Ross’ Base camp Everest marathon story
ONE YEAR AFTER THE EARTHQUAKE, ROSS LAING RETURNED TO NEPAL TO RUN THE BASE CAMP EVEREST MARATHON AND RAISE FUNDS FOR WONDERWORKS. IN AWE OF HIS AMAZING ACHIEVEMENT, WE ASKED HIM TO SHARE HIS STORY WITH US……
Having heard about the Tenzing Hillary Marathon whilst trekking to Everest Base Camp in 2015, I was only slightly curious as to whether it was a challenge that I personally would enjoy. Though I do like to challenge myself physically, I have never taken any great pleasure or sense of achievement in competitive running. In fact, ever since the later years of high school, I have avoided it at all costs. On returning to Kathmandu, following the Base Camp trek, all curiosity and thoughts of entering the marathon had left me. This however would change.
We returned to Kathmandu on the 22nd of April 2015, and spent the next few days celebrating the overcoming of our own personal challenges in reaching EBC, Gokyo Ri (unfortunately we couldn’t summit because of a blizzard), and summiting Kala Patthar. With the excuse of needing to replace the weight lost whilst trekking, we ate and drank ourselves into a food and beverage coma with as much falafel, hummus and beer as we could stomach. Although home cooked Dal Bhat is delicious and one of my favourite meals, it’s nice to have a break after 16 days of the dish for breakfast, lunch and dinner! 24 hour power indeed!
As we said our goodbyes on the morning of the 25th April, everyone seemed to be looking forward to the comforts of home. As 12pm drew ever closer, I hurriedly packed my backpack and made for the lobby to check out and leave the hotel. Just as I handed over my credit card, the earthquake struck. A loud and distant rumble became deafening within a few seconds, the tiled floor vibrated, bent, and warped like rolling waves. Books fell of shelves and people either screamed or stayed silent in shock and confusion.
The next four days were tough, not only for us but for everyone in Nepal. People were now homeless in their own cities and towns. Even the smallest aftershock would send people running and screaming. Everyone was on edge. Most people, on the advice of the government, moved into open areas such as parks and gardens. The scenes were incredible, like something out of an apocalyptic movie, with military vehicles parting the sea of people walking the streets as they made for open space.
As things began to calm down, myself and another trekker moved to a new hotel, since ours had been deemed unsafe to return to. It was in this hotel that I met Chulie and Maxine, both of WONDERWorks, and both great women. As we talked more and more about our backgrounds and the great work they do in Nepal, all I could think about was that I wanted to help.
Returning home was difficult. Ironically, the problem was being able to leave Kathmandu. A privilege we had in belonging to a first world country. Others simply couldn’t not hop on a flight and a few hours later be in the safety of another country. The strong feelings of guilt, helplessness and fear continued until it reached a point where I had to do something. I wanted to raise money for WONDERWorks and that’s when the idea of completing the marathon as a means to raise sponsorship money presented itself. Within a few days, I had signed up for the challenge.
Skip forward one year and I was back in Nepal. I had just finished backpacking through India, Sri Lanka and Latin America, and for the first time in those 8 months, I felt apprehensive. Returning to a place that held so many memories both great and frightening, set my stomach churning. Luckily, I was accompanied by my mother and aunt who helped keep my ever running mind busy. Over the next ten days we explored and trekked around Pokhara and Kathmandu, until it was time for them to head home and for me to make my way to Lukla.
I spent the next two weeks hiking and training solo. Although I could guess from their clothing that others were on their way up for the marathon, I chose not to travel with others as I was slightly insecure about my fitness levels, having lived a pretty unhealthy lifestyle over the previous 8 months. Instead, I worked at my own pace. Though the days could be long and often boring, I did meet many great people with fascinating stories and backgrounds. From the families running the lodges to the everyday people making the trek up, I learned a lot and gained inspiration to travel to even more wonderful places in Nepal and around the world. With two hours of training each day there were another twenty two to fill. With limited reading material and no wifi, these interactions kept me sane.
As the day came to meet the other runners at Base Camp, I was excited that we were nearing the day of the race. I was also more than a little apprehensive about running alongside what I expected to be experienced athletes. Surprisingly, however, the fitness levels and competitive experience of the 150 entrants varied greatly, which set my mind at ease. Over the next two nights I met some amazing personalities, each person with their own stories and motivations for completing the marathon. Living at Base Camp for two nights was more comfortable than I expected thanks to the amazing meals delivered by the chefs in the mess tent and the great company of everyone involved.
Finally the day of the race had come and with the wake up call of three consecutive rumbling avalanches, people started to emerge from their ice covered tents. The first to set off were the 60km Ultra Marathon runners, and as we watched them take off through the fog, all of us 42km runners agreed that we had made the right choice of distance. One hour later, at 8am, we lined up to begin the treacherous first few kilometers across the glacier. This was perhaps one of the most difficult parts since it’s not uncommon to lose concentration and break an ankle on one of the thousands of sharp rocks that pepper the ground.
Once on a safer surface at Gorak Shep, I began to settle into a rhythm and relax a little. It was here that I caught up with Dillip Gurung, a former Gurkha and a great man. For the next 30km we took turns at setting the pace as we chatted between heavy breaths about our backgrounds and the race itself. The conversations kept our minds off the grueling task ahead of us and helped the time pass a little faster. With the newly formed running partnership, the first 21km almost seemed to be too effortless. This was not the case for the second half.
As the race progressed and we got closer to Tengboche, I remembered the graph given to us back at Base Camp. This graph showed that the two hardest climbs were yet to come, each followed swiftly by an equal distance of steep descent. Though the uphills were tough, the down hills were excruciating. By this point, my knees had started throbbing with intense pain and felt like they could give up at any minute. Dillip admitted to feeling the same in his right knee, though he would never mention it unless asked and would always finish his telling with a positive comment. I thought myself incredibly lucky to have found such a humble and determined human being to tag along with. It certainly helped me get through the final stages.
As we approached Namche Bazaar and the finish line, the weather began deteriorating and the clouds set in, bringing with them the cold and rain. I have never felt such relief as when we finally caught sight of the finish line. With knees aching, legs shaking and body shivering from the cold, we tiredly plodded over the finish line, exhausted.
Looking back on the experience now, I am grateful not just for those I met on the way, and for meeting Chulie and Maxine, but also those who donated to WONDERWorks through my fundraising page. I was fortunate enough to see first hand the wonderful work that is done for women in Nepal, and only hope that there are more people like the women behind WONDERWorks. Not only to help those less fortunate but also to inspire those born into safe communities such as myself to do more for other human beings.