Race to the top

I always wanted my first marathon to be a memorable one. This pretty much fulfilled that objective in every way.

Leif Christensen

In 2015, Leif and his partner Melissa Lloyd, 29, took on the world’s toughest mountain marathon, the Tenzing Hilary Everest Marathon. Taking place 5,364m above sea level, the marathon requires a 17-day trek through the Himalayas just to get to the starting line.

Here Leif recalls the decision-making process, the training and the highs and lows of the couple’s epic feat.

Leif in NepalLeif in Nepal
Leif in Nepal

Leif’s story

“We were browsing the internet searching for our next adventure when we came across an agency offering a cheap price to do the Everest Base Camp.

Once we started looking into it, we discovered Nepal had much more to offer than just the Everest Base Camp trek [such as climbing mountain] Island Peak, which is situated about two days hike from Mt Everest.

We are both keen distance runners, so naturally we were very excited to also discover the existence of the Tenzing Hilary Everest Marathon.

We were both questioning whether or not [we could run the marathon] and if our bodies could go the distance (considering numerous injuries).

We discussed it for a few days, eventually deciding to just give it a go and not be too worried about how well we may or may not do the race but to focus more on enjoying the adventure of it all.

Melissa taking on the challengeMelissa taking on the challenge
Melissa taking on the challenge

Completing the marathon became secondary to the adventure and the dream that was actually taking shape right in front of us.

So, we took the plunge, paid the entry fee, booked the Everest Base Camp trek and Island Peak climb and then everything else fell into place around it.

Some people laughed and told us we were crazy, others couldn't quite grasp the magnitude of it all.

We started our fundraising efforts for Riding for the Disabled SA and then for The Australian Himalayan Foundation.

It was then this adventure we had dreamed up for ourselves became more 'tangible' to other people as they could see it was being spurred along by a fundraising campaign.

Keeping warm inside their Kathmandu sleeping bagsKeeping warm inside their Kathmandu sleeping bags
Keeping warm inside their Kathmandu sleeping bags

As for training for the marathon, we both were already regular runners and we participate in a range of other physical activities, such as bike riding, surf lifesaving, swimming and paragliding. We have hiked and climbed in Venezuela, hiked in various locations throughout Tasmania and I have walked the Inca Trail in Peru.

Overall we had a decent level of fitness, but once we signed up for the marathon we really started training in earnest.

Weekly mileage increased gradually until I was routinely doing 80-100kms a week plus a number of bike sessions and other cross training.

Running the marathon was gruelling in every way I had anticipated – and then more. I did not expect there to be so many steps up and down, or for the trail to be so unforgiving on the legs. Every moment was an effort to stay upright and moving forwards.

Taking a break on the mountainTaking a break on the mountain
Taking a break on the mountain

There was no smooth place to put a foot down so your leg muscles were constantly engaged. Running normally on flat ground involves finding a nice rhythm to settle into and find your stride, but when you’re running down from Mt Everest through the Himalaya area this is not possible.

I thought I had ‘hit a wall’ at about 30kms into the race. My legs were shaking and I was really struggling to control my descents. I had twisted both ankles at different points earlier in the race and was starting to get worried I would fall over because my legs kept giving out on me.

It was at this point I thought my body might not have the energy it needed to get me to the finish line.

Prayer flags dot the landscapePrayer flags dot the landscape
Prayer flags dot the landscape

[The terrain was] hills, hills and more hills. My GPS running watch recorded a total of only three minutes running time on flat ground!

All the trails were rocky and I think we trod on pretty much every type of ground surface possible, i.e. snow, ice, rocks (of all sizes), mud, sand, dirt – and even yak poo! It was generally sunny and warm during the day, but night time got down to – 10 degrees.

After six hours on the move, I crossed the finish line and felt a mixture of pride and total relief at the achievement of what we had just completed.

The whole adventure was epic and we would absolutely do it again. My only advice to others wanting to run the marathon is do lots of hill running on uneven and rocky ground and lots and lots of squats in the gym!”

South Australia’s Leif Christensen and Melissa Lloyd recently took on the world’s toughest mountain marathon: the Tenzing Hilary Everest Marathon. Here Leif reviews the Kathmandu gear that got him there.

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