Since I completed the wonderful Race to the Stones in July, many people have been kind enough to ask me what my next challenge is. On the one hand I still find it odd that this seems like a question that is relevant to me, as I still feel like a bit of an imposter in terms of running and trekking. On the other hand, I have been asking myself that very question since I got on the plane home from Mera Peak last October. And I have now decided and booked my challenges!
In terms of my marathon journey, I have talked before about aiming for the six star medal, for those runners privileged enough to complete all six of the major marathons of the world. I have already crossed the finish lines of the Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London and New York marathons but need to complete the Tokyo marathon to get my six star medal and join a group of only 6,000 people globally who have been lucky enough to achieve this. Tokyo is an incredibly popular marathon, being the only one outside of Europe and the US and being held in a country which loves marathon running. One of the most difficult parts is therefore simply getting a place!
I tried unsuccessfully to get a place through the ballot last year and so this year was determined to be more organised about the entry process. This meant getting up at 1.45am one Tuesday morning to be ready for the Japanese opening time for trying to get one of only 5,000 first come, first served charity spaces. When you send text messages to friends at 3am, you don’t expect responses, but I wasn’t the only person up at that hour and there was a steady stream of messages as we all tried to navigate a complex and very slow internet page! When, at 4.30am, I finally got confirmation of my place, I was elated! Now, I just need to train for and run 26.2 miles and I’ll be able to cross the finish line outside of the Imperial Palace and get both the Tokyo marathon medal and the six star finisher medal. It will be incredibly special to do that in 2020, the Tokyo Olympic year. And, to make it even better, I’ll be joined by my husband (aiming for his fourth star) and three of my good friends (all aiming for their sixth star too).
Alongside this, the mountains are calling me again. I want to once again experience the amazing beauty and solitude of the high mountains and to once again challenge myself physically and mentally by tackling ever tougher terrain.
The beautiful Mera Peak is the highest mountain that many of the standard mountain holiday companies go to and so, to go higher, I needed to start exploring specialist mountaineering companies. I felt out of my depth in doing so as I’m not a mountaineer by anyone’s description and wasn’t confident in the questions I should ask or the criteria I should be using to make a decision of which mountain to climb.
I therefore approached it as I would do with any issue. I read up about the subject and, importantly for me, spoke to people who knew a lot more than me and asked for their advice. I learn better that way and I’m very grateful for all the people who have helped me.
My main criteria was simple – I want to stand at the top of a mountain above 7,000m. I don’t know why that barrier is important to me but, when George Mallory was asked why he wanted to climb Everest, he said ‘because it’s there’ and I feel similarly. 7,000m is the next barrier for me and so that’s what I want to aim for.
My other criteria are also important to me – the level of technical difficulty and the amount of time away from home and work. Mountains over 7,000m it turns out are all quite technical in nature! I am very much a beginner in terms of mountaineering and so I wanted to select one that I felt that I could, with training, cope with. I don’t want to have to rely upon others – if something were to go wrong, I want to know that I can look after myself and am not putting anyone else in danger. I therefore want to climb a mountain above 7,000m that is at the easier end of the technical spectrum.
I will also be going on my own, leaving my wonderful husband at home, and so I want to be away for as minimal time as possible. I also want to minimise the impact on my supportive colleagues at work.
The mountain I have selected is 7,134m high and requires three and a half weeks away from home and work in the summer. It is called Peak Lenin in Kyrgyzstan and I know it will be a huge challenge for me, for a range of reasons.
The altitude will be incredibly challenging, being 650m higher than I have been before. The weather is notoriously challenging, with some years seeing no summits due to very strong winds and heavy snow. It involves some technical climbing, requiring me to use ice axes and crampons. I’ll be camping for three weeks in very basic, and cold, conditions. And, it will require me to carry much of my own load, meaning I need to be much stronger physically than I am today. This will be on top of the usual challenge of loneliness.
I have started my training, which I’ll share with you in a series of blogs over the coming weeks and months. So far, I have spent time at a local climbing wall, have had a weekend of ‘scrambling’ (which felt much more like full-on climbing to me!) in stunning Scotland and have been crevasse climbing in Chamonix. I also continue to train for the marathons (before knowing I had a place for Tokyo, I decided to run the Amsterdam marathon which is in two weeks time…!).
By late August 2020, I hope to have completed my six star challenge and have stood at 7,134m looking out on our beautifully stunning world. I know it is going to be an immense challenge for me. I know I will have moments when I question my sanity, when my body will cry in pain, when I will cry with frustration and when I simply can’t see a way to achieving my aim. But I also know that I will have moments of true fulfilment, surrounded by wonderful support and being privileged to experience things that I can now only dream of.
I’m doing this to raise money for the wonderful charity, Cancer Research. Everyone knows someone that is suffering or has suffered from this cruel disease and I continue to be shocked and saddened by the impact that it has. I hope that by raising money, I can play a very small part in helping to address this. I know that this will motivate me through the tough training and the challenges themselves. Thanks as ever for all the support and kindness you all show me during my training. I can’t explain how much it means to me.