On Top Of The World!

I woke up on Everest Base Camp at 4.30am on Sunday morning to the sound of people talking and moving around outside my tent.  There was a sense of excitement and anticipation in the air – today was race day – the day I had been working towards ever since booking the trip back in March last year!

We packed our shared luggage holdall ready for the porters to take back down to Namche Bazaar, where I would hopefully be reunited with it later in the day!

It was bitterly cold and there was a thin covering of snow on the ground as we headed out of our tent to join the rest of the group for breakfast.  The nerves were making my stomach do somersaults and I wasn’t hungry at all, but I knew I was going to need all the energy I could get so I forced down a small bowl of porridge.

The marathon started at 7am, so following breakfast we headed to the start line wearing our down jackets (provided by the travel company) for warmth!  Despite the freezing temperatures the sky looked promising for good weather and I hoped that the sun would soon be out to warm us up!

I joined two ladies from our group at the start line (Pam from the USA and Judy from England) as we planned to stick together during the race.  I felt privileged to be joining them as they are part of a group called ‘the marathon grand slam club’ which consists of only 18 women world wide who have completed a marathon in every continent of the world!

At just after 7am we took our first running steps back towards Namche Bazaar.  The first 5km section was across the Khumbu Glacier and was extremely challenging due to the conditions under foot.  However we soon reached the well trodden Everest trail and I began to get into my stride.  It was impossible for me to run the uphill sections of the course so I walked up these and then did my best to make up time by running the flat sections and some of the downhill sections – although many of these were precarious and too dangerous to run for fear of falling!  Unfortunately, I lost Pam and Judy early on in the marathon as a herd of yaks came towards us and we became separated!

True to form, the race didn’t go by without drama!  About 2 hours in I came across a group of Trekkers who were cheering me on.  As I looked up to acknowledge them I tripped on a rock and took a dive head first to the floor.  Luckily, I got up unscathed so I quickly regained my stride!  I was thankful that I hadn’t fallen on one of the narrow tracks with a sheer drop (some of these being over 1000 ft) or it could have been a lot worse!  Not long after this the strap on my backpack broke so I had to improvise by tying the two ends together!

Despite these hindrances I was determined to make it to the 20 mile mark before 4pm. Anyone that didn’t get there before this time had to stay overnight in Thyangboche and complete the marathon the next day as it would be too dangerous to carry on in the dark.  Not only would this have been disappointing but it would have meant sleeping in my sweaty running gear as all my belongings were making their journey down to our lodge at the finishing point! So with this in mind I kept on going!

The next stage was a section called the Bibre Loop which just seemed to go on and on!  As I set off on the loop I was pleased to see Ross and Ashley from my group just ahead of me and my room mate John coming back the other way after completing it!  It was nice to see some familiar faces!  The point where the loop curved back on itself marked the half way point which I reached in 4.5 hours and we were given a wrist band to say that we had completed it!

Soon after this, nature called, so I went into one of the tea houses that we had stayed in previously to use the toilet.  On the way out I had a welcome pick me up of a bounty bar which was given to me by the owner!

I reached the 20 mile mark with over an hour to spare, however by this point I was totally exhausted!  My back was aching from jarring it when I fell and my feet were sore from the harsh terrain!  I was hanging on with every foot step and I still had the sting in the tale to negotiate – a 400m climb over just 2 miles!  At this point I decided to walk as there was some very steep sections and my legs were like jelly! Every so often I’d have to give way to some yaks who were making their way down the very narrow track!

Then, all of a sudden, the end was in sight as I made the final descent via the village of Syangboche.

I crossed the finish line in 11 hours and 2 minutes!  A mixture of relief and pride flooded over me and I felt very emotional! I had reached my own personal summit and I couldn’t have been more overjoyed! I was given a medal, certificate and a tracksuit before posing for the all important photographs!

I walked to the lodge where we were staying for the night and was greeted by cheers from the other members of the group who had finished the marathon!  It was a lovely atmosphere with everyone congratulating each other and we shared our stories of the day’s events!

I managed to ring Helen and my Mum and Dad who were all so proud and so relieved that I had made it!

We were too exhausted for much in the way of celebrations and I went to bed without even having had a drop of alcohol! It had been an incredible day and one that will remain with me forever.

I had completed the world’s highest marathon!!!!!!!!

You Are Not Alone!

Rob is now ten days into his Everest Marathon adventure and it feels like he has been gone forever!  We have been together for over 12 years and in that time we’ve never spent more than a couple of days apart!  To say I miss him is an understatement, but I couldn’t be more proud of what he is doing!

Only a few years ago, he wouldn’t have been able to leave the house on his own, let alone travel thousands of miles to Nepal with a group of people he’s never met!

We have managed to speak every day and I love hearing his stories about what he has been up to!  Nepal sounds like an incredible place and he is learning so much about their culture and history!

I know that he is finding it tough at times – getting up at 05.30am every morning and trekking at high altitude isn’t easy! However, despite this he has stayed strong and focussed and he has faced every challenge that has stood in his way! He is pushing his mind and body to the absolute limits but he is more determined than ever!  That is one of the many things that makes me love Rob so much – no matter what gets thrown in his way he will never give up!

The Everest marathon is looming and I know that although it will be by far the toughest physical challenge he has ever had to face, he will give it everything he’s got!

Rob – I want you to know that there are no expectations, just to reach the starting line is an achievement in itself!  We are all so proud of you, for everything, not just what you are doing now!  You have already climbed your own personal mountain and reached the summit!

Stay strong but most of all stay safe – nothing is more important than you getting back in one piece!  I knew before you went away how much you meant to me, but being apart from you has made me realise even more how much I need you and love you.  You are my best friend and you make my world complete!

You are not alone, even though it may feel like it at times, for although I may not be by your side, you are forever in my thoughts and I am with you every step of the way!

You’ll be home before you know it and I can’t wait to celebrate!  Take care sweetie! I love you with all my heart! xxxx xxxx

A Sherpa Community!

On day 6 we left Namche Bazaar and hiked to the village of Khumjung which sits at an altitude of around 3790m.  On our way there we visited Kunde hospital which was founded by Sir Edmund Hillary in 1966.  It was the second major project of the Himalayan Trust and it serves 10,000 Sherpas within the Khumbu district.  It is now funded by the Edmund Hillary Foundation and has 4 medical staff (a doctor, 2 medical assistants and a trained nurse/midwife).  It is run by local people who provide a 24 hour service.  They are able to perform procedures such as tooth extractions and cyst removals and they have basic diagnostic equipment including an x-ray and ECG machine.  They also provide a maternity service to pregnant women and they have even performed a number of c-sections under epidural!

The hospital has 15 inpatient beds and offers a wide range of services for the Sherpa community.  If someone is very unwell and needing more serious medical treatment they can be flown out to Kathmandu by helicopter, although 95% of the local people can not afford this.  The only alternative would be for them to carry their unwell friend or relative to the airport in Lukla to be flown to Kathmandu!  Once there, treatment is paid for by the Nepalese government or hospital funds.

There was only one examining room at the hospital so while we were there a queue of local people had formed outside the hospital, in the freezing cold, waiting to be seen by the doctor!  After he had seen his patients we were given the opportunity to speak to him and ask any questions which was very interesting.  Although I was pleasantly surprised at the medical facilities available, it still makes me feel very grateful for the NHS and I gave a small donation to this very worthy cause.

After this we headed to the lodge where we would be staying for the night.  Those of you that know me well, know that I don’t feel the cold, however even I had to resort to wearing trousers and my Buff at this altitude! (the temperature was only 2 degrees!) I haven’t put my shorts back on since!

After lunch we visited Khumjung School which was built in 1961 and was the first major project of the Himalayan trust.  It now has around 350 students and the Himalayan trust have opened a further 25 schools in the Khumbu district.

We also visited a monastery where they had a skull kept as a sacred relic in a locked box as it is believed to be the skull of the legendary Yeti!  Many of the Nepali people still believe in this mythical creature, however others think that the skull is that of a goat!

We returned to our lodge for some rest and relaxation time and following dinner we had a talk from our group doctor about altitude sickness.  He highlighted the signs and symptoms to look for and the importance of keeping hydrated!  I have been taking this very seriously and I have been drinking around 4 litres of water a day!  I’ve never drank so much!

The next day we had a fairly easy trek to Thyangbosche which is home to one of Nepal’s finest monasteries!  The scenery was spectacular and we had clear views of Everest again (although still very much in the distance!).  We then followed the trail to the village of Deboche where we would be staying for the night.

The scenery here is fantastic and I am experiencing incredible things every day but I would be lying if I said it was easy! I’m missing my wife, friends and family more than I ever would have imagined and it really is tough being at such high altitude. Everything feels like a massive effort!  Still, I’m staying strong and focussed – it wouldn’t be a challenge if it wasn’t difficult!

A Dream Come True!

On day five of my adventure, I woke up excited at the prospect of catching a glimpse of Everest for the first time. Everest is known by the Nepali people as Sagarmatha which means ‘forehead in the sky’.  We were told that because of its height the top is often hidden in the clouds, so I had my fingers crossed that we would be lucky!

We had an early breakfast and then walked along a panoramic trail to Kenjoma where there was a vantage point with spectacular views of Ama Dablam, Nupste, Lhotse and Everest itself!  It has always been my dream to see Everest and for the first time since arriving in Nepal, I felt quite emotional!  We could only just see the summit poking out above the clouds, far far away in the distance, but even so, it was truly breathtaking!  Before long the clouds came in and Everest was hidden from our view!

On our way back we walked along the last part of what would be our marathon course!  I was expecting it to be difficult but I was taken aback by what I saw!  Near the end of the course comes what is known as ‘the sting in the tail’ – an incline of approximately 400 metres in less than 2 miles!  Some of the path was also incredibly narrow with sheer drops down into the gorge below!  Loose your footing and it would be disastrous!  After seeing this I must admit that the nerves are starting to kick in!

When I got back I enjoyed my first shower since Kathmandu and I had to pay £3 for the privilege!  It was definitely worth it to feel clean and fresh again!  We then wondered down to the village of Namche to a lovely cafe for an Illy coffee and a cake – heaven!  I also stocked up on some essentials – sweets and chocolates for the marathon and some toilet roll!

We had our evening meal and a chat and then headed to bed for another early night!  Tomorrow we would be trekking up to 3790m to Khumjung where we would be visiting a local school and a hospital which were opened by Sir Edmund Hillary and a monastery with an alleged Yeti skull on display!

The Ascent Begins

After our spectacular flight into Lukla we sat for a couple of hours taking in the scenery and watching aeroplanes and helicopters landing and taking off from the tiny little airport.  I had forgotten to bring a waterproof jacket so I wondered into Lukla village and bought a fake ‘North Face’ one for £9!  This proved to be very useful as that afternoon it rained very heavily and to my surprise (and relief) it did the job and kept me dry!

Once all of the group had arrived we trekked on a mostly downhill track to our lodge in Phakding where we would be spending the night.

It was at this lodge that I caused chaos! The toilet in my accommodation block was horrible as it was basically a hole in the ground so my friend Matt said I could use the one in his block which had a proper seat!  There were two cubicles, one for men and one for ladies, however I was desperate so I nipped into the ladies cubicle, while the other one was in use. Matt had already been told off for using this one by Jackie, one of the ladies in our group but I carried on regardless (I was soon to regret this!).  Unfortunately, the flushes here are extremely weak, so after I’d finished what I needed to do, I tried to flush the toilet, but no matter how hard I tried it just wouldn’t go down and in my panic the flush handle broke!  I then heard footsteps outside so I put the toilet seat down and it came off in my hand!  I popped my head out hoping nobody would be there and I was mortified to find that Jackie was waiting to use the toilet!  I tried to explain that the flush wasn’t working properly as I did a walk of shame down the corridor and a couple of the other ladies poked their heads out of their rooms to see what all the fuss was about! It took five people and a lot of gagging to rectify what I had done and finally flush the toilet!  Little did I know that my ‘toilet disaster’ story would spread around the whole group and I have got myself a bit of a reputation!  Luckily, Jackie and her friends saw the funny side and it gave everyone something to smile about!  In fact, the altitude here goes to your head a bit and me and some of the others were crying with laughter!

After dinner, I went with 3 of the guys from our group to a little ‘pub’ down the road for a game of pool. This was amazing in itself as in order for the pool table to have been there, some poor person or animal must have carried it as all that led up to the hut were narrow, rocky paths!  We had one can of beer and that was enough to make us tipsy and send us into fits of giggles again at the evenings events!  The altitude certainly makes a cheap night out!

The next day we got up at 7am for a breakfast of scrambled eggs on toast before starting the ascent to the Sherpa capital of Namche Bazaar.  The first part of the trek was described as ‘easy’ but when you’re trying to adjust to the altitude, it was far from it and it was about to get a whole lot harder! We crossed a number of suspension bridges, one which was spectacularly high!  It wobbled up and down as we walked across and was only just wide enough for two people to pass each other!  Either side of us was the most dramatic scenery of tree covered mountains that rose up from from the river rapids flowing in the gorge below!  I almost got trampled by some donkeys that were crossing the bridge carrying containers of water up to the village!

We were already at 2610m, which is much higher than the UK’s highest mountain at 1345m (Ben Nevis) and we then began the killer ascent up to Namache Bazaar (3400m).  It would have been an extremely difficult climb from sea level but with the altitude it was as difficult as running my treadmill marathon! My watch told me that my heart rate had gone up to 158 bpm and my respiratory rate was 60 bpm at times!

The incredible thing was that I was struggling with my 10kg rucksack, while the local people (known as porters) were carrying 2-3 of our 15-20kg luggage bags up the mountain like it was a walk in the park!

We arrived, exhausted, at our lodge where we would be staying for the the next two nights to acclimatise. So far, I hadn’t taken my anti- altitude sickness tablets, but I was certainly going to start taking them now!

We had dinner before heading to bed for an early night – The next day was going to be a very special day – we would be getting our first glimpse of EVEREST!

Nemaste!

As promised, a blog post of my adventures so far – I can’t believe I’ve already done so much in just a few days!  I arrived in Kathmandu at around 10am (your time) on Sunday morning and as soon as I set foot outside of the airport I was hit with a complete sensory overload – colours, smells and sounds full of Nepalese culture!

Even though I had been expecting Kathmandu to be a vibrant and bustling city, I was still amazed at what I saw as I took a taxi to my hotel.  There were hundreds of people on bikes and the constant sounds of beeping horns!

I arrived at the charming Hotel Shanker which was formerly a palace.  It had been badly damaged by the earthquake last year and, like much of the city, it is still undergoing repairs.  There are tented areas dotted around Kathmandu where people who lost their homes are still living.

The first person I met from my Everest Marathon group was a guy from Austria who has ran over 150 marathons and 100 ultra marathons!  We ate together at the hotel (a fantastic Nepalise feast) before meeting another couple of guys from the group, one of which happened to be John, my room-mate!  We got to know each other over a few bottles of the local ‘Everest’ lager – a real treat after being abstinent for such a long time!

Yesterday morning we went to the Tenzing Hillary Everest Marathon press conference which was attended by important Nepalese dignitaries and guest speakers!  I was particular fascinated by Parvaneh Moayedi from Iran who has completed 919 marathons and is in a race to be the first woman in the world to run 1000 official marathons by December 31st 2016!  I also met a man called Helmut Linzbichler who climbed Everest at the age of 67 and Shariff Abdullah from Singapore who will be running the marathon on a prosthetic blade!

We were also joined by a group of National Olympian Runners who are carrying a Buddha Peace Flame to Mount Everest to give a message of national revival after the destruction caused by the earthquake.

In the afternoon we went on a tour of Kathmandu. We visited the famous Pashupatinath Temple, where we witnessed an incredible Hindu ritual! People who are near the end of their lives go the temple to die and are then cremated on the banks of the river!  A very surreal sight to behold!  We also visited the Boudhanath Stupa Temple – one of the holiest Buddhist destinations in Nepal and a World Heritage site!  This had also been badly damaged by last years earthquake and was still undergoing repairs!

The day ended with a delicious buffet dinner and a few more Everest largers before packing ready for our flight to Lukla. This is known as one of the most picturesque yet one of the most dangerous flights in the world, mainly because the runway at the airport is extremely short and surrounded by mountains leaving no room for error!

We set off to the airport at 5am this morning with a mixture of nerves and excitement!  The airport was incredibly busy and chaotic – nothing like the strict airport security we are used to in the UK! Our little plane seated 16 people and the cockpit was open so you could see the pilots as they navigated the journey.  As soon as we took off my nerves started to vanish as I took in the incredible scenery around me!  The busy city of Kathmandu quickly vanished and made way for the soaring, snow topped Himalayan mountain range.  Luckily, I was so consumed with taking photos of the breath taking vision that lay beneath me that I barely even noticed the turbulence!

It was a 40 minute flight but it flew by and before I knew it we had hit the runway with a bump.  I breathed a sigh of relief as the plane came to a stand-still just short of a towering wall at the end of the strip!  I can safely say that it is one of the most hair raising, yet awe inspiring 40 minutes of my life!

The next instalment of my journey has now begun, but I will save that for my next post!  I want to end this entry with a very VERY big thank you to the anonymous donator of a massive £1000 to Off The Record via my Local Giving page!  I am completely and utterly gobsmacked by this generosity and I really am so grateful for this life changing sum of money!  I would very much like to thank you personally but I completely understand if you wish to remain anonymous.

I will leave you now as I relax at the Tea House where we are staying.  I’m told that we have a hard day of trekking tomorrow!

The Adventure Begins!

I have just said my goodbyes to Helen and my parents and I am sat all alone at Heathrow Airport pondering the journey ahead!  I have checked in my luggage so all that’s left for me to do is have some lunch and go for a wonder around the duty free!

I have been building up to this moment for so long and I can’t believe it’s finally here after a year of planning, training and fundraising!

The next few weeks are going to be full of ups and downs but what will keep me going is the knowledge that my friends and family (and OTR, of course) are supporting me back in the UK and willing me on!  So even though I will be thousands of miles away, please keep your comments, messages and love flowing – it means so much to me!

I will do my best to keep you updated regularly while I’m away, but even if I can’t Helen has promised to do it on my behalf!  So, it is with a heavy heart that I say goodbye for the next few weeks!  The challenge I am about to face is not only for OTR but for each and every one of you that has supported me through this incredibly tough period of my life – I hope I make you all proud!

To Helen – I love you with all of my heart! There will not be a moment when you are not in my thoughts!  Stay strong and keep smiling! Xxxxxxxx

Feeling Loved!

I have just got in after a lovely night with Helen and our friends.  Unbeknown to me, Helen had asked our friends and parents to provide photos and messages so that she could make a giant good luck card!  It was full of photos of all my favourite people and inside were some truly heartwarming messages!  Chris had also written a fantastic poem for me and framed it!  I feel so lucky to have such amazing friends!

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I also had another surprise this afternoon.  OTR had made me a good luck video!  It was completely unexpected which made it all the more special and I am so grateful to them for taking the time and effort to put it together!

I am going away feeling very loved and supported and as a result of this, more motivated than ever to succeed in my Everest marathon challenge!  I know it’s going to be incredibly tough, particularly leaving all my loved ones behind, but I am going to come back stronger than ever!

Now, I must get my beauty sleep before my big day tomorrow!

Good night!

The Final Countdown!

It’s been a funny old week since the highs of last Friday’s fundraising night!  I have been rushing around like a blue assed fly getting all the final bits and pieces I need to take to Nepal.  I’m feeling much happier now in the knowledge that I have everything I need which is more than can be said for my dad as his credit card has taken a bit of a hammering!  I’m glad I will be a long way away when his bill comes through the letterbox!

This afternoon I took my mum and my niece Elsie to Swoon Gelato at the bottom of Park Street, who do the most amazing homemade Italian ice cream, while Helen stayed behind to pack for me ready for my travels!  You are probably wondering why I haven’t packed my own bag but there is a very good reason for this!  For several years Helen has done our holiday packing as my OCD was so bad that I was totally incapable of doing this for myself.  This is no longer the case, but she still likes to do it for me as she doesn’t trust me to do it properly myself!  I think she is wondering how on earth I will cope on my own in Nepal – she’s fully expecting me to return looking like Tom Hanks in Castaway!

Tonight Helen has arranged for us to meet up with our best friends Tony and Sian and Chris and Ellie. We are not planning to venture very far as we are going to our favourite Indian restaurant which happens to be just a short walk from where we live.  I am really looking forward to seeing them all.  It’s hard to believe that in just 24 hours time I will have said my goodbyes to Helen and will be at Heathrow Airport waiting for my flight to Kathmandu.  I have very mixed feelings as on one hand I am very excited but on the other hand I am not looking forward to saying my farewells!

Let the final countdown begin – Everest here I come!!!!!!!!

A Million Thank Yous!

Hi everyone!

Sorry for the delay in writing this post but I have only just recovered from Friday night – and what a night it was!  I am blown away by the amount of people who came to show their support (87 in total), it truly meant the world to me!

I must start by saying a massive thank you to everyone for putting their hands in their pockets and donating to Off The Record!  I need to do the maths properly, but on a quick add up I am incredibly proud to announce that Friday nights grand total came to around £2000 (including ticket sales)!  I also had a massive donation of £500 from my brothers company Resource Solutions Group (RSG) which brings the total donations so far to over £5000!  This is a phenomenal amount of money that could be life changing for a young person suffering from mental health problems!  This wouldn’t have been possible without all of your generosity, so again, thank you from the bottom of my heart!

I am so happy that after so much planning and organisation Friday night went to plan! Unfortunately there was just one small hiccup as The Greenbanks neighbours complained that we were too noisy and the band couldn’t play their second set!  Never mind, it’s just another thing to add to the saga that has been my life over the last few years and I’m hoping that no one really noticed!  Limited Edition were absolutely fantastic and I just feel bad for them that they didn’t get to finish their gig!

I must also apologise for my very unprepared speech!  Unfortunately, everything else took priority and I am very aware that I rambled on a bit, however I think my lack of preparation made it all the more heartfelt and genuine.  I’m not sure if I remembered to thank some key people who gave their valuable time to help with my fundraising night without anything in return so again thank you in particular to:

Sarah Lea for the fantastic mountain cake – not only did it look great, it was delicious!

Matt Watkins for being the photographer for the night!

Aimee Hearn and her Step Dad Reg for sorting out the incredible auction prize of a holiday to Jersey and of course my friend Steve Studley for bidding a massive £250 for the prize!

Chris Nelson (area manager of the Zazu’s Kitchen group and all round top guy!) for being the Compere for the night – I can’t think of anyone who could have done a better job – you were a natural!

Adam Greenwood (manager at The Greenbank) for allowing us to use the venue free of charge and for providing the food!

Sir Tony Howard (a living legend!) for being the top ticket seller as well as being the person behind organising the £500 donation from IES/Brand 51!  I am also so grateful to Niels (the company director) for not only agreeing to the donation but for giving me a Fitbit!

My little niece Elsie for selling so many raffle tickets with her cuteness!

And finally, all my fantastic friends and family for all their help and support in the build up to my fundraising night!

I feel so lucky to know such amazing people!

It was great that some of the OTR gang could come along – it was lovely to finally meet you all!  I thoroughly enjoyed myself and it was brilliant to see everyone enjoying themselves too – particularly my Dad who took the rare opportunity of having a good few drinks and letting his hair down!  At 69 years old he was one of the last ones standing and all my friends were calling him ‘a legend’ by the end of the night!

The night ended with a kebab (as all good nights do) and a G&T at Sian and Tonys! However, I was so relieved that the night was such a success (not to mention having had a fair bit to drink) that I promptly fell asleep on their sofa!

Today, I am having a relaxing (carb filled) day with Helen before hitting the gym and diet hard again tomorrow!  Now that my fundraising night is out of the way I can’t wait for my Nepal adventure to begin!

I promise that I will do another blog post before I set off on the 14th of May, but for now I’ll say farewell and once again:

Thank you all! Xxxxxxxx