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Hillary Tenzing Everest Marathon Race Report
by Denis Oakley in

The Everest Marathon starts from Everest Base Camp at the foot of the Khumbu Ice Fall. IT starts at approximately 5300m and descends to about 3600m over the course of the 42km of the race course.

The course is all off road with the majority being on dirt and rock trails. A portion is on the glacier ice and moraine of the Khumbu Glacier.

Due to the extreme altitude a process of acclimatisation is required; in addition the race start is at least 6 days walk from the nearest airport and many more from the nearest road.

The race started at about 0700 when the sunlight touched the starting area. Light since approximately 0500 the race start is surrounded by some of the highest peaks in the Himalayas including Pu Mori, Nuptse and of course Everest (though this is not visible from base camp)

Breakfast was porridge and tea supplmented with a couple of mas bars. The usual litre of Accelerade before a race had to be foregone as it had frozen during the night and I couldn't defrost it.

Temperature was appraently minus 5 ad I kept as many clothes on until the last possible moment. My toes and feet were almost numb with cold by the time we started.

I was wearing 2XU compression tights and top; A pair of Salomon XA Pro 3D Ultra trail running shoes, some Cervelo cycling gloves (light and provided palm protection if I fell) and a cool max baseball cap from The Bike Boutique. On my back I had a Camelbak Mule with 2litres of Accelerade inside and 5 Energy Plus bars from Sponser. Incidentals included my iPhone and lip salve and my Oakley Sunglasses.

I took a couple of painkillers shortly before the start and also something that the Doctor promised would stop me shitting for 7 hours (actually it was more like 36)

The race strategy was simple. Go slow, conserve energy, start running when I could but above all conserve energy for the last 12 km because of the 600m plus of climbing there.

I set off at a fast walk through the ice fields and morraine. The ground was tricky underfoott and I slipped and fell sometime in the first 30 minutes. Nothing serious and I didn't realise that I had a cut leg until after the end of the race.

Getting through the morraine was tough. It was a challenge to keep my speed down to a pce where I wasn't breathing heavily. I think that generally started at about 150 bpm. However due to the altitude my resting heart rate was a lot higher and so 150 bpm must have been more like 170bpm. Not something that one really wants to be feeling at the start of one of the worlds toughest marathons.

There were a couple of hard bits on the glacier where I was blocked by a Yak train taking climbers equipment back down and I had to go off trail and bounce along the rocks to get past - or get stuck behind them at a slow pace for 5 - 10 minutes. This hurt and sent my heart rate high.

Once off the glacier we headed down toward Gorek Shep. The height loss was about 300m but this masked a continual set of up and downs as we went acorss a series of morraine ridges. Shattered moving rock and irt made footing difficult and kept the path to single track.

One some of the downhills it was possible to pick up a bit of speed but it was immediately lost on the other side of the valley. Each valley was 50m down followed by 40m up and this was gruelling.

I remember at the top of one there were 3 sherpas watching me. As I approached the ridge I started smiling and as I crested the rise I sped up and let loose a rebel yell. Heading down I tried not to let them see how hard I was breathing as a result.

Coming down to Gorek Shep the path slowly got easier but then ended up in another boulder field which again sapped energy. Once through the dried lake bed we started climbing through more morraine and eventually came to the top of Lobuche pass above Lobuche.

This was one of the key points of my race planning. At this point the trail got a lot better and it should have been possible to pick up speed. I let off a primeval Johnnie Wiesmuller (Tarzan in the 1920's) scream and headed down. I'd planned to get to Lobuche by 90 minutes and did it in about 100.

One of the abiding memories of this stretch was repeatedly thanking Senay. The running was so amazingly beautiful. It was a barren desolate landscape with giant spikey snow capped peaks piercing the sky's veil all around me.

I was so utterly greatful for her understanding and support and kept saying thank you (as I did all race) and kissing the little picture of her that hung from my strap. It was very emotional almost euphoric feeling and I think that I have only felt more in love the first day I realised it, the day I proposed and on our wedding day.
Thank you princess - you let my spirit soar.

Running was still too much of an oxygen load on my body - but I was capable of sustaining a fast walk. And so I did. Down into Lobuche and then on through the narrow gap between the morraine and valley wall (dodging more Yak trains) until I came to the top of the Thokla descent.

This was one of the big descents. 300 or 500m in less than 1km. I went down at a fast but enjoyable pace - limited now by my legs and agility more so than by my lungs. There was a second water stop at the bottom of the descent - think dustry path occasionally visible between big boulder, small boulders and lots of loose rock - but I moved on past having plenty of Accelerade in my Camelbak.

The path along the top of the Pheriche valley to Dingboche should have been easier. At sea level it would have been. Nice smooth dirt tracks through the grass, occasionally dipping down slightly to cross a stream and then rising again.

I was jogging for about 1/2 of this and fast walking for the rest. I was starting to feel a bit tired and my feet were overheating and sweating a bit.

I stayed high to avoid losing any height but in the end this turned out not to have been necessary and I was at the Stupa that marked the top of the Dingboche descent. This was a nice smooth path that took me down to the top of the village. I'd expected to find an aid station here - but nothing was in sight so I took a guess as to which way to go.

I'd decided to have a stop here to change my socks and top up on my water - but where was the aid station. Eventually it appeared at the bottom end of the village and I switched out of warm smartwool socks into a pair of Wright Coolmax running socks. I'd still got plenty of liquid in my bag and I'd done 19km in 3:02.
I was knackered and wrung out. I felt as if I had already completed a marathon by this point - and to a large extent what was keeping me going was the little photo album with photos of Senay and Maya that was attached to my rucksack. it was just the right place for my left hand to hold when grippng my rucksack straps and pressing it gainst my heart.

My iPhone was also giving me a constant stream of my favourite songs and 1 in every 4 o or 5 had some romantic association with Senay and that was a big bonus. Socks changed I wearily headed on donwhill - and now I was able to run for most of the time except for the up-hills.

The clean dry socks made a huge difference to my comfort and I think the 2 painkillers I took at this point also helped. I'd last seen a runner about 20 minutes out of Dingboche and for the next 40 minutes or so I saw no one as I headed down the valley and crossed the Bhote Khose and climbed back up the other side of the valley for the run down to Pangboche and Sonare.

A couple of runners passed me at this point and we swapped positions several times over the next 90 minutes or so. This section was in many wasy the hardest. It was a long haul down the valley past village after village. On the way up they had passed quickly. This time it was slower especially as the going was often tricky and slow through the villages due to rocky steps or abrupt turns.

Eventually I crossed the high bridge to had down into Debuche and was slightly phased by the immediate climb that I had forgotten. Whoops. Then moving on down trough Rhododendron forest at a comfortable jog to Debuche where we had spent the night on the way up.

One of the fun things ('fun'?) was evry so often clocking that I had just run in an hour or so what had taken us most of a day to walk up. It's amazing some of the random thoughts your brain throws at you as you run. One of the best songs of the run came on at this point and throwing caution to the wind I warbled "I just called to say I love you" as Stevie Wonder did it much better on the iPhone.

A continuous thought running through the marathon was to smile. Often I started wondering about my time; or about whether I was ctaching people or they were catching me. At each point I just thought about why I was doing the marathon. If I wasn't smiling I shouldn't be doing it. So I smiled.

Debuche came and went and then I got one of the biggest psychological shocks of the race. Actually I think it was the worst. On the way out I had not really taken notie of the walk down from the Monastery at Tangboche to Debuche. On the map the climb didn't look that bad. The path climbed up and over the Tangboche ridge to avoid an impassable gorge.

It was steep, hard and long. It hurt, and hurt and hurt. It wasn't the worst clinb- that was still to come - but it hurt most because I hadn't expected it. Bugger.

I was now very tired and starting to fixate on the cans of redbull that I had left at the bottom of the next descent. These were what was going to save me. If I could get to the redbull everything would be ok and I would be good for the next climb - the hardest of the race.

The descent from Tangboche i about 300-400m. The first half is a constant gradient rocky path. The second half a series of zig zags to cope with the increasing steepness of the slope. Tiredness and experience took me down this quite fast.

I didn't take risks so much as I was prepared for this and knew how I was going to approach it. At one point I flt my wings unfold and was moving fast - having to shout 'Gangway' to clear people out of the way on a piece of path that was totally not runnable. Well it wasn't if you didn't have wings.

The lower section wasn't as fast but here I decided that given the increasing frailty of my knees and my tiredness that I would save time by following the diretissima when it showed itself to me. And there were Sherpa shortcuts that cut the zig from the zag and let me save time.

Shoes got full of dust and dirt but that was okay because another sock change was due at Phungi Tenga together with the redbull. Hooray!

Once across the bridge at the bottom I was ready for the last and hardest section of the race. There is a brilliant song by Anaethma a death metal band that has the line "I feel like pain again" played at high energy and high volume. It is a perfect line to lead into a hard interval session on the big or a hill session on the run. It would have been perfect here - but unfortunately Steve Jobs isn't.

I stopped for my redbulls and they were disgusting. I managed to stomach one, changed my socks and stripped off my compression top and swapped it for a running singlet; then I started my appointment with pain.

It hurt. It hurt a lot. But I done this before on a training run and knew that it would hurt. The pain was thus purely physical - with the additional mental pain of pushing the exhaustion back. That was ok. I knew what they felt like and I could take it.

Surprisingly given how I felt I did the first part of the climb 2 minutes faster than I had 10 days before. I think I did it in 34 minutes as opposed to 36. That included several minutes at a water stop where I bought a coke and swigged it as I moved up the trail. I was not a happy bunny - but according to a couple of friends who were doing the half marathon I seemed to be moving forward with confidence and determination.

Glad I looked cool then :)

I dumped the coke bottle at the next water station and started the second climb. This was the climb that I had prepped with great mental images of me and Senay having fun when I had done it on the training run.

Couldn't remember a single one as I moved up but knew that Senay loved me and so everything was going to be ok. There was a Nepali girl with her shopping ahead of me. I struggled to keep her in sight and perhaps close the distance a bit. She stayed in sight at least and then I was into Khumjung.

Climb done - some respite now before the last cling. Actually no. The climb up through Khumjung to Khunde was shit. Uphill, too steep to run, difficult to walk on; and as it went through the back ways of the down difficult to follow despite the arrows marking the route. It took a lot to concentrate her and keep on track.
Still I eventually reached the penultimate checkpoint where a policeman lied through his teeth and said 2km to go. That's kind of like a Nepali aying someting's flat. It means that the graident is anything up to 20%!

I'd been playing with times in my head for a while now. When your exhausted numbers start to become a bit slippery and simple addition a slow process. I'd figured out a while before that 6 hours wasn't possible and started doing mental arithmetic to try and extimate a finishing time. It kept slipping.

The route from the checkpoint to the start of the last climb was downhill and a good run. Hard to keep going but the pain was all part of my body that should be hurting and I stilled had energy left. Then right at the the Government Yak breading station and past another checkpoint. I was moving well and fast here. I knew I only had one more climb. Short and painful but the LAST!

So I blew past the waterstation barely aware of them scrambling in slow motion to try and get a water bottle to me. I kept the pace up along the flat past the Stupa and to the base of the steps.

2 sets of stone steps up to the top of the hill. On the second I was holding the railing (the only railing in the whole of Nepal) but kept pushing. Then I was up to the top and into the cloud. Cool here I was utterly disappointed to see that the white markings took me right away from the direct route home. Still I didn't know how many more checkpoints there were and I didn't want to be disqualified.

Across the airfield and then down onto the dusty path that led, i hoped, to Namche Bazaar. White arrows on dusry brown trails. Twist and turn. It's the last hill. My knees are in good shape. I'm not exhausted. Let's keep the pace up.

And we did.

I'd switched to my 5 star songs on the iPhone at some point and down the slope the Killers started blasting out Human. Whooa. I came down onto the flat and tried to pick up the pace. Umm. Should have happened. Didn't. Path started climbing uphill round the back of Namche Bazaar to the Park Station.

Pushed as fast as Icould. I might be able to do it before the hour turned. I might not. I stopped looking with 11 minutes to go. I couldmn't gicve any more and racing the clock took concentration that I couldn't afford.
Up to the big Mane boulder and the policeman gave totally inadequate directions. At least I felt so - but most people felt that that "go right here" was pretty straight forward. Then downhill and I could see the finish 100 yards ahead.

There was a little boy playing between me and the finish line. Just a little bit older than Maya. Sorry I thought - I might have said it as well.

I picked him up and swung him round and round and together we pirouetted across the finish line before I set him down. Thanks little chap.

Hillary Tenzing Everest Marathon:

  • Distance: 44.86km (however there is an error with the GPS on 4km so I assume it is the standard Olympic distance)
  • Time: 8:05:20
  • Calories: 4248
  • Vertical Ascent: 1418m
  • Vertical Descent: 3230m


Not a lot all things considered. I'll probably lose my two big toenails again - but that i kind of expected. The Salomon's were vert good on my feet and I had no blisters.

I have a few cuts just below my left knee which are entirely superficial from when I fell early in the race and some sunburn around my neck and shoulders.

My knees are still tender ad there is a lot of muscle stiffness in my lower body despite having had 2 massages so far. I'll definitely need some sports physio when I get back.


I'm very happy with 8 hours. That was the limit of my performance. I could have run a bit harder - but that would have left me with nothing in reserve and both Senay and Vinnie had told me not to do that. I had to end with energy to spare - and I did. The Kapas Swimathon and Ironman were both far more exhausting.

I'd hoped for 7 hours - but on the day that was far beyond me. The best of our group managed just over 6 (he is a professional runner), some in the seven hour band and then the rest scattered up to 11:24. The Nepali who won finished in 3:48

The greatest limiter on my performance was not being able to un earlier - and that may well be a cost of 10 years of heavy smoking. More acclimatisation would help but frankly I'm not prepared to spend 12 days trekking before a race start. To be better acclimatised I'd need to spend even longer or invest in an altitude tent.

The other limiter was muscular strength and endurance. This is less so than the other because apart from the last climbs I rarely found that lactic was building up in my legs. My form did slowly degrade over time and more effort put in before the race would have helped.

The hash marathon probably contributed to this - but at the same time the psychological boost that it gave me - knowing that I could run for 11 hours across difficult terrain more than made up for it. I went into the run with confidence knowing that I could do it.

And I could have done it the day after as well. I wouldn't have run at all and I would have been a lot slower but it would have been possible. A third? No.

[If you've done the Everest Marathon it would be great to hear your thoughts and I'm more than happy to link to your blogs as well :) ]


Simon said...

Wicked, awesome, amazing, well done Denis I'm totally in awe.

plee said...

I was turning blue from holding my breath reading the about this! Bravo Denis! Congratulations

Denis Oakley said...

Thanks for the comments guys - bit gobsmacked by your reactions. :)

I'll get some photos up soon

yipwt said...

Cool race...the view must have been awesome. And the Nepali did it in 3:48...

I don't think i can stand there at the starting line...too cold.

Denis Oakley said...

Thanks Yip. The starting line was pretty cold but I was in duvet jacket and down trousers until about 30s before the start. Then the sun hit the start and it got warm quickly.

As for the Nepali... One of my friends Robert is a mountain guide and spent 2 months doing run training at altitude of 5000m. Still only 5:35!

KALAM said...

Envy envy envy!!! Major K...

Denis Oakley said...

Thanks Major - I'm trying to figure out how to get more Malaysians there next year. There was a team from the Indian Army there and it would be great if we could find a way to do something similar :)

sofiantriathlete said...

Well done Denis. All the best with your new web-site.

Denis Oakley said...

Thanks Sofian. I saw the first build of the website yesterday. It looks pretty cool. I'll see if I can get my developer to let us have a sneak peak. Can't promise anything just yet though

sofiantriathlete said...

I'll wait for the launching on 27 June 2010 then.

Denis Oakley said...

Thanks Sofian - you're a star :)

We've got a blog that says a bit about the idea - http://blog.gotriathlete.com/

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