at sea level. Even walking, lacing up boots or stuffing your sleeping bag into your pack is exhausting at that altitude.
From there it’s a “downhill” run back to the finish line at Namche Bazaar (at 3,540m).
If you’re familiar with the Six Foot Track Marathon, you’ll know what I mean by a “downhill” run. Yes, the finish line is much lower in elevation than the start but there’s a LOT of uphills in between.
Then - and this perhaps scares me the most - the day after the race, you start a 2 day hike back to Lukla, including a long, quad-burning descent full of switchbacks where you quickly drop about 400m in elevation. Arghh. That is going to be a long, slow and painful day on the trails!
The question I often ask guests on Sparta Chicks Radio so it’s only fair I turn the tables on myself.
I’m sorry to say but “because I wanna” is the best answer I can come up with!
Other answers include the challenge and the experience. Returning to my beloved Nepal for the 3rd time; a country that’s under my skin and in my heart. The chance to show Rommel a part of the world that’s really important to me - he’s coming along as a “spectator” and will be at the finish to catch me 🙂
To be honest, I have no frigging idea if I can even do this race (given the physical demands are so much greater than anything I’ve ever done before) but I want to try.
It’s funny - for so long, and even after I set 2018 as “the year”, I felt more excited than anything else at the prospect of doing this race.
But over the last few weeks, as the 12 month mark has drawn near — and especially when I was laying in bed this morning thinking about it — I feel far more uncertainty, anxiety and fear than excitement.
On the surface level, my fear and self-doubt is about my ability.
Questions I’m asking myself include:
Can I stay healthy enough over the next 12 months to do the training? (I’ve been sick 3 times over the last 6 months which is unusual for me).
Can I stay healthy once I’m in Nepal? Upset stomachs and the “Khumbu cough” (caused by the cold dry air at altitude) are common. My asthma has been getting worse over the last few years so the Khumbu cough could be my greatest adversary.
Can I get as fit and strong as I want to be, or need to be, over the next 12 months?
The altitude itself doesn’t phase me. I’ve been to Base Camp before and over 5,500+m multiple times on various trips so I know I acclimatise (slowly but) well to altitude (I’ve never had so much as a headache at altitude- touch wood!). But I’ve never worked at the intensity this race will require at those elevations for very long - never mind all day!
Can I make the cut-offs? The first cut-off is at 5pm and if you miss it, you need to stop, spend the night at a teahouse before continuing your race the next morning. Truly! Sounds fun but not something I’d like to experience.
Of course, I know fear and self-doubt has very little to do with physical ability or the practicalities of a race. Rather, it always runs much deeper than that…
There is a fair degree of my old friend the Imposter bubbling away under the surface. “Who am I to be doing this?” is certainly a question I’ve found myself asking. I haven’t done an ultra in 4 years now which weighs on me. (Even as I write this, there is a little Imposter bubbling up around “no-one wants to read this” and it’s self-indulgent to even write this post. That damn Imposter makes life difficult doesn’t it?)
If you’ve listened to my conversation with Tanya Geisler, you’ll know not being “ready or good enough?” is a question I often struggle with and this race is no exception.
I’m following a woman (Laura Jones) on Instagram who is doing the event this year. A few days ago she said she’d met “many runners” who had decided to drop out of the full Marathon and switch to the Half Marathon. Reading her post sent a whole new wave of “what the fuck am I thinking?” reverberating through my body.
Going public with my goal (with the help of Nat Cook) and even as I sit here writing this post, I can feel myself asking the question “will I be embarrassed if I don’t make it?”. The answer is ‘no’ but that doesn’t stop the question coming to mind.
As I type these words, this year’s competitors will be waking up, drinking tea and trying to eat some breakfast (difficult at the best of times above 5,000m, never mind when combined with pre-race nerves). That thought alone sends the butterflies in my stomach into full flight (and they sure-as-hell aren’t currently flying in formation!).
If I listen to my fear and self-doubt, I could come up with a thousand reasons why I shouldn’t do this race.
But I also know I need to listen to my goals and dreams more than I listen to my fears.
And my heart says if I don’t start on this adventure (it’s not just about the race but the whole physical, mental and emotional journey over the next 12 months), I’ll regret it for the rest of my life. So I’m going for it.
Nat Cook talked about the importance of defining what “winning” or “success” means in any situation.
For me, it means going “all in”, with an open heart and mind and doing my best to get to the start line in the best shape possible (that’s often the hardest part). To see it not as a single race but as an adventure and journey I’ll share with my husband.
For me, it means knowing that whatever happens, I’ll be a stronger and happier woman for trying.