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Guest Blog By Mel Benham. Everest Base Camp Experience.

Mel has been kind enough to write about her personal experience of preparing and taking part in the ever popular Everest Base Camp Trek. Training for someting like this can seem like a daunting task but throughout it all two things remain constant. What does this person need and what does the goal need to be able to complete it. Like most of these journeys it most definitely wasn't a smooth one for Mel. Despite everything that was thrown her way we kept adapting her training and she most certainly conquered. I never doubted that she wouldn't make it not for a second. This was my motivation to make sure she was ready. Thank you Mel. You are an inspiration to us all!

In March of this year I was lucky enough to fulfil my long held dream of trekking to Everest Base Camp. But the journey had begun a year earlier when I decided that I was going to see if I could be fit enough to achieve that dream and was recommended to see Nicola at Inspired Coaching. I love to walk and swim but knew that I needed strength and stamina and that it would be a big step up for my 61 year old creaky body. I quickly realised that my over enthusiasm for everything and the desire to move at a fast pace was not the best way to train!


Nicola made me two programmes to follow, based on my end goal and the physical issues that I already had, and as I progressed they would be tweaked and altered but always following the rule that I worked slowly, concentrated on good form and didn’t try to progress at a faster rate than was sensible. I felt very confident in doing everything she asked, even when I hated the exercises, as I knew that this was about slowly building a base of fitness that would get me to where I needed to be, actually I didn’t know that but that is what Nicola taught me. I was not the most compliant person and would regularly swear and moan when doing my least favourite things and to Nicola’s credit she would just smile and say ‘ just one more set Mel’ and somehow I would do it. 

I spent one hour a week with Nicola and then followed her programme on my own 2 or 3 more times a week. I had never done a long trek but I walk everyday and I genuinely thought that having strong legs would get me anywhere. I was surprised at the amount of upper body and abdominal work as there were so many things I had not factored in. Strong legs are great but carrying a rucksack and dealing with sharp ascents and descent’s also requires a lot of upper body strength. A strong core means that your lower back does not suffer. The fact that Nicola had already done several treks meant that I had the benefit of all of her experience as a personal trainer and also someone who had actually done what I was attempting. When I would question if this was ‘really necessary’ she knew that it absolutely was and I always hoped to prove her wrong but it turned out that she was right. 

My training regime built slowly over the year and was temporarily halted on several occasions by hip bursitis and damaged ligaments. It was so frustrating to get to a good point and then have to rest and slowly work hard to regain what I had lost but my trip was booked and paid for so failure was not an option. The strength training would build the muscle strength and endurance that I would need and I absolutely loved lifting weights and squatting but I also knew how important cardiovascular fitness would be, even though I am not a big fan of cardio. Nicola sneakily incorporated cardio into our sessions and I added swimming, lots of walking and the stair climb machine into my routine. The stair climber was initially an instrument of torture but Nicola suggested doing intervals while on there and it gradually became a battle between me and the machine. I grew to dread going on the stair climber, hated being on it but felt great afterwards. That machine helped me enormously both physically and mentally and when the trek got tough those sessions really paid off.

My initial goal was to always walk 10,000 steps per day and then do at least 2 long walks a week. I wandered around Teignbridge with my rucksack and gradually upped the weight that I was carrying from 2 to 14 kilos. Whenever possible I would do hard grade coastal paths and wonder why I was doing it. A trip to the Lake District with my daughter for some epic views high elevation was invaluable, mostly because the steep descent gave me shin splints and made me realise I had to work on my shins. There really is no better way than getting out and walking all terrains as it shows up your strengths and weaknesses far more than the gym will.

Living at sea level I knew that adjusting to the thin air in the mountains would be a big challenge and it is very hard to train for. I found a breath hold practice on YouTube and also bought a Powerbreathe resistance trainer. It looks like an inhaler and helps strengthen the breathing muscles and was very effective without costing very much.

 I had never thought about how much water I consumed until I started reading other travellers reviews of their treks. I don’t drink litres of water a day and was concerned that I was going to have to drink 4-5 litres of water a day, not only to stay hydrated but to help with acclimatisation and the effects of Altitude sickness. Training myself to drink more water took several months and was especially hard in the winter but is so important.

Trek Experience

With a year of training behind me I left Gatwick knowing that I had done everything I could and I was beyond excited but also very apprehensive. Kathmandu was vibrant and busy and an amazing city to visit. The Nepalese people are so friendly and genuinely want to do everything to make you welcome in their country. There is such a lot to see that the extra days I booked either side of my trek were well worth it. Beautiful old temples and an ancient city to visit plus bargain hunting in the streets of Thamel - any forgotten items can be bought at half the price of the UK (might not be genuine but worked just as well)! Our Guide met us at the Hotel and we were given a briefing as to what to expect, safety issues and to answer any concerns and then I just had to try and sleep before flying up to Lukla, which is where we would begin our walk.

The trek starts at 2,840m above sea level, in the foothills of the Himalayas. The first three days we walked for 6 to 8 hours every day. Before I left I kept reading the term ‘Nepali Flats’ and just assumed it meant easy walking. I was very wrong. It means that the trail goes up and then steeply down to get back up to the same elevation further along and those downhill sections can be very hard on the knees and the shins. The trail was beyond beautiful. The Dudh Kosi River runs from the mountains down through the valleys of the Sagamartha National Park and is the most stunning glacial blue water. The trek is through Rhododendron and then Pine forests and all the time there are stunning mountain peaks visible. For the first 4 days there are long suspension bridges crossing the river and wobbling across those bridges, with prayer flags blowing in the wind and the river roaring underneath, are moments I will never forget. The acclimatisation days were supposed to be easier days but meant a short walk up to a higher elevation, generally 450/500 metres, so that we could climb high and sleep low, these were done after every 1000 metre elevation gain to allow the body to adjust to the thinner air. Those days pushed my legs and lungs to the limit, I longed for them to be over but was so happy once I had made it and reaching the high points meant seeing an even better view of the mountains.

Once above the tree line, at 4500 metres, things did get harder. Even though our guide had made us walk at a slow pace from the beginning of the trek, in order not to tire ourselves out before we really needed to, we had to slow down again. My backpack weighed 6 kilos but by the end of the day it felt like 15! Breathing as we slowly went up inclines became more difficult and I fully understood why every blog I had read kept emphasising the importance of cardio. I had started taking altitude sickness medication in Kathmandu and I was really glad that I had as breathing became more of an effort than I have ever known and I met many people struggling. It seemed particularly bad at night when I was laid still and other people I met said the same. Day 9 we started at 6:30am, stopped for lunch at 12pm and then made the three hour trek to Base Camp. For a whole year I had been so determined that I was going to get there. This was my dream and however bad I felt I was getting there. I made it to Base Camp and was elated for about 10 minutes and then wondered how on earth I was going to make the 3 hour trek back to Gorak Shep. I was struggling to breath and could hardly put one foot in front of of the other. I felt so bad I actually passed my rucksack to the Sherpa accompanying us, something he had offered and I had emphatically refused. That walk back was possibly the hardest challenge of my life, despite being surrounded by such beauty I felt ready to collapse.

I did make it back and managed to eat a plate of amazing vegetarian curry and sit and think that I had dedicated a year to making it this far and that my preparation and perseverance had paid off.

I have been home for a month now and am already planning to return to Nepal to do another trek. I am more than happy to put myself through those gruelling and difficult days just to look at those beautiful mountains and Glaciers again. The mountains were everything I hoped, the Nepalese people are wonderful and I met amazing people along the way, all super friendly, from all over the world and with the same dream that I had. The profound sense of gratitude and accomplishment that incredible journey gave me have left an indelible mark in my soul.

Final Thoughts.

To end I just want to say that despite moaning, swearing and begrudging training some days, I would not have had the physical and mental stamina had I not done that. Every time I looked at a steep incline I was thankful for every squat, leg press and calf raise I had done. I never once had backache as my upper body felt so strong and stable. In all honestly I cannot praise Nicola highly enough as my body was totally prepared for the challenge. Unfortunately for her she will have to spend another year listening to me moaning and groaning until I head back to Nepal!

If you would like help with your next big adventure please contact me here for further details about in person personal training and my online Couch To Mountains Programme. Nicola.

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