By Marc Barrett, Ireland
A Sunday afternoon flight into Heathrow connected with the majority of the entrants for the biennial Everest Marathon (‘EM’). There’s also the Tenzing-Hillary marathon (splitters !!) held every year in balmy May, but this is the original and self-proclaimed best. I would in time get to know most of this group, their backgrounds and motivations but for now we kicked heels and joked nervously about what we had paid up and dropped out (of our 1st world lives) for. Diana Penny Sherpani, race creator, organiser and chief ‘she who must be obeyed’ made herself known with orders about where ‘blue bags’ needed to be and where they certainly shouldn’t be left. Your blue kit bag was your mobile home from home containing the 12 kg your allocated yak was willing to carry for the next three weeks (four bags to a yak). Any luxuries beyond that would go on your own back so my pre-race kit list was dismembered before it even left Dublin. The mother of all check-in’s later and we were all aboard for our long haul flight via Dehli to Kathmandu.
We had a few days in the Nepalese capital to relax and prepare ourselves for our 16 day trek in the Himalayas. Those kit bags were weighed, sleeping bags were checked and any who were found wanting were sent into one of the ubiquitous trekking stores in the city centre for either a replacement or an upgrade. I opted for a cosy fleece liner which I would later part company with in acrid acrimony. We were also introduced to our group doctors for our first medical. Heart rate, blood pressure and blood oxygen levels were noted for future comparisons. All three would move in unfavourable directions as the trip progressed. Our group, now swelled with fellow international runners, was split into three more manageable red, blue and white sub-groups. Adrian, a type of Scottish Baden Powell with three EM’s to his credit would lead our Red group. Finally, we were allocated our tent buddies. The buddy element representing each person’s responsibility to make a mental note should their companion cease breathing in the middle of the night and require some sort of elbow to the chest.
Thursday morning, come 5.30am, we were on our first lap of the breakfast buffet. Had I known the pre-dawn culinary delights that awaited me I may have enjoyed more toast from a toaster, coffee from a cup and sausage from a pig. Anticipation fought sleep deprivation as our bus bumped through the fog shrouded city, back towards the one stop shop airport, destination Lukla. The Gateway to the Everest trekking region, Lukla is a five day walk from Kathmandu and on sight of our awaiting plane, some considered the option. A sortie of small and nimble crafts were required with generally about twenty bodies per flight. Our Yeti Airline took to the skies in what is basically an uphill battle from 1,300m to 2,860m. This economical ascent affords everyone (everyone gets a window seat on a Twin Otter) a great view of the mountains that will be our world from here on. Type ‘Lukla’ into Google and you get ‘World’s most dangerous airports’. At 550 metres, what it’s single runway lacks in distance, it (usually) makes up for in gravitational breaking force, being built on a 12 degree upward slope. Current wafflings dictate that the statistics improved for Lukla for our own approach.
All distances beyond Kathmandu are measured in days walk. Motorised transport of any description is non existent as is the infrastructure to carry them. Your shank’s mare, two legs or four, is the only traffic that jams on these dusty, rocky trails. Our first week would be made up of a trek up the Khumbu valley to Gokyo (4,800m). For the purposes of acclimatisation, this excursion would go a long way to ensuring that all competitors would have time to become physiologically accustomed to being and hopefully running at high altitude. Formally known as ‘Death Valley’ due to the high instances of acclimatisation sickness, greater knowledge of this condition has reduced serious cases amongst both trekkers and Sherpas. A general rule is to climb high and sleep low with no more than 300m of ascent each day. Geography and logistics would dictate that some days would be longer / higher with results such as headache and nausea or more debilitating symptoms which would require the person to return to the altitude they last felt well at.
Our last night in a bed was at Namche Bazaar (3,446). A large village, it hosts the race finish as well as your last chance to stock up on fleece jackets, water bottles and various Chinese knock-offs to make your camping a less arduous experience. A group of returning Irish (from Everest Base Camp) advised purchase of as much tinned tuna as one could carry as it would transform any dish into a meal. Unfortunately, I see tinned tuna as a method of turning any dish into a dog’s dinner and our feeds would be in the hands of our Sherpas. I hoped 75 finely tuned physical specimens would have their needs catered for without the need for masticated fishy matter.
Kit bags are left out before breakfast to give the yaks a head start on the bipeds. Later in the morning you’ll come upon them moving their lugubrious bulk along the path. Precipitous trails, steep stone steps and bridges, some suspended high above the valley, others battened to riverbed rocks are negotiated with the same slow careful step. Bowed but pugnacious, these beasts can’t be taken for granted; any overtaking manoeuvre must be made on the inside. A quick flick of their horned heads and you’ll quickly make a record breaking descent into the valley below. After the race, my tent buddy’s medal fought for attention with a hoof mark on each of his shins.
Beyond Namche, a typical day would be as follows. Bed tea at 6am, a full plastic mug comes into your tent pre-dawn. It’s a wake up call and a dexterity test combined to assist you to your next task, getting the kit bag out for the yaks. You sit down in the communal room in the lodge (which lent you their field to camp in) at about 7am where chatter revolves around what froze in the night, how much sleep was had, or not and how long was agonised over the need for a trip to the toilet. Sherpas are entreated to pour hot water or milk to which tea, coffee and hot chocolate (or a mixture of the latter) are drank and refilled. Porridge and toast is distributed in modest quantities so the next half hour is a cacophony of “more porridge, more toast ?”, “pass the sugar, jam, marmalade, honey”, whatever was available to sweeten and energize tired breakfasts for tired bodies.
By around 8am, most have set out. There’s only one route so you can take the day’s walk at your own pace. Some will start early and walk slow, others late and go no faster. Kit restrictions will propel some to make it to the next camp in time to perform rudimentary washing of body or clothes. This will range from a bucket of heated water fed through a parsimonious shower head in a kind of tin outhouse down to a bowl of cold water balanced on a stone wall. Washed clothes must be hung out to dry well before sundown as frozen stiff underpants pack poorly and wear ungratefully.
All trekking days are broken up by a stop at a tea house. These watering holes were usually beside cold foaming rivers or perched on promontory bluffs. Either would afford welcome breaks and stunning views of the surrounding scenery. A bar of chocolate or bag of jellies might make a favourable appearance from someone’s day pack, manna from the West for grateful sugar fiends. Familiar bars would be available from the houses but they would generally have bloomed (that white dusting extremes in temperature causes) and carried a prohibitive price that would make a festival blush.
Camp would be made at about 2pm as yaks were unburdened and tents erected. As the lodges sheltered at the foot of vertiginous slopes, it wouldn’t be long before the sun, which afforded unbroken warmth during the day, would dip behind jagged peaks. Akin to a formulaic horror movie, everyone would hurry indoors, feeling for their head torch, like a talisman against the impending night. Dinner at 6pm would answer the shared question. A variation on rice, pasta, tuna, a strange kind of mini hotdog, complemented with the unqualified ‘sauce’ was meted out. Notions of ‘going veggie’ were dispelled at the thought of making a less interesting meal positively catatonic for the taste buds. Dessert meant ambrosia from the tinned fruit tree. All was taken, all was eaten.
After dinner, familiar cliques would form, the card players, diary writers and the book readers (invariably titled on a variation of the words ‘climb’, ‘vertical’ & ‘thin air’). All pursuits would be followed to a perpetual frog’s chorus of hacking and coughs. At times it had the air of an inter-war hospital for consumptives, people passing time against the backdrop of lung spasms and phlegm production. By 8pm, the Sherpa’s working day complete, the common room would turn into a silent battleground where the labourers would start to fill the spaces amongst the laboured. In the past, Sherpa’s would be relegated to caves or overhangs for the night. The advent of lodges meant that they now shared the common room and the welcome heat its central stove would emit. This would create a territorial battle each evening as the needs of those who would carry heavy loads from dawn would be weighed against those who were reluctant to move to tents for a longer period than necessary. Bribed with hot water for sleeping bag bound bottles, the runners would invariably be put out by 9pm.
I must admit, two bottles and a fleece liner didn’t give me the required heat my extremities shivered for. An early slumber would in time give way to a confused rumble for your torch and watch. You would hope that only minutes, maybe an hour, separated you from that mug of tea heralding a new day. 11.30pm would leave you with the realisation that you may have a full six and a half hours to lay there in your frosted camping cocoon. You would shift your weight as water bottles, batteries (which must come into your bag to avoid the cold), your head torch and iPod, would all work their way around your body in the dark. The last time I camped out it involved an inflatable mattress, a duvet, 10 pints of Weissbier and a Midlands music festival. Now I was trying to contort my knee to put on a sock in a bag just too narrow for the task. My tent ‘buddy’ had comforted me with the fact that he never snored when sober. Maybe drunk with altitude his mouth and nose ran the full gamut of guttural tunes. I debated if an elbow to the chest could be considered a preventative rather than a cure for an ailment I half wished for.
As we ascended each day and the nights grew colder thoughts of revolt warmed my frozen bones. These lodges also offered rooms. Simple plywood boxes with beds and little else. The thought of not waking up to my refracted reflection in a frozen piss bottle appealed. Generally, only used by campers too sick to sleep outdoors, I readied myself to part with the 500 rupees (€4.70) for a night indoors. Adrian was less than pleased. His exposed knees mocking my deviation from the ethos of the event. I didn’t care, I was up here to run a race, a close second was a Himalayan holiday; some kind of vague ‘at one with the mountains’ rite of passage ordeal involving sleep deprivation and wearing all my clothes in bed didn’t even make the podium. The book readers mocked, the card players queried prices. The Rubicon had been crossed, my buddy could snore the tent down.
Now that sleep was measured in hours rather than minutes, my enjoyment of the trip increased immensely. Our destination of Gokyo has a majestic setting on a large glacial lake at the foot of Gokyo Ri (5,357m). From it’s peak, you are afforded views of Everest and its more photogenic setting, the Cho La pass within a 360 degree panorama of what hill walkers and the rest of us alike have to accept as a truly stunning vista. My climb up Gokyo was my first real taste of the efforts required on the body to ascend at altitude. Small steps counted out (100) with long rests in-between. By about step 10 of your next incline your brain triggers a need to start gulping in oxygen as hard as your lungs will allow. I could only equate it to putting someone with, say, emphysema at the foot of a steep hill and telling them to run up it. The body simply wouldn’t allow it.
Another day was given over to walking up to the ‘5th lake’ (Gokyo sits on the 3rd) and the Ngozumpa glacier. I remember glaciers from my geography class as pretty white features nestling in mountain sides. This was more like the Grand Canyon’s bigger and uglier brother creating an enormous scar of grey and brown ice though the landscape. Standing near the edge you could hear the groan of the perimeter cliffs being gouged of rock and stone.
A few of us made this excursion including Anna Frost, a full time hill runner sponsored by Salomon. Anna had spent the previous six weeks in the area with her partner Gilbert and was the real deal. Now fully acclimatised, they would head off on training recce runs when the rest of us were horizontal after long days trekking. I had run with both on a previous 10k at Namche (the race reaches Namche after 20 miles so they’ve tagged on a 6.2 mile diversion out to the village of Thamo) and the effort she put in to finishing first versus what I had to do to keep up was stark. Angela Mudge’s female record of 5’02” was very much in her sights, despite fielding queries to the contrary. Likewise, Gilbert was a tall lean full time hill runner. The fact that they were laid back and extremely affable didn’t take from the assumption that you were looking at International No.1 & 2 in waiting.
The rest of the competitors came from a variety of backgrounds but if asked would admit to a litany of distance running and mixed discipline events. Dan from Colorado had given up a M&A job under Bill Gates to commit to full time hill running. Dafydd & Sian had mountain biked at international level. Annie held the British marathon record for her age group. Russell was moving on from single Ironman’s to double and triples in 2010. Neil was looking for a fresh challenge after the Marathon de Sables. Very quickly, my three road marathons seemed like small beer in comparison. However, all shared a certain modesty in the face of a challenge which would test new limits on the body. Dafydd would fail to acclimatise and would end up in a Kathmandu hospital. Other competitors would labour under a variety of ailments from the common ‘Khumbu’ cough to sleeplessness, bouts of vomiting, mild hypothermia and even hallucinations. They warned that the hard part of the EM was getting to the start line. It appeared through slow ascent, excellent medical care and often bloody mindedness that most all of us would get to the beginning. The question remained, were we in any state to make it to the end.
The second week of hiking saw us get back onto the race route to Everest Base Camp (obviously in reverse). Long descents were noted for their potential to break one’s spirit on the return (Sarnassa). Steep climbs were registered as possible locations to break just about everything else (Tengboche). There was talk of optional shortcuts on the descent from Tengboche. This concerned me for two reasons. First, the idea of runners splitting off the trail lent an air of ‘wacky races’ to the day. Local runners may have an advantage and appear on your horizon when they were previously in your wake. Secondly, I had picked up a sprained ankle two days previously. An unwise jog down a series of switchbacks had resulted in going over my left ankle. Previous slips had not been punished and I felt my ankles were holding up well after some long hill training runs at home. This time, however, the left one took on the look of a hobbit’s and come race day the idea of opting off a steep descent for a very steep descent did not appeal. It was while I wandered back down this hill looking for one of these shortcuts that I bumped into a weary couple in ascent. Not only were Alan and Lorraine kindred natives, Alan grew up about two miles from myself. With promises of a Wicklow roar come race day, I felt re-energized and proud and determined to find a way to get around the course, long, short, two ankles or one.
The trek continued up through the villages of Dingboche, Dughla, Pheriche and Lobuche. Each one higher and more spartan than the last. The trail broke out of the forests of rhododendrons into hills of scrub and eventually barren tundra. The path would split across stony valley beds where frozen streams lay motionless amongst the rocks. The route would curve up through steep narrows where large rocks deposited millennia previous would create a multitude of options for feet to shuffle past, step on or hop over. This run was going to be as much about keeping your concentration as your balance. Lobuche (4,740m) was our penultimate stop for two days. A seasonal scattering of lodges which were seeing defections from the wind buffeted tents to lodges in record numbers, it has little else to offer. A spare day ramble with Toby (a Ghurkha Major) and one of his squad ended around 5,300m. Partly out of energy conservation, fear and breath, I decided to happily snap away with the camera as he continued up to some unidentified peak with his coughing charge in tow, repeatedly answering ‘fine Sir’ to any enquiries after his condition. As others pushed on to climb Kala Pattar (5,545m) for new heights and better views, I decided that rest rather than photo opportunities was now more important.
Gorak Shep (5,186m) is the end of the line. Accessed after two miles of frozen rutted ground and one mile of confused mini mountains of terminal moraine, it’s the last permanent habitation before Everest. It sits in on an extinct lake bed which sandy base provides the start area for the race. The final night was lodges for all which meant I was reunited with my buddy who never snores. In the hours that ran up to our 4.30am tea time I lay there trying to remember the course in reverse, which sides of the valley to come down, where frozen rivers were most easily crossed and which path choices ended abruptly in rock slides or mini avalanches. The rattling of a tray of plastic mugs coming up the corridor signaled the wait as over. Time to race.
Porridge with half a muesli bar is spooned into yawning mouths as we try to roll up sleeping bags at 5am. These will hopefully come down later in the day by fast porter, so we don’t have to sleep in our race kit after wearing it all day. The 80 odd competitors gather behind a literal line in the sand of the dry lake bed. It’s agreed that it’s a warm morning with temperatures no worse than -10, the sun a good two hours from rising. The intention is to start as soon as all have been accounted for via a roll call of race numbers. When a call gets no response everyone looks in the direction of the lodges where generally a shuffling figure is encouraged to the start with a cacophony of abuse turning the air ever more blue. Finally, come around 6.25am it seems critical mass allows the off and 80 head torches, whistles, space blankets, thermal hats, gloves, medical cards and 160 pairs of long sleeve tops and leggings sprint, run, jog, or walk towards the mounds of terminal moraine. The compulsory race kit seems to cause the local Nepalese no hindrance as they run at the grey hills of rock and stone. As a shout of ‘Up Wicklow’ comes out of the crowd (of about 12), the locals are lost into the hills with excited shouts and calls that make my heart race even more. Running up hill at 5,200m puts pressures on the body that illicit an immediate physical response. Slowing also gives you more time to pick your way through the terrain. Mindful of my ankle and the consequences of a fall at this stage, I gingerly drop down into gulleys before pacing my way up the far side. By the time I make it out of the moraine the race contenders are out of sight and I’m somewhere in the middle of the thin end of the international contingent. As we move into the two miles of rutted valleys that take you to Lobuche, I’m trying to remember what was the optimal racing line as I walked up. This sometimes meant running off at an angle to a runner ahead in the hope that your route along the far side of a valley would provide less inclines, stone, streams and ice and, hopefully, a quicker course. These choices, mixed with terrain that never allowed much peripheral vision, meant that your oxygen deprived brain was generally in a state of high anxiety. By the time I made check point one all I was sure of was that I was still pointing in the right direction.
The run down to Pheriche was one of the most difficult legs. The route doglegs right around a hill and then passes along a flat stony valley. At some point you need to drift across left to approach the steep scree slope downwards. A quick look for my nearest competitor confirmed that I should have done my drifting way back and I had to run at a perpendicular approach back to the route, losing a place in the process. A nerve-wracking descent through the scree ensued. At one point a misplaced jump to a rock saw me slide off balance in a strange direction and I braced for calamity. Luckily the fall went unpunished but left me rattled and the sure-footedness of a smiling Nepalese runner behind me compounded my fears that this was going to be one long race. Maybe it was the nerves, the altitude or just bad luck but, as I approached the web of frozen streams before Pheriche, a new obstacle presented itself. Pains started to develop in my sides. Never having suffered from stitches at sea level my spirits sank as these obstinate ailments began to throb around my kidneys. Just as the course was getting more runnable (or maybe as a result of this) I was reduced to a walk. Runners I had hoped to welcome through the finish now began to steadily trot past. The cheers of the marshals at the second aid stop were met by one unhappy ex-camper.
The route on to the small settlement of Dughla (smaller still since half of it was swept away in an avalanche two years ago) starts with a long drop down to a river crossing, by bridge fortunately, and then a slow switchback climb up to the ‘Pheriche Pass’. From here, the course becomes more forgiving as frozen ground gives way to dusty trails. Better still, my stitch had subsided and, like a horse race in a matinée, I started to peg back some competitors. Dughla and its fresh landslide scar behind me, I pushed on for Pangboche. Running along the western crest of a deep valley, the route becomes more enjoyable. The Imja Khola river rages on below as the treeline is broached and the risen sun dapples a path which offers the surest footing yet. Respite is short though as a steep drop to a suspension bridge is only tackled moderately faster than the ascent thereafter. The way up to Tengboche is tougher than remembered. A female Nepalese comes slowly into sight. It’s a battle of walking now as we move up either side of a stone path that would give a tank cause for concern. With an overtaking move which would never make pay-per-view, I put on an angular jog to the aid station at the monastery. Something like halfway, I know the hardest part is just ahead, the long descent to another valley floor and an equally steep climb beyond.
Now familiar with my closest pursuers I’m conscious of my restricted downhill ability and my desire to not lose ground. Fortunately, the whole shortcut option had been thrown out by the organisers and I was now faced with something like forty switchbacks of rough stony ground. There were all kinds of trips and stumbles, I was shouting at myself to ‘c’mon’ and ‘keep it together’ as the noise of the river below imperceptibly grew from a distant hum to a powerful roar. I jogged across the bridge and glanced back as I approached the 1,000m climb to Sarnassa. Any notion of tackling this monumental slog with anything more than a walk was instantly dispelled. All I could do was put one foot in front of the other and keep moving. A popular leg of any trek, a mixture of pride and embarrassment flushed through me as walkers would recognise my number and stop to encourage and clap. I wasn’t moving much faster than they were and at one point a young girl with a large basket on her back threatened to overtake me. Deciding that climbing into her basket might only slow us both down I pressed on. A familiar face at the aid station in Sarnassa gave a welcome cheer. I enquired how far ahead the lead group were; unfortunately twenty minutes meant my strong middle third wasn’t going to bring me back into contention.
Mile 17 – 20 is a long exposed trek around a mountain shoulder. On a normal day it would afford beautiful vistas of distant peaks with large brown eagles in sweeping arcs in the valley below. Today its climbs and falls drew on the tailings of my energy reserves. Dispirited by the distance to the next runners and mostly spent by my efforts since Pheriche, my body decided to compound my mood by reintroducing familiar pains into my abdomen and back. A slow mix of jogging and walking made for a long and lonely stage. A Nepalese runner ahead seemed to have company in the form of her partner. Was he holding her up or a more reciprocal arrangement in the height of the noon sun ? (she would be disqualified for receiving help with her kit bag). Eventually another corner was rounded to reveal Namche. Later in the race another runner would drop straight down to the village and cross the finish line, her excellent time at odds with the lack of a coloured band allocated at mile 23. Her race not run, she trudged back up to the village perimeter to run the six mile loop I currently faced.
Familiarity and the pre-race bravado of it being ‘just 10k’ did nothing to ease the task. What was undulating two weeks previous was now a series of desperate climbs and haggard drops. Any attempt to break into a jog was met with instant darting pains. The frustration of having the energy to run being reigned in by a body in revolt made these grinding miles as tough as any I’ve covered. As my companions and peers began to meet me on their return leg, I was stuck in an unenviable position of getting visual confirmation of my sliding standing, runner by runner. Worse still, my slow progress had given my steady pursuers time to make good on their threat. Hopeful attempts to hang on to familiar heels would be given in before long. Mercifully, the turn came and I faced my geographical aggressor for the route home. No improvement in my condition meant a similar physical affair. At one point I leant on a rock to take a (carbohydrate) gel. The white sky began to spread across my vision. Light headedness threatened to envelop me as I heard a runner come towards me. Though recognising my poor state, I grinned and parried concerns. I feared now any nearby medic might deem me unfit to continue. I rocked off my heels and walked on. The final miles were a refusal to accept the desires of my body. Knowing I’d make it back in some kind of fashion, I had a kind of detached interest in my placing. Others passed, hurting but less hindered. As Namche comes back into view below, the sound of children cheering at the finish rings up the hillside. Another Nepalese came on to my own horizon. My body jolted down the stone steps into the town, I shuffled past the Nepalese runner and checked behind for finishers with more reserves than my own. As the final straight came into view, Major Courage (an apt moniker) started to shout encouragement. He would remain there until all his military sourced runners had come in. I paused at the finish line to bid farewell to six and a half hours of the toughest requests I’ve ever made of my body. A medal, a silk scarf and an obligatory bag check greeted me as the pains in my body dissipated like a cowardly child’s monster as the light is thrown
Namche’s continuous development meant that where the race formally finished in a field, it now finishes in the courtyard of a hotel (on the same spot). The same hotel was our accommodation, so post race showers don’t come much closer. I wandered in to find one of my fellow group and faster friends horizontal on a couch making vain attempts to dissuade one of the race doctors from any more injections in his arm. As he wasn’t holding up his end of the bargain, to stop vomiting into a bowl by his side, she continued to administer shots as necessary. Another group member was already in the toilet passing blood. The international battle had gone to Ms Frost in a new female record time of 4’35”. By no means immune to self inflicted trauma, she had run most of the race with a severely sprained ankle, which outgrew my own by a margin. Even a head butt from a yak which left its mark didn’t dent her ambition. Gilbert was the only other non national to break five hours.
Unfortunately, only spy satellites may have seen what must have been a great battle for the podium with the first three Nepalese coming in at 3’59” (1st) , 4’02” (2nd and 3rd). Considering the race record of 3’50” is held by Hari Roka whose flat course PB is 2’20”, I could only imagine what kind of spectacle a sub 4’ run would be.
The remainder of the day bore resemblance to an Allied airstrip awaiting returning combatants. Cheers would go up as familiar faces would come in. Lists were checked to confirm the outstanding. A dwindling plate of medals quantified those who were in danger of being resigned of their challenge by the medical sweep team. Another group friend, veteran of two Comrades (Ultra) marathons, would spend well over ten hours on his feet. Combined with a group of people who had invested so much in realising the opportunity, the event seemed to arbitrarily decide what level of toll it would take. Any preconceived time goals or placing had given way to simply not giving in to a unique and wholly personal challenge.
After a few days of rest, an exhilarating flight out of Lukla and some much needed cosseting at the pleasure of the five star hotel Shanker in Kathmandu, we all reconvened for the prize giving dinner. Every entrant was individually presented with a certificate to generous applause. A good humoured struggle through ‘Molly Malone’ left me grinning as I collected my own, appreciating the inclusivity of the event.
Drinking water from a tap, showering without fear of frost bite and picking at food without the need for potassium permanganate, left me with the glib response that this would be a once in a life time experience. However, I’m sure the seasons will most likely blunt the corners of the more arduous memories of the event for me. Regardless, for the visceral experience one gets from the frantic immediacy of Kathmandu to the stunning serenity of walking in the Himalayas and the multifaceted challenge of the Everest Marathon, it’s an experience that has rewarded me beyond all expectations.
Finally, I’ll resist the attempt to engrave the medal but I came first in the fund raising ‘league’ so everyone who gave can take some pride in being part of a fantastic fundraising effort.