Everest Adventure Looms

If you had said to me five years ago, “Mel you are going to be one of 100 competitors in the Everest Marathon” I would have laughed it off as pure madness, but here I am, deep in training for that very thing. Despite my rigid training regime I’ve always tended to rely more on my mental strength than my physical prowess and let’s be honest – both are important for an event like this! You only have to look at the strength of character in those who complete these events without full use of their limbs to know that mental strength is as (if not more) important than having physical presence. I absolutely feed off and embrace those who strive to master such awesome achievements against such astounding odds.

Before paying the deposit to secure my place in the event I had to search deep within myself to find my reasons for participating. You can’t take on a giant like the Everest Marathon with doubt in your heart or false ambitions and I knew that doing this event was more than just proving something to myself. As a teacher and leader of young people I believe in practicing what I preach, and what better way to inspire success in others than to set out and achieve a mission like Everest. Even more important again is a desire to inspire my kids to grow up knowing that with hard work, determination and self-discipline – even the highest altitude marathon can be conquered.

Bold goals are important but preparation is paramount so the first and most important thing I had to do was to have a ‘down to Earth’ (pardon the pun) discussion with Scott Cottier (CEO of Specforce Fitness) a man with years of experience in training with the SAS. They run military style circuits to help push you both physically and mentally. Thanks to their knowledge, experience and support my fitness levels soared in record time. Giving birth had left me with a very weak stomach but with targeted training and improved core strength I found that my running style improved immensely. Knowing that I had my eyes set on Everest, Scott was even kind enough to lend me his gas mask to help simulate the lack of oxygen that I would experience at altitude.

Scott (left), Api and I at the beginning of my training.

Scott (left), Api and I at the beginning of my training.

Whilst training had commenced towards one of the toughest events of my life, another significant event had unfolded – my husband and I had agreed to separate and my focus now shifted to minimising the emotional impact on our two little girls. It was fortunate for everyone that my ex-husband and I had a very amicable relationship and had both decided to use every ounce of energy we had into supporting our children through this difficult time. This meant for me that I would soon have shared care of my two girls. I can’t put into words how emotionally challenging it was for me not to have my two children with me all the time. I now found myself mentally & emotionally preparing for the week I didn’t have my babies whilst attempting to maintain the strength needed to continue towards Everest. This would be where those who rely on their physical strength over their mental and emotional strength may struggle but for me – it was focus time.

In the end, something quite amazing happened. I realised that I had made the decision to commit to this journey and the separation only served to fuel me to be an even stronger role model for my kids. Both their father and I had a great balance of parenting and made sure that we kept as much normality for them as possible. This meant there was a great need for mummy to be brave and carry on with the goal set all those months ago. So the training surged on. My basic training involved gaining more strength throughout my body, especially my core, in order to support the distance I was going to be running at the altitude I would be running it. This consisted of a one-hour circuit followed by 30 mins of mask cardiovascular. The mask was perfect for improving my mental strength at the same time as testing how my body would function physically in an oxygen-deprived environment.

Kids are reading and drawing whilst mummy trains

Kids are reading and drawing whilst mummy trains

I must admit – wearing the mask for the first time wasn’t what I was expecting. Imagine running for 30 minutes at a moderate to fast pace whilst being simultaneously smothered with a feather pillow. I can already hear you all saying, “Milly – you’re mad!” Trust me, the first time I was saying the same thing. I experienced moments where my body would suddenly go into shock and I would have to mentally work my way through it focusing on the consistency of my breathing. The more I pushed on, the more my confidence and mental strength improved. I would see Scottie watch me during circuits and if I tried to pick a lighter weight or drag a lighter boxing bag along the warehouse in circuit training he would quickly pick up the larger heavier weight and give me the look of “come on Mel”. I wouldn’t go very quickly but I would do it all the same. The thing I loved about training at Specforce is that they found strength in me that I never knew I possessed. I cannot thank Scottie and the Specforce team enough for that.

I was progressing well and my confidence was building but when you are staring down Everest you can’t help but to think, “this will never be as hard as what’s coming” and “don’t give up, break through the pain, this is nothing on Everest”. I guess time will tell. Now just to minimise injury along the way.

 

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Dreaming of Everest

Facebook…. it’s a magical thing. You see updates from friends and family instantly connecting you what they are getting up to, witnessing memories being made. I recall trolling my feed one day and a friend of mine Dan Maxwell was on his adventure to Everest to complete the Everest Marathon. I quickly became obsessed with the event updates and began looking more closely at what eventually I found out was the highest altitude marathon in the world.

The more I talked about it the more I slipped into the conversation “oh and I was thinking of doing it” to actually emailing my interest to the organisers. Before long, having spoken to almost everyone in my circle (and outside it!) about the event – I had started up a road to Everest.

Two and a half years away? That’s not too bad, that’s plenty of time, I can do this, I’ve got this! One biking event, which consisted of a 100km flyer from Taupo to Rotorua later and heck, only 18months away! Both Kirsten and I had entered into the 50th anniversary Rotorua Marathon, an event I didn’t want to miss. Athletes from all over the world competed. We said to ourselves that this time we knew what to expect out of our bodies but nothing could have prepared me for what was to come. I remember running really strong and hitting the halfway mark 21km at 1hour 50min – 10min faster than my personal best.

Dad and I after 100km Flyer

Dad and I after 100km Flyer

 

I was actually going to reach my goal of 4hours. I also remember thinking, in just 30min time someone is actually going to be winning this bad boy and how I was in awe of such an achievement. I was waiting for that wall that someone had curiously put up in front of me when I was nearing the 30km mark but this time around it wasn’t a wall it was something very different. Almost suddenly I heard an unusual noise in my shoe and questioned what it could be? Could I have just stood on something? Why is my foot feeling warm? Hang on it’s not warm anymore… it’s numb. I then realised that my knee had started to pull so much that it was twisting. I had suffered from a serious Tibia Band issue from the previous Marathon and it was back to haunt me.

30km mark at the Rotorua Marathon

30km mark at the Rotorua Marathon

 

I tried to ignore the signs of my body telling me to slow down and remember trying to tell myself “Mel this is nothing on Everest”, “Suck it up and carry on”, so I did. I definitely ran the second half of the marathon a lot slower. It felt like someone kept moving the signs at each km further away just for shits and giggles. Finally the last km, although this time there was no adrenaline fuelled sprint for the finish line! I felt as though my legs could no longer bend, as though I had unwittingly become Forest Gump’s stunt double from when he was shackled in leg braces. I looked at the time and just cried.

Despite my injury I had made it earlier than the last Rotorua Marathon but didn’t manage the 4 hours I told myself I would achieve. I laid on the grass with my darling girls desperate to see how mummy was as Dad approached to help remove my shoes. I had completely forgotten about the earlier noise by foot made and it wasn’t until dad slowly removed my shoe that I truly knew that something wasn’t right! There it was, my sock covered in blood. At first I wasn’t sure I wanted him to remove the sock, but a big part of me was also curious. What on Earth had I done? Surprise! My toe was facing the wrong way.

Dislocated toe and swollen knee

Dislocated toe and swollen knee

 

It all started making sense. My toe was dislocated to the point that it was facing the other toe and the nail had dug right into the next toe causing it to bleed. Ice on the swollen knee and tape of a rather odd looking toe then a well-deserved hot soak was in order – my favourite post event treat! The sleep that night was hideous and nothing made that post event recovery better.

I knew that I needed to step everything up a notch for Everest. This event served as a well needed wake up call as to the gravity of the challenge that lay ahead, but also as an affirmation that if my physical ability failed me, that my mental strength would prevail.

Catching the event bug

How does a person spill their deepest thoughts and feelings so far away from when they first felt them? An odd question to open with I know but being new to the world of blogging about what I do and feel means I find myself constantly asking this question. So – what is pictured in the kaleidoscope of Mel’s life?

As always it has to begin with family. I am blessed with two beautiful little girls. Instead of surrounded by doctors and machines my angels were brought into the world into the comfort of warm water and the happy tears of their eagerly waiting family. It was an easy decision for me to give birth naturally at home in my very own birthing pool but by no means did I see child birth an easy task and in hindsight was unaware that I was facing my very first athletic event – and one the hardest yet! I was quickly catching onto the fact that I would never do things in halves again!

After my second daughter Maia was born, I completed a Tri Women’s Triathlon. I remember with fondness that my beautiful Maia (at the time only 8 weeks old) was waiting patiently for mum to bring her lunch over the finish line. After the exhilaration of competition and the satisfaction that comes with completing the event it was official – I had contracted the dreaded event bug. I have my two gorgeous little girls to thank for that as they inspired me to do more than what those around me thought I was capable of. They were the sparks that ignited my fire and even if you don’t have kids – you can always find a spark somewhere in life!

Finished my first Triathlon with Aria 2 years and Maia 8 weeks

Finished my first Triathlon with Aria 2 years and Maia 8 weeks

Quite quickly I became what others were describing as a ‘wonder women’ or ‘super mum’ and I suppose that was for a variety of reasons, whether it was randomly popping up on Facebook at an event or chatting with parents at kids parties (often in disbelief of the next event on the calendar).  I do not see myself as an athlete but more of a mother of two striving to be the best I can be for my kids and for myself, which in part involves encouraging others through telling my stories so that they might go out and achieve what they want in life.

Next was the Cathay Pacific Half Marathon with my darling friend and running buddy Kirsten Davis. Kirsten at the time was also a very busy hard working mother with a darling little boy Xavier. This event was a tribute to Xavier and the struggle both his parents and he had to endure from birth. Aside from our personal achievement we were also able to raise a great deal of money for the Heart Foundation and Heart Kids, not to mention finishing in two hours.  At this point I realised that the event bug must be contagious as Kirsten and I went onto completing our first ever full marathon in Rotorua the following year.

Cathay Pacific Half Marathon with Kirsten Davis

Cathay Pacific Half Marathon with Kirsten Davis

 

My first marathon is something I will never forget. One of my clearest memories (aside from the burn and push to carry on) was feeling emotional at the overwhelming support from the local community as we ran by. Oh, and then there was the shock when I hit the wall someone must have put in my way at the 30km mark! It was as though someone had stolen my knees and replaced them with knives. My hips were telling me who was boss as began to seize. The reality of a weakened stomach after two children had finally reared its ugly head.

Kirsten and I after our first full maraton with Xavier

Kirsten and I after our first full maraton with Xavier

The last two km was almost a sprint in the heat of the moment as adrenaline took over and pain faded away… and then the tears began. What an achievement! Hitting under 5 hours was my goal and I managed to reach 4 hours 51. Once the colour faded from my face and the cramps let go I told myself “I’m not sure I need to do that again”.

Who am I kidding – What’s next?