How to conquer the Everest marathon
Shaun Stafford is taking on the Everest Marathon, often described as the hardest in the world. He explains his motivation and preparations in this exclusive article
Did I really think this through? In May 2018 I will be trekking up to Everest basecamp and running all 26.2 miles of “The World’s Hardest Marathon” at an altitude of 5,500m.
Now to put this into context, I am not a runner. In fact, I am a two-time Men’s Physique World Champion who had never run further than 5km before October last year…
So why have I decided to jump off the deep end and try something that 99.9% of the population would find completely insane? There are a few reasons...
Firstly, people always talk about “getting outside their comfort zones” and how it helps you grow physically, mentally and spiritually. I can’t think of anything more outside of my comfort zone than this. People always say that if it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger… fingers crossed it doesn’t kill me and I can come back down from Everest a stronger person on all fronts!
Secondly, by taking part in an event like this, you get the opportunity to shine a light on some really worthwhile charitable causes and do something amazing to help other human beings. I am running this race to hopefully raise considerable funds for The Himalayan Children’s Charity (HCC) so that they can carry on the amazing work they do looking after and nurturing some of the most needy orphaned children in Nepal.
The journey from bodybuilder to extreme marathon runner in six months takes a bit of planning
Being a father myself and knowing the poverty and extreme conditions these children have found themselves in, through no fault of their own, is heartbreaking to me and will certainly motivate and drive me forward when the legs get heavy and the mileage and altitude keeps going up…
And lastly, I wanted to show people that with a bit of will-power, a lot of preparation and a dash of self belief, you can achieve anything that you put your mind to, regardless of how crazy it may seem at first!
It is just about creating a plan of action, giving yourself enough time to complete it, and then taking it step by step (sometimes quite literally) until you are where you need to be!View on Instagram
The Action Plan
So the journey from champion bodybuilder to extreme marathon runner in six months takes a bit of planning. My old regime of weight training five-six days per week was not going to cut it, so I needed a complete overhaul.
I am now doing two-three weights sessions a week (trying not to undo all the hard work of the past decade) but also doing two runs, two-three altitude training sessions, one flexibility session and having one-two sports massages a week.
The amount of time that is being dedicated to this is considerably more than to my previous endeavours in competitive fitness: to put it into perspective, by the time you are reading this, every run that I’ll be doing from here on in will be more two hours long…
As I am not a proficient runner and I’m more worried about my joints and body getting injured than I am about my heart and lungs giving out, I have decided to limit my running to two runs per week.
I started my running training on January 1 with a six mile New Year’s Day run, and have been gradually increasing it week-on-week ever since. I plan my runs to do a “shorter” treadmill run mid-week, with a longer, outdoor run at the weekend.
My shorter runs will peak at 13.5 miles in the week, whereas the outdoor runs will increase to more than twenty miles at the weekend. My weekly combined target distances will be c.35 miles for several weeks before I leave for Nepal.
Now being a vain man, I am reluctant to let all the hard work I have put in over the past decade and a half fade away before my very eyes, so I have kept up with at least two-three weights sessions a week.
This is predominantly two-time “Beach Weights” sessions to keep some element of shape in my upper body and one “lower body & core conditioning” session to keep my legs and midsection strong enough to avoid injury while introducing all the running.
These are about an hour in duration and focus predominantly on a rep-range between 8-12 reps. Most of the exercises are compound (multi-joint/ multi-muscle) and designed to keep a good amount of my muscle mass moving and active, without risking injury or wiping me out so I can’t get my runs and other training in.
One of the biggest unknowns with this event is the effect that the incredible altitude at Everest Base Camp will have on me. Breathing at that height (let alone running a marathon) is incredibly tough so I have started doing extra work in an altitude chamber (at The Altitude Centre) to help me acclimatise.
This chamber helps simulate the lack of oxygen (hypoxia) that you will experience whilst trekking and running up mountains… I currently will do my shorter mid-week run on a treadmill in the chamber with an additional HIIT spin class earlier in the week.
Is there a challenge that may push you to do something you didn’t think was possible, and raise money for a good cause?
These bouts of exercise take place at about 3,000m of simulated altitude, which is about half the height at Base Camp. In order to simulate going even higher, I have to do a sedentary “recovery” session breathing through a mask whilst sitting down to simulate the actual height and lack of oxygen at Everest.
As I get closer to the event, I will transition to doing some light exercise on this higher altitude mask to really help my body get used to functioning with a significant lack of oxygen!
While you never know if you are going to be affected by altitude sickness or not, I want to give myself every chance of doing the best that I can and completing the event in one piece, and have found the altitude training and expertise of the team at The Altitude Centre incredibly helpful in my preparations so far.
The Final Push
Whereas running a marathon might not be up your street (let alone one up Everest), hopefully it can excite you as to what might be possible for you…
Is there a challenge that may push you to do something you didn’t think was possible, and at the same time give you an opportunity to raise some money and awareness for a cause close to your heart?
If so, I encourage you to rise to that challenge and take this opportunity to climb your own Everest (maybe not as literally as me) and see what you are truly capable of!
If you’d like to follow my journey as a prepare for the final few weeks, keep in touch via Instagram @shaunstafford and if you would like to donate and support me for this event, anything you can give would be warmly received on my Just Giving Page.