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.
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.
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.