Peak Lenin: July/August 2021

On my way to 7000m with excitement and a lot of nerves

I hope you are all keeping safe and well. I’m writing the first blog of my trip from Heathrow airport. I’m getting ready to board a flight to Russia, before changing planes to Osh, in Kyrgyzstan. After two years of planning and lots of uncertainty, it’s hard to believe I am actually on my way to Peak Lenin. 

The last three weeks have been very tough. After being told that the trip could go ahead in a Covid secure manner, and making the decision to go, I was full of excitement but also nerves. I would normally have been planning for several months and whilst I have been training and purchasing kit, I hadn’t allowed myself to really think about the trip as I didn’t want to be disappointed if it didn’t, for the second year, go ahead. I therefore wasn’t at all emotionally ready for it and I hadn’t thought through or planned the logistical aspects. To have only three weeks to really get ready has been a challenge and a whirlwind. And then, two weeks ago, my wonderful husband came down with Covid. He wasn’t seriously ill, thankfully, and only had mild cold symptoms but we both didn’t want me to come down with it as well and so we lived in the same house but very separately for ten days. I’ve done a lot of difficult things to get myself ready for this trip but being in the same house but not seeing or being able to hug my husband has been the hardest thing I have done. 

Getting my negative Covid ‘fit to fly’ test result on Monday was the first time that I really allowed myself to believe I would be going. So, here I am. Waiting to meet two of the people I’ll be spending the next few weeks with, waiting to board a plane to a country I have only read about and waiting to live out my dream of climbing to over 7,000m. People have been so supportive over the last few weeks and have asked if I am excited and if I am nervous. Yes, I am very nervous. I have no idea how my body will cope at the sort of altitudes I am heading for. I am worried about the cold (it will get down to minus 30 at and near the summit), I am worried about the loneliness, I am worried about the loads I will be carrying and I am worried about some of the simple things (mainly, the toilet situation!). But, absolutely, I am incredibly excited.  I can’t wait to be back in the beautiful mountains, challenging myself physically and emotionally to achieve something that I don’t know is possible for me. After the last 15 months, I feel incredibly privileged to be able to travel and experience new things and to be doing something that I love. 

I’m not expecting to be able to be in contact very much over the next few weeks but will keep everyone updated as best I can. I will have access to a satellite phone every so often and so will ring Matt who has kindly agreed to drop you all a note if and when he hears from me. You will all be in my thoughts and many of you have kindly reminded me to take care and come back safely. I will definitely do that. This period has taught me many things but the main one is what matters most to me and that is my family and friends. 

Thank you all so much for all of your support, which I have so appreciated. I hope you all know how much you mean to me.

Take care everyone and I’ll look forward to seeing you all soon.

Hello from Osh – getting prepared for the challenge ahead

Hello everyone from Osh, in Kyrgyzstan. It is a small city close to the border with Uzbekistan. It is the second largest city in Kyrgyzstan with a population of around 250,000 people and is the oldest city in the country, estimated to be over 3000 years old. It is also very hot! 

The journey here was very smooth but felt like a real adventure given that I have hardly left the confines of the M25 for the last six months! Heathrow was much busier than I expected it to be but I easily found the guides that I am travelling with – I just needed to look for the people carrying large rucksacks and wearing ridiculously large mountain boots! Given how hot it was in the UK yesterday, wearing our boots that are made for extremely cold temperatures and are quite cumbersome to walk in, did make us stand out amongst the holiday makers! There are no mountaineering shops here in Osh and so we were advised to wear the boots to travel in just in case the bags got lost. 

We flew to Moscow and then onto Osh, arriving here in the early hours of the morning. The Covid restrictions were in force throughout but varied in the different countries. I felt very grateful to be able to show my double vaccination pass which allowed me into Kyrgyzstan with no problems at all. 

Today has been a day to prepare for what it is to come. The guides checked all of my kit and I was pleased that the hours I’ve spent during lockdown researching and making purchases were not wasted! My expedition down jacket and trousers may make me look like the ‘Michelin man’ advert but I’m hoping they will keep me warm. I’ve also packed my various bags, ventured out to a local shop for some water and have rested. Tomorrow we head to base camp at 3,700m before an acclimatisation day climbing up a local peak (‘not high’ apparently but, at 4,200m, it will be higher than many mountains in Europe!). We’ll then head up to advanced base camp, which is at 4,500m where we will be based for the next two and a half weeks whilst we do acclimatisation climbs up through various camps before, hopefully, aiming for the summit. 

I am incredibly excited to be here but the nerves have well and truly arrived. Talking to the guides about creating platforms in the snow to put up our tents (I’ve never done this before), melting snow to drink (I’ve never done this either) and eating ‘boil in the bag’ food (or this!) has reminded me that this is a proper expedition. I plan to take each day as it comes and try my best. 

Two other climbers have arrived from Germany, two are on their way from the capital, Bishkek, and one is on a delayed flight from the UK after his Covid test results didn’t come through in time to join us yesterday. By tomorrow morning, we should all be here. All of the other clients are men but I was delighted that one of the guides is a woman. On these trips, the majority of people are usually men and it is always a treat to find a woman who likes the mountains as much as I do!

Thank you all for your kind messages yesterday, which really helped me. It is always so difficult to leave Matt, my amazing family and wonderful friends to venture somewhere unknown but your love and kindness helped me on my way – thank you so much.

I may not be able to communicate a lot after tomorrow but Matt will be in touch to keep you updated if I can’t do so myself. Take care everyone and see you very soon.

Hello from Peak Lenin base camp – feeling like I’m living in a palace

Hello everyone from Peak Lenin base camp which is at 3,700m. It is stunningly beautiful here – very quiet (we’re the only group here today) and peaceful. 

We travelled from Osh in a minivan for five hours – it was an adventure! The first four hours were on main roads but they were far more basic than our roads and so it was very bumpy. The driver liked to go fast, particularly round blind mountain bends! The final hour was on a dirt track and it look us an hour to travel 8 miles! We saw lots of yurts, local farmers on horses and wild animals. About two miles from the base camp, there were lots of little children in a tiny village with a handful of yurts. They loved waving at us and it brought a smile to my face! 

We had our first sighting of Peak Lenin on the road and it looked amazing – it is the one in the picture below poking out of the clouds. It looks huge and it is hard not to worry about what lies ahead but I’m taking it a day at a time. 

The tents were already put up when we arrived and I have a six person tent to myself so I feel like I’m in a palace! It won’t be this way for long so I’m going to enjoy the two nights we have here. The lovely lady who is the cook had made me a vegetarian meal – I had been warned that this might just be the meat meal with the meat taken out but it tasted great so I’m asking no questions! 

This afternoon we went for a ‘short walk to stretch our legs’. This required us walking up 200 vertical metres and I could definitely feel the altitude. Coming down, we went the wrong way and so needed to clamber down a steep hill – it was good to do something testing to start the trip. I felt confident on terrain that I would have been nervous about even a couple of years ago, which was good and reminded me how much we can push ourselves by doing things that scare us. 

I know I’ll have tough days ahead but today was stunning. Thank you for your wonderful messages. I feel very close to home even though I’m so remote. 

Take care everyone

Squeals, swabs and stunning scenery in Kyrgyzstan

Hello everyone from my second day in Peak Lenin base camp. It has been, as expected, a tougher day today but very rewarding. The tent palace didn’t quite live up to my expectations! It was on a slope which didn’t help my sleeping but I was very warm in my new five season sleeping bag, which was good! I awoke to a stunning sunrise over the enormous peaks surrounding us and felt very blessed to be here. 

We set off for our acclimatisation walk today, aiming to reach the snow line on a ridge overlooking the base camp. It was hard going with the altitude but I was coping ok until we got to a scrambling section. For those who have followed my previous trips, you’ll appreciate that I am very nervous of exposure and drops. For most of the walk today, we were walking along a ridge line with 200m drops on either side – not sheer drops but not ones I’d like to tumble down! The scrambling section went ok until we reached a very steep part with loose rocks. I managed to get my first, and I’m sure not my last, bruise (and squeal!) of the trip when a large rock fell onto my shin. I was pleased to make it to the snow line at 4,250m and we spent a blissful hour sitting in the sun looking at the stunning scenery around us. 

Whilst we were sitting there – as a group of eight (including our two guides) from the UK, Germany, Romania and Norway – we met people from Nepal, Iceland and Hungary. Our world is a small and beautiful place and I feel so privileged to be here enjoying it. 

And then we headed down…..the very steep scree slope we’d come up was quite challenging going down! It was terrain I’d have been terrified on even a couple of years ago so I was pleased to get down. I wasn’t scared but I was slow and the wonderful female guide, Jude, stayed with me giving me encouragement, tips and a helping hand when needed. I was very grateful for this! 

It felt like a good day of walking and we all seem to be coping well, which means we head to ABC (advanced base camp) tomorrow where we’ll be based for the rest of the time. The living conditions will start to get tougher but apparently there is Wi-fi there which would be a treat! 

If you had told me two years ago when I planned this trip initially that I’d be sitting in a tent at 3,600m in Kyrgyzstan putting a swab into my nostrils and tonsils to check for a disease, I would have thought you were mad. It was a surreal moment today but we’re doing regular Covid tests to ensure we’re all well and won’t infect anyone. 

I was reminded of a quote today – ‘If it’s not hard, you’re not dreaming big enough’. It rang true for me today. A hard but rewarding day and I’m smiling a lot! 

I hope you are all having a wonderful weekend and enjoying the start of the Olympics! Take care everyone and thank you so much for all of your support, which I so appreciate.

Arriving in Advanced Base Camp via a jeep, my first river crossing and more scree!

Hello everyone from Peak Lenin advanced base camp. It has been a glorious if very tough day here. 

But to start, I had an odd experience last night, walking into the mess tent for dinner and finding a tv with the Olympics on! The ingenuity is amazing – there is no light, no toilets but there is a little electricity and so a tv had made it’s way to a yurt at 3,600m! 

I slept a little better – it was a slightly warmer night and I woke up feeling well. We set off for Advanced Base Camp (known as ABC), starting our journey in a jeep. As there is an hour walk on the flat, the guides thought we could save some time and what an experience it was! We drove in an ancient jeep along river beds and up and down rutted tracks. I don’t think the car was horizontal for more than 30 seconds in the 15 min ride! At the end, we needed to help push it to get it out of the mud so that it could head back! 

We set off on the path and it was tough – relentlessly uphill for the first hour to 4,100m on steep scree slopes (I’m gaining a strong dislike for scree!). The view from the col was amazing though and was more than worth the pain of getting there. We then, oddly, headed down. Again on steep scree and across an incredibly narrow section with falling small stones from above. By now, the group have understood my nervousness and were incredibly helpful in giving me hints and tips to get across. The best being ‘a little slipping is perfectly normal’! It may be normal but I don’t like it! But I got across and could feel my confidence building. 

I then had my first ever proper river crossing. The river was very strong and the usual crossing point was not passable so we headed further up the bank before realising nowhere was particularly passable. So, we had to roll up our trousers, take off our shoes and socks and head across. I was thankful that the guide had a pair of crocs which I could use and I got across, with some squeals! The torrent was very fast and my poles got a lot of use. It did mean that my painted toenails (painted purple and pink in the colours of Cancer Research who I’m fundraising for!) did get an airing!

We arrived at ABC after five hours and the location is simply stunning. We’re looking up onto Peak Lenin and it is beautiful, if very steep and high. On my previous treks in Nepal, the guides spoke little English which meant I rarely knew what we were doing or where we were going. This time, we get the route pointed out in great detail, which is fantastic but also daunting. I’m not sure which I prefer! 

There is no mobile reception here but a little Wi-fi which may or may not work each day so I’ll try and keep in touch but please don’t worry if I don’t. Thank you all for your wonderful messages – they make my face light up every day. 

Our world is a truly beautiful place and I feel so privileged to be here. Thank you for all of your support – I wouldn’t be here without it. 

Take care everyone

Leaping into the unknown amongst the 7000m peaks

Hello everyone from ABC of Peak Lenin. It’s been another tough but amazing day here. I slept well – my best night so far, which means I only woke up four times! It is hard to breathe here and so I wake up a bit during the night but I felt refreshed. I was, however, nervous. We had a day ahead which involved a steep walk up a scree slope to a ridge at 4,750m to help us acclimatise. 

The walk up was tough – I thought I’d start at the front but our guide had decided to push us today and I couldn’t keep the pace up on the scree so I dropped to the back to be with Jude, our female guide who is being wonderfully helpful and supportive. I made it up and just before the top was some snow, which was magical. The feeling of snow under my feet rather than scree was fantastic! As Jude said ‘you were almost running up that’! 

The view from the top was incredible – any view from this area is! We sat in the sun, wrapped up as it was cold and talked about our adventures – marathons came up a lot! 

I was worried about the way down but I managed it with only a few squeals and swearing! I was slow but not as slow as yesterday so I am getting better. Tomorrow is an even steeper scree slope but I’ll worry about that tomorrow. 

We arrived back at ABC as horses were arriving with our tents and food for the days on the mountain. The horses carry up to 100kg which is incredible. I wouldn’t like to ride one though – I think I’d have more squealing than on the scree! We helped to unload the bags which was good fun.

This afternoon we’re going to practice putting up the tents and melting snow. I’m hoping my ability here will be better than my cooking at home! 

In sad news, one of our party has decided to go home tomorrow as he’s missing home too much. So there are now seven of us. The four other clients are all very experienced mountaineers so I’m hoping this will mean I get lots of support and help. I do feel a bit out of my depth but I’m here to experience new things and I’m certainly doing that. 

My quote for today is: ‘Leap and the net will appear’. I don’t plan any actually leaping (!) but I do feel that I am leaping into the unknown.

Thank you so much for all of your support. I can’t tell you how much it means to me and the difference it makes when it is tough. 

Take care everyone

Climbing and sleeping higher than Mont Blanc, and then skiing on scree to get back down!

Hello everyone from Jukina Peak, which is just over 5,100m and is our first experience of camping on the snow. We’re doing this to help us acclimatise and to get used to the way of living at the higher camps on the mountain. 

It was a hard start to the day as the man who was heading home left this morning and it was sad to see him go. It also raised lots of questions in my mind of whether I was doing the right thing in being so far away from my husband, family and friends to simply pursue something I love. Was I being selfish? I know everyone is very supportive but I shed a few tears this morning. 

The start of our walk this morning followed the same path as yesterday and I could feel myself getting stronger and more confident, despite carrying a much heavier load. We stopped for our first break and looked upwards. The route up to Jukina Peak was seriously steep and on scree! I was daunted but put myself at the back and plodded away at my own pace. I was advised to walk on the gravel at the sides of the tiny track which helped. The track itself is only a foot wide with scary drops which I tried not to look at! I fell over once and needed some advice on the rockier ground which I can now cope with in the UK but at over 5,000m and with sheer drops, I was a little hesitant! But I made it! I felt elated to have got to the summit and got stuck into the tent making, melting of snow and getting organised. I’m sharing a tent here with Jude, the female guide, and whilst it means a lack of privacy, I’m enjoying the company. 

Life on the mountain is very simple – eat (or really, fuel, as the food isn’t, obviously, great!) and allow our bodies to recover for the next stage. It was cold on the summit and I was pleased for my extra thick down jacket. For dinner, we melted snow and had freeze dried packets of food. I had chosen vegetarian shepherds pie and custard with apple. The vegetarian shepherds pie actually tasted ok, although it was a soup rather than a pie but I couldn’t finish it all (and it was only 600 calories) and I couldn’t face the pudding. My appetite tends to go at these type of altitudes and so I try and have as much as possible to get some fuel in but it is a battle. 

The sunset was simply stunning. The Wi-fi here won’t let me attach photos to my blogs so I’ll share some when I get back. It was however cold! And so we headed to bed at 7pm! I wore all of my clothes (apart from my down jacket) in my down sleeping bag and felt warm, which was great. It wasn’t easy to sleep but I managed some, in between some odd dreams of the way down! 

We got up at 6am and got ready, packed the tents and stoves up and left our beautiful home for the night. 

So, the way down was an adventure! I learnt to ski on scree – it was terrain far steeper than any black run I’ve done (I appreciate I tend to avoid black runs due to my fears of exposure but others said the same!). I felt so delighted to get down with only a few falls, bruises and squeals! I walked into the camp feeling delighted, to promptly fall over on the simplest slope I’d tackled all day! 

We now have a rest day for the remainder of today and tomorrow to allow our bodies to recover, before we head up to camp 2 on Peak Lenin itself at 5,400m, then to camp 3 at 6,100m before heading back down for a further couple of rest days before our summit attempt. It’s feeling very real now but I’m proud of what I’ve managed so far and excited about the next few days. 

I am missing everyone hugely – it’s so hard not to be in contact very much and to not be able to share small things, laugh together, get a hug when I need one and support you all when you need things. Thank you all so much for your messages and support – they are making such a difference to me. 

Take care everyone

Recovering and contemplating what lies ahead

Hello everyone from a rest day at Peak Lenin ABC. It has been a recovery day or so before we head up for our first rotation on the mountain. This is the first time I’ve ever done a rotation on the mountain but essentially we head up the mountain to different camps and get used to the terrain and way of living before our summit attempt. 

So, tomorrow we have breakfast at 3am before setting off at 4am. The climb to camp 2 (the next camp up as ABC is essentially camp 1) takes about 8 hours but the end of it requires us to walk through what is known as the ‘frying pan’ because it is a basin within which the sun beats off of the snow. It can get up to 40 degrees and given that we’ll be wearing mountain clothes and carrying heavy back packs, we want to avoid being there in the late afternoon when it is as it’s hottest. We spend two nights at camp 2 (5,400m) and then one night at camp 3 (6,100m) before heading down to the luxury (relatively speaking!) of ABC for some more recovery. 

Tomorrow involves the steepest part of the climb where there’ll be fixed ropes to guide us. We therefore had some training on that today. I’ve done this before in the beautiful Scottish mountains but not at this altitude and not carrying a heavy load. I had hoped to get to Scotland for some more practice but with the restrictions haven’t been able to do so and so I welcomed the practice today. My ‘mountain knot practicing’ that I took up as a lockdown hobby has been helpful as, for the only time this trip, I knew something that the experienced mountaineers didn’t (only because in the rest of Europe they use a different knot than the UK) but it made me (and all of us) smile! 

Some of you have asked about the camp. There are actually about four separate camps in the same area and we have a small one closest to Peak Lenin. I have a four person tent to myself. The food that they cook in such a tiny kitchen at 4,500m is incredible. The camp managers, two friendly Kyrgyzstan women, don’t speak much English and I speak no Kyrgyz but I’m known as the ‘woman without meat’! I feel very looked after. 

Yesterday I cleaned, or attempted to clean, some clothes in a bucket of water and they rushed to help me, clearly realising that this wasn’t my forte! They even provided soap powder! 

I’m excited about the next few days but very nervous too. It will be very cold, it will be very hard at altitude, the terrain will be steeper than anything I’ve done before and I’ll be carrying a heavy load. I know I’ve done as much training as I’ve been able to do through lockdown and with a busy and wonderful life. So I’m taking each task as it comes and giving it my all. I hope that my body and mind hold up for the next few days to allow me the chance to attempt the summit. 

Thank you all for your continued support and love. I can only get Wi-fi for an hour a day (bought from a Kyrgyzstan man in a tent in the camp above – it is a slightly strange set up!) but I love receiving messages and it makes me feel surrounded by support even though I’m so far away.

I hope you’re all well. Take care everyone

Steep slopes, crevasses and a ladder to reach camp 2!

Hello everyone from Peak Lenin camp 2. It’s fair to say it was the hardest day I’ve ever had in the mountains to reach here and I’m elated to have done so. 

Last night was a heavy snow storm and so we weren’t sure that we would be able to come here today but at 2am, we decided we would do so but would leave slightly later to let the snow die down. So at 5am, we set off. It was dark, cold and daunting to cross a glacier at that time and I had a lot of mental doubts about what I was doing. 

The sun came up at about 6am as we hit the ‘steep bit’. Well, the steep bit lasted for seven hours until we arrived at camp 2! It was relentlessly uphill – there was only one very short section that was flat. From below, it looked like a very long steep section and then a flat section so when our guide asked us if we wanted to stop for a break near to where I thought it would flatten out, I suggested we waited until we reached ‘the top’. His questioning look told me that ‘the top’ was the camp and so I needed to change my mental approach to the day! 

The steep section was very steep. I had to cross several crevasses, some of which were, in my mind, too large for my legs to reach from one side to the other and so the guide would hold the rope tight and someone behind me would be ready to push if needed! I managed them all but it took a lot of energy. We then reached the ladder. I hadn’t been told about any ladders but there was a small (five rung, I counted!) ladder across a very deep crevasse. It was balanced on each side but without anything actually holding it down. I had never seen one before or had ever wanted to but I didn’t have a choice so I asked what the technique was and went for it. I felt a huge sense of achievement in not falling in!

It is hard to explain how hard it is to breath here (at 5,400m) but simply putting a rucksack on is very hard work and you need to stop and rest. My rucksack today was the heaviest it’s been – close to 20kg which I’ve been practising with at home but it’s very different when it’s so hard to breathe. I coped ok but I was very very glad to take it off at the camp! 

So, a tough but rewarding day, achieving things I never would have dreamt of. Tonight we recover in our tents on camp food (!) and tomorrow we do a further acclimatisation walk upwards from here. I’m utterly exhausted but feeling happy. 

‘When something looks too hard, look again, always look again’ 

Thank you for all of your support, it means the world to me and I miss not being able to contact you all for a few days. Take care

More steepness, snow storms and emotions

Hello everyone from Peak Lenin camp 2 after an acclimatisation day here. It is fair to say I’m exhausted! 

Last night a foot of snow fell and there were strong winds and so it was slightly scary being in the tent but I managed some sleep. I forced myself to eat dinner and breakfast, which was good, but even so the calories are far less than I would eat at home and the exertion far greater! 

Our aim today was to climb up to 5,700m along the route that we’ll take tomorrow to camp 3. It was even steeper than yesterday! Our guide led the way but I put myself behind him but went at my pace! The very steep sections were essentially snow steps but, as the vast majority of people here are men, with generally longer legs, it makes each step really hard work for those of us with shorter legs. I took to cutting my own mid way steps into the snow but this is also very hard work. 

Eventually we reached the ‘plateau’. As I told the guide, I don’t believe it would meet the dictionary definition! Whilst it was less steep, it was not at all flat but I managed to get more of a rhythm on this section. We reached 5,778m after 3 hours, higher than Mount Elbrus, the highest point in Europe, and stayed there for 30 mins to help us acclimatise. The route to camp 3 was clearly visible and looks horrific! Our guide described it as a ‘pig’! It will be a further 2 and a half hours up very steep slopes with no plateau in sight! We’ll also be carrying a much heavier pack. I hope my body will hold out. 

The route down today was, as usual for me, very tough too. I wasn’t scared, which is a great improvement but I fell on my bottom at least 10 times trying to navigate the steep slopes. I was also exhausted which didn’t help but I made it! 

The weather here is a strange mix of very cold overnight and sweltering in the day. It is a good job I don’t have a mirror as I dread to see the state of my face and hair! 

The rest of today will be resting, rehydrating and refuelling. And then taking on tomorrow. 

Despite the hard work, I am loving the experience. My emotions are a rollercoaster and I have moments of doubt, fear, joy and exhaustion.

I hope to be able to ring my husband tomorrow – even the sat phone doesn’t work at camp 2! – and I’m really looking forward to hearing news from home, I hope you are all well and taking care.

Overcoming fears and emotions to reach camp 3

Hello everyone from Peak Lenin camp 3 at 6,128m. If I thought yesterday and the day before were tough, today beat them hands down! 

I started the day tired from the previous two days and I struggled to eat breakfast. The second day of freeze dried porridge wasn’t overly appealing!

I tried to minimise the weight I was carrying by leaving some things at camp 2 and we set off for the day. 

We knew the route as we’d walked half of it yesterday so we agreed that we’d all walk at our own pace. Stu, our main guide, led the way and the four experienced mountaineers followed him at a pace I could only dream of! I plodded along myself and Jude, our second guide, was behind. She had been suffering from a very bad altitude cough and so was much slower than usual. 

I was feeling ok along the first half of the route which we’d walked yesterday and was enjoying going at my own pace. We then reached the even steep(er!)  section! It is hard to describe how hard it is to breathe here but on the steepest bits, I could walk about five paces before needing to stop. If I managed ten paces, I felt pleased! The route itself was challenging – very steep, at points a tiny (half a foot) ‘path’ cutting across a very steep slope and relentless. There were points were the sun went in, the snow started and I couldn’t see anyone in front or behind me. I was very proud of myself for not allowing myself to worry or get scared and just put one foot in front of the other. 

I have never been so pleased to see someone as when Stu walked down to check I was ok. I was about 20 mins from the camp at that point and he kindly guided me in. 

I am elated to have made it and in such conditions but the summit is another vertical 1km away which seems a very long way. I’ll take it each day at a time. I hope to be able to reach the summit and make everyone proud.

I am now resting in my tent, trying to eat and drink. I’m thinking of everyone and your kind support and well wishes. I hope you are all well. Take care

Being reminded that life is more precious than anything

Hello everyone from Peak Lenin Advanced Base Camp. I wrote and sent my last blog before the events below happened (as I was out of communication and it only actually sent when I reached Wi-fi) and I needed a day or so to reflect upon the events before writing about them. I’ve also considered whether it’s appropriate to write about them but I said I would share my experience with you all. I hope you don’t mind me doing so. It’s fair to say the last two days have been the toughest I’ve ever experienced in the mountains and not because of exposure, terrain or the cold. 

Having successfully made it camp 3, I was elated but exhausted. I heard via our radios (which we use in the camps as it is too cold to get outside of the tents) that Jude, who was suffering from a mountain cough and walking much slower than usual, was at 5,940m (with close to 200m vertical ascent to go, which was incredibly steep) and so has decided to head back to camp 2. The weather was clear below and she kept in radio contact. 

We set off in the morning, with the intention of going through camp 2 and then onto ABC. It was incredibly cold and I struggled to get my crampons on but once I got going, I was pleased with how my confidence on the steep slopes was improving. I only had a few falls and was learning not to worry about slipping. I reached camp 2 elated, to be told that Jude wasn’t there. 

I won’t speculate on what happened, as it would only be speculation and not the right thing to do. We stayed at camp 2 that day as we searched for any sign of her. There was very little I could do as I was exhausted and would only hold back our guide and the other guides in the search. The same was true for all but one of our party and it showed just how exposed you are in these remote terrains. I did what I could – I boiled hot water to keep everyone warm, I checked in on all of our team  and guide to see how everyone was and I prayed for the best. 

I sat in the tent that evening that we had shared with a whole host of emotions going through my head. I know that people sadly lose their lives in the mountains – it can be a dangerous activity. But for it to be someone who I’d started to get to know, who was part of our group and had been so kind to me I found incredibly difficult. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so alone as there is no reception on either normal or most satellite phones in camp 2 and I had told Matt that I’d call that day as I’d expected to be back in ABC. I was worried that he’d be worried too. One of our team had a satellite phone that worked and he very kindly allowed me to use it to send a message to say I was fine. Our world is full of kind and generous people. 

After two days of searching, with more guides and drones, she is still missing. Searches will continue for the next day or so by the local experts and there is little, if anything, that we can do. We are therefore heading home. It wouldn’t be right for us to continue – the mountains are always there and sometimes you need to immerse yourself in their beauty but then turn away. Life is far more important. 

We are staying at ABC today to rest and will then start the journey to base camp and then to Osh, Moscow and home. The way down so far has been emotional but full of adventure (including more ladders, a tent broken by a snow storm and building friendships) and I’ll write about that tomorrow. 

Part of me doing this expedition was to fundraise for an important cause and to inspire others to follow their dreams. I hope I haven’t let anyone down by not summiting and, if I have, my apologies. 

Following your dreams is something very special and you learn a huge amount by doing so. I know I have and I’ll share this with you all soon but I need more time to reflect. 

I’ll try and enjoy my last couple of days in this beautiful part of the world and I’ll be back in the mountains soon as I love being here. But, for now, I will follow my other dream, and the most important one, which is being with my truly amazing husband, my special family and friends and my wonderfully supportive colleagues. I’ll see you all very soon. 

Take care everyone – life is too precious not to.

Travelling towards home surrounded by support and care (and some ladders and snowstorms!)

Hello everyone from ABC of Peak Lenin. We’ve spent the last two days starting the long road home. I have tried to enjoy the immense beauty of the mountains and I feel incredibly privileged to be here. 

I have often spoken of how the support of my amazing family, friends and colleagues helps me up the mountains. Over the last two days, that wonderful support has helped keep me strong and to get down the mountain safely. I have been overwhelmed by the kind, thoughtful and caring messages I have received – thank you all so much. I may be thousands of miles away and several miles into the sky, but I have felt wrapped in care and love. 

Two days ago, we woke in camp 2 and I, along with everyone, was exhausted – physically and emotionally. We’d spent a day longer than planned above 5,400m and had little food for that extra day. We’d shared what we had but it wasn’t enough. We don’t tend to take extra because every bit of additional weight slows us further and makes the tough climbing even tougher. Thankfully, the wonderful camp managers at ABC sent us up some food with the guides who were coming up to continue the search for Jude. It was such a thoughtful gesture. 

As there was nothing else we could be doing at camp 2 in the search, we left this to the experts and set off to head down to ABC and, due to the steepness, had to be roped up. As we now only had one guide, we were all roped together and I was at the back with Stu, our guide. The fast and experienced mountaineers at the front kindly went slowly for me but even so I needed to ask them to slow further on the very steep bits. I made it down the first section which I was pleased about as my emotions were all over the place. 

We then hit the crevasse section. The very steep section required me to go backwards, using my ice axe and crampons to move down the snow and ice. I’ve done this twice before but never at this altitude or when I was so tired. Once my brain had clicked into gear about how I needed to tackle it, I came down safely and actually enjoyed that section.

I had, however, been dreading the ladder! On the way down it seemed to have grown! It was now six rungs long and I couldn’t reach my poles across to the other side so needed to get my crampons on the first rung with nothing to support me. This, you can imagine, generated some squealing and swearing. I got across safely but, in my excitement, got my crampons caught on the final rung and managed to bring the whole ladder across to my side of the crevasse, with the guide still on the other! I was mortified and worried but he found it very amusing! We put it back in place (by simply lying it in the snow…!) and he safely came across. 

The rest of the way down was uneventful but we were all exhausted by the time we were back at ABC. A few days earlier, we had watched people coming down from camp 2 and commented on how slowly there were walking and how awful they looked. That was now us! I was once again glad I didn’t have a mirror with me!

We went to bed early, exhausted, and I was woken when it was still dark by the camp manager speaking loudly and hitting my tent with a shovel! In my sleepiness, I realised it must be snowing and she was kindly removing the snow from my tent. It wasn’t until the sun came up that I awoke to see that the roof of my tent was now only a foot above my head due to the weight of snow! Over two feet of snow had fallen overnight and I had to crawl out of the tent through a foot hole in the opening! Everyone helped me to try and fix the tent but it had actually broken under the snow and so I had to move tents for our final night here. 

The rest of the day was uneventful. We rested and chatted. People opened up about how they were feeling and, despite our different nationalities, backgrounds and ages, our emotions were very similar – immense sadness, shock and a feeling of helplessness. Talking helped us and it was a lesson that, despite all of the usual things that might be perceived to divide us, our human emotions are very much the same. 

In the lovely messages I received from you all, a number of you, knowing my love of quotes, included some quotes which helped me.

‘The summit is what drives us but the climb itself is what matters’ 

‘No matter what trials and challenges we face, sometimes just enjoying being is a blessing’

In the last two days, I’ve tried to enjoy being here – it is hard not to enjoy the immense beauty of these mountains – and to continue to follow my dreams and challenge myself. My emotions are high and it will take time and reflection to process everything that has happened. I know, however, that I am incredibly blessed to simply be here, enjoying the climb.

Take care everyone and thank you

Signing off from Peak Lenin with sadness but passion burning even brighter

Hello everyone from Osh. I made it off the mountain safely, including navigating the scree and the river crossing. My confidence and skills have grown hugely over this trip and I enjoyed the route out to base camp. 

We were in for one last adventure though as the old (I dread to think how old) jeep arrived to drive us the last couple of miles to base camp. You may recall me talking about this experience on the way out. This time, after about ten minutes, there was an almighty crack and the jeep stopped. It turned out a break disc had come off (it was lying a metre away from the jeep!) and so the driver got a pot of wire from under his seat, lay under the jeep for about 15 mins and then told us all was ‘good’ and we carried on our way! The ingenuity and skills of the people here who live in such basic conditions, by western standards, is inspiring. 

It was sad to leave ABC, which has been our home for ten days. The camp managers, who used to call me ‘woman without meat’ now call me ‘Sarah’ despite knowing very limited English. They’ve looked after me, and everyone, so well.

It was also very sad to leave ABC as a smaller group. It really brings home what has happened. I shed more than a few tears on the way to Osh. 

We’ve made the most of the time here in Osh, sightseeing. There is a world heritage site here and it was lovely, although we were all slightly amazed that so many of the local people, who are incredibly friendly, wanted their photos taken with us! Tourists are clearly still a novelty here. 

So, my PCR test came back negative (the results were handed out by an old man sitting at an entrance to the laboratory in a bus stop!), my flights have been changed and I should be home tomorrow. I really can’t wait to see everyone. 

The last 18 months, and what has happened on this trip, have reinforced in my mind that life is so very precious but also far too short. I really believe that we need to live our lives to the fullest and follow our dreams. We all have dreams, and they are equally important and valid. We should follow them with passion, commitment and enjoyment. We should also surround ourselves with people who help us follow our dreams and who support, care for and love us. 

I know that my husband and my family would probably much prefer for me to be safely at home than climbing mountains. I know that I must drive my friends mad or bored at times with my latest adventure plans. I also know that me being away for an extended period and out of communication can put pressure on my colleagues. And yet, you all help me to follow my dreams, you all support me and care for me. I feel incredibly blessed – thank you all so very much. 

I headed for Kyrgyzstan with a dream of looking out on our beautiful world from 7,100m. I haven’t achieved that but I’m proud of what I have achieved. I’ve learnt new skills and built my confidence. I’ve learnt that I am capable of much more than I ever thought possible. I’m delighted and incredibly grateful to have raised over £7,000 for Cancer Research – thank you so much to everyone who has donated. 

But I’ve also experienced something that I would never have wanted to experience. 

I know that this has been a life changing trip for me. I know that my passion for following my dreams – those of mountain and running adventures, those of looking after my very special husband, family and friends as much as I can and those of making a difference to my wonderful colleagues in a career I love – burns ever brighter. I also know that I haven’t yet processed the sadness of what has happened here and will need time to do so. 

And so to end, follow your dreams, tell the people you care about just how much they mean to you and live the life that you were meant to. And please know that I’m here to support each and every one of you in any way I can. 

Thank you everyone so much and take care

When running means so much more than the miles you cover (published 27 September 2021)

On Sunday morning, together with 25,000 runners including my wonderful husband, I stood on the start line of the Berlin marathon. It was the first of the major marathons of the world to have been run since 3 November 2019. On that cold but beautiful November day, I played cheerleader as my husband and a close friend ran through the streets of New York. When we left New York, we were planning for a trip to the Tokyo marathon in March 2020 with our two amazing running friends, to allow three of us to run for our six star medal – awarded to those runners privileged enough to have crossed the finish line of the six major marathons of the world – Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London, New York and Tokyo. 18 months later and that six star medal is still a dream as the Tokyo marathon has sadly been cancelled for the second year. I hope to run there in 2022 or 2023 and achieve my dream of putting that special medal around my neck.

When it was clear we wouldn’t be able to run in Tokyo, I managed to get my husband and I places in the wonderful Berlin marathon. I’ve been lucky enough to run there twice before but this would be a first for my husband. It is a great event – virtually flat, with long, straight roads, a good crowd, an amazing start and an even better finish!

As the Berlin date was three weeks earlier than Tokyo would have been, it meant that I arrived back from my mountain expedition to Kyrgyzstan with only six weeks until the marathon. I hadn’t run for the three weeks of the expedition and my body, and my mind, were both physically and emotionally drained on my return. I therefore trained hard for the marathon but couldn’t fit in as much as I would have normally, and couldn’t do as many long runs. I was therefore hoping my legs would have muscle memory and that my mind would help me get round!

It was a different marathon experience – a PCR test at the Expo, masks on our faces until we crossed the start line and less runners than normal. But it was an incredible day.

Arriving in Berlin, the pilot welcomed us to Germany and wished ‘anyone running the marathon on Sunday, the best of luck’. It brought smiles to a lot of faces. Simply to be able to travel abroad feels like such a luxury, and is so worth the added complexities and therefore stresses. To be able to do so to take part in something that you love, with others from around the world who love it too, is very special.

We went out for a short 20 min run the day before the marathon and saw hundreds of other runners doing the same. We were all wearing the same wristband showing we had been Covid tested and were ready to run – it was like a ticket to a club and everyone smiled at each other!

The last two marathons that I’ve run have involved multiple laps – of a car race track (10 very hilly and windy laps) and of a lake (16 times up and down the side of a windy rowing lake)! I had felt privileged to even be able to run these through the pandemic but I was so excited to be able to run a big city marathon again. Even the half hour queue for the dubious smelling portaloos felt special!

The start of the Berlin marathon is wonderful. Each wave gets its own start, with music and a countdown. This time I wasn’t in the final pen for the slower runners, something that I still find amazing – I almost headed there automatically! My PB at my last marathon allowed me to start a bit earlier and so I set off with a huge group of runners from all nationalities. Throughout the run, I saw runners from every continent apart from Australasia. It felt like a celebration of running and, importantly, of the world coming together out of the pandemic that had kept us apart. It was hard not to feel emotional throughout the run.

Every Berlin marathon I’ve done has been hot and this was the hottest yet! I’m really not good at running in the heat and so I knew it would be a hard race for me. My husband and I had agreed that we’d run at our own paces. I hoped he’d have a good run as the last couple had ended in cramp for him. He wouldn’t choose to run a marathon if it wasn’t my passion and so for him to enjoy it was my wish.

Most of the first half went well but it was very hot and my energy levels were quite low, and certainly lower than I’d like with 13 miles still to run! My husband passed me just before half way which meant he was having a better day than me and I was so pleased for him.

I started to slow in the second half and made sure that I took on lots of water and poured lots over my head in an effort to keep cool. It worked only for about a minute each time! I had hoped to achieve a Boston marathon qualifying time – these are challenging times (or so they seem to me) that allow you entry into the iconic Boston marathon. I had achieved that for the first time in my last marathon and my goal was to do so in a major marathon. That goal kept me going when my legs really wanted to stop.

At 24 miles, I spotted my husband in the distance and slowly, very slowly (!), caught up with him. We exchanged smiles and I shouted that I was trying to get under 3hr 50 mins and he waved and cheered me on. I ran my heart out for the last two miles, with legs screaming at me and a body wanting to explode in the heat. Turning the final corner and seeing the Brandenburg Gate is always very emotional and it was again. I ran for the finish and crossed the line in 3.48 – another BQ achieved and a battle won. I stopped and waited for my husband to cross the line, waving like a lunatic so that he could see me! He crossed in 3.51 – a PB and I was so very proud of him.

We picked up our medals and slowly hobbled back to our hotel, our faces lit up by smiles. On the way back, we met two other runners – an American who was flying to London the next day to run the London marathon the following weekend to get her six star medal and a German who had just completed his first marathon. Both conversations were wonderful – supportive and encouraging. The running community, like any community, is special. It brings people together, it inspires through common goals, it supports, encourages and nurtures and it gives hope when the world is tough. We’ve all needed that hope over the last 18 months and this weekend was a beacon of hope to many. I felt incredibly privileged to be part of it.

Reflections on the beautiful but unforgiving nature of the mountains (published September 2021)

It has been six weeks since I returned from my mountain expedition to the beautiful Peak Lenin in Kyrgyzstan. Normally I would have written about my trip and the lessons learnt very quickly on returning but it has taken me some time to start to reflect upon all that happened to me. I know I still have more to process but I’m feeling able to put into words some of the amazing experiences I had, both positive and heartbreakingly awful, and so I hope you don’t mind me sharing them with you.

In Spring 2019, I booked myself onto a trip to Peak Lenin, a stunning mountain 7,100m high which sits on the border of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. I had previously trekked in Nepal, which I had loved, and I wanted to challenge myself further. Peak Lenin is one of the technically easier 7,000m + mountains to climb, which suited my skill level, but it is a high mountain expedition. For the first time, I would need to carry my own load on the days on the mountain (up to 20kg), put up tents to camp on snow in very cold temperatures, eat (or try to eat!) freeze dried food to keep me fuelled and work towards the goal of summiting through rotations on the mountain.

I had a dream of standing at 7,100m looking out on our amazing world. I wanted to challenge myself to achieve something that I didn’t know would be possible for me. I’m a beginner mountaineer (I am still not sure if I really should use that word at all!) who is afraid of exposure and drops. I have to fit my training around a busy career that I love (and a few marathons!). And in training for this expedition, I wasn’t able to go to the mountains to build my skills as much as I had planned due to the pandemic. Getting myself physically and emotionally ready for such an expedition was therefore challenging but a joy. Walking locally with my large rucksack filled with heavy weights kept my mind off the worry of the pandemic and, I think, kept my neighbours entertained! I spent time learning mountaineering knots in my garden and when we were allowed to travel, I hurried to the hills and mountains to try and build my confidence in these beautiful environments.

In the strange world that we have found ourselves in, I wasn’t certain I was going to be able to travel until 2 days before my departure date. The trip wasn’t confirmed as running until three weeks beforehand (I shed a lot of happy tears after receiving that phone call) and then, two weeks before I was due to leave, my wonderful husband caught covid. Thankfully, he had very mild symptoms but living separately from him for two weeks until I had my ‘fit to fly’ test was the toughest thing I did in preparation for the trip. When I received my negative test result, I felt so blessed and privileged to have the opportunity to travel to do something I love.

The first two weeks of the expedition were incredible. I had my first mountain river crossing, I climbed up scree slopes, I screamed and swore (!) as I slowly navigated the same scree slopes on the way down, I crossed crevasses, I learnt how to put up tents on snow, I sat and watched stunning sunrises and sunsets over the mountains, I learnt how to boil snow for water and I discovered that I really didn’t like freeze dried food! My body was physically challenged, particularly going up the mountain, as the steepness and the lack of oxygen took its toil. My mind was challenged due to the fear I felt coming down such steep slopes and the loneliness of being so far away from those that I love. Despite the challenges, I was very happy. The beauty of the mountains, the feeling of pushing myself to overcome my fears and the sense of joy in doing something that brings my soul alive were beyond even my highest expectations.

After two weeks, we had successfully reached camp 3 on Peak Lenin, which is at 6,100m, and were heading back down to the advanced base camp to rest and recover before our summit attempt. I knew that the next few days would be the toughest I had ever had on an adventure but I was excited about what lay ahead. And then the trip was brought to a tragic end when one of my group lost their life on the beautiful mountain.

I know that people sadly lose their lives in the mountains but I had never imagined (or allowed myself to imagine) it happening to someone in my group. For it to be someone who had been incredibly kind and supportive to me made it even harder for me to comprehend. I headed home with my emotions in turmoil. I have never been so pleased to be in my husband’s arms and to be surrounded by so much care and love from my family, friends and colleagues.

I always try and reflect upon what I have learnt from a situation and I know that I’ve learnt a huge amount from the expedition, for which I am very grateful.

‘If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough’

This was my first big mountain expedition and a lot of the time I felt out of my depth. I have only been on a few mountain trips and therefore so many things were new to me. Some I absolutely loved – camping in remote places, feeling like I was on the top of the world, sitting in the snow as the sun beat down on me and the camaraderie of the groups we shared our camp with. Some I found very tough – the scree slopes, the steepness of the snow steps that had been cut into the mountain side mainly by men with generally much longer legs than me and carrying my heavy load for hours at a time in conditions that are hard to imagine being based in the UK.

Despite questioning myself and my sanity at times, when I think back to the woman who literally shook with fear at walking along the metre wide Great Wall of China just over ten years ago, I am so proud of all that I have achieved so far. I would never have dreamt I would be able to climb such steep slopes in crampons, that I would cross a crevasse via a ladder or that I would be able to climb backwards down a slope using an ice axe. I’ve had such a lot of support to do this – fantastic guides who have understood me and gently coaxed me to step beyond my comfort zone, friends and family who support and encourage me every step of the way and a husband who always puts my dreams before his and makes me believe in myself. We can all push ourselves to achieve so many things and by doing so, I believe we truly live. Dreams aren’t meant to be easy but they will definitely be worth it.

‘Never give up on anything that makes your heart soar’

I have always known that my husband and family, even though they are incredibly supportive, would prefer that I didn’t go on this type of trip. I have, however, always believed that we should do what makes our hearts soar. This trip has shaken that belief. The thought of the phone call that was made to the family to tell them of the tragedy haunts me. It is hard not to think about a similar phone call to my wonderful husband. I have questioned myself as to why I would want to go back into the mountains and put myself at risk. Am I being incredibly selfish? Am I being reckless? Some people may think I am but the beauty of the mountains, the feeling of peace I get when I am there and the challenge of putting myself beyond my comfort zone are drawing me back.

The mountains are simply breathtaking. It is hard to describe how I feel when I am able to look up, in all directions, at mountains that reach over four miles into the sky. The sunrises, the sunsets and everything in between are glorious. It is mesmerising and puts everything else, for me, into perspective. I can’t imagine not being back in that environment. The trip may have shaken my belief but it is still there burning brightly.

‘True friends are never apart, maybe in distance but never in heart’

The last 18 months and this trip have brought home to me just how short life is. I know I’ve used that phrase in the past but I’m not sure I have really understood it. Knowing what our personal purpose is and making sure that we spend enough of our lives with the people we love, doing what we love, is so important. Sitting alone in a tent, thousands of miles from home, trying to comprehend what had happened with tears streaming down my face, all I thought about was my husband, my family and my friends.

The boost I got from receiving messages from them is hard to describe. Each caring and thoughtful message was like a breath of pure oxygen which helped me get up and down the mountain. The level of care when I returned home has been overwhelming and I feel incredibly blessed and thankful to be surrounded by so many amazing people. We’ve all missed loved ones over the last 18 months but our relationships with them are even stronger now that we’re coming through the pandemic. I know I want to make sure that I cherish and nurture these as I move forward.

‘The summit is what drives us but the climb is what matters’

I knew before starting the trip that I may not reach the summit. I hadn’t imagined it would be due to a tragedy but I knew that the weather may not have allowed a summit attempt or that my body may not have coped at the high altitudes. I didn’t know how I would respond to not being able to summit, given that the moment of standing on top of the mountain had been the one driving me through all of the training.

I would have liked to have seen the view from 7,100m but I hope to be able to do that on another day in the future. I found that the experiences I had were far more special to me than the summit itself. Enjoying each moment, taking each step as it came and building memories that will last a lifetime gave me immense pleasure. It taught me that whilst I should continue to drive myself to reach whatever summit I am aiming for, I should also make sure I enjoy the climb.

When people who don’t know what happened on the expedition ask me how it was, it is hard to describe it. It was amazing, challenging, brutal, beautiful, heartbreaking and life affirming. There were moments of pure joy, moments of fear and moments of indescribable sadness. And will I be going back to the high mountains? Without a doubt.

I’ve learnt a lot of things and been reminded of many more. I’ve been left with an even stronger passion to follow my dreams. But a clearer view on what my dreams are. Yes, I love my adventures and my dreams of running more marathons and climbing more mountains are greater than ever. I also know that the perhaps simpler dream, of spending time with those that I love, is just as special, just as important and I won’t ever take that for granted again.

Thank you so much to everyone who supported me, in the training, in the sponsorship for the wonderful charity Cancer Research, throughout the expedition and, so importantly, on my return. I really couldn’t have done it without you and I will never be able to put into words how much it meant to me.

As I walked down the mountain on the final day, I looked back with tears in my eyes. My thoughts that day remain now:

Never waste an opportunity to tell someone you love them. Live the life you were meant to. And follow your dreams. Life is too short not to.

It always seems impossible until it’s done: Boston marathon 2022

Three years ago, I wrote about running the iconic Boston marathon, which I was privileged to do with a charity place. 95% of runners in Boston have to achieve challenging (for me) qualifying times and three years ago, I knew that I wouldn’t ever be quick enough to achieve one. I was therefore delighted to run for a charity and have my chance of running in this amazing marathon. It is one of the six major marathons of the world and to achieve my dream of getting the six star medal for those runners lucky enough to have run all of them, I loved the Boston experience and took everything in, convinced it was my one and only time of running it.

Yesterday, I was therefore so excited and humbled to be able to run it for the second time, this time as a qualifier. During lockdown, I had invested the additional time I had from not commuting in my running and last year had run two marathons, achieving Boston Qualifying times in both, which I was incredibly proud of. I was therefore determined to go back to Boston this year and run as a qualifier.

My training was going well until I went skiing in February, when I took a nasty fall. For those that have been skiing with me, you’ll know my skills are not great and I fell and slid for about 40 metres, screaming loudly, looking like an idiot I’m sure and twisting my knee in the process! The following day my knee was very swollen, I could barely walk and I knew that getting to Boston would be a huge challenge.

Over the next four weeks, I had lots of physio and had to do a lot of walking and static cycling as I couldn’t run. I could then start to walk/run for the next five weeks, leading up to the marathon. It was painful, physically and emotionally. Each walk/run led to soreness and hobbling. It was frustrating as I wanted to just run, something that I love. I had moments of tears and a lot of doubt. Throughout, my aim was simply to be in Boston as a qualifier, and to walk/run alongside my husband who was running for charity to get his fifth star. He was also injured and so it led to lots of time in gyms, plans for managing the pain, dark humour and wonderful support from those around us.

I managed to run an 18 mile run two weeks prior to the marathon, with some pain and hobbling afterwards, and so didn’t know how my knee would hold up in the run itself. My aim prior to the injury was to run a Boston qualifying time in Boston but that aim had disappeared somewhere down a ski run in Italy! Now, my aim was to run as much as I could and to enjoy the experience.

I had a wonderful message from my coach before I ran that said well done for everything I’d done to be on the start line and that I was ‘a fighter’ and to enjoy the day. It made me smile and sent me on my way to Boston.

Arriving at the ExPo was an emotional experience – we had both made it to the start line! It was the 50th anniversary of the first official women’s race in Boston and there were pictures and articles about this everywhere. In 1972, there had been a field of 8 women, who followed two women who in the previous three years had run the race but unofficially – entering the race from the bushes at the start and running with a bib but without giving their full name so that the officials didn’t realise they were a woman! It reminded me of how much equality means in all walks (or runs!) of life and I was so excited about running in their foot steps.

I stood on the start line on a glorious morning – sunny and cold. I felt very emotional. It had taken a huge amount of work to be here and I was determined to enjoy it. I had no expectations of a time and I wanted to run for as long as I could, try and enjoy the hills (there are a lot of hills!) and take in all of the experience.

The start is fantastic, with all of the local residents cheering you on. It is also on a long downhill and so I set off far too quickly! The first ten miles flew by – the crowds were amazing, the weather perfect for running and the symbol of the marathon, a unicorn, was everywhere. The Boston route is simple – you are bussed out 26.2 miles from Boston and you run back in a straight line! This means that the route goes through lots of villages and the residents come out in force to cheer you all on. It is incredibly inspiring.

I always have a part of a marathon where I struggle mentally and yesterday was between miles 14 and 16. The route is very hilly. It is known for the two big hills, at miles 16 and 20 (the final one being known as ‘Heartbreak Hill’!) but it is actually relentlessly up and down for the whole way. I had planned lots of hill training but with my injury, this hadn’t happened. By mile 14, my legs were tired and I started to slow. I was determined to run up the hills (I hadn’t managed this in my first Boston marathon) and I did this so I was delighted. I was slow (at times, I questioned whether I would actually be quicker walking!) but when I got to the top of Heartbreak Hill, I had a huge smile on my face!

The final 5 miles were wonderful. The crowds were amazing and the pull of the finish line was strong! It is hard to think clearly at that stage in a marathon but I was now confident that I would break 4 hours, which I was so happy about. At mile 23, I managed to calculate that if I ran well, I may be able to get a Boston Qualifying time, which had been beyond my wildest dreams on the start line. It spurred me on and I ran up the final hill and turned left onto the finishing straight on Boylston Street with a huge smile on my face. It is the best finish in all of the marathons I have done, crowds ten deep, the long finish straight in front of you and the noise is unbelievable. I ran my heart out, tears streaming down my face and crossed the finish line in 3.49, a minute inside the qualifying time. I couldn’t believe it! I felt so privileged to be here, doing something I loved.

I picked up my bag and checked my phone to see that my husband was also doing incredibly well and eventually finished in under four hours which, given that he hadn’t run until ten days prior to the marathon, was amazing and I was so proud of him.

I hobbled back to our meeting point and was delighted to see our friend who had also run and got his six star medal – it was a special moment.

This marathon has taught me many things. When I started my marathon journey 11 years ago, I ran 5.45 and yesterday I was almost two hours quicker. You can achieve anything if you work hard, believe and surround yourself with people that support you and lift you higher. I am so very grateful for everyone who has supported me over the years – it is their voices that I hear at the difficult moments in a marathon and I can’t express how much it means to me.

At the ExPo there was a big sign that had a wonderful quote from Nelson Mandela: ‘It always seems impossible until it’s done’. That is so true and sums up my Boston marathon 2022 experience.

Learning lessons from not achieving your dreams

Each year I like to set myself some challenges – in terms of what I do at work, how I behave and in my adventures. For the last two years, I started the year with two aims for my adventures. I wanted to run the Tokyo marathon and claim my six star medal, for those runners privileged enough to have run the six major marathons of the world (Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London, New York and Tokyo). I also wanted to stand on the summit of the remote and stunning mountain Peak Lenin, 7,000m above our beautiful world.

Both of these adventures had been delayed from 2020 due to the pandemic and I was excited about trying for them again in 2021. As we start 2022, I didn’t achieve either of these aims and probably won’t until 2023. Despite this, I’ve learnt a huge amount this year, both from my adventures and as a result of the pandemic, and start 2022 full of hope and expectation. So what have I learnt from not achieving my dreams this year?

Cherish the moments that make you smile

It is easy to focus on the major events in our lives and miss the special moments that happen every day. The small gestures by those who care for us, the smiles between friends sharing experiences and the simple things that build memories that last a lifetime.

My husband and I boarded a flight to Gibraltar in June to finally spend time with our brother, sister in law, niece and nephew after 20 months apart. Despite the wonder of technology allowing us to speak and see them each week, it hadn’t been the same as being together in person and we were desperate to be with them. At the time, we could go to Gibraltar from the UK and they could go there from Spain and the thought of being with them caused tears to well up in my eyes even getting on the flight! The moment when our niece and nephew ran up to us and gave us huge hugs will be one that I remember forever. As I move forward, it is those types of moments that I will cherish the most and I want to make sure that I recognise that at the time and wring every piece of joy from them.

When something looks too difficult, look again, always look again

I challenged myself this year to take on a new running training programme. When I first considered it, I didn’t think it would be possible for me. It involved 6 days a week of running (alongside my mountain training and the career that I love) and at paces that I wasn’t sure I would ever be able to do. I wanted to run a sub four hour marathon but didn’t think that would be possible for me. I have always loved the quote above and I thought I would use the extra flexibility I had due to the lockdown to look again at what I could achieve. It was incredibly hard work but on Easter Saturday when I ran the fastest marathon time I’d ever achieved, or had thought would ever be possible for me, it was so worthwhile. I crossed the finish line at the beautiful Dorney Lake in a time of 3.37, crying tears of joy and surprise.

It taught me that we should always look again – we are all capable of so much more than we can ever imagine. I believe that so many people have been tested during the last two years and the capabilities we have shown should give us the confidence to look again at the things that we’ve always wanted to achieve but felt were too difficult. If we can manage through the challenges of the last two years, what else can we do?

The biggest adventure you can take is to live the life of your dreams

Whilst my marathon adventures this year, at Dorney Lake and in Berlin where I felt so privileged to be part of the first major marathon since the pandemic started, have been amazing experiences and have allowed me to progress with my running journey, my mountain expedition was a very different story.

It was hard to comprehend, given that I’d spent the previous 15 months barely leaving the confines of the M25, that I was contemplating travelling to Kyrgyzstan, a country so remote that many, myself included prior to my planning, couldn’t identify it on a map. I challenged myself as to whether I should be even going given all that was still happening with the pandemic but I felt that life is too short not to live the life of our dreams and so I travelled with nerves, hope and determination to do my best.

The expedition was brutal, beautiful, heartbreaking and life affirming. The first two weeks were wonderful and taught me a huge amount – I learnt so much about how to live on a remote mountain expedition, the technicalities of different terrains and about how I cope without my wonderful family and friends around me. I saw amazing views, I met interesting people, I laughed, I cried and I was incredibly happy despite the challenging conditions.

As many of you know, the expedition came to an abrupt end when a member of our team sadly lost their life. That tragedy stays with me, coming into my thoughts at different points and without warning. I think it will always be with me. I feel horror at their last moments spent all alone. I feel so sad for their family who have lost someone wonderful. I question why I want to go back to the high mountains. I worry that I am being selfish and reckless. But the indescribable beauty, the feeling of pushing myself to the limit of what I can achieve and the stunning sunrises and sunsets bouncing off of the deep snow will also be with me forever. And I hope that I can take this indescribably sad experience and use it to help me be a better person.

Kindness costs nothing but means everything

The kindness of my family, friends and colleagues when I returned from my mountain expedition was so generous. I was emotionally fragile and I’m not someone who is always able to easily put into words how I am feeling. The calls to check how I was, the invites to catch up and the hugs I received made me feel so cared for.

I’ve seen this level of care so much during the pandemic. I think it is important that, as individuals, as organisations and as a society, we’re becoming more open about what is going on in our lives, the challenges we are facing and the support that we need, enabling others to help us when we need it. I really hope that this remains as we come out of the pandemic. The care and thoughtfulness means everything and allows all of us to be at our best.

Go the extra mile. It is where the magic happens

It would often be easier not to go the extra mile – to do enough but not more than that. During the pandemic, our day to day lives have sometimes felt like the extra mile. And that extra mile has seemed to extend and extend. We haven’t had a choice as to whether we go the extra mile or not. We’ve had to. And we’ve achieved so much by doing so. I believe that when we go that extra mile, the magic happens. We push ourselves to be better than we could have believed. For me, I’ve seen that magic in the lives of my wonderful colleagues who have coped so well with the challenges we’ve all faced. They’ve inspired me every single day.

For me, planning and training for my adventures has helped hugely to cope with the last two years. Despite that, the extra mile is never easy. On the late night runs on the treadmill in my garage, on the days when I walked for miles around local parks with my huge rucksack filled with weights, I often questioned my sanity but it is this effort that allows me to do what I love doing. It is what makes me smile and it is what fills my heart with joy.

That extra mile, both actual and metaphorical, may be challenging but it gets you to where you want to be.

The best is yet to be

The pandemic, and the events of my mountain expedition, have reinforced for me that life is far too short. We only live it once and we must make the most of it. We must do what makes our heart soar. I’m planning mountain trips this year – to the stunning Scottish highlands and the beautiful alps – to continue to build my skills and confidence levels before a longer expedition in 2023. I am also incredibly excited to be running the Boston marathon as a qualifier and am contemplating another ultra marathon in the summer. What I am most excited about, though, is spending time with my wonderful husband, family, friends and colleagues. We haven’t been able to spend enough time together over the last two years and I want to make sure that we can do more of that this year.

So I’ve learnt a lot this year, despite not (yet) achieving my dreams. I am looking forward to all that lies ahead for us as we come out of the pandemic and learn to live in a new world. We’ve all been tested and have been so much more resilient than perhaps we had thought we could ever be. We’ve all learnt what matters to us. The best is definitely yet to be and I, for one, am so looking forward to it. Happy new year everyone.

Chasing six stars and 7,000m: via several laps of a lake and a sub four hour marathon

It always seems impossible until it’s done

I have always loved this quote and it has encouraged me many times when I’ve considered things that seemed beyond my capabilities. Over the last year, it has helped me to cope with the strange world we have lived in. If we had known last Easter that, a year later, we’d still be unable to live our lives normally, I think many of us would have said that it would be impossible to cope with that reality. But, we are coping – we’re making the best of what we have, we’re enjoying special moments and we’re dreaming of our futures.

As I’ve written about previously, I started 2020 with a dream of completing the Tokyo marathon and getting my six star medal for those runners privileged to have completed the six major marathons of the world and then heading to Kyrgyzstan to climb to the summit of Peak Lenin at 7,100m, all to raise money for the wonderful Cancer Research.

That dream clearly didn’t happen in 2020 but I spent the spring and summer training hard, running and walking with my rucksack full of weights, so that I would be ready for those special events in the future. As well as keeping me fit, this helped me mentally to keep focused on something that I could control, to cope with feelings of helplessness brought on by the challenges of the pandemic. By the autumn, I didn’t know whether my six star run and my mountain climb would go ahead in 2021. Together with my wonderful running friends, therefore, I decided to enter a socially distanced marathon on Easter Saturday 2021. It was a goal and I love having a goal to aim for! And what a wonderful event it was!

For those of you that are runners, you may know what is meant by a ‘BQ’ – a Boston marathon qualifying time. To enter the inspirational Boston marathon, 95% of runners have to meet tough qualifying times for their age groups. When I ran the Boston marathon in 2019, I couldn’t get in via the qualifying standard and so I was incredibly lucky to be one of the 1,500 runners who got their place through a charity. In the blog that I wrote about that day, I talked about the fact that this was my one shot at a Boston marathon medal as I would never be fast enough to get a qualifying time. Yesterday I achieved my BQ and I haven’t stopped smiling since.

I’d always wondered what I might be able to achieve in my running if I could invest some more time into my training but with a busy work life, with a job that I love, this wasn’t possible without sacrificing even more time away from my wonderful husband, which I wasn’t prepared to do. Having signed up for the marathon, I decided that, as I wasn’t commuting, I should invest that time in running and see what was possible for me to achieve. My wonderful running friends encouraged and inspired me and shared with me a training schedule that they had used previously to achieve fantastic improvements. I took at look at the first week of the schedule and almost discarded it. It required me to run six days a week, with speed runs, hill running, long distance runs and lots and lots of miles in training. The first week, and then every week of the schedule it turned out, required at least 40 miles of runs. In my usual training programme, I would run only one week of that distance and that was my ‘long run’ week before I would start tapering for the marathon itself.

I therefore didn’t allow myself to look beyond each week so that I didn’t get too daunted. Each day, I would look at the run planned and think ‘this is the run that I won’t be able to do’ but surprisingly my legs held up and slowly but surely I progressed through the runs.

I also decided to try and lose a little bit of weight, to help me in my running and to help me get up the mountain in due course. I had never dieted before and wanted to do it safely and so I worked with my personal trainer to reduce my calorie intake a little whilst making sure I was sufficiently energised for my training.

The combination of the training schedule and losing weight meant that my pace was slowly improving. At the start, my best marathon pace was about 9 min 25 sec per mile and if I ran miles under 9 min mile pace, that was a quick run for me. Over the weeks of the training programme, my pace gradually sped up, with me regularly running under 9 min mile pace, then 8 min 30 sec mile pace and then towards 8 min mile pace. I logged all of my times but didn’t really believe that it would be sustainable over the longer distances.

When I started my marathon journey, I completed my first marathon in 5 hrs and 44 mins and a 5 hour time was a target for several years. I still remember the elation I felt when I broke that barrier! When I got stronger through having a personal trainer I broke 4 hrs 30 mins but never thought I would be able to break 4 hours. It seemed a barrier that was beyond me. But my training was showing that this could well be a possibility for me, which I found incredible.

With the lockdown rules changing, it was only a week before the event that it was confirmed that the marathon would take place. Never did I think I would cry with happiness at the thought of running 26.2 miles but I did! It felt like, for me, the start of some normality returning.

I stood at the start, with nerves and a huge amount of excitement. Training had gone well and I knew I was the best prepared I’d ever been for a marathon. I also knew, however, that anything can happen over 26.2 miles. I was so happy to be back doing something that I loved and I wanted to enjoy the day. I knew that, if everything went well, I should achieve a PB time and that I may be able to break the sub 4 hour barrier which, to me, would be an amazing accomplishment. My friends and my husband were talking about me being able to get a Boston marathon qualifying time, which for my age group was 3 hrs 50 mins, but I didn’t really believe I could do that.

The route was four laps up and down both sides of the beautiful Eton Dorney Olympic rowing venue. Being a flat area and a lake, the wind was incredibly strong and, whilst it was technically laps, because of the up and down format, and the fact that the wind blew across the lake, there was only about a half mile stretch where the wind was behind us! It made for tough conditions! It was fantastic, though, to see runners several times and I could see my two running friends regularly as we crossed each other and so I knew how they were getting on, which was incredibly inspiring throughout the event, particularly as no spectating was allowed and so my husband wasn’t able to cheer me on.

The first two laps went well and I went through the half way point at 1 hr 47 which was very quick for me. Previously, I had always slowed a lot in the second half and I assumed the same would happen and so I didn’t allow myself to think about the finish time but just to focus on putting one foot in front of the other.

The third lap also went well and I had maintained my pace for much of the time. I looked at my watch as I started the fourth lap and thought that a sub 4 hour run might be possible. My legs were, though, starting to ache and I knew the final lap would be very hard. I had read a quote once which said that the last five miles of a marathon are where you need to be courageous and that is what I focused on as I went past the 21 mile marker. I was slowing a little but I pushed on and was given a huge boost as I went through the 23 mile marker and saw one of my friends having finished and so knew he had got a fantastic PB. I then saw my other friend coming back on the finishing straight, knowing that she too was on her way to an amazing PB. We gave each other thumbs up and I felt inspired for my final two miles.

I looked at my watch at the 25 mile marker and saw that I had 35 mins to go to achieve my aim of a sub 4 hour marathon and 25 mins to go to achieve a Boston marathon qualifying time. I started smiling and I don’t think the smile left my face for several hours! I still didn’t allow myself to believe I would achieve it, though, as a mile is still a long way to go in a marathon and an injury can occur at any time. When I got to 100m to go though and saw, and heard, my friends screaming my name, I knew I would achieve it and my legs managed to speed up to take me over the finish line. I stopped my watch at 3 hrs and 37 mins. I couldn’t believe it as I picked up my medal. My friends came over and I showed them my watch and we celebrated, laughed, cried and screamed ‘Boston qualifying’! I think everyone must have thought we were mad!

I never thought I would be capable of this type of time on a marathon. I appreciate it is only a marathon and, in the scheme of things, particularly this year, it is unimportant but, as usual, I found the event so inspiring. I always think that you see the best of the human spirit at a marathon – people pushing themselves beyond what they thought they were capable of, people supporting those around them, even those they don’t know, by words and smiles of encouragement, people giving up their time to allow events to happen and to help people achieve their dreams. This year we have seen the best of the human spirit every single day, doing exactly these things, and it has been so uplifting.

I therefore left the marathon smiling and inspired, not just delighted to have been able to achieve something that for me was very special but that it was the start of normality returning. I was left reflecting on the following:

If you love something, do it with all of your heart

Surround yourself with people who lift you higher

And, it always seems impossible until it’s done.

And now, onwards to the mountains and Tokyo, whenever they may be.

Advice to my 20 year old self

For an upcoming International Women’s Day event at work, I am privileged to have been asked to be part of a panel discussing advice that we would give to our 20 year old selves. This has got me thinking.

At 20, I was studying hard at University, engaged to my first husband, looking nervously, but with excitement, to my life ahead. I often felt out of place – I was a girl from a council estate and a local state school studying at Cambridge University. I was a woman studying maths, where only 15% of my fellow maths students were women. I was shy. I knew that I had been very lucky to have been born with intelligence and drive, and had been encouraged by my parents to follow my dreams and be the best I could be. I didn’t want to waste my skills but I also didn’t have a lot of confidence that I could do anything with them. I often felt like an imposter.

And what I am like now? I feel incredibly blessed with my life. I am happily married to my best friend, I have a job I love, I am surrounded by family and friends who support me and I make time to follow my passions. I am, however, still pushing myself hard. I always feel that there is more I can be doing. I still feel like an imposter at times. I still have times when my confidence disappears. I still doubt myself.

I wanted to know how 20 year olds today may be thinking about the future and so I asked my wonderful goddaughter for her views. 

Some of her comments mirrored how I felt at 20. She talked about pressure amongst her peers to be successful, to keep on top of work, exercise and a busy social life. She talked about some practical worries – finding a job, buying a house, paying back student loans. She also talked about the excitement of seeing what her and her friends could go on to achieve. She liked being surrounded by such driven people (in particular, women) with so many different interests, passions and aspirations. These comments all resonated with me.

But some of her comments showed how the world has changed. She talked about global problems such as climate change and inequality and the fear of not doing enough to tackle these. She felt that the younger generation were under pressure to do something and she wanted to but knowing how to do so was a challenge. The pressure of living in the social media age was high. She was excited by the opportunity to connect with people across the world for work and other opportunities. Finally she wanted to make a change in the world through her career choice. 

I read her comments and was so proud of her. Our future is in good hands if we have inspiring 20 year olds who want to drive change to resolve the biggest issues we face as a society. I wanted to encourage her and give her the confidence that she can achieve all that she wants to. So what would my advice be to my amazing goddaughter, her friends and to my 20 year old self? 

Surround yourself with people who lift you higher

Your family and friends are so important in your life. I couldn’t live my wonderful life without my amazingly supportive husband and family. My two closest friends from when I was 20 are still my two closest friends – one of whom is my goddaughter’s father. They know me, they care for me, they are there when I need them and they are part of my family. You will go through tough times, everyone does. You will change as you grow up. Your thoughts will evolve. But your true friends and your family will be with you. They will encourage you, they will make you smile, they will hold you when you cry and they will be there to celebrate your successes. People will come and go in your life and you’ll have some amazing times with them but your family and closest friends will stay. Invest time in them, tell them how much they mean to you and never take them for granted. They are part of you and will help you be the best version of yourself. 

Our lives begin to end the day we are silent about things that matter

This is as true about personal things – sharing how we are feeling – as it is about societal issues. We must all stand up for what we believe in. I have had moments where I haven’t said how I am feeling, when I haven’t called out poor behaviours or I haven’t been clear in what I believe in. And I can remember each one because I know I should have acted differently. Your integrity, your purpose and your values are fundamentally who you are and we all have a duty to speak up. We can all make a difference by doing so. 

Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations

Take the path that you believe is right, even if it is hard. It wasn’t easy to leave my first husband and get divorced when I was still in my 20s but I knew it was the right thing to do. It hasn’t been easy to be a female in a male dominated working world (although, thankfully, this is improving all of the time). It hasn’t been easy to run marathons and climb mountains but it has brought me moments of pure joy and memories that will last me a lifetime. You can have a nice life by following the easy road but to have an amazing life, to achieve what you really are capable of, I believe you need to continually push yourself, you need to go where you thought you were incapable of going. And goodness is it worth it. 

Be fearless in pursuit of what sets your soul on fire

We all have things that we love. It may be our family, it may be a faith, it may be a hobby, it may be all of them. Your work should be fulfilling (and if it isn’t, you should change it) but it is only your work. Don’t let it be your whole life. I found my passions ten years ago when I started running and mountain trekking. I would never have thought these would be my passions (I was the girl who got her lowest report score in PE!) but they have brought me joy, have allowed me to raise lots of money for charity and have given me friendships that are incredibly special to me. Your passions give you a different perspective, they refresh you, they challenge you and they make you smile. Find yours and follow them. 

You are enough, a thousand times enough

Whilst you will want to push yourself, and I believe you should, always believe that you are enough. You are unique, you are loved and you are beautiful. Be gentle with yourself. Allow yourself the time that you need to enjoy your life. Take the breaks that you need. Take care of yourself. You are too special not to. 

On this International Women’s Day, thank you to my amazing family and friends who have supported me over the last 26 years (where have they gone?!) to develop from the hopeful 20 year old into the happy, fulfilled woman of today. And thank you to my wonderful goddaughter and amazing seven year old niece who inspire me for the future.

Chasing six stars and 7,000m: through the uncertainty

I usually write a blog at the end of each year, pulling together the lessons I have learnt from my adventures. This year, the blog has been much harder to write. The adventures I had hoped to be writing about – my dream of getting my six star medal having completed my final major marathon of the world in Tokyo in March 2020 and then climbing Peak Lenin in Kyrgyzstan to reach over 7,000m in August 2020 – haven’t happened this year. That isn’t the reason the blog has been hard to write though. I have wondered whether it is appropriate for me to write such a blog in the current situation.

Am I being selfish, or indeed stupid, to be still chasing six stars and 7000m when the world is facing the challenges that it is, when people are suffering and when the end is not yet in sight? I am sure there will be some people who think I am. For me, though, this year has taught me many things and, among them, is that I need to dream, to hope, to be inspired and I need to have a purpose. And so I have written this blog for those who need the same things as me and to thank everyone who has supported me over the last twelve months.

I know I am one of the very lucky ones. My family and friends are all safe and well. I have a job that I love and that fulfils me. I have a house, garden and a wonderful husband who has been the perfect lock down companion. Even with all of that, the year isn’t one I would want to repeat. We haven’t been able to see our family in Spain, including our amazing niece and nephew, for over a year and I miss them. It has been hard to see family and friends worried and unable to enjoy their lives. It has been sad not to see loved ones and enjoy special moments together. And it has been hard to try and inspire a team of new work colleagues remotely.

It has, however, also been a year in which I’ve learnt a huge amount about myself. I think that every one of us has a marathon to run or a mountain to climb. Sometimes, that is an actual fact but, more often, it can be getting though a challenging situation with a smile still on our face and, sometimes, it can be simply getting through a day. The resilience that everyone has shown this year has been incredibly inspiring to me and I know that the lessons that I have learnt this year will help me cope with the challenges that will face me in my adventures in the future. So, what have I learnt?

Always bring your own sunshine

Positivity has always been important to me. In my work, I think it is critical for me to lead my team with positivity. This year has taught me the importance of that in my personal life too. There have been days when that has been hard. The day that the Tokyo marathon was cancelled, the day I should have been heading to the beautiful mountains for my climb and the day our parents, understandably, decided to stay at home for Christmas were ones when I shed some tears. But I’ve also found joy in the small things. An unexpected call with a friend, a joke shared, a kind word from a stranger when I’m out walking have all brought a smile to my face. Choosing to be positive has made a huge difference to me. This will definitely help me when I’m at mile 20 in Tokyo wondering, yet again, why I am choosing to put my body through another marathon or when I’m struggling to breath in sub zero temperatures in the mountains!

If you get a chance, take it. If it changes your life, let it.

I love this quote and always have. This year, it has been even more true. I’ve always believed, and still do, that I must make the most of my life. I’ve always felt that time is running out and there is so much more that I want to achieve. In the summer, when I was due to be in Kyrgyzstan for my climb and my husband was due to be in Spain with our family, we couldn’t do either and it would have been easy to stay at home and work but we took the chance to go abroad to the mountains in France. It felt like such an adventure to leave the confines of our house and the M25! And, goodness me, was it worth it. Hiking up to the top of a mountain and sitting, hand in hand, looking out over the beautiful world below, was a special moment.

In August, I had the opportunity to go to the mountains again with a wonderful mountain guide. We changed location three times, to make sure we were complying with all the local rules, and I ended up cutting the trip short to get back to the UK prior to quarantine rule changes but it was an amazing three days, including my first 4,000m summit in the Alps. Pushing myself and taking chances (safely) has meant that I have been able to achieve so much more than I would ever have thought I was capable of and I hope will allow me to continue to do so.

Good friends are like stars. You don’t always see them but you know they are there

Whilst I haven’t been able to see people as much as I would normally do, video calls, quizzes, cards and whatsapp groups have all helped me hugely to feel connected to my loved ones and I feel even closer to my family and friends coming out of this year despite having seen them less. I feel incredibly blessed to be surrounded by people who care for me, who support me and who inspire me. When I head off on my adventures, I do so knowing that I have this support but also knowing that I must come back safely and wanting to make everyone proud. That feeling has only been strengthened this year and I know will help me feel protected and supported even when I’m away from people.

She wasn’t bored, just restless between adventures

This is probably the most appropriate quote for me this year, sent to me by one of my good friends. I have been restless. I can’t wait to be back living my adventures. I have been determined though to make the most of the time I have had. So, how have I kept a focus, working towards my dream without knowing exactly when it will happen?

Well, those that know me, know I like a plan, so I have a training plan! I’ve walked miles with my large rucksack, filled with ever increasing weights. I’ve run miles, adopting a new marathon training programme which I thought was insane when I received it (running approx 40 miles a week) but which I’m loving. And I’ve continued with my weight training and taken up yoga. And I feel blessed to have achieved a lot. I’m finishing the year having run personal best times for 5km, 10km, half marathon and marathon distances this year. I can now carry 30kg in my rucksack. And I can almost do the basic yoga programme without falling over! I’ve also done a lot of preparation for my adventures, mainly shopping! I now have a very unattractive pair of down trousers which I hope will keep me warm at 7,000m, I have some very fast trainers which I hope will help me across the finish line in Tokyo and I even have an ultra light cutlery set for my camping!

The Tokyo marathon has been rearranged for October 2021 and, before that, my climb has been rearranged for July 2021. I am hopeful that both will go ahead. I have also signed up for a socially distanced marathon with my friends in April 2021.

I look ahead with hope and with the certainty that, at some point soon, I will get to see my family again. I will get to hug my friends. I will get to enjoy meeting my new work colleagues in person. I will get to cross the marathon finish line in Tokyo. I will stand at the top of a stunningly beautiful mountain, 7,000m above a world that has been through so much but has come out stronger than ever. And what amazing times they will be. Roll on 2021!

Ten years of running: Learning life lessons through the challenge, pain, passion, smiles and tears

Ten years ago this weekend, I ran my first half marathon. If you had told me that ten years later, I would be a committed runner, having run 11 marathons and 2 ultra marathons, I would have told you that you were mad! The journey has been rewarding, brutal, exhausting, inspiring and emotional. Running has become a big part of my life and has taught me many life lessons. I feel incredibly privileged that I have been able to run in some amazing places, with incredible people and that my body and mind been strong enough to support me to do what I wanted to do. So, what is the journey that I’ve been on and what have I learnt? 

Race to the Beat half marathon: September 2010 (2hr 20mins, PB)

‘When you venture into the unknown, you find many treasures’

I had started running six months earlier when I was given a new role at work. It was a role that I knew I would love but one that I also knew I could spend all of my time on. I wanted to do something that would help keep me fit and give me a focus outside of work. I didn’t want to join a class or group sport as I felt that might add stress if I had to be somewhere at a certain time each week. So I decided to take up running. I had never run more than 10km before and had only done that once, in a charity run, and had found it very challenging. I knew I would have to have a goal and so I entered the ‘Run to the Beat’ half marathon in London. 

It felt like an immense challenge and the training was very hard. The day itself was bitterly cold and there were tube problems, delaying the start time. Being a novice runner, I didn’t know to come in old warm clothes to discard at the start and so was freezing waiting for an extra hour at the start! Once I got started, I loved the run and the sense of achievement. I enjoyed being with so many people pushing themselves to achieve a goal. Immediately afterwards, I applied for a charity place for the London marathon and was delighted to get one. ‘How much harder can a marathon be?’ I very naively thought. I was about to find out!

London marathon: April 2011 (5 hr 44 mins, PB)

‘If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you’ 

My first marathon! I have never felt so nervous waiting on the start line. I was about to push my body a long way further than I had ever been before. My longest training run had been 20 miles and I had no idea how I would hold up in the last 6.2 miles. To say it was hard is an understatement. I remember falling into my parents arms at mile 12 and telling them it was so much harder than any of the training runs. I did the same with my best friends and godchildren at mile 18 and my husband towards the end of the race. I finished but was an emotional mess. It had taken me 5 hrs and 44 mins, far longer than I had anticipated. 

I didn’t know until a month later that I was incredibly anaemic at the time and, when I found out, the doctor told me he had no idea how I was walking around, let alone running! I needed to have a blood transfusion and recovered over that summer. 

Luckily for me I had already entered the New York marathon for later that year. If I hadn’t, I don’t think I would ever have run again!

New York marathon: November 2011 (5 hr 7 mins, PB)

‘If you dream it, you can achieve it’

An utterly amazing day! My first experience of an overseas marathon and the first one that I ran with friends (not running along together, but together in spirit). The bands playing ‘New York, New York’ as I crossed the start line, the incredible crowds with their banners, the seemingly ever uphill bridge at mile 15 and the finish in Central Park made this an inspirational experience. I fell into my husband’s arms in the final mile with a huge smile on my face and he said ‘this isn’t going to be your last marathon is it?’ and I said ‘No!’. Hobbling into a hotel bar afterwards to meet my friends, wrapped in my tin foil poncho, proudly wearing my medal and being cheered in by the entire bar is one of my life memories.

I was ready to continue my marathon journey!

Paris marathon: April 2014 (5 hrs 12 mins)

‘The voice in your head saying you can’t do this is a liar’

There was a long gap between my second and third marathons. In 2012, my husband and I climbed Kilimanjaro (starting my love of climbing) and in 2013, I had an injury when skiing which meant I couldn’t run my planned marathon in Paris. I arrived in Paris the following year having had another bad injury and so was underprepared. I collected my number from the Expo and was surprised to have been given a head torch in my runners pack. Little did I know that part of the run would be underground through tunnels near to the Seine and it was very dark! 

I have to say that I didn’t enjoy the Paris marathon. The crowds weren’t anything like in New York or London, there were very few toilets on the route (leading me to ‘doing a Paula’ at mile 8!) and the finish line wasn’t very inspiring. I was delighted to have finished having had an injury and I had raised a lot of money for charity. But when I rang my husband at the end I said ‘That’s it, I’m done. I’m delighted to have run three but no more.’

London marathon: April 2015 (4 hrs 49 mins, PB)

‘You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take’

In late November of that year, I got a text from a friend which said that he had managed to get me a charity place in the London marathon if I wanted one. Oddly, given my Paris experience, it got me excited again and so I started training!

I arrived at the start line injury free, on a cold day and I hoped that I could break the five hour barrier, which was for me a personal goal. Whilst I had some tough parts of that marathon, as in every marathon, I fell in love with marathon running that day. I saw my husband at mile 24 and gave him a hug and a kiss and knew that, unless I got an injury, I would break five hours. And I did. I crossed the finish line in tears of joy, exhaustion and excitement. Being with so many people in my home marathon, all striving to be the best they could be on that day was an inspirational experience for me. There was never any doubt that I’d run another one. 

Berlin marathon: September 2016 (4 hrs 59 mins)

‘If you can dream it, you can achieve it’

I love the Berlin marathon! The start is amazing, with a countdown for even the slow runners like me, the route is flat and the end, running under the Brandenburg Gate, is stunning. It was a very hot day the first time that I ran it and I struggled in the heat. I was determined to be under five hours again, which meant sprinting the final mile (or what felt like sprint!). My watch gave out with half a mile to go and so my first call was to my husband to ask if I had broken five hours and I had! 

It was also my first run with what was to become my running family. Two of us running that marathon and two in support, but that was soon to change as the two in support decided to join us in running!

Chicago marathon: October 2017 (4 hrs 14 mins, PB)

‘I can and I will. Just watch me’

After the Berlin marathon, I got a personal trainer to try and help me get stronger, to see if I could maintain my pace for longer in the marathons. I arrived in Chicago after a great training period, with lots of PBs as the weight training paid off. But the weather had other ideas – it was the hottest marathon I’ve run with temperatures of up to 27 degrees. 

This was another marathon that I loved, despite the heat. The American crowds again were amazing, I was running with my husband and friends, and I felt strong. Despite the weather, I ran a huge PB on that day, and a time that I wouldn’t have imagined even a few months earlier. I crossed the finish line and was given a bag of ice to cool myself down, as were all runners. Meeting my husband and hugging with bags of ice on our heads is another of my life memories. 

I was now on my way to achieving the six star medal for those runners who had run the six major marathons of the world. I only had two to go – Boston and Tokyo – but both are incredibly hard to get a place for and so that was still a dream but not something that I thought was likely.

London marathon: April 2018 (4 hrs 53 mins)

‘One day I won’t be able to do this. Today is not that day’

My running family all signed up to the London marathon to allow us to all run it together. It was the toughest marathon I’ve ever done. It was the hottest London marathon on record and I have never before doubted I would finish a marathon but on this one, I did. The heat was unbearable and I could only take one mile at a time, take water on board and then carry on. I’ve never been so glad to see the finish line! I felt delighted to finish it, privileged to be part of it and proud of myself for not giving up.

Race to the King ultra marathon: June 2018 

‘Life begins at the end of your comfort zone’

Late in 2017, having dinner with a couple of friends, we decided to run an ultra marathon. One of us had done this before but two of us hadn’t. I thought that someone would drop out or get injured, leaving the other two to be able to gracefully decline to take part but it didn’t happen! So I ventured into the world of ultra running, which I loved! It was a different style of running – it was actually running and walking, it was much slower and it required you to get your fuelling and hydration right and to have a strong mental approach. The first training run which was longer than a marathon was a real achievement but I arrived at the start line incredibly nervous. I was running 85km! 

It was brutal, rewarding, utterly exhausting, fun and ultimately, incredibly inspirational. Running into Winchester Cathedral close with my friend hand in hand in pitch blackness to be cheered in by our family and friends was amazing. I was an ultramarathoner! 

Berlin marathon: September 2018 (4 hrs 19 mins)

‘No human is limited’

I returned to Berlin in 2018 to build towards the six star medal for all of my running family. I was going to Nepal three weeks later to climb Mera Peak and so I knew I had to come back injury free! Again, I had a wonderful time and got close to my PB. It was the race in which Eliud Kipchoge set his world record and to be part of that race, despite taking over double the amount of time that he had (!), was a huge privilege. 

Boston marathon: April 2019 (4 hrs 40 mins) 

‘Don’t give up your shot’

I am not quick enough to achieve the Boston marathon qualifying time and so was very grateful to get a charity place to be able to run. Boston is known as a tough marathon, due to the hills towards the end of the race, and it didn’t disappoint! The weather was also tough – biblical rain at the start, then heating up to create a sauna like atmosphere and then torrential rain for the last four miles! Despite that, I loved this marathon. The crowds were, once again, incredible, unicorns (the symbol of the marathon) were everywhere making it feel like a carnival and the finish line is the best I have seen. It is a long stretch for about a quarter of a mile with the flags of all of the runners on each side of the road and crowds ten deep. As usual, I was in tears! And I was one marathon away from the six star medal! 

Race to the Stones ultra marathon: July 2019

‘The body achieves what the mind believes’

My second ultra marathon – 100km! I was better prepared for this but getting your body and, importantly, your mind to cover this distance is incredibly hard. My friend said at the start ‘you can’t outrun this, you need to outthink it’ and that was so true. There were moments of pure joy – running through a corn field with my husband who had joined me for a part of the race – but moments when I absolutely questioned my sanity! The finish was amazing and I felt an immense sense of pride and happiness.

Amsterdam marathon: October 2019 (4 hrs 40 mins)

‘Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must. Just never give up’

A great marathon with friends, including one of my friends who I had met exactly a year previously climbing Mera Peak. I was ill with a very bad cold and probably shouldn’t have run but I wasn’t prepared to give in, so I ran and goodness was it worth it! Finishing by running under Olympic Rings, into an Olympic stadium filled with crowds cheering you on was a very special moment. My tenth marathon! 

Oulton Park marathon: March 2020 (4 hrs 13 mins, PB)

‘Your speed doesn’t matter. Forward is forward’ 

This was meant to be Tokyo, running for my six star medal, but as with so many things this year, the plans changed when the Tokyo marathon was cancelled due to Covid. I was determined to run a marathon and felt incredibly lucky that we were able to run in the final marathon to be run in the UK prior to the lockdown. It required my husband and I to run ten laps around a car race track in Oulton Park! Not Tokyo, not a six star run, but very special. Wonderful stewards, hills, wind stronger than anything I had run in previously, two PBs, lots of smiles, some tears and the last piece of normality before all of our worlds changed. 

And so what next? As soon as we can run the Tokyo marathon, we’ll be there! And in the meantime, I keep running, challenging myself with new goals and enjoying being part of such a wonderfully supportive running family. And what have I learnt? All of the quotes above but, more than anything, the fact that we can all push ourselves to achieve so much more than we would ever think is possible with purpose, dedication, support and love. 

Thank you to everyone who has been part of this journey with me, in particular Matt, Steve, Jemima, Leo, Jonathon, Helen, Ian, Dan and all of my wonderful family, friends and colleagues who are so supportive, cope with my injuries and hobbling and always ask how I am doing. I genuinely wouldn’t be able to do this without you all. 

Chasing six stars and 7,000m: living my passions in an abnormal world

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There is no passion in settling for a life less than the one you are capable of living

I started this year with a plan I called ‘chasing six stars and 7,000m’. In March, I planned to run the Tokyo marathon and collect my six star medal for those people lucky enough to have run the six major marathons of the world. And then, in August, I hoped to climb to 7,100m and reach the summit of Peak Lenin in Kyrgyzstan and look out over our beautiful world from a height that previously I could only have dreamt of. I was doing this to raise money for the wonderful charity Cancer Research.

When I planned the year, I thought that the only thing that could stop me crossing the finish line in Tokyo would be injury. I have been privileged to run eleven marathons before and so know how to complete them. My pace, level of enjoyment and state at the finish line may vary (!) but, until now, my mental strength has allowed me to finish them all. With a six star medal waiting, I believed that I would be able to overcome anything in the training and on the day itself apart from an injury. Peak Lenin was a different proposition. This was going to be my first proper mountain expedition. It would involve almost four weeks of camping, carrying heavy loads, living in below freezing temperatures and using more technical climbing skills to reach a height significantly above anything I had achieved before. I didn’t know how I would cope, or indeed, if I could cope but I knew I would give it my best.

What I didn’t envisage, even on my toughest training days, was that I wouldn’t have the opportunity to attempt either challenge.

I talked about my experiences in the early days of Covid in my last blog. Since that period, I have continued to train for both challenges, which I hope to complete in 2021. I created a year long training plan, to give me something to focus my activities on. This has involved a lot of running, hours of walking locally wearing my expedition rucksack filled with an ever increasing amount of weights (I have no idea what my neighbours and local dog walkers think as I march along, bent over under the weight!), weight training in the garden (and now back at the gym) and learning yoga. I have also taught myself climbing knots in the garden, wearing big expedition gloves (my ‘Everest oven gloves’!) so that I can make sure that I can make the knots when I’m at high altitude and in the freezing temperatures.

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This has been great and has helped my mental resilience during this challenging time. But there have been tough days, as I’m sure there have been for all of us. On the day I had hoped to be summiting Peak Lenin in Kyrgyzstan, I was instead sitting in my spare room, which has become my home office, with some tears in my eyes.

And so, on the day in late June that the rules changed, allowing us to go to France without quarantining on arrival or on return, I immediately contacted the wonderful guide, Isabelle, who had taken me into the French Alps last year to see if she could do so again this year. As with many things this year, our plans changed several times leading up to, and throughout, our time together. But we had an amazing three days together in the Italian Alps with me learning new skills and challenging myself.

As often is the case in the mountains, the weather played a big part in our plan changes. As is increasingly becoming common in the Covid world, quarantine restrictions also played their part! When the rules changed for France, we changed our plans so that we met in Switzerland which gave us flexibility of mountains.

When we met, Isabelle told me that there was a bad storm on the way and so to make the best of the weather and to try and summit a 4,000m peak (a milestone in the Alps), we should head up as soon as possible and so we agreed to climb straight to a hut at 3,600m and then attempt a summit on day two, rather than acclimatising for an extra day at a lower altitude. This was my one chance to summit a mountain this year and I was determined to do so, even though it meant going from sea level to over 4,000m in just over 24 hours – not something that would be normally recommended!

A comfort zone is a beautiful place but nothing ever grows there

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If Isabelle had told me that I would need to climb up a 35m vertical rock face using some iron rung ladders to get to the first hut, I may have wavered! I am scared of drops and much of my training needs to be geared towards addressing this, to help me cope with more technical climbing. Our first day involved glacier walking in crampons and with an ice axe, which I loved. I was nervous but I always feel like a ‘proper mountaineer’ when I’m in crampons and they help me feel secure. We had to go up some steep slopes which had some ropes to assist and I was delighted to achieve this without too much fuss. And then we crossed the final glacier and I could see looming in front of me some iron rung ladders and realised that I would need to climb up them to reach the hut. Isabelle and I tied together, to give me some additional comfort that if I slipped, I couldn’t fall too far! I was a bit slow and there was some yelping but I was delighted to get to the top and felt a huge sense of achievement.

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Unfortunately, that evening, the altitude did impact me and so I went to bed early to try and recover for the morning, which luckily I did. We set off at sunrise to climb Pyramid Vincent, a 4,215m summit. The first bit was to climb down some iron ladders to reach a different glacier. As the ladder led straight to the glacier, I needed to climb down the ladders with my crampons on, which was absolutely terrifying for me. Again, Isabelle put me on a rope so that she could help lower me down. This required me to trust the rope – not something that I’m good at yet! The first half was very tough as I went backwards and was too scared to lean back, meaning that I kept hitting my knees on the rocks, leading to very bruised knees. Once I’d got braver and leant backwards, it was much easier and I was delighted to get down. We then had a three hour trek in crampons up ever increasingly steep slopes to the summit. The wind was tough – 40mph – and we had to cross glaciers which had some crevasses. I used my knot techniques that I had learnt and got more and more comfortable in the crampons. It was wonderful to reach the summit and look out across the mountains. The mountains are a place where I feel truly at peace. They put everything in perspective for me and I feel so privileged to be able to see them in all their beauty. We were the only ones on the summit and it was a very special few moments.

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The return was fantastic and I lead for some of the way, gaining in confidence.

As we got down, we learnt that the quarantine rules had changed again. The storm was also on its way, expected to bring 50cm of snow that weekend which would mean that we would need to get off the mountain. I therefore decided to try and get home and was incredibly lucky to get a seat on the last flight out of Switzerland to get home before the quarantine restrictions came in.

For the three days in the mountains, I could forget about the unusual world in which we are living. I could enjoy the challenge and the beauty of our world. I could live my passions and I smiled a lot! I could feel normal in the midst of the abnormal year we are having. It was blissful.

When one door closes, I push another open

As a postscript to an amazing few days in the mountains, coming home early meant that I could join my wonderful husband, best friends and godchildren for the weekend on the coast. It was a very different environment, although just as cold on a windy bank holiday weekend! It was very special to spend time with them – walking along the beach talking about university plans, laughing together at old episodes of ‘Friends’ which my godchildren now enjoy as much as their parents and we do and simply being together was another reminder of all that is important.

This year has been, and no doubt will continue to be, challenging in many ways. It is certainly not the year that I thought I would be having. We can, however, still live our passions – we may just need to do so differently. In my view, this year has shown us that life is short and we never know when it may change. I firmly believe that we must keep living our passions, whatever they may be. They are what make us smile, they are what make us feel at peace and they are what makes life special. And life is very special.