It’s nearly Nepal time!

I’ve just discovered something which has absolutely staggered me, and that takes a lot usually I can tell you. And that is, it has been almost 11 years since I wrote a blog post about Everest Base Camp! It seems so ridiculous that I don’t even believe it myself, and so if someone wants to correct me then please do so, as I can’t find one! Sure I will have mentioned it more than once I am very sure, but I haven’t actually blogged about a trip there in all that time. And why might I drag this up you might say? Well I am going there next week (again) that’s why!

In fact if I were to write a soliloquy here and now about my life, and in fact this is probably part of just that, it would have to include the words Nepal, Kathmandu and Everest Base Camp.

Let me rewind. I first went to EBC in 2011, and to say I loved it would be the understatement of all understatements. In fact the first time I was fortunate enough to stand at the foot of the world’s tallest mountain I blubbed, unashamedly, like a baby. There are no words, still, that I can find to describe that feeling, and I have been back twice more too!

For me, to be fortunate enough to be able to go on an adventure which takes you to this place, is just the best thing that you can do. Phrases like ‘living my best life’ and ‘the adventure of a lifetime’ are almost entirely inadequate. I think I wrote first time round, that amongst other things, for those who like high mountains and beautiful age defying scenery, the place has nothing close in terms of a parallel. As just one statistic, the highest mountain in the world outside of the Himalayas, which is Aconcagua in the Andes , is 6,962m, or 22,840ft. In the Himalayas there are over 100 mountains above this height. You stand in awe, lost for superlatives, at the momentous and staggering beauty of it all. And that’s just for starters!

My first appearance (2011) in front of Everest, which is in the centre of the picture in the background.

My first trip to EBC was as part of of an unsuccessful attempt to climb Island Peak. I wasn’t ready, had no idea what I was doing, and that contributed to some altitude sickness. My mind was made up very firmly by the time I reached Kala Pattar (where the above photo was taken, which is THE vantage point for Everest) that I would be heading down next. And for those who don’t know, at Everest Base Camp you cannot see Everest at all. At Kala Pattar (about 400m higher than base camp) you get the best view – not bad is it?

Amongst so many other things that I learned on that trip, it was probably the reverence with which the local communities and indigenous people, (the Sherpas), hold Everest, that stuck the most. Just the name, Chomolungma (“Mother Goddess of the Universe”) tells you enough. But you also learn along the way that from children to the very old, these mountains are sacred in every way. Indeed many peaks in the Himalaya (I love just using the singular term for them) remain unclimbed as respect for the Gods who look over them and the people who live, breathe and respect their holy shadows.

The trip left an indelible imprint on me. Thrilled me, inspired me, and led me to do many other adventures in the mountains far and wide, from South America (twice), to Russia (of all places) to many trips to the Alps. This having already been to the roof of Africa, Kilimanjaro, too. So much so that in 2017, when having decided that I would never have the physiological capacity or ability to stand on the very summit of Everest, I had to go back. It was a magical trip. I’ve no idea why I didn’t blog about it, but it was fabulous.

The magic of that first trip, was, if anything ever better second time. I had a better understanding, a better appreciation of the culture, the landscape, the history, and the people. The first time I was in a daze almost (literally in fact, at times). When you are there the first time it goes by in a flash, and you are concentrating on your objective. The second time you understand why you are there. Everyone will have their own reasons. For me it wasn’t even one thing (to be at the foot of the greatest/tallest/most majestic thing on planet earth), but so many others. I loved Kathmandu alone for example, before I even got to the Himalayas. So much so that I booked an extra two days there just to hang out in the streets and shops and suck it all in.

I also loved the prayer flags, to the extent that my every house since that first trip has had some prayer flags flapping away in whatever garden I have had. I love the prayer wheels, the mantras, the gompas, the stupas, the whole ‘om mani padme hum’ thing, the food (dal bhat and Sherpa stew anyone?), and the people. The Nepalese people I have in fact found to be the most humble, welcoming and friendly people of anywhere I have ever been. They are so ridiculously proud (and rightly so) of their traditions, music and culture. They exude this from every pore. It is palpable, beautiful and infectious.

Durbar Square Kathmandu – no good if you don’t like birds, or cows!

And so in 2018, I did it again. Same trip, just different travel company. 2017 was Ian Taylor Trekking, and 2018 was Exodus. For me, the difference between the two was huge. With Ian Taylor Trekking the whole time was incredible. Our guide, Ang Kami, was incredible, as were the rest of the team. The tea houses were great, and it was just a brilliant and amazing adventure, where your enjoyment and experience was always first. It was also educational, and exhilarating, even more so than the first time. With Exodus in 2018, although the trip and experience was as good as ever, I found that Exodus scrimped on money to every extent they could (and I’m being kind!), and it took away from the overall enjoyment a bit.

In 2017 I finally got to actually sleep, in a tent, at EBC!
And here is the shot at the entrance to EBC itself, a picture which hangs on my wall at home and always will.

In 2019 I was determined to go again. Although I may have waxed lyrical above about the whole thing, I don’t think I could ever put into words on a page just what it feels like for me to be there. I’m often asked in fact, given what a big world it is out there, why I would keep going back. The answer is really simple – I love it beyond compare to any place I have ever been to. I can go on my own and feel utterly fulfilled in every one of my senses, and more.

In 2019 though, with my then partner Mel, we had none other than the New York Marathon (my first ever) in the November to get through, and that was such an incredible highlight on its own that I didn’t even miss Nepal! I did however, or we both did, book to go Nepal in March 2020. It would have been my first time to do the spring (climbers, pre-monsoon) trek to EBC. However, the world would sadly close its doors of course to foreign travel that very month. Bags were packed, and it was I think 6 or 7 days from getting to the airport when Covid would have other ideas for us and of course the rest of humanity.

So since March 2020, if I said here that I’ve been somewhere between itching and desperate (much closer to the latter) to repeat the whole thing, then it would be a huge understatement. It is my first proper trip post pandemic, apart from the Berlin Marathon. I’ve booked myself two days each side of the actual trek so I can take in again all of the sights and sounds and smells of Kathmandu. Ian Taylor Trekking will be my guides. Although I have to say that (despite the fact that I’m very happy to be going with them) I could indeed guide myself these days :).

A tiny bit of Thamel, in the centre of Kathmandu.

So, given the fact that I didn’t blog the trip with Sheree, Al, Pip and many others in 2017, or Mark, Emily, Em, Ali and others in 2018, this one is getting the full treatment! Every trip is wonderful, and the people are always special regardless.

So roll on Thursday, and a flight to Kathmandu via Doha will start the adventure off.


The Berlin Marathon 2022 – what a day!

The phrase “it’s finally here” just seems like the biggest and most ridiculous understatement of all time at this precise moment. I am stood, well sat actually, between the Brandenburg Gate and the Victory Column on one of the most famous avenues in the world, the Strasse des 17 Juni, amidst a crowd of 45,000 runners, and many many times more spectators. I’ve walked up past Checkpoint Charlie and Potsdamer Platz, then assembled at the very steps of the German Reichstag, the seat of power of probably the most famous and indeed infamous ruling parties in all of history. Indeed Hitler’s Bunker is close by too, as is a square mile memorial dedicated to the Holocaust. Within a few hours I’ll have run past der Mauer, the Berlin Wall, and many more iconic places in this most incredible city. Oh and Eliud Kipchoge is here as well, amongst many other legends. This, is the 2022 Berlin Marathon. 

For me it is the culmination of a lot of effort to get here. All of my own making, as I’m a stickler for following a training schedule, and managed to pick a very thorough and hard one! I’ve run 6 days a week since May, and if there’s one thing I know full well, then that’s no matter how today goes I will not be putting either of my feet in a pair of trainers next week! 

It’s funny also (or not funny in this case!) how little things can threaten to almost derail your plans, even at the last minute. For example, despite some rather meticulous preparation to make sure I got myself here with everything I needed, yesterday two small happenings both caused consternation. 

Firstly my watch strap on my Garmin broke. “First world problem” I hear you say! But as someone who has his face literally glued to his watch on every run I do, then I literally couldn’t run a race like this without it. Both pace per mile and heart rate are crucial to whether I speed up or slow down, and probably even finish at all. Thankfully I found a shop in Berlin who stocked spare straps, and so that little hiccup was solved almost straight away. I’m just relieved it didn’t happen on the way to the start! And then potentially worse, yesterday I found myself running to the loo after breakfast with a dose of the trots.

If there’s one thing you don’t want for a marathon it is to be without energy/nutrients and also dehydrated. Thankfully it passed as quickly as it seemed to start, and after some crisps and a coke it seemed to subside. Phew! I did end up drinking rather a lot of water to make up for it, and hopefully I’ve now got rid of it all!!

Right – so I’ll update this after the run……..

So here I am, at Brandenburg Airport the following day. And overall it went great, in that I got a PB and beat my target time (whoop whoop!!) but not without some little trials and tribulations!

So firstly I just never really felt comfortable at all. I must have overdone the liquids beforehand, as despite peeing about 10 mins before the run, and not drinking after that, I felt like I needed the loo from the off! Only for a pee thankfully (I’d managed to otherwise “go” successfully beforehand for a number two, and I bet you really needed to know that!!!) but the feeling just wasn’t going to go away. I was determined not to have to stop, trying hard for a time of under 3hrs 40mins, which I knew would be tight. Every second counts! I figured then that I’d just run off the need, as perspiration and respiration took care of any excess fluids, but nope, it wasn’t going away. By mile 10 I could think of nothing else, and it wasn’t until about mile 16 that I found somewhere to go, thankfully finding some portaloos when I was fearing that I was going to have to duck into an alleyway and then get arrested by the German police! 

And then my flipbelt was just too tight. I’d swapped between two flipbelts in the weeks before the marathon (the ethos always being ‘never try anything for the first time on the day’), but I was between sizes. The medium was a tiny bit slack, and it caused a bit of bouncing and chafing when full of gels and phone etc. and chafing can be at best a terrible distraction, so I bought a small one. It was tight! I did wear it for the Great North Run, and whilst I was aware of it the whole time it was never uncomfortable. So I went with it here. I think that maybe because my bladder wasn’t empty properly it just exacerbated the tightness. I just wanted to rip the thing off, and at one point I pulled my phone out and carried it in my hand, but that was just another distraction, and I didn’t want to drop it either.  

Oh and also my shoes started to bother me at about mile 12! I wore the Vaporfly in the end, and despite these having been worn many times before, they ended up hurting my toes. I felt like I was getting a blister on my left toes early on, and then my right big toe starting aggravating me. You just don’t need or expect these things when you are doing a marathon! My toe has literally turned black afterwards, and having only lost one big toenail in my life, and heading off to Everest Base Camp in three weeks time, I really hope this one doesn’t go the same way.

I think that all of the above ultimately led to a bit more stress than I needed, and that culminated in an elevated heart rate. More of that below!

So on the plus side, despite what was a crazy long walk to the start, the rest went well! The hotel where I stayed was about two miles to the start, and I chose to walk (along with the rest of the group who were in the same hotel), so by the time I’d got through all of the backwards and forwards to get to the correct wave, I’d done almost 10,000 steps already!

I managed to pace things exactly as I wanted though. I’d set myself the target of trying to get just under 8 mins 18 seconds per mile overall, as that would beat my target of 3hrs 40mins. I knew I musn’t go off too fast, and so I’d told myself to do 8min 30s miles for the first two, and then to just very gradually make that up later on. In the end I did 8:28 and 8:21, and was pleased with that and settled into my stride. The weather was ok early on too, at about 12 degrees, and pretty much perfect conditions. I was in Wave E, so set off about half an hour or so after the fast runners.

Most of the first half of the run was pretty much straightforward, and I went through the half marathon in 1:49:18, which was pretty much exactly where I wanted to be. My heart rate up to then was at around 160 to 162, and whereas I’d preferred it lower, that was all fine and manageable. But the pressure of needing to pee, and the tight flipblet, and the sore feet, and then it started getting hot (to was 18 degrees at there end, too hot for me!) just led to escalating heart rate after that. I ended up averaging 183 over the last few miles, and touching 190, which is (obviously) just way way too high. I actually stopped twice to walk, to calm it down (it didn’t), and that just should never happen. I also had to stop for that pee! At about mile 18 it was all too much really!

So the last few miles were all really a bit too much hard work. I didn’t really bonk, but I was just hanging on for actually most of the last 10 miles. I really don’t want this to sound like a big gripefest, but I can only tell it how it is. Despite my fighting against myself, I did so much enjoy running under the Brandenburg Gate – it was all I could do to contain emotions, and the headrush was extreme.

I remember also thinking to myself on so many occasions towards the end that I was leaving everything that I had in me on the streets of Berlin. There would be no wondering about whether I could have run faster, or should have done things differently. I had given it my best, my all, and that’s all I had on the day. And that’s all I can ever ask for really.

It has been a long road to get here, and I am so glad that I did it. Marathons (for me anyway!) just take all that you have got. They take a lot of planning, of sacrifice, of dedication and motivation, and of drive and desire. I put all that I had out there, and 3 hrs 37 mins and 58 seconds later I had (and have for all time) a beautiful medal and some amazing memories to show for it.

Me producing a smile as the finish line is in sight – the Brandenburg Gate in the background.
This is pretty great too of the Brandenburg Gate – I’m in there somewhere…… 🙂
And it is finally done!!
The anticipation of 45,000 runners at the start..
…to the exultation that it is all over!
The medal in closeup, it is heavy and great quality, and Eliud Kipchoge is on the reverse side!
And here is my Garmin at the end!

So the first thing I heard as I got into the finish area in front of the German Reichstag and got to sip a (sadly non alcoholic!) beer was that Eliud Kipchoge had broken the world record – I was (albeit an infintessimally small part) of history!! His time was a completely remarkable 2:01:09, and he’d gone through the half way point in 59 min and 51 seconds apparently! That legitimate 2 hour mark remains tantalisingly close – and it is so incredible and amazing to have been there as part of (albeit a very long way behind!!!) the day that history was made for all time.

For the final records, I was apparently 392nd (out of how many I don’t know, it might have been 392!!) in the over 55s category, and 8,108th overall out of the 45,000 who started. Not that those numbers mean anything at all. The only person I was competing against after all was me, and I did all that I hoped I would, and am ultimately over the moon with the result.

Berlin is a fabulous place, and incredible marathon, and was an utterly incredible experience, which I will remember for the rest of my days. Whether I will ever do another one is a subject for another day – my immediate thoughts afterwards were “that’s it, I have nothing left to prove to anyone”.

And in any case, I have Nepal to think about now. It is coming up, I am very happy to say, very soon indeed………