Start line… Day 1 of the TransRockies Run 6…. Training - check, mandatory kit - check, water - check, mojo - check… Gulp…what lay ahead was almost too big to comprehend so for now, buzzing with excitement and anticipation, we resorted to dancing to the very appropriate AC/DC tune ‘Highway to Hell’…
When the girls completed the gruelling Everest Marathon in 2015 they were already planning the next challenge before they had returned home. Possibly a result of the difficult conditions they had endured for 3 weeks, one of the key criteria for the next event was basic comforts such as a toilet and maybe even a shower! …and what would be the trade off for these small luxuries? Ahhh …to times the effort by SIX. The TransRockies Run 6 is an event which starts in Buena Vista and finishes in Beaver Creek, Colorado. 6 days, 120 miles and 20,000 feet of ascent (just over 193Km and 6,000m)… they had better be good toilets!
The plan had been to arrive in Denver on the Saturday to give ourselves a couple of days to rest, travel to Buena Vista and adjust to the height gain (7,965 feet / 2,428m) before starting on the Tuesday. An unfortunate problem with the conveyer belts at Heathrow Terminal 5 subsequently meant our luggage failed to make the flight. Our ‘R&R’ thus turned into 3 quite stressful days of charging around Denver & Buena Vista trying to pull together enough kit! As if the challenge wasn’t enough on it’s own we now had girls in new trainers, borrowed shorts and no poles or bags! But in true Billy Ocean style… ‘When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going’! …ahem
Day 1: Buena Vista – Arrowhead Camp 20.8 miles / 2,500 feet of elevation (34 Km / 762m)
It is a funny feeling starting a marathon distance when it is one of six! The mind games range from ‘omg a marathon at altitude’ to ‘am I fit enough?’ (standard) to …’well you need to be finishing fresh today or you’re not going to make it’. Although the majority of us live in Chamonix at just over 1,000m, I for one had totally underestimated the impact of consistently running at around 3,000 meters (crazy in hindsight). The short training run the day before had left us gasping for air and reiterated the enormity of the days to come…. Day 1 actually started at a relatively low elevation in comparison and didn’t include some of the monster climbs of the other stages. However this did not mean we were given an easy ride… the running surface varied from gravel, rock and sand meaning only those who had invested in gaiters were not shaking out their socks at the check points!
Once we were off there was no more time to wonder what it would be like, we dug in and started doing what we know and all love… running in the mountains. The scenery was amazing, big landscapes, quite baron and almost desert like. A few of the group were sure they heard rattle snakes and the odd bush looked exactly like a bear for those of us already ‘on watch’… which only added to the elated debrief once we had all trucked home.
The organisation of the event was remarkable. Having finished the first day with a good leg dunk in the icy river we were shuttled to our first campsite. Each competitor had been issued with a 120 litre duffle bag which was to hold everything required for the 6 days… On arrival at camp 1 the bags were laid out in numerical order according to our competitor numbers and all the tents had been put up. We were each issued with tags so all that was required was to find an empty tent, attach the tag and roll out our mats.
In line with checked criteria we were delighted to see an artic lorry containing showers, a relaxation area with snacks, a food hall, medical tent and massage area… this was positively luxurious…. !
Vicksburg – Twin Lakes 13.3 miles / 3,200 feet of elevation (22Km / 975m)
At the end of our evening meal each day we would be briefed on the course and what to expect next. Day 2 started at around 5 am with breakfast, packing, token stretching, a trip to the medical tent for those who already needed to be patched up and at least 24 nervous visits to the portaloos. Although this was going to be a shorter distance it was one of the highest climbs reaching just under 13,000 feet (4,000m) and there were plenty of warnings around the challenges facing the suitably named ‘Hope Pass’.
As we bounced our way along a rough steep track on buses which looked like they had been taken from the set of ‘Greece’, many of us were quiet, trying to ignore the already achy muscles and looking for that dose of ‘man up’ that may be required… The start line was chilly and in the middle of nowhere. The remoteness heightened the senses of those already anxious about the wildlife that would inevitably be waiting behind every bush or rock with the sole intention of sabotaging our effort. There is was, the ‘Highway to Hell’, it was time to dig in.
The trail started with a lung busting climb along a forest road not far from the turnaround point of the iconic Leadville Trail 100. After the first checkpoint we moved onto singletrack where we started the 2.5 mile (4 Km) climb to the summit of Hope Pass. The reward at the top was worth every ounce of effort and short breath as we stood and absorbed a panoramic view of beautiful mountains, the Rockies certainly knew how to make the average trail runner smile. A few elated star jumps, a quick energy bar and congratulations to our fellow runners and we were soon off skipping, whooping and typically singing our way down a steep and technical descent with MC Hammer providing the perfect soundtrack - ‘U Can’t Touch This’. From the second checkpoint we were blessed with rolling singletrack which weaved through a forest and seemed to last forever until eventually reaching the shore of the Twin Lakes.
The height gain and reduced oxygen had taken its toll on a few sets of lungs and our legs were tired but ultimately we all made it home and were pleased to have day 2 in the bag. Once again we were efficiently shuttled to our next camp spot in Leadville where we had time to relax, exchange stories, indulge in trail running paraphernalia and eat lots of ice cream!
Leadville – Camp Hale 24.5 miles / 2,700 feet of elevation (40 Km / 825m)
Day 3 was our longest stage but with not too much climbing it was a case of getting stuck in and clocking off the miles… so much easier to say whilst sat at a computer! AC/DC once again set us off out of Leadville where we had to style out a climb through the town in front of a number of local supporters. The first few kilometres were getting harder each day as our bodies fort against the mental request to run again and there was no denying that each of us were picking up niggling signs of the ongoing demand. Driven by the open lush surroundings, day 3 took us through various ski areas with gradual climbs and rolling descents on the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail which eventually dropped us into Camp Hale.
Alongside the Run 6 was a shorter race which involved the first three days, the end of day 3 therefore marking the achievements of those who had completed their race. The people we met on our journey were undoubtedly a significant part of the overall experience. The race had attracted people from far and wide who were open, friendly and supportive of one another. As the stages continued and we found our pace, we learned about a multitude of personal achievements, different stories, backgrounds and journeys which developed solid friendships with those around us. The Neverest Girls were also starting to make their mark and a number of our fellow competitors subsequently supported our charity KDUK. I will never forget the ‘great jab’, ‘you go girl’ and ‘there you go’ that were so genuinely delivered by runners and supporters along the way.
Nova Guides Camp was one of our most remote camping spots where we were to stay for two nights. Nestled at the foot of an amphitheatre of mountains our tents were lined up next to a misty lake making for atmospheric photo opportunities. While this was an idyllic location it was too remote for any phone coverage or internet connection thus removing the support from home or the ability for the organisers to update the race website. The sudden cut off from the outside world added another dimension and made us realise the value of the messages we had received. 3 down and 3 to go…
Nova Guides – Red Cliff 14.5 miles / 2,800 feet of elevation (24Km / 855m)
Day 4 was by far one of the most fun days. Our bodies were starting to submit to the routine of getting up early, attending to our cuts and blisters, eating a healthy breakfast and then going for yet another run…! Dawn broke into a lovely sunny day and we danced about on the start line waiting for our well known cue. We were now starting to eat in to the latter half of the race and there was a feeling of excitement that ‘we got this’!!
Day 4 was short and steep, topping out at just under 11,700 feet (3,570m). Starting almost immediately with a killer climb which worked its way up Hornsilver Mountain, the relentless ‘up’ was a sufficient test of our ability to dig deep. Weary muscles and challenging head games made us thankful to one another for keeping each of us going. However, once at the top we were treated to an extended run through meadows of wild flowers and along a ridge with views of the infamous Mount of Holy Cross – ‘Nights in White Satin’ by the Moody Blues… an interesting choice. As if the ridge line was not enough to make someone want to join the Transrockies Disco, the descent through the water filled Wearyman Creek had us giggling like children. Tired and soaked we reached the final check point only to find we had just missed a wild moose who had decided to try and take advantage of the snacks on offer! What a day.
It is hard to believe we are at the end of day 4 and have not yet mentioned the volunteers who supported the Transrockies event. Each of the check points were allocated a team of volunteers of all ages who gave up their time to feed, water and encourage the competitors over the 6 days. On occasion the checkpoints were so remote that supplies had to be carried up by horses and the volunteers hiked up to support us. The atmosphere at each station was incredible where, on top of the usual fuelling and hydrating, we were often encouraged to stop for a quick dance or a photo. A special mention has to go to one of our youngest supporters of 13 who invented the perfect trail snack involving bananas, m&ms and peanut butter. Similarly, to possibly the oldest gentleman who gave us each a plastic pink flamingo to attach to our rucksacks so that we would never run alone… It is most certainly these touches that keep you going when you want to bail and go home… and for that we were all eternally grateful.
Red Cliff – Vail 24 miles / 4,100 feet of elevation (40 km / 1,250m)
So the Day 4 euphoria was a little short lived. As we sat around the camp fire back at Nova Guides that evening the enormity of what still lay ahead started to sink in. Pick a part from the waist down and it hurt… out of 10, probably a good 8. All of us were eating like horses and continuing to lose weight and some of us were carrying injuries which were threatening to stop play. Day 5 & 6 were two of the longest days… the last bit was going to be tough. But hey, that’s why we were here, going for it, pushing on when we wanted to stop and achieving the goals we had set ourselves… Oh yes, ‘Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves’ …. thank you Eurythmics.
The photos of us on the start line at Red Cliff paint a true picture of a cold and tired start…well and truly on the highway to hell! As we headed off up a false flat it was impossible to imagine getting to the end. After almost 8 miles of climbing we reached the first checkpoint and little by little we were eating into the distance. Whilst wishing for a bear to come and end the misery the tune ‘Eye Of The Tiger’ - Survivor was on loop. From here we were back on singletrack and running through the forest with several steep climbs and descents. The trail finally opened out onto meadows at the back of Vail Ski Resort where a beautiful ridge line took us to a technical descent. To finish, the trail dropped us on to the front of the ski hill heading down into Vail.
The feeling of completing day 5 was phenomenal and well celebrated, we were so nearly there, so nearly done and now it all seemed totally doable. Vail is quite an affluent area and we were aware of a few odd looks from tourists as we lowered our achy legs into a stream running through the village….ahhh this was a Take That moment ‘Could It Be Magic’. A big old ice cream, an exchange of everyone’s stories and comparing injuries whittled away the rest of the day at the finish line before walking round to our final camp. A special mention for Steph who was consistently up the front and completed overall 4th woman, amazing achievement. Back in the land of coverage we were blown away by the messages of support which flooded in and made us feel like the luckiest ladies in Vail.
Vail – Beaver Creek 22.3 miles / 4,900 feet of elevation (36 Km / 1,500m)
Today AC/DC could go jump… this was not a highway to hell… this was the motorway to the finish line. Every step would take us closer to the end, the goal, the banquet, the hotel bed. Eating had become such a predominant past time that it was hard to think what else we would do once we had finished! Similarly, what would it feel like to not run tomorrow??
Day 6 may have started with a positive outlook but there was still a fairly significant distance and height gain which was not going to run itself. The route was tough and finished with a sting in the tail and there was a good bit of pain which we were trying to ignore. We set off running through Vail to the sound of footfall on tarmac and clapping from passers by. We then had a steady climb up Buffehr Creek Trail and over Red and White Mountain. The descent from here was long, steep and technical, at times running through long grass where ‘don’t fall, don’t fall’ took up a lot of concentration. After what felt like forever we dropped into Avon town which we had to cross before the final climb into Beaver Creek. The sting in the tail certainly stung but it could not retract from the fact that we were nearly there, nearly done. As I broke out of the forest and started on a switch back trail heading up an open meadow, I could see a man in a cap. He made me stop, turn around and look across the valley to the place from where these legs had carried me. He then pointed to another man about 2 switch backs away ‘that there marks the end of your climbing on the Transrockies 6, great jab’… wow, there was an emotional moment I wasn’t expecting!
All that was left was a short easy downhill to the ultimate finish line… I remember all the funny thoughts that went through my head as I ran down the last descent, ‘what should I do as I cross the finish line? Should I practice a little jump? Did I actually do this? …and there it was, a giggle, a practice, a laugh, the end… all to the back drop of Whitney Houston - ‘I’m Every Woman’ - hell yeah!!!
Over a year in the planning and the time has almost come… tomorrow we fly out from Geneva to Denver and the adventure begins!
On Tuesday we will be lining up in Buena Vista, Colorado to start the first steps of a 6 day journey that will take us over mountains, through forests, across rivers all the way to Beaver Creek - 120 miles (193km) and 20,000ft (6096m) of ascent in total. Is it a sign of our collective craziness that we can’t wait? It’s going to be one heck of an adventure and we’re so excited to be a part of it - blisters, bears and all!
As many of you already know, we’re doing this as part of the Transrockies Run, to raise much-needed funds for Kennedy’s Disease UK. The past few months have been a whirlwind of fancy dress parties, gala dinners, summer fêtes and bake-offs - raising a grand total of over 7000€! We even managed to squeeze in a photo shoot for a "special" Neverest Girls calendar, all in the best possible taste of course! And, obviously, we’ve been running a bit as well...
Way back in December we hosted a clothes swap party where we spend an evening drinking wine, gossiping and trying on each others clothes - funnily enough, it was mostly the ladies who supported this event! Everyone paid a donation on the door and we all went home happy and slightly tipsy with bags full of pre-loved clobber and sports gear.
Next on the calendar was a Heroes & Villains party at La Terrasse - there was a great turnout and the costumes were amazing, we had everyone from She-Ra to Wolverine on the dancefloor! There was a small entry fee and then lots of people generously donated a bit extra; La Terrasse helped us out with drinks promos and donated bottles of shots that we could sell and keep the profits - they clearly judged our friends well as it was a winner…
In May we held our Summer Ball at Les Caves; a fabulous night of dinner and dancing with some great raffle prizes donated by local businesses. It was a fantastic excuse to swap our trainers for high heels and everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves - even if some of us have slightly hazy memories of the evening.
Last but not least was the Great Chamonix Bake-Off, a cake baking competition with all the cakes sold by the slice afterwards. We paired up with Le Petit VIP for this one and it was a lovely family day with face-painting, bouncy castle and games for the kids. We’re going to need to run every one of those 120 miles to burn off the amount of cake we ate that day!
Our goal is to hit 10,000€ and we’re so close, so we’re leaving the donations page open while we are away - the thought of all those extra last-minute pennies hitting the pot will spur us on when we are exhausted and broken! If anyone would like to give us a last push to the finish then please click on this link to donate or visit our website.
All the money you donate will go to Kennedy’s Disease UK; a small charity supporting those with a rare and incurable condition. Kennedy’s Disease is motor neurone related and leads to wasting of the muscles, particularly in the arms and legs. As there is no treatment, it ultimately leads to immobility and dependence on others for care. Kennedy’s Disease UK has been established to raise funds for invaluable research being carried out at University College London that could change the future for people suffering from this rare condition. They are a small charity with no big overheads, so we can really make a difference by helping them out. You can find out more by visiting their website at KDUK.
One last word - our trip is entirely self-funded, from our plane flights to our race entry and everything else in between. So every single penny or centime that you donate will go directly to KDUK.
Big big thanks and lots of love to everyone who has donated and supported us in so many ways, there are too many to name but you know who you are.
If you want to follow our progress (and check that we haven’t been eaten by bears) you can follow Transrockies Run on Facebook or read blog posts about the race on the Transrockies Run website - wish us luck!!!
So, here it was. The big day. If you ask any runner they’ll tell you that they never feel as ready as they would like on race day. Common themes are “didn’t train enough”, didn’t rest enough”, “didn’t sleep well the night before”...
Well, I’m pretty sure we trained enough, even if we’d not done much before we left then the 10 day hike up to base camp would have sorted that out. Rest though, hmmm… our rest day had turned into an epic hike out of Everest Base Camp through fresh snow with the sound of avalanches thundering all around that exhausted us all and left us with shredded nerves about the day ahead.
Sleep had been a struggle for everyone; altitude has a funny way of making you feel tired and sleepy all day but then restless and agitated at night. When even turning over in your sleep leaves you out of breath then it’s easy to wake up every few hours or so in a panic because you feel like you can’t breathe.
So, prepared? Maybe not. But excited? Hell yeah! Race day dawned bright and sunny with clear blue skies, snow was sparkling all around and there were jaw-dropping views in all directions. As we lined up at the start Sofia tapped me on the shoulder and said “look behind you”, it was the last view we would have of Everest and she was looking spectacular.
The start of the race was somewhat more restrained than usual; there was no sprinting off into the distance on the starter’s pistol due to knee-deep snow. Instead we all trudged off in an orderly line, stumbling over buried rocks and slipping on icy patches.
During the hike up to base camp we had already covered much of the race route and were pretty confident that we could nail the first half in decent time before the terrain got tough during the second half. We were glad that the easier sections were early on because the high altitude would slow us down, so we figured that we’d take the first 20km or so at a gentle trot and then have some energy left to attack the steep climbs of the second half.
That, of course, was before the snow scuppered our notion of “easy terrain”; there was no gentle trotting to be had, it was mincing and stumbling pretty much all of the way. I fell in big puddle of melting yak poo, which hadn’t been part of my race plan at all.
Anyhow, once we had cleared the chorltons that overlook Dingboche the snow disappeared and we managed our first proper stretch of the legs - it felt great, freewheeling down a slightly twisting flowy track with the town below us getting rapidly nearer. There is a loop at Dingboche which we had recce’d on the way; up there, downhill back. It didn’t seem so bad, so we weren’t worried just keen to get it out of the way and on to the next bit. However, the loop had been extended due to the revised race route and somehow it seemed to have got a whole lot steeper as well. It was only 10km but it felt like a marathon in itself; a long relentless uphill marathon with an eternally distant finish line.
Everyone had been really well up to this point; a few of us had suffered mild altitude sickness, others had a dodgy stomach but on the whole we’d all been on good form. Which is why it came out of the blue when one of our hiking group ran up to Helen and I to say that Andrea wasn’t well and needed medical help. We were sure he must have been mistaken but when we caught up to Andrea it was clear she was in a bad way; she was doubled over with severe stomach cramps, had fainted and had been throwing up. Although obviously in a lot of pain she carried on to the food station at Dingboche where she tried to force down something for her stomach to work on. We asked for a doctor but there wasn’t one and nobody was very helpful about where we might find one or what we should do if Andrea couldn’t continue. That apparently was out of the question though as Andrea declared through gritted teeth that she would “finish this f@$#ing race if I have to crawl it”. It was quite worrying though, knowing that we were essentially on our own - the provision for medical help seemed to be quite vague and no one that we asked really knew what was going on.
So we all carried on at our own pace; the next milestone to hit was Tengboche, if we got there before the cut-off time then we could carry on to the end. In our minds this made Tengboche nearly the end, if we could make it here we were almost home. Just a bit of a climb to get there and then we’re nearly done. Yeah, right…
I have no idea how what was a gentle descent through a rhododendron forest could turn into such a hideously relentless climb when going the other way. None of us remembered it being so steep or so very long; it was a head’s down and keep marching job. The forest seemed quite beautiful when we hiked down through it, if you asked me what it looked like on the way up I would have no idea - I just saw the few metres of ground in front of my feet and the neverending steps to the top. Finally we saw the monastery ahead of us and the ground levelled out, we had made it to the checkpoint in time and the young lad who was counting everyone told us merrily that we were 26th to last. I don’t know if this was intended to lift our spirits or not but he was laughing a lot when he said it.
Descents are my least favourite part of any run but I was almost looking forward to the downhill bit, just to give my calves a break. It was always going to be my slowest part of the race and this is where Helen, Sam and I parted ways; they skipped off down the rocky track while I stumbled and lurched my way down, using my poles as stabilisers to stop me from plunging off the side of the trail - which I have form for doing.
I finally made it in one piece before attacking the last big climb; the evil part of this race is that it takes you so far down just to come back up again. The climb back up was brutal but beautiful; swinging rope bridges across gorges, bright pink rhododendrons peeking through lush green foliage, mist rising like steam from the river; it had been raining earlier in the day but now the clouds were clearing and mountain peaks were starting to show through.
I caught Sam up about halfway up the climb, she was tired but in good spirits; she was such a welcome sight as I was starting to feel down about being so far behind and was doing my usual trick of doubting myself and talking myself out of it. Sam is always insanely positive when running though, might be a sign of madness but it’s good to be around.
The positive vibes rubbed off and when Sam set off at a faster pace I decided not to join her; rather than running my own race I had been stressing out too much about keeping up with other people. This was a once in a lifetime thing and so I decided to take it all in rather than march along with my head down and my mind full of doubts. So, I took some photos, said hello to some local people, looked around me and tried to store the sights in my memory to look back on. Also, my knees were killing me from the descent so I didn’t have a lot of choice about not speeding up!
Coming over the finish line was a special moment; I was delighted to see that all the Neverest Girls were still there with our groupies, Morgan and Karl, as well as lots of the people who we had shared the hike up with. Andrea had battled on and finished the race, despite her stomach giving her problems all the way round. Everyone was so happy to have completed and enormously proud to be wearing the amazing shiny black and red tracksuits that we were presented with. Local children were jumping up at us to grab the national flags that we picked up just before the finish line and there were plenty of organisers, volunteers and locals milling around looking proud to be part of the excitement.
The post-race chatter revealed a few victories for our crew; Steph had done amazingly well and was the 1st British woman to cross the finish line! Karl, one of our loyal groupies (and Andrea’s partner) had entered the half-marathon only a few days earlier on a whim, never having entered a race before or ran any further than 10km. However, lack of oxygen obviously suits him as he won it! Not only that but he got to shake hands with an assortment of dignitaries and do a traditional Nepali dance with some nice ladies.
Sam and I trudged off to our hotel, weary but happy and looking forward to a hot shower and a good sleep. It seems our day wasn’t over quite yet though as we took a wrong turn to the hotel and then had to climb about a million steps to get back up to it - just what we needed!
The next day was our first true rest day - no hikes, no recces - just lounging about in Namche, eating cakes and buying souvenirs. Two of our hiking group had decided to split the race in two and stay overnight in a lodge halfway, so we headed down to the finish line to cheer them in. John and Richard, two Australians, finished together with proud beaming smiles and tales to tell of drinking rum with sherpas and spotting rare musk deer in the forests!
I don’t know whether it was relief at having finished in one piece but there was definitely a different feel to the group after the marathon. Everyone was chatting and opening up a bit more, those that had seemed reserved before the race were much more sociable. A few of us spent our last night in Namche Bazaar in a local bar with some of the trekking guides, they had lightened up a lot too now that the pressure of getting everyone through race day was off.
Andrea was still not well and spent the day in her room being force-fed Hobnobs; she must have felt really awful if Hobnobs had to be forced upon her. It was worrying because no one really knew the cause of the problem, but one of our hiking group was a nurse from New Zealand and she kept an eye on her alongside our Nepalese doctor. Eventually it was decided that dehydration must be behind it all and a saline drip was administered; it seemed to do the trick as Andrea was up on her feet again the next day and ready to hike back down with us, she wasn’t her usual sprightly self but she was definitely on the mend - hurrah!
Now there was just the small matter of getting back to Kathmandu and getting those pedicures we’d promised ourselves. What had taken us 10 days to hike up somehow only took us 3 days, including marathon day, to hike back down again. Weary legs aside, it felt amazingly easy as we descended back through the Khumbu Valley. The lower we went, the more oxygen-rich the air became - and we weren’t having to drink 4 litres of water per day anymore, so we probably saved a lot of time on toilet breaks.
Hiking back down felt strange as we revisited all the places we had passed through on the way up; although we only spent one night in each place they all felt very familiar but also as if it had been much longer ago since we were last there - I guess a lot had happened in that short time!
We spent our last night in Lukla in the same lodge that we set off from; it had seemed so basic when we started but now felt like luxury - the toilets that had horrified us when we arrived were now looking quite posh. Post-race drinks had not yet been had, so we headed off to find beer. We not only found beer but ended up dancing like loons in our shiny tracksuits in some dodgy underground bar, it felt more like 3am than 3pm and it was funny to stumble out of there mid-afternoon and head back for dinner.
We had a special farewell meal with our guides and sherpas and thanked them for their amazing efforts; they had looked after us so well every step of the way, especially during the scary experience up at Base Camp. They did everything with great big smiles on their faces and were always such good company, seeing the funny side of everything despite having hard lives. It was sad to say goodbye to them, they had been such a big part of our adventure, but we knew that they were so happy to be back in Lukla with their families.
Now we just had the small matter of flying back to Kathmandu and readjusting to crazy city life...
On day 4 we took a different, higher route out of Namche, straight up 500m then down to the village of Khumjung at 3800m, the same height as the Aiguille du Midi where we spent time acclimatising before the trip. The views across to Everest and Ama Dablam were stunning, we stopped for a spot of golf on a lovely grassy plain and took many happy photos of us all. In Khumjung we visited the school that Sir Edward Hilary established in 1961 and a monastery which houses a real yeti scalp! It looked more like part of an old fur coat, but it’s amazing how many of the Sherpas and other locals truly believe in the existence of yetis. I have to admit that I did get a little spooked by strange noises when using the toilet in the middle of the night. The stars were clearer here than anything I’d ever experienced, if you were brave enough to venture out of the tent during the night.
Day 5 took us back down to the river and then up again. The route often did that, so despite little altitude gain overall that day we still went down and up 600m which got the heart and lungs pumping. We visited the monastery at Tengboche which marked the one cut-off point at the top of a climb during the race. There was a lot of chanting, horn-blowing and tea-drinking by the monks, but it was the smell of our collective cheesy feet that drove us out of there pretty quickly! We were amused to hear that the monks ski here in the winter, on homemade skis, in their robes. The descent through a rhododendron forest was beautiful and we made camp in Deboche in the grounds of a lodge alongside the other camping group. We were excited to find a toilet with a seat and the lodge was comfy and warm for mealtimes. Everybody seemed to be on good form.
The stars were gorgeous again overnight and we awoke to wonderful views of a misty Ama Dablam with huge shadows being cast by the rising sun. We met the first of our regular dog companions (Buster) and I shared my boiled egg with him. The dogs all looked like they needed a bath, but were very friendly and didn’t appear to belong to anybody, popping up randomly en route. Day 6 took us over the landmark 4000m and up to 4300m in Dingboche, but it was a nice gradual ascent. This took us above the tree line, leaving the landscape barren and we also sighted our first big, hairy yaks, who can only survive about 3000m. Some of the girls were suffering from colds and dodgy stomachs today, but still no major altitude sickness issues. However it certainly felt colder, the air thinner and the yak dung burnt in the lodges filled the air with an acrid smoke.
Overnight we had thunder, rain and snow and those that had diligently washed their undies the night before found them frozen solid on the lines when they woke. The morning was stunning and we could now see that we were surrounded by huge, snowy mountains which were shrouded in mist when we’d arrived. Day 7 was a rest day at Dingboche, which again meant no rest but a trek and run around a loop that we would have to do on race day. It was good to have a run again, although the terrain underfoot was not too enjoyable and the thought of having to run up and downhill here mid-race wasn’t appealing. We had the afternoon free and trekked up to a chorten, towards another part of the race route, listening to strict instructions from Ricky not to explore the other side of the valley. I’m not sure if there were yetis living over there, but there were a few signs up around town showing pictures of trekkers that had recently gone missing… There was a camera crew following a Brazilian team doing the race and a few of us did a brief interview for them. Our doctor took our blood pressures and gave his usual advice of “drink more water” if anything seemed abnormal.
From here onwards, the weather started to get progressively worse. Scorching hot sun was interspersed with a cold, driving wind that seemed to come out of nowhere and we started wearing more layers for trekking and at night. The days often began clear and bright, but a cold mist and wind rolled in during the afternoon and evenings.
Day 8 was exactly like this and we left Dingboche to gain another 600m in altitude. The uphill was slow and gentle, over sparse, rocky plains, along the side of a glacial valley. Buster the dog had been joined by his friend Shakira and they merrily trotted along beside us. We dropped down to the river and stopped for lunch, then climbed on up the valley. We passed through an area covered with memorials to those that had lost their lives on Everest, strewn with prayer flags. It was emotional reading the memorials and we took time to walk around them. We realised we were at the same height as Mont Blanc which was pretty exciting for us Chamonix-based folk. Lobuche at 4900m came into view soon after and it was clear that we were getting into the high mountains now, with only a couple of lodges in the village.
Most of us started feeling the affects of altitude today. It feels like you are slightly drunk and hungover at the same time and you have to do everything really slowly to avoid getting out of breath. Your brain struggles and it’s hard to think straight due to the lack of oxygen. At 5000m there is 45% less oxygen than at sea level. Lots of people had started coughing and taking mild painkillers or anti-altitude sickness medication to try and fend it off, but personally I preferred to drink as much water as possible and hope that my head sorted itself out. Luckily for me, that worked.
Day 9 was the toughest day yet by a long way. I awoke at 2am to heavy snow and then at 5.30 the Sherpas started shaking our tents to dislodge the 15cm of fresh snow. Many of our team had not brought footwear suitable for such weather, which was unusual for this time of year. We trekked for 3 hours in a snowstorm, through deep snow, up to Gorek Shep at 5190m and it was exhausting. We arrived at the lodge there cold and wet, with many of our team really suffering from the altitude. There was nowhere to dry our wet clothes until they lit a small stove in the evening and the toilets were beyond disgusting. However for us tomorrow was a big day, the trek to Everest Base Camp, so we went to our tents with smiles on our faces and slept well.
On day 10 the snowstorm was still raging, so the trek was postponed until after lunch. We got kitted up in our cold and wet weather gear, looking like we were about to trek to the Antarctic, not to the start line of a race. The route to EBC is a single file track along an undulating ridge with dangerous drops and a traverse across a glacier through an avalanche/rock fall field. When we got to this field a few boulders fell, so we were very lucky to spot them and not to have been hit. As we stood there in deep snow in our wet running trainers, having slipped and fallen several times each, we wondered just how we were going to ‘run’ this in two days time!
Upon arrival at base camp (5390m) we were shown to our tents and told to be careful where we stepped. We were essentially camping on a glacier and there were holes and crevasses everywhere. Tents were pitched on slopes and hilltops and looked like you would just roll out of them! We got into our tent to find everything was very wet and cold, due to the melting snow soaking through the bottom. Even getting to the dinner tent or toilet was an enormous effort. We were told that the storm was getting worse and that we should wake up every hour to knock the snow off our tents, a) to stop us suffocating, and b) to stop the tent from collapsing. That was not going to make for a good nights sleep!
After a very scary night with a few of us having panic attacks from lack of oxygen, we were dug out of our tents by the Sherpas and trudged over to breakfast in snow up to our thighs. This alone was so tiring at this height. As we ate our breakfast we could hear avalanches rumbling all around the valley. Consequently, the race organisers decided that, due to the conditions, the race would not be able to start from EBC this year. After more snow, the sun was due to come out that afternoon, causing the fresh snow to melt and making the avalanche risk on the trail extremely high. We had to evacuate right now! We returned to our tents to pack, having been told that our kit bags may not make it back to Gorek Shep before the race, thus deciding to carry or wear as much as possible. Knowing the avalanche risk, the state of the path we would have to walk across, the fact that we had inadequate kit, no ropes or crampons and that no helicopter could get to us if something was to happen, we were terrified. I can honestly say that I have never been so scared in all my life, shortly before and during the first hour of that trek. Nobody had given any instructions, Ali & Sam got separated from the rest of the group, people were struggling to carry their own kit, the snow was still pelting down, we could see avalanche debris across our walking path and people were stopping to take photos in the middle of it all! After 2 ½ hours we were utterly exhausted, inhaling chocolate bars to keep going. Due to the stress, panic and confusion, we nearly all forgot to put sun cream on. Despite the whole episode being played out in a blizzard, with zero sun, several of us managed to get the worst sunburn on our faces that we have ever experienced. We arrived back in Gorek Shep, happy to be alive but with painful, swollen, burnt faces. And all of this the day before the race on what was supposed to be a rest day.
At this point, we started to feel angry as it became apparent that safety was not first on the race organisers’ agenda. Surely they had known about the weather forecast before we even left for EBC the day before? Why had they risked taking us all up there? Were they more bothered about trying to conserve the start line and title of the ‘highest’ marathon in the world than our safety? If these conditions happened before a race in Chamonix, we knew that the race would be cancelled or at least re-routed.
We spent the afternoon discussing as a group what was best to do as we were concerned that even the new race route was dangerous and avalanche-prone. Whatever we did, we’d have to get down there on foot at some point, but should we even race? Travel today was impossible as we were informed there had been an avalanche on the route, i.e. the route we were due to travel tomorrow. We sent messages to people we knew that had trekked the area, asking their advice. In the end we decided to run in groups of 3 until we got through the high risk area. At this point we just wanted to get off this mountain and that was the only way we were going to do it!
We were given beds in the lodge for the night, our amazing porters and Sherpas worked themselves to exhaustion to bring all of our kit back, many of them doing two trips from EBC and we went to bed scared for a second night, worried about what the next day held for us. There is no way we would consider hiking or running in such ridiculous conditions in Chamonix. This was supposed to be fun and a challenge, but we were not prepared for such dangerous circumstances. What on earth were we doing here?
Sam & Helen x
We met for our transfer to the airport, all totally over-excited. John from Peak Transfers had kindly lent us one of their buses and Alan was our chauffeur - no peaked cap though?! Two flights and a 6-hour layover in Istanbul later, and we found ourselves in Kathmandu. We were met at the airport by staff from the marathon company welcoming “The Never-Resting Girls”. Brilliant! We were whisked to the hotel by our driver, weaving in and out of traffic and honking the horn all the way.
On arrival the Hotel Shankar, previously a palace, appeared rather shabby-chic. Friendly staff and spotlessly clean, but no toilet paper flushing allowed and the rooms smelt damp. Little did we know how upmarket that would seem once we started trekking, compared to some of our other accommodation!
Kathmandu is a hot, bustling, hectic, dusty, smelly sprawl of a city. Electric wires hang low in the streets, wonky brick constructions are being worked on in every spare space, road crossings where you take your life into your hands, monkeys & cows wander the streets, the rivers run dark grey, no drinking tap water, but everyone is friendly and seems relatively happy with their lot.
We met up with renowned mountaineer and friend of Sofia, Russell Brice, who took us to a great place for lunch and showed us a decent shop for picking up last minute purchases for the trek. We met him later too for cocktails followed by dinner, where we were joined by ultra-running legend Lizzy Hawker. Those of us that knew who she was got a little bit star struck, but she was so friendly and we had a great night.
On our second day in Kathmandu, we had a sight seeing tour of the monkey temple, high on a hill, followed by the world heritage site of beautiful old buildings. In the afternoon, we met our guide Ricky, were briefed on the trek & race, got our t-shirts and kit bags and met the rest of our trekking group. Our team of 19 consisted of us 9 (7 Neverest Girls & 2 groupies), a father and son from Belgium, a mother and daughter from Oz, a 72 year old from Oz who had run a whopping 7 marathons in her 70th year, 3 other Aussies and 2 Kiwis - a really nice bunch, but everyone else seemed pretty quiet at first. We were worried that we’d soon drive them all round the bend. We spent the rest of the evening scoffing curry and trying to squeeze our luggage down to 15kg - no mean feat for some of the girls!
We rose early the next day for our flight to Lukla (2800m), which was the first hurdle of many. Lukla is known as one of the most dangerous airports in the world, due to the short runway, and all luggage had to be strictly weighed. 15kg was the total allowed including hand luggage, not a lot considering all the essential kit we needed to take with us, such as our 3kg sleeping bags. However the flight went smoothly, with the small plane almost skimming the hillside below and landing safely on the very short strip of tarmac. The views to the distant mountains were stunning and we started to appreciate just how huge the mountains actually were here, making us feel very small. This was it, there was no easy way out from here.
After a couple of hours wait for the bags, our porters loaded themselves up with a ridiculous amount of luggage and we started trekking. It was good to finally get moving. We left Lukla and entered a winding, lush, green valley. We criss-crossed the river that ran through it, via metal swing-bridges, and passed through numerous villages along the way. We were told to keep to the inside of the paths whenever we met cows, donkeys and people carrying loads, to avoid falling off the edge. Sam’s trusty old hiking boots chose this time to fall apart, and one by one the soles fell off. They were patched up by the boys using shoelaces and gaffer tape. Nikki suggested selling the design to Nike, but I’m not convinced that ‘Nike Air Sams’ would fly off the shelf. We stopped for lunch, cooked in the portable kitchen by the catering crew, consisting of the soon familiar cheese sandwich, chips and salad.
Our first campsite in Tok-Tok came into view a short time after. We actually lost a little altitude on that first day, but the aim was to start acclimatising and 2700m was already way higher than some of our team had ever experienced. The porters and sherpas swiftly put up our tents, which were surprisingly spacious. Afternoon tea and biscuits followed, then dinner at 7pm. Evening meals were quite basic but filling: watery garlic soup (good for altitude apparently), followed by up to three of either noodles, rice, pasta, potatoes and vegetables with curry or dahl. There was even a dessert of powdered custard made with water, or tinned fruit. So not the usual nutritional lead up to a big race, but we were certainly carb-loading! At the end of dinner we had more tea or hot chocolate and 'Ricky Time', where our guide told us the plan for the next day and answered any questions.
We also had our first experience of the camping toilets: a small pit dug into the ground and covered by a tent. There were other toilets available en route in the lodges, but generally they were pretty grim. If you were lucky there were squat toilets into water, otherwise there were open holes onto straw, swarming with flies and very smelly. The higher up we went, the worse they got.
I think most people slept well that first night, although I believe those suffering from the altitude did not for most of the trip. As became the morning routine, we rose at 6.30am to tea in our tents and bowls of hot water for washing ourselves, packed our bags for the porters, went to breakfast for 7.30am and left the site at 8.30am. Breakfast was porridge, eggs or pancakes and toast, with lots of tea. In fact we were required to drink 4 litres of water per day in an attempt to stay hydrated, one of the main issues that can lead to altitude sickness. Not ideal when you were trying to avoid the horrible toilets.
Day 2 took us to Namche Bazaar (3400m) , an amphitheatre-shaped bustling town with shops, cafes and a couple of bars, so a good place to hang out for a few days. We had a stunning campsite right at the top of the town, but blimey, did we feel that first walk up there through the steep streets. After two hot, sweaty days of walking we were able to have a shower, do some washing, buy coffee & cake, go shopping (for fab Sherpa-branded kit and essential new hiking shoes) and hook up to wifi to let our loved ones know that we were OK. We had a great catering tent here, which was used whenever there wasn’t a lodge nearby for mealtimes.
Day 3 was our first ‘Rest Day’, but we were still up and out of our tents by 8.30. In fact most of us were awake way before that and rose to stunning views of huge, snowy mountains and the sound of cuckoos, crows, cow bells and barking dogs. We soon learnt that a rest day meant slightly less trekking than on the other days, but it did not mean resting! The idea is to keep moving and circulating oxygen around your body, which aids the acclimatisation. We were also banned from daytime napping for the same reason. Our race would eventually end in Namche so from here our trek route generally followed the race route, and we trekked out to see a significant junction that we would pass. We got our first glimpses of Everest, Amadablam and several other large, well-known peaks, which was very exciting. After yet more shopping en route (!), we ran back to Namche, our first experience of running at high altitude. The path was relatively flat, but you could still feel the effect of the altitude.
Namche marked the final point of relative civilisation and the thought of leaving that the next day was exciting yet concerning. Many of our team were already suffering from symptoms of mild altitude sickness, some had started taking medication and yet we still had another 2000m of altitude gain to make before the start of the race. Then there was the thought of the race itself. We had waited so long for this trip to come - could we all really make it to the start line, let alone the finish?
Helen & Sam x
Wow! What a trip. What an epic adventure. What an absolutely unimaginable experience... "Wow" doesn't actually come close to explaining the three weeks we spent away from home, trekking to the base of the highest mountain in the world to run the highest marathon on the planet. The brain and body have just about recovered and I'm already tired of listening to myself trying to explain three of the hardest, most inspiring and wonderful weeks of all my years.
The Everest Marathon. The world’s highest and one of the world’s toughest races. A daft and somewhat out there idea that was loosely bounced around 18 months ago, which I'm sure many (including myself at times) thought would never happen. The idea quickly turned into a project, the project soon turned into The Neverest Girls.
There are many inspirational posts plastered all over the likes of Facebook and Twitter these days that promote positive mental thinking and to remind you to believe in yourself. A personal favorite that kept popping up was “Magic happens outside of your comfort zone”. One of the many things I have learned from this whole experience is that this quote is very true! I can also confirm that burning your face so badly that you look like you have had five chemical peels in a row, also happens outside of that comfort zone, but that’s another story altogether. Perhaps I had liked a page on Facebook or unknowingly signed up to positivitygetsyoueverywhere.com, but it seemed that these posters kept rolling my way. I’m not entirely sure where the energy came from at times to keep moving forward, to stay focused, to believe that we would make it to the start line of the marathon at Everest Base Camp and achieve our goal of raising 15,000 euros for our chosen cause, but such reminders to believe in our efforts and that a great adventure awaited us, were always very welcome.
The project of forming “The Neverest Girls” was an adventure in itself and has reaffirmed several virtues and taught me some new things:
So the question that I’m sure is on all of your lips is, "what’s next?" A three week spa-athon would be nice? Ha! Not for the 'Hard-as-Flipping-Nails Girls'. What’s next who knows, but we are certain about one thing and that is there will most definitely be a 'next'!
PS. Detailed posts to follow about our trip and the race!
Training has now been modified to include cream teas and sewing - at high altitude of course.
Now that we're in the final stages of preparation for our trip, we're trying our best to get some acclimatisation in before we leave so that we can hopefully avoid suffering from altitude sickness. The best place to do this is up at the Aiguille du Midi but unfortunately it is closed today due to bad weather conditions, so we're stuck down in the valley drawing up lists of what we mustn't (but probably will anyway) forget to take and repacking our bags in the hope that our kit has somehow got smaller and lighter than last time we did it.
Our high-altitude training is my favourite part of the preparations; apparently even just spending a few hours up there can help your body adjust and enable it to deal with the thin air better. We've not been completely slacking; a few sprints up and down the staircases, a few star jumps on the viewing platforms... But mostly though, we've just been eating cake and sewing badges on to our kit. It turns out that Helen is a bit of a Delia Smith on the sly and can knock up a fine batch of scones.
Our kit is looking grand now that we've got our badges sewn on, thanks to the skills of Ellie at Hand Made in Chamonix - the Neverest Girls and A Chacun Son Everest patches are self-explanatory but the other two are in honour of Mountain Garden Company and TSJ Menuiserie, who have both supported us and made generous donations - thanks chaps!
Speaking of generous donations, we've had loads more rolling in this week and the grand total now tops 13,000€! Thank you to each and every one of you, all donations big and small are all very much appreciated and mean a great deal.
We've only got 3 days left in which to squeeze in some last minute cake-eating... I mean altitude training... so we're hoping that the weather clears and we can get up the Aiguille du Midi a few more times before we leave.
Well, we've been practising hard for months now and we think we've got it nailed - we're ready and we're raring to go. No, not running... I'm talking about the Charleston!
Tonight is the big night, the final flapper-tastic fandago that is The Neverest Girl's Gatsby Party! We'll be twirling our beads, fluttering our feather boas and shimmying our socks off tonight in order to say goodbye and a great big THANK YOU before we head off in just a few short weeks.
We started this adventure thinking that we might try and make it an opportunity to raise a bit of dosh for a worthy cause - we looked into a few charities and the overwhelming feeling was that A Chacun Son Everest was the one for us. Based in Chamonix, ACSE is run by Dr Christine Janin, an inspirational and remarkable woman who for the past 20 years has been providing an amazing service for children and women who have fought for a second chance at life. Her team of mountain guides, therapists, councillors and activity leaders ensure that for one week they come out here and do what they perhaps thought would never be possible. Whether it's physical strength or self-confidence that needs healing, they get the best care possible during their week in the mountains.
"A bit of dosh" is now at over 10,000€ and rising! We knew we had a great network of friends and family between us but the generosity and support that you've all shown has been incredible - you rock and we love you for it! The money that you have raised will make a massive difference to ACSE and is hugely appreciated - in case you didn't already know, we would like to make it clear that we are paying for every aspect of the trip ourselves so that every single euro you have donated is going directly to the charity.
Time has flown and none of us can quite believe that we're going to actually be at Everest Base Camp very soon - excited is not the word for how we're feeling right now! Come and join us tonight at Les Caves to party the night away one last time before we leave - entry is free of charge and the lovely Leila is offering a drinks promo. It all kicks off from 8pm, see you there xxx
Tick tock, tick tock... we're no longer thinking in terms of how many months until we leave, we're barely even thinking in weeks any more, we now only have 17 DAYS until we leave for Kathmandu and only 30 DAYS until we run the world's highest marathon! Time has passed so fast, I can't believe how close we are to actually being there.
I'm so excited that I've just bought myself a she-wee in case I can't contain myself (and to stop Sam from offering to lend me hers, eewww).
Training has almost reached it's hardest point, with long weekend runs averaging at about 30km interspersed with various cross-training sessions such as bike rides, swimming, weights, shorter but faster runs and a bit of altitude acclimatisation (more about that later in the week). We've only really got two more weekends left until we leave, so we're packing in the kilometres while we can.
Sam, Helen and I set off this weekend with a vague notion of heading from Chamonix centre up towards the Col de Montets and back, noodling around on the various routes either side of the valley to make up the distance.
Cool weather and a bit of rain has left the trails nice and soft underfoot, making them my favourite kind of springy running surface. We had a nice surprise on the climb up to Lavancher when a young deer stepped out of the woods just a few metres in front of us, casually sauntered across the path and disappeared into the undergrowth on the other side. Either he didn't see us, or didn't feel threatened by us as he seemed completely unconcerned by our presence.
As we headed up the valley past Argentiere the skies cleared and the sun came out, beautiful views stretching out in front and behind us. We reached the Col des Montets in about an hour and a half, where we paused for a little stretch and the obligatory photo shoot beside the road sign - if only to prove to our friends on Facebook that we did actually go for a run today.
By this point Helen's sore hip was niggling and rather than force it she decided to make a gentle return back down the valley to Chamonix. During the course of the past few months we've all suffered various set-backs caused by injuries or illness, thankfully none of them serious, but enough to make us appreciate the value of rest and recuperation. The hip was back on form by the following day, so she did the right thing and will be fine by the time we leave.
Sam and I carried on to Le Buet and then decided that on such a beautiful day it would be a crime not to continue to Vallorcine, the descent down to which is one of my favourite parts of the valley and always reminds me of the Marathon du Mont Blanc when the village is packed with cheering people and you can scoff some cheese before heading up the first steep climb (the cheese board is an essential part of every French marathon, naturally).
We came back on the other side of the valley, passing through Argentiere village and crossing over to the Petit Balcon Sud. Our first snake sighting of the summer prompted an unexpected sprint session - I much preferred the deer.
Sam likes to read a lot about race recovery, nutrition, training techniques, etc and I often look to her for advice and guidance. Which is why there is a photo of me sitting in the glacial waters of the River Arve looking very uncomfortable; cold is a completely insufficient word for this experience. However, it did freshen up the old pins and I can report that there was no stiffness or aching the next day. I still think she does it just for a laugh though...
With time ticking away so quickly we are really noticing an increase in donations - thank you all so much! If any of you lovely folks have not donated yet and would like to do so, please visit our homepage and click on the Paypal link - we'll love you forever xxx
This week we have mostly... been getting high. Really high. Like 3842m high.
Altitude is one of the aspects of the Everest marathon that we are most worried about; we've all run marathons (or longer) before but never anything that has begun at over 5000m above sea level. Even putting aside the delightful prospect of altitude sickness, the extreme height will undoubtedly affect us in terms of increased fatigue, restricted lung capacity and decreased speed. None of us are expecting to smash any PBs this time round.
In preparation for the marathon we have been attempting to give our red blood cells a boost by heading up to the summit of the Aiguille du Midi. We're pretty lucky in having the highest vertical ascent cable car in the world right on our doorstep, so it would be rude not to make the most of it.
The cable car ride starts from Chamonix town at 1035m and whisks you up to the summit in just under half an hour, covering a height gain of 2807m. The speed of the ascent doesn't give your body much time to adjust, which explains why there are often a few wobbly white-faced folks clinging to the handrails at the top!
Once up we have been trying to spend as much time up there as we can; essential supplies include a picnic lunch, iPod and a good book - sounds like my kind of training session! It's not all lounging around though, to get the most out of it we've been throwing in a few sprint sessions up and down the staircases that connect the viewing platforms as well as bashing out a mix of crunches, press-ups, star jumps, etc on said viewing platforms. It's amazing what an effect the altitude has on your heart rate and breathing - it also gives the sightseers from around the world something to wonder about.
It's quite a weird experience exercising above some of the highest peaks in Europe with birds flying past beneath you. It's great fun though and completely awe-inspiring to be going through the drills with 360° views of snow-covered mountains stretching out as far as the eye can see across France, Italy and Switzerland. Not a bad training ground, eh?
We'll be making the most of our incredible gym in the sky as often as we can during the run-up to the marathon - we're even hoping to spend some nights up there to let our bodies acclimatise as we sleep. Exactly how much difference it will make is impossible to measure - I guess we'll find out when we get to Everest!