I had a plan

When I first signed up to do the marathon there were 11 months to go, then somehow when I wasn’t looking that turned into 6 months. Then there was the slight matter of an international move involving 8 weeks of temporary housing in two countries, living out of suitcases and extended periods of school holidays where I was the 24 by 7 sole care giver for a lot of that time (cue tiny violins). After that we moved into our house, unpacked some boxes and all of a sudden there was 3 months to go.

Now there are 2 months left before the first Sunday in November.

All the training planning, weight loss and cross training I did in theory over that time is past. Now is now and very real. Right up until Monday I still had a plan but now what I mostly have is fear and an annoyingly large amount of small pimples all over my face from spending so much time sweating and obviously not effectively washing my face when that sweating had ceased.

On Labor Day Monday I participated in what is strangely called in America a 10km race. Don’t get me wrong, kiliometres are my thing, I like to measure those units but they seem not to use them at all here in the USA. Not in my car’s speedometer, not for speed limits, not for distance to destination – just for one or two foot events. Makes sense to me, if you are going to run in the first place why not make the number of your achievement as large as it can be. It just sounds so much better to say – I ran 10 kms today rather than I ran 6.25 miles. You would also have to agree it definitely sounds better to say I have just run 42kms rather than 26 miles, you know, if you ever happen to do that.

The race was the ‘Y to Y’ fairly self explanatory, from one local YMCA to another conveniently distanced one. Described as a ‘relatively flat’ course (in relation to the hilly roads that abound in our neighbourhood) and was an obviously ploy to get people to sign up as well as a trap for young players, or fools such as myself who didn’t know most of the uphill came after the 8km mark.

Deciding to register on race day morning I briskly walked the 2kms over to the Y (the walking was part of my plan) and was fairly happy with my bib number of 1191 thinking that meant there would be plenty of punters, maybe some walkers, someone who may end up behind me instead of in front. I don’t mind not finishing first but dead last can be a bit disheartening.

Sadly I didn’t read the fine print and it seems that they may have handed out numbers to ‘phantom runners’ who might have nominated to run and paid a fee but didn’t actually have to turn up on the day…… There were significantly less entrants than I was hoping for as the 7.30am start time drew closer, including some very fit and fast looking mothers with running prams.

The plan was

– run my own race, slow and steady

– rest briefly at the end and then run slowly and steadily back home a slightly different route, approximately 13kms which would make it my long run for the week at 25kms

I was perhaps thrown off by worrying the yummy mummies were going to run me down with their prams, or perhaps it was the instant silence and hand on the heart for the national anthem at the 7.30am start time- I hadn’t expected the patriotism so early in the morning.

When the gun went off and the police motorcycles pulled out I had some kind of rush and felt I had to up my pace – which was of course – NOT IN THE PLAN. Still as I had been towards the front of the start the first 500 metres was a wave of people passing me as they surged forward and I anxiously waited for a toddler to lean out, look over his shoulder and blow raspberries at me.

Thankfully that didn’t happen, I finished what my onboard measuring devices said was 10.15kms in 1.12 (remembering the PBM recently ran a hilly 14kms in 1.16) and then turned to jog for home. Its just that I couldn’t make my legs do it, they resisted and instead I ended up walking most of the way. 25kms ticked off for the day, just not with the walk to jog ratio I was looking for. I didn’t do my long run and I spent half an hour in the bath soaking when I got home panicking about being able to finish 42kms when the time comes.

As the week has gone by, the fear grew until I was dreaming and waking in fright of the outcome. Then I woke up today which marks 1 year since we set off up Mt Kilimanjaro and I remembered I had a plan then too, which all came apart on the mountain as these things tend to do, but I still made it to the top. So maybe, just maybe I can do this too.

Ten Tips for climbing Kili

Since I’ve been back from Kili I have met people who have done it – and I’ve also increasingly met people who are going to do it.

Everyone you meet has different questions to ask and I can talk about it for hours – I am after all now a self-proclaimed expert, I’ve ‘been there, done that’ and have the photo (see above), although I didn’t buy the t-shirt, not because I respected Nike’s possible patent breach of an entire range of ‘Just Done it’ t-shirts, its just I didn’t find one that I would ever wear again – as I’ve become older I appreciate this part of a purchase more, there were none in my colour….

A Quick top ten tips for those thinking of it –

1. If you are already training and you’re not going for 12 months or more, don’t worry, its in the bag.

If you followed my journey at all you will know my training was quite ‘compact’ and if I can do it, YOU can do it, and then you can buy the ‘Just Done it’ t-shirt.

2. Don’t spend a lot of time googling ‘Summiting Kilimanjaro’ or more specifically ‘failing to summit Kilimanjaro’ not good for the motivation and there are hundreds of horrifying You Tube videos out there of people gasping what appears to be their last breath, looking un-showered and in some distress due to altitude sickness or they might just be faking it – who knows, that’s why you can’t always trust the internet- people. You will make it!!! Believe!!!!
(Watch those videos when you get back, like I did)

3. Take Vicks – this is related to the fact that at some time in the vast rocky wasteland that is about three days worth of climb you will have to use a long drop or portable toilet. The Vicks is for across your top lip to protect your gagging reflex. I don’t think I need to elaborate further.

4. There will be things you take you don’t use, things you wish you took, the hours and days spent worrying about your packing will feel useless above 3000 metres so don’t worry too much. If you take one of everything you will still make it (although I do recommend two poles and two boots).
4a. Don’t wear all your gear at the airport before you get on the plane to go to Kili, boots maybe, we all understand luggage restrictions, everything else – not so much. It just looks wrong – on the way home, sure go for it, just not on the way there.

5. Walk, walk and walk those boots in. Your boots and you – going up a mountain. That’s as close as it gets to the most important thing you take with you. Wear your boots in, if you get blisters still after a month or so of wearing them in, if you have time, change boots, if you don’t (like me) just wear plasters and pack enough for the trip – they still work, there is no pain and your boots will have a slightly worn in look before you start. You don’t want to be the only person with brand new boots at the start – because, you just don’t.

6. Kilimanjaro is the zip off pant capital of the world, you will buy some zip off pants, you will wear them, you will notice no guides or porters wearing them. You will probably never use any of the zip off functionality – or you may. That’s just how it is. You may give your gear at the end to the porters as many do, no idea what they do with the zip off pants – they must sell them. Remember – you will probably never wear the zip off pants again, give them away.

7. Do not listen to all the other people in your hotel / backpackers / lean-to that are just back from the mountain if they have anything negative to say, didn’t make it, vomited a lot, or if they talk about Diamox. It is unlikely any medical professional or other climber knows as much about taking Diamox as your guide does. Only listen to your guide about Diamox. The guide you will have does that sh*t once a week – you have trained for months and they turn around and do it every SEVEN days – they know their stuff.  Listen to the returned hikers only about glory stories. It will make you feel better, it will also make you think – if THEY made it, I can make it.
(I am not a medical professional, so don’t listen to me about Diamox either)

8. ‘Pole, pole’ (pol-ay, pol-ay) – this has nothing to do with the two walking poles most climbers carry with them.  It is how you are told to walk – slowly, slowly. If you think you can walk slowly now – you are wrong, you have never walked as slowly as you will climbing Kili (unless you’re up for Everest next) it will feel so slow and yet still too fast, especially on that midnight trek from whatever base camp you are using up to the top.

9. Take the longest route you can. You don’t want to train, fly all the way to Tanzania (guessing most of you don’t already live there) and then not make it because you chose the six day route, not the seven day one. Far fitter and stronger men and women than me failed to summit (22,000 a year attempt and 10,000 make it) because they had to walk past that second last campsite while I got to lay down and sleep for a night. I know because I watched them do it and spoke to them afterwards.

10. Don’t be Henk the guy with the fancy equipment that tells you how far you’ve walked that day, hour, minute, the temperature & perhaps more specifically and importantly what your altitude is. Or if you are that guy/girl, don’t tell Charles anyone else – because they will share the good news of your technologically advanced scientific device with others near and far and every 10 seconds someone will ask you something about how far / high / what the temperature is. If you can believe it this will be more annoying on the way down than on the way up. Trust me!

Go with old friends, make new ones, have fun!

That’s my Top 10 – what are your tips? What questions do you have left? I can help – the expert now remember?!

Memories fade, but I kept notes

It’s happened – just as we predicted. Although I was there less than five months ago when eleven tired and weary, mountain sore people sat around drinking beers after their first shower for a week, determined to never forget the pain. Ten of those (don’t forget we had Superboy doing it for fun with his mum with us) said in no uncertain terms ‘it was the hardest thing mentally and physically’ they had ever undertaken. I know because I listened to them say it and wrote notes so I wouldn’t forget later.  I feel sure if you asked them now their memories of it would be softer and they would say it was ‘one of the hardest’ or ‘quite tough’ ‘it’s just a matter of really putting your mind to it’ – which is EXACTLY what all the people who we talked to beforehand who had done it told us.

The 'kitchen' - birthplace of many a cucumber soup and fried chicken dish

Those that are yet to climb it – I will tell you here and now, there is a conspiracy by those that have gone before you, no-one tells you how hard it actually is. To be fair to them this is because unless they got back yesterday – they probably can’t actually remember. Like a lot of terrible experiences – your mind seems determined to protect you and glosses the memory to make it fuzzy and happier. I imagine this is so you don’t have some kind of post-traumatic stress situation about eating eggs where you are unable to differentiate between the ‘yolks’ and the ‘whites’ every day for a week, or wonder how there can be ‘fried chicken’ on Day 6 of a non-refrigerated trek.

Of course if I dig very very deep they are still there – the flashes of pain, exhaustion, whiffs

Toilet tent and a 'Vicks fix' - Camp Day 4

of the stench of sweating daily and not bathing for a week, along with the retching accompanied by a quick splash of Vicks under the nose so I could go back into the bathroom tent because it was that or the great rocky  outdoors with no coverage and about 200 people I didn’t know looking on – with their cameras at the ready as this photo shows.  Or the shame of the memory of being excited that the LDL was having a nose bleed so we all had to stop and rest for ten minutes and then I could manage a sip of water from my camel-bak and then face the next thirty minutes after we had been told not to ask for stops as we were simulating ‘summit day’ conditions.

My little book of notes – collated on a day to day basis while lying in the tent at night with the OAC has proved an excellent memory prompter for reliving the pain and agony and even the teary conversation we had the day before summit about handing the flag to her to photo at the top if I didn’t make it.

I promise more posts about the week that was Kili -before I tell you about what’s next as my pseudo mid-life crisis rolls into 2012.

Thanks again to all my sponsors – I now understand the South African postal service thought they would rather keep the thank you notes I posted in December (my bad doing it at Christmas time). I hope someone’s house is made much brighter by the many signed photos of me summiting they collected. I haven’t found anyone trying to sell them on eBay yet so it seems they may have worked out I wasn’t famous after all. I have more on the way – watch this space.

Even got the photo to prove it….

This was not an easily come by photo and it wasn’t just the climb – my big camera (with accompanying giant lens) was relegated to my overnight bag after finding it way too heavy to keep in my day pack after the first day, weak I know but a necessary strategic move & in no way justifies my husband’s commentary that it was too big and heavy and not to take it. My smaller point and click camera slept with me in my sleeping bag to keep it warm and the batteries from draining too fast – unfortunately at some point this meant it got rolled on and apparently didn’t enjoy the experience so while it still took photos – you just couldn’t tell what they were of.

Luckily the main group were sighted on my approach to the summit as they were returning, so after tears and hugs the LDL handed over her camera so when we got to the ‘photo place’ a grumpy Kiwi took the shots for us. I’m not sure why he was grumpy – but he was a little begrudging and didn’t seem that caught up in the euphoria of ‘making it’. However – he took not a bad photo – so thanks to him for that.

With Stator the magic guide

The pre-summit group (as in pre my summit) The LDL third from left and OAC third from right both standing

Here's one we took earlier - Day 2, the smiles still seem fairly genuine. OAC second from right, LDL, third from right then me in the middle with the big blue hat and plaits (there's a look that won't be rushing back)

We did it!

And just like that – two weeks away is over and I am back home again from Kilimanjaro ‘Zip off pant capital of the world’,  having actually climbed the mountain all the way to the very top.

There are so many things to tell – I could write a book about the experience, with one chapter alone dedicated to the toilet and toilet paper situation on that mountain…. that might not be to everyone’s taste but is possibly a story that needs to be heard.

It was hands down one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life – its likely parenting will win that race in the long term but for now – moving countries, giving birth (although I was too posh to push), the previously hardest physical event I had subjected myself to – the HK 50km Greenpower hike pale in comparison to eventually hauling myself to the top of Kilimanjaro as one of the 22,000 ‘ordinary’ people who try that every year (remember only about 10,000 make it).

The whole experience from the minute I left home on Tuesday September 6th, till summit day Tuesday September 13th, descending and showering for the first time in seven days Wednesday September 14th to the sneaky few days at a game reserve with the OAC afterwards – to returning home yesterday Monday 19th September to a huge poster on my front door put there by friends to congratulate the LDL and I on our ascent – was amazing and almost surreal.

There are many upcoming posts in the works for now I just want to say thank you to everyone for all the support you gave us.

Thanks to friends and family for their heartfelt and unwavering support (and congratulations when we made it)

Thanks to those that have donated to The Jodi Lee Foundation and supported such a worthy cause. I remember my promise to you all for that signed photo – once I get the photo from the LDL’s camera (mine didn’t make it to the top) I will happily oblige.

Thanks to my climbing companions, the LDL and the OAC – and our eight new South African friends Heidi, Anette, Antonette, Ryno, Kevin, Charles, Salomien and Henk who although took a little bit of cracking (OK not Charles or Kevin) were the best climbing crew we could have hoped for – supportive, friendly, handy with the duct tape & prepared with the Vicks, educational and even super hero like (told you there are many more stories to come – and you guys reading this – still not my whole speech).

Thanks to Thomas & Nico our guides, Simon the most amazing camp manager and to Stator my personal guide for summit day. I had not seen him before that terrible night and didn’t again until we had walked off the mountain, but he was the only person who could have got me there and back, of that I am 100% sure.

After falling out of the main group early on in our 8 hour hike through the night uphill he was like a patient angel who coaxed me through it – always telling me ‘you will make it, I don’t lie – I am telling you the truth. Pole, Pole*, Twende**….’ – and he was right.

Swahili words
*Pole Pole – pronounced Pol-ay, Pol-ay meaning slowly slowly (much more on this later)
** Twende – Let’s Go