The first was a chance phrase from a friend in Nepal in 2013. We had just finished the Everest Marathon that year, my second time. We had hiked back down to Lukla, one of the most dangerous airports in the world due to its perch at the edge of a cliff and its shield of surrounding mountains, but a key lifeline for people and commerce in the area. The weather was bad for us that time, in 2013, and so no flights could access the airstrip. The marathon group had to make its way down to lower land, and to a village called Jiri, once the trailhead for Everest teams in the days of Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. Jiri is also the end of the road leading up from Kathmandu, still about 160 kilometres short of Everest. The marathon group enjoyed the feeling of stepping back in history as we walked around Jiri, imagining what it must have been like plotting the Everest attempts from the dark attic rooms of the teahouses there.
We boarded some buses and began the 9-hour drive back to Kathmandu, but one of the buses broke down about a third of the way. We took the chance to stretch our tired legs and to buy some crisps and water at a roadside stall. Some people began to stress about getting back to Kathmandu in time to catch their international flights. Most of us knew things would get fixed, and there wouldn’t be a problem, but my partner in the Mailrun project today, Chris Dunn, was there and he pointed out something so obvious. “Hey guys, c’mon, we are all ultra-distance runners… Why don’t we just run back to Kathmandu,” he said. “Forget the bags, they are just full of mouldy old clothes from three weeks of hiking. They can get transported down any time. We should just run.” Some looked in horror, but some of us thoughtit was a great idea. We were just getting the plan into our heads when the bus roared back into life, with a kick of black smoke and a crack. “oh well, back on the bus eh?” All the way down, sitting on the bus, I thought how much nicer it would have been to run through the magnificent countryside. Things were a little less airy by the time we reached the outskirts of Kathmandu, but as the sun started to set behind the chimney stacks of the brick-making furnaces I still thought… what if. Wouldn’t it be good to just run that route.
The next day we heard about an English ultra-runner called Lizzy Hawker. I had heard of her before, and some of her astonishing exploits. She had just completed the Everest Mailrun, and in a fastest recorded time. Wow! What an incredible thing to do. Having just run the top 42 kilometres of that route as part of the marathon group, we wondered if the whole route across 320 kilometres was even humanly possible. But it was, in 63 hours and 8 minutes. Lizzy had proved it. That was the second seed planted for me. I could visualise the whole route. The extreme nature of running at high altitude, above 5,000 metres, and the extraordinary combination of trying to survive in that thin air, over the long distance and huge climbs and descents en route. Wow! Again perspectives warped. That’s Nepal.
So the three things came together. A return to Nepal with a purpose to raise some much-needed funds as a contribution towards the rebuilding work. A chance to actually run from Base Camp to Kathmandu across that incredible landscape, that can sometimes quite literally take your breath away. And a target to try to record the fastest-known time over the route.
That is the Everest Mailrun Challenge, and I hope anyone reading this will find it a suitable cause and event to support.