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"There were days that I was exhausted after putting my all into teaching and the kids, only to have to train in the late evening. I had to constantly motivate myself through self talk - a skill I became quite good at! I also had some fundraising events. Having widows to support on my trip was a massive drive. I couldn't let them down."
Meet Mel Fey, a teacher, partner and mother-of-two from New Zealand, who in May this year conquered a massive physical, mental and spiritual goal: the Everest Marathon. The world's highest trail running event - and potentially it's toughest.
We caught up with her recently to hear about this unique experience.
Take us back to the beginning - what inspired you to enter the Everest Marathon?
I saw it on Facebook through a friend and really thought this would be a great way to test myself. I wanted to set an example to those around me, that no matter what, you can achieve big by putting in the hard work to make it happen. It was all about sending a message to inspire.
Had you entered any events of this type before?
I've never trekked before let alone run a full-on trail marathon. Previous to this I had only completed 3 marathons. Some on this trip were to experience the Everest Marathon as their first one! I wasn't alone in dreaming big.
The Everest Marathon is no regular marathon. Can you describe what the course is like, for readers who might have no idea?
First people thought I was going to run up the mountain! I must admit it isn't even 42km high [laughs]. The first 10km of the course was a fragile area, you couldn't really go too fast with without putting your life in danger. It was a narrow path over icy glacier rock. After this you had some long stretches of valleys which where surrounded by snow- capped mountains. Each step you had to be very careful due to uneven ground and rock.
Some of the steep climbs where impossible to run for even the fittest (except the Nepalese of course, who would run these with ease). The closer you got to the finish line, the more the ground became almost like a dusty track. This track would have the occasional 500m drop-off over the edge. You had to concentrate the entire time which was exhausting. The surrounds became greener and even some of it became muddier as the fast flowing glacier waters would create a rather slippery path. It was a lot of down hill, with the exception of a large 500m climb towards the end of the run (32km mark). This was the time for the iPod I had saved! Helped me charge up that hill.
Training must have been pretty gruelling! How did you prepare?
I trained with the NZ Altitude Training Centre with the guidance and advice of Walter Thorburn, my coach. I balanced my training with road and trail running in areas like the Hunua Ranges and Waipu hills to challenge myself. I've had the loving support of my partner-in-crime Ceri Jenkins, who has actually endured the training alongside me. I would also do Yoga and use my Cross Trainer at home when I've not had the opportunity to leave the house due to being a full-time working mother of two.
Did you ever feel like giving up? How did you battle through the tough days?
There were days that I was exhausted after putting my all into teaching and the kids only to have to train in the late evening. I had to constantly motivate myself through self talk, a skill I became quite good at in the end! I had some fundraising events that had contributed to helping this happen. Having Widows to support on my trip was a massive drive. I couldn't let them down. The Himalayan Trust being another organisation that was desperately needing assistance to help them on their efforts to rebuild areas I was to soon visit also gave me what I needed to carry on through these times.
Tell us about raising money for the group of widows and people of Nepal.
Over two years I raised more than $2000 for 10 Shepard Widows who live around Pangboche. This was all because my mentor and friend Mike Allsop had informed me of their situation and that they would live on roughly $130 USD a year! I wanted to do what I could to help them, and as a result raised enough for each widow to live comfortably for the next year. I had the opportunity to hand deliver some of this money to them which was such an amazing life changing experience. They had no idea I was going to do this so having the privileged not only to meet each one but to actually give them the gift of life was incredible. I was invited in for a cup of tea and shared in moments that I will treasure forever. It has made me truly grateful for what and who I have in my life. I will be carrying on these efforts in years to come.
That's incredible, I can see how they would have motivated you to train. So, after three years of training and fundraising, you set out on the adventure of a lifetime. How did it feel getting off the plane in Kathmandu?
I had a major sensory overload on my arrival in Kathmandu on the 13th of May. I had never been to such a country, let alone on my own. The first two days were a great way to really get myself ready for what was to come. I independently made myself at home and made every effort to get to know the others in my group along with the other team too. This was perfect for me and I soon went from nervous to excited!
As if running the world’s highest marathon isn’t enough… you had to trek to the marathon start line. Tell us about your journey to Base Camp.
It was incredible and I had the journey of a life time! This was a very challenging part of the adventure, especially knowing we actually had a marathon to participate in after the trek. I've never been more exhausted and physically spent before the start line of a marathon. The scenery was out of this world! The people along the way amazing! Everyone had an opportunity during the week and a half just getting to base camp to share the stories and reasons of doing this race and I felt truly inspired by everyone's personal journey. The Khumbu Valley is so well maintained and really has catered well for tourists of all abilities.
I imagine it felt pretty surreal come race day. What was running through your mind as you started the marathon?
I cannot wait to see my partner Ceri and the kids, and to feel that sense of achieving what I had set out to do almost 3 years ago. As we counted down from 5 each number was like someone was releasing a weight off my shoulders. I could now set out to do what I had planned, trained and dedicated myself too. I thought BRING IT ON!
What was running through your mind throughout the marathon?
I had limited what was going to enter my thought process at this stage. I had small goals each step of the way. My goal was to reach each town and conserve energy for the second half. In the last 5km I started to mentally process the whole event and adventure finding myself in tears of joy and fulfillment. I felt truly blessed I could just get to the start line safely and healthy unlike 3 of our team members. I felt so excited to start the journey home after almost 3 weeks of being away.
‘Normal’ marathon runners talk about hitting a wall. What’s the Everest Marathon wall like and how did you overcome it?
It happened at a loop we had to complete which was an out and back course. It was a gradual incline which meant higher altitude and less oxygen once again. This was the hardest part of the entire marathon. I really had to dig deep to do this! Once I had completed this 5km loop I knew I had reached the halfway point and in my eyes was officially on my way back home.
I can’t even imagine what it must feel like to come to the end of a challenge like this. What’s next?
What's next is sharing this adventure and inspiring who I can to be at their best. My next event is to this time support my partner Ceri and run the Kinloch Off Road Challenge in Taupo which is a 42km trail run. In 2018 I will be doing the Coast to Coast.
How did it feel to travel alone without your friends, family and partner? Would you have any advice for other woman thinking about making this journey?
Being without those you love is never easy. As much as this was a personal journey that I chose to take part in you reach particular moments where you wish you could share with your family in person. I was fortunate to be able to Skype my family along the Khumbu Trail due to the Wifi options in the tea houses. This was incredible! I think this was great for my kids to see that mummy was able to independently go off and achieve such an adventure without the need of company. As hard as it was I knew this was a decision that would not only help me grow but my children too. It creates a different experience being with your partner or children on such a journey and I look forward to experiencing such an adventure with them too one day. All my advice is that you just need to start it and finish it. What happens in between doesn't matter because at the end of the day achieving something incredible in your life is better than not achieving anything at all. You are creating the story of you. Don't make it a boring one! No one writes that story but you.
Are there any other stand out memories you would like to share?
I've made life long friends out of this trip not only with my fellow competitors but also the Nepali people. This journey was about completing the Everest Marathon and inspiring others but instead I met amazing people too, trekked the most incredible trail and was inspired myself by all of this. Sometimes you think you are out to be the example but instead you become aware those you want to influence actually influence you.
Thanks so much for your time, Mel. We can't wait to see what you tick off next!
You call follow Mel's adventures at melissafey.com, or by liking her Facebook page, 'Motivation Endurance Learning'.