The story of Kristina Schou Madsen from Denmark
The Danish sports teacher, Kristina Schou Madsen, talked to us in her home city of Copenhagen about her experience participating in the highest marathon in the world, where she finished as second best non-Nepali woman. The 28 year old had only started long distance running almost by accident: she hurt her foot playing football and replaced her favourite sport with running. After she ran her first long distance race in 2008, she has done 15 more marathons. But, for this active athlete (boxing, mountain biking, spinning), the streets of the city and trails of the flat land were not enough. Soon she was looking for a new adventure – and found herself in Nepal a short time later.
How did you come up with the idea of running the highest marathon in the world?
Soon after my very first marathon, I became more and more fascinated with running and started to look into trail running. I was looking for a new challenge and found the Everest Marathon online. The highest marathon in the world! I was totally up for it and wanted to apply. The marathon was fully booked but, 10 weeks before the run, another person dropped out and I was in! Super lucky!
How did you prepare for these extreme conditions?
The most important thing was to prepare myself for running at high altitude, so I especially trained to run uphill and downhill as fast as I could. Unfortunately, my home country is not really suited for that as our highest mountain is only 170m high. I did sports seven days a week, 3 – 6 hours a day: mountain biking, running, rafting and kayaking. Directly after I was accepted I travelled to Nepal. What had been planned as a trekking holiday became a sort of boot camp! For five weeks I was trekking through the Himalaya. To walk for so many consecutive hours was quite an adventure but it made me strong.
What sports do you normally do?
I usually run about 60 km a week and do a lot of circuit training. I have always done sports on a daily basis: I just need it! I am very lucky as, in Denmark, I have a job at a sports school. So I can try out many new things and I am constantly surrounded by a lot of young, passionate people that share my spirit for sports.
How did you really feel when you got accepted as a participant in the Everest Marathon?
Just after I was accepted, I thought, “Why did I apply for this?” And my mother was a little shocked at first. When I was first in Nepal I got really ill and that cost me a lot of strength. That’s why I tried to reduce my expectations: I mentally prepared to cross the finish line as the last runner.
Before the actual marathon, you had to master an enormous climb. Tell us about it.
Before the official trek, I had climbed to Gorak Shep (5184m) and Everest base camp (5364m) with a group of seven other Danish people. I was the only one who finally got to Gorak Shep. One after the other the other climbers had to give up: some of them got altitude sickness and two had to be transported back to Kathmandu by helicopter! It scared me a little to be honest. For the official trek we had 15 days to acclimatise before the actual marathon with the starting line at Gorak Shep. We all slept in tents and that commanded my respect.
What were the conditions like and how did you manage this?
One of the many challenges was starting the race at about – 10°C while at the finish line it was 22°C. When the marathon started I had three layers on: woolly underwear, a thin second layer and a wind- and water-proof jacket. I wore good trail running shoes and a backpack with integrated drinking system. The first kilometres were so cold I had to keep the drinking hose close to my body so the water would not freeze. In order to drink something I had to lift all the layers of my clothes: it was quite a challenge.
Tell us about the race itself: how was it?
Well, we started in small groups but after about 15km we got separated. But actually I was never really alone during the race. It was a great experience running on terrain like Mount Everest. We had to pass crevasses, snowy paths and stony trails. I tried to enjoy the race as much as possible but it was really hard work. Going uphill was really challenging because of low oxygen levels. My body started screaming for more oxygen during the hard work. It was really exhausting. Arriving at the third control post I was told that I was the first fastest female foreigner. I just couldn’t believe it! At the fourth control post I was told the same. That gave me the motivation to believe that I would make it to the finish line.
What came to mind first when you made it?
I was wiped out and totally overwhelmed. I could not believe that, of the non-Nepalese runners, I was the second best woman and fourth best overall.
Impressive! How was was it then to come back to Denmark?
That was actually pretty hard. The first days you are glad about all the goodies and home comforts. But as soon as you start taking those things for granted and your daily routine starts kicking back in, you miss the adventure. In the mountains I never knew what the next day would bring. It’s this feeling that I am missing most.
What’s you next big challenge?
Well, for this year I have planned five marathons. But after having run the highest marathon in the world, I want to try something completely different. Maybe the desert, or maybe something else which is also icy (laughs).
Interview by Odlo International – Premium Sportswear Brand