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The Everest marathon: Mike's perspective

Sorry for the delay in posting but we've had difficulties with Internet access since the finish but now we are in Kathmandu.

What of the marathon? Well here are a few of my reflections, I'll let Christine post her own.

Firstly, getting to the start is indeed a huge challenge. Three of our group of 14 did not make the start with two requiring quite urgent medical evacuation. Thankfully all are well since returning to low altitude. Sadly one participant from another group died en route to the start as a result of the altitude. This was a huge shock as on the trek to base camp there were doctors present plus all the paraphernalia to prevent acute mountain sickness becoming fatal. I guess we'll never know what happened but it's common for people to hide their symptoms in the hope it clears up, so strong are individual's desires to continue toward their goal. As a follow up to that point I should say we had fantastic support from our trekking crew, life saving support in some cases.

Anyway, Christine and I passed our final medical checks at Gorak Shep before moving to everest base camp. My blood oxygen saturation level was a 'good' 88, which I was reliaby informed would have resulted in an emergenct admission to ICU in a UK hospital. This is the state of your body in the rarified atmosphere of Everest base camp where only 50% oxygen is available compared to sea level.

At the start with a few of the KE group

We spent a day and a half at Everest BC where everything you do is an effort and leaves you out of breath. The start line is placed on the Khumbu glacial with the backdrop formed by the lengendary khumbu ice fall, which is the start of the climbing route on everest. At 7 o'clock on the 29th May the race started with a large group of Nepalese runners sprinting off across the ice and boulders. The rest of the field set off in an orderly fashion along a narrow, icy track, intermingling with the ocassional high altitude sherpa returning from Everest. The first 10 kms are slow and little more than a walk as the terrain is challenging as it crosses two glacier moraines at extreme altitude.

Once these glaciers had been passed I attempted to run along some of the gentle down hill sections we'd walked on the way up. It just wasn't possible. I was still in excess of 5100m. So fast walking had to suffice. By the time I reached the Yak pastures above Dingboche you are below 5000m and I was able to run, albeit slowly downhill for the most continuous period of the event. That sharply comes to a stop when you begin the Bebre loop, a 3 mile loop up the Imja valley from Dingboche. This loop makes up the route to a full marathon distance, but it was largely hated on the day by everyone. Despite having run this earlier in the trek it felt so much harder now as we were approaching half way. I'd been on the move for over 4 hours !!

After leaving Dingboche the route provides generally gentle down hill paths punctuated by short up hills. It should have been where you ran almost continuously, but I found my pulse quickly rose above my lactate heart rate so I had to run/walk. This was not a problem I had encountered in the earier training runs. Anyway, quicker progress was finally being made. However, as with other parts of the route you always had to yield the path to load carrying yaks and mules, which is a unique feature of the race.

At 20 miles into the marathon you reach the dreaded ascent to Tangboche monastery. It's only about 150 m high but it's desparately hard going. Your reward for reaching the monastery is to begin a massive, steep descent of over 600 m down to the Dudh Kosi river, the lowest point on the route. Tired legs get a real battering on this section which never seems to end, but it eventually does. You then face the crux of the event, the climb back out of the valley to regain the height you just lost. It's brutally steep and unrelenting for a couple of miles. If there was only one heart break hill in the world, this is it. Another name could be Dementor hill, after the gouls in Harry Potter, as it sucks the soul out of you. After an inordinate amount of time flogging your weary body up this hill it's gradient begins to shallow and you eventually reach a familiar small settlement that marks a relatively flat 2.2 miles to the finish. In our first training run we'd covered this easily in 30 minutes but I had nothing left. I walked as quickly as I could but I was still quite slow. I should say that by flat, I mean Nepali flat, which undulates quite painfully. Eventually, I rounded a bend to see the outskirts of Namche and the finish. I managed to jog the final quarter mile (probably less) to the finish area where a red ribbon marks the end. It's a nice touch, every competitor gets to break the finish tape. A few of our more speedy KE group and our incredible sherpas are there to congratulate me. It was just a relief to finish. 9 hours 45 minutes, which is the longest event I've ever competed in by 4 hours.

So what did I learn from the experience. Well, to be honest I hadn't thought about the challenge of fuelling and hydrating myself for such a long time. I'd treated it like a marathon, which it is not, and as a consequence I was dehydrated and lacking energy in the final 10k which is also the hardest bit.

Oh, don't do the everest marathon for a nice medal, it looks like a bit of stamped tin. On the positive side you get a race t-shirt, polo shirt, duffle bag and not so attractive track suit.

An event of this magnitude deserves better bling than this.

One more thing. This entire challenge has been about raising funds to help find a cure for Motor Neurone Disease and Alzheimer's Disease. Please click on the donate button at the top of the page. Every little bit helps and it means the world to us.

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