Running a Marathon Up Everest
Think a marathon is hard? Try one up Everest!
By pure coincidence, myself and my VentureCo group Himalaya 22 found ourselves at Everest Base Camp three days before the Tenzing Hilllary Everest Base camp Marathon was due to start. One of our porters had decide he wanted to enter it having run it last year and I casually asked if I could do it too, not really expecting anything to come of it. Of course these things do rollercoaster and next day I found myself in the organisers office signing up.
Now I've never actually run a marathon before, in fact I've never run more than 5 km before, let alone at altitude, but it seemed like a cool thing to do. And when you've got a group of Venturers to impress, that's good enough reason in itself! We had got the team up Kal Pattar and to Base Camp and with them about to descend, it was perfect timing for me to stay on for two days and run. Plus, I figured I could just about walk the distance in 12 hours if I had too. So on the Friday, I said goodbye to Himalaya 22 and they headed onto Namche without me.
I then had to walk to base camp on the Saturday for a medical. The view was very good from Kala Pattar, so I popped halfway up for another couple of photos of Everest. On the Sunday I walked halfway up Kala again and at 3pm, myself and Jangbu, my porter who was also running the race, did our final walk up to base camp. There was a good atmosphere at base camp, but I tried to keep a low profile amongst the company of lots of other marathon runners and tri-athletes with specialist kit. I had a crummy old pair of trainers that cost about £25 and had just about worn out during the previous four months in India and Nepal. 'What's your best marathon time?', was an obvious question asked of me. 'Um...well...I haven't actually done one before.' was the reply. I'm sure many thought I was suffering from serious insanity caused by altitude.
Anyway, one final meal of Dhal Bhat and I got tucked in for an early night. I woke up at 6am and it was not as cold as I thought it might be. Breakfast for me consisted of four slices of half fronzen and a Twix! I packed my bag, cut the bottoms off my thermal trousers to make some running shorts and I was ready to go.
The start was crazy. We all (around 160 of us) piled into the flattest area we could find at base camp and they fired the gun. I had enough time to take a quick photo of most of the Nepalese disappearing into the distance, before the thought occurred to me that perhaps I should start running. Fortunately, I knew the route out having walked it on two previous occasions. It's glacier terrain all the way, but I seemed to be pretty nimble on my feet. As was coming into Gorak Shep at at the 5km mark, I was greeted with cries of 'Second foreigner!' Since the first foreigner was now only twenty metres ahead at this point, I began to get deluded with thoughts that I could actually win the Foreigners Race. Another 5km until Lobuche and where I thought it would be flatter on the path, although of course it wasn't! But I just seemed to keep running. Running is perhaps the wrong description as if one were to actually run properly, you could do yourself some serious mischief, but I managed to hop, skip and jump my way through the boulder fields.
I held the second foreign place until just before Dingboche, the halfway point, when I was passed by Rory one of two Scots running in kilts, but immediately I regained it when first place Tom from the UK, had a rather long toilet stop. Tom (the eventual winner) passed me again at Tengboche. At this point the trainers were starting to pinch, but I still felt reasonably good.
I walked up as quickly as I could, but it wasn't fast enough, and I was gutted to be passed by another army chap from the UK, Tristan. But the time was good, only just over five hours and a finishing time of just over six hours was in sight. Finally I reached Khumjung, where, to my surprise, I passed Rory, who was not looking too good. The last steep climb passed the Hillary school. I kept telling myself, 'If I can just reach the crest, it's downhill all the way and I can hold third!'
Alas, I was doubly gutted when Ryan, a medical student from the US suddenly appeared behind me about 50 metres from the top looking as fresh as a daisy. He roared passed me, blowing my ambitions of a medal. But there was still a decent time to be had.
There was no better sight than the delight of seeing Namche Bazaar as I came over the final hill crest. 'Head for the yellow roof monastery', the race organisers had said. 'It's really obvious'. It blatantly wasn't as I wound my way down the numerous paths to Namche. But I did find the last checkpoint and did my final dash through the streets of Namche, trying to find the actual finish point. Not as straight forward as you might think, I had to shout for directions from the locals.
Four Mars bars and about 8 litres of water since I left base camp, I finally crossed the line in a time of 6 hours, 19 minutes and 32 seconds, as the fourth placed foreigner, which the night before would have been beyond my wildest dreams. However, in reality I was rather disappointed to have missed out on a medal. I was still feeling great at the end.
Unfortunately the Himalaya 22 group, who were awaiting me with banners and had all dressed up in their thermals to welcome me, had gone to lunch and so missed my arrival. They hadn't expected me for some time to come, but to be honest I hadn't expected to be there at that point either! I was about 15 minutes behind Tom and probably came in behind about 100 Nepali runners. The winning Nepali time was just over 3 and a half hours, which was absolutely awesome.
Myself and Jangbu got a nice big chocolate cake with our times on, though it didn't last very long. Would I do it again? Absolutely. It was an amazing experience to take part in an event like that through such awesome mountainous scenery. Thanks to Bridget and my team of Venturers who gave me the encouragement to take part and gave me a great welcome back in Namche and also to the guides at Himalayan Encounters without whom we wouldn't have got to Base camp in the first place. Here's to next year!
About the Author: Martin Bray
Martin Bray works for VentureCo and was leading Himalaya 22 on their expedition when he completed the marathon.
VentureCo Worldwide are pioneers of the three phase travel programme. Ventures last two to 16 weeks and combine three distinct but complementing phases: a language school and cultural orientation, a development/conservation project and a wilderness expedition.
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