IMG_0383Punchline first: we did it! We reached Uhuru Peak on June 27th after more than 10 hours of hiking in the dark and the cold. It was everything everyone said it would be: challenging, intense, rewarding, amazing. I cried three times on summit night: once when the sun finally started to rise. I was so cold for so long and I just kept telling myself that as soon as the sun came up, I would be warm. As soon as that first stripe of pink appeared on the horizon, I felt the greatest sense of relief. The second time was when we reached Stella Point. It seemed to take forever, especially the last 50 meters, but seeing that sign was a gift. It meant we were almost at our destination. And finally, a few tears were shed when we finally approached that infamous “Congratulations” sign at Uhuru peak, 5,895 meters above sea level. I will never forget our tired but triumphant group walking those final steps together to the peak. It was bright and sunny and beautiful and we did it together, as a team. Of 19 people that attempted the summit, all 19 people succeeded. A statistical rarity.

So why the hell did we hike through the night? That’s just the way it is apparently. For those that don’t know, the Kilimanjaro climb is 7 days. On Day 5, you go to sleep at 5pm, wake up at 10pm and leave for the summit at 11pm, hiking all the way through the night. It’s dark and cold. It was -7C with a wind-chill of about -13C. Of the whole trip, this is definitely the part that pushes you to the limits – both physically and mentally.

Summit night is really all anyone talks about when they climb Kilimanjaro.  But all the days leading up to summit were amazing and challenging too. In fact, the entire trip was far more physically demanding than I was anticipating. I went into this adventure a bit arrogant. I didn’t really think it would push me as hard as it did. It was a very humbling experience.

A few weeks ago, I asked the question: which is harder? Running a marathon or climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. When I got to Uhuru peak, I said to myself: marathon. Marathon was definitely harder. But when you run a marathon, you get to stop when you cross the finish line. When you climb Kilimanjaro and you reach your destination, you still have to keep going. This was definitely harder than a marathon. As soon as we were done our picture-taking and high-fiving, we turned back the way we came to head back to camp, suddenly very aware of the massive distance we covered through the night. We gave it everything we had to get to the peak, but somehow, we all had to dig deep and find some extra energy. It took 3 hours to get down. And after a short rest at camp, we had another 2 hour hike. If you had asked me to walk for another 5 hours after I finished my marathon, I would have flatly refused.  Getting to the summit and back down again in the same day was a true test of physical and mental strength, and one that I do actually think was a greater challenge than running a marathon.

I could blither on about each day of this trip for pages, but I recognize that I have derailed my blog focus from running lately in favour of this adventure. So, for those of you who want to read the detailed account of my Kilimanjaro climb, I have transcribed my daily journal from the trip here. In this journal, you’ll get all the details – what I wore, what I ate, where we slept, the state of toilets en route – you name it. It’s all there. Happy to answer any question in the comments section as well.

Finally, a few thank yous. Thank you to Zara Tours – the best trekking company in Africa! Thank you to all the guides and porters who made this trip possible. You are all superhumans and I am in awe of you. Thank you to team leaders Asa and Chombo. I trusted you fully and you didn’t disappoint. Thank you to my husband Graham for being fun and adventurous and for managing to live with me – conflict-free- for 7 days in a tent. Thank you to Mother Nature for not sucking. It didn’t rain once the whole time. And finally, a big thank you to Acacia Mining and CEO Brad Gordon for having this vision and making this trip a reality. I am proud and honoured to have been a part of it.

Want more details? To read a transcript of my Kilimanjaro journal, click here

What's in my bag? Is that a selfie stick? Why yes! Yes, it is.

What’s in my bag? Is that a selfie stick? Why yes! Yes, it is.

If Mount Kilimanjaro were a race, I would be standing at the starting line. We depart tomorrow for what is sure to be a memorable trip. I’m all packed and ready to go and as I finish up my remaining tasks, I can’t help but think about how similar this process has been to my marathon training. In fact, I have the same feeling of anxiety and excitement that I did standing at that starting line at the Scotiabank Waterfront Marathon. I have done all the training, bought all the right gear, so just like that day back in October 2013, I have to trust the process. No use worrying now.

As you can see from my bag, I have packed all the most important items, including a selfie stick, dry shampoo, ski goggles and a buff which is this tube of fabric that can be anything from headband to balaclava. Under those miscellaneous items is every type of dry fit and waterproof clothing you can imagine, as well as everything from summer to ski wear. Since we pass through at least 6 different ecosystems on this journey, I need a wardrobe with a lot of variety.

I could publish an epic packing list for Kilimanjaro, but many people have already done this and done a fabulous job. This blog post from Her Packing List was particularly useful and I consulted it numerous times. Ladies, if you’re planning to climb Kili, this is a great resource.

In addition to packing advice, I spent much of Saturday afternoon reading blog posts from past climbers in an attempt to mentally prepare for this adventure. The descriptions varied wildly – everything from horrific to life changing. I am cautiously optimistic.

I will attempt to publish some photos while en route, but battery power and cell reception could prove to be an issue. In any case, stay tuned for a recap that could rival this one.

treadmillWalking on a treadmill is kind of lame. I mean, let’s be honest, even running on a treadmill is pretty dull. Walking is just the worst. I feel like a slow, injured animal. Or a geriatric out for a stroll around the shopping mall. It’s really just not good at all.

In an effort to train for my upcoming mountain climb, I have been making a concerted effort to do more walking and hill climbing. I can’t always get outside, so the treadmill has been my go-to second choice. To try and make a long treadmill walk less awful, I looked up some treadmill hill climbs online. I wanted to find something challenging – something that actually got my heartrate up and made my legs work. I found a 45 minute hill climb workout online and decided to give it a try.

This was the workout:

TIME SPEED INCLINE
00:00 -05:00 3.0 2.0
05:00-08:00 3.5 4.0
08:00-11:00 4.0 5.0
11:00-16:00 3.5 8.0
16:00-21:00 3.0 10.0
21:00-26:00 3.5 8.0
26:00-31:00 3.5 10.0
31:00-34:00 4.0 8.0
34:00-37:00 3.0 10.0
37:00-40:00 3.5 5.0
40:00-45:00 3.0 2.0

 

So… this was actually really hard.

As a seasoned treadmill runner, I did have a hard time not breaking into a run. With dozens of people running around me, it was hard not to feel like I was being judged. In reality, I’m sure no one was even paying attention to me, but I couldn’t help but think that people were wondering why I was only walking.

My ego aside, this was actually pretty tough. My legs were working hard and I was sweating. The entire workout was just over 4K and once the incline reduced back to 2%, it felt like almost no effort at all. I decided to run the last little bit to make it a nice even 5K.

With a change in speed and incline every 5 minutes or so, it was variable enough that it didn’t feel boring. I’m not actually sure I’ve ever even had the treadmill up to a 10% incline. It’s quite a steep hike!

If you’re looking for a lower impact workout, but one that still gets your heartrate up and burns a decent amount of calories, this is it. If you’re a runner, there’s lots of benefits of walking. Give this a try and let me know what you think!

Later that day...

Later that day…

This pretty much sums up how I feel today :)

This pretty much sums up how I feel today :)

Twitter reminded me that today is National Running Day, an annual celebration of running that happens every year on the first Wednesday in June. I have to admit, I really didn’t feel like running today. My alarm went off at 6:00 am and I had a 7K run marked in my calendar. But I was sleepy. And my muscles hurt from a weight class yesterday. And the sunbeams streaming in the window were really nice to lounge in. I hit snooze once. Then twice. Then three times. Then I didn’t have time to run anymore.

As soon as I saw #NationalRunningDay trending on Twitter, I knew I needed to reschedule that morning run to this evening. But when I got home I just wanted to lounge and drink wine and eat dinner and finish watching The Great Gatsby with my free trial of Amazon Prime.

Arrrgh. When you don’t have a race on the horizon, it’s awfully hard to get out there even with internet peer pressure. But I did it anyway. A 5K jaunt along Regent’s Canal with one long pause in the middle to take a work phone call (which totally destroyed my average pace! Why didn’t the Nike+ app pause while I took the phone call?!)

Anyway, not my best run, but I’m pleased that I got out there anyway even though I had a day-long argument with myself about all the things I’d rather be doing.

Now I can eat dinner, drink wine and lounge guilt-free. Good work, self.

Happy National Running Day all!

Brr... It was cold. And yes, that is a selfie stick.

Brr… It was cold. And yes, that is a selfie stick.

After I published last week’s post pondering whether walking can help running, I received several encouraging comments from readers about how their own hiking and walking actually contributed to a PB in a subsequent race.

And then, after a week of hiking and walking, I ran my fastest 5K in weeks. Coincidence? I think not.

So, with that little ego boost, I was inspired to continue this hiking/walking trend both to prep for my upcoming Mount Kilimanjaro climb, and in an effort to clock a PB in my next half marathon.

Because we’re gluttons for punishment, we decided we would hike the Seven Sisters again… in the pouring rain. Two weeks ago, we hiked this glorious 23K of rolling, grassy terrain with mild temperatures, blue skies and ample sunshine. This time, we were greeted with high winds, pelting rain and mud.

The whole experience definitely loses some of its appeal in the pouring rain. The gorgeous chalk cliffs and beautiful views were clouded, literally. You couldn’t really see much! But it was still an incredible walk. And, it was definitely good training. Much like training for a race, you have to force yourself to complete those training runs even when the weather sucks. You never know, it could be cold and rainy on race day and you have to be prepared. We used the same logic to power us through on Sunday.

The only difference was that we stopped about 18K in to have lunch at this lovely pub in Beachy Head. And because it was Sunday, I indulged in a Sunday roast. It was nice to sit down and dry off a bit and the pub was warm and welcoming, complete with roaring fire. It felt like a beautiful cottage in Canada in the fall. It was really hard to get up and motivate ourselves to finish the final descent into Eastbourne. Luckily the last 5K was all downhill.

The last time we did this hike, my calves hurt for days. I’m pleased that I was totally pain free the second time around and even followed up Sunday’s hike with a 45 minute hill climb on the treadmill last night. Mountain? Bring it on.

In other news, did you hear that a 92-year-old woman completed the San Diego Rock n’ Roll marathon making her the oldest marathon finisher in history?! The adorable Harriette Thompson completed the grueling 42.2K in 7:24:36. When asked about all the attention she was getting, she replied humbly that, “All you need to do is get to 90-something and you get lots of attention.” I’d like to be her friend.

One of the nicer views of the day!

One of the nicer views of the day!

Why can't they make pink hiking boots??

Why can’t they make pink hiking boots??

Much like training for a marathon, you would never hike a mountain in brand new shoes. You have to break them in first.

So in anticipation of our upcoming Mount Kilimanjaro climb, I’ve replaced my beautiful Nikes for some heavy, grey hiking boots. I miss those pink beauties. It seems that hiking boots only come in grey, black or brown. No neon pink here. They’re also bulky and cumbersome. In fact, I was so sure that I had bought the wrong size, I tried to return them. They felt big and weird and they rubbed my ankles. Surely, this can’t be how they are supposed to feel! The salesperson at Mountain Warehouse kindly informed me that they are supposed to feel different than running shoes. They’re hiking boots. Right.

Training for a mountain climb means lots of walking. And now that I’ve come to terms with the general ugliness of the boots, we have started to log a lot of kilometres on them.

The first major hike was the Seven Sisters Country Park, a beautiful expanse of chalk cliffs spanning 23 kilometers. We hiked all seven sisters and I’m pleased to report that my feet felt perfectly happy the whole way. We’re off to a good start.

I started to wonder though, could all this walking help my running? Would all this walking make me a slower, more lethargic runner? A few quick Google searches gave some encouraging answers.

Walking for 30-60 minutes continuously can be an effective way to cross train without putting strain on your running muscles. In fact, walking can actually be a brilliant recovery tool. The stiffness that follows a long run can often be deterred by a long walk. Walking will help get your blood pumping around your legs which actually helps repair any micro muscle tears caused by running.

Long walks can also help increase overall endurance. While walking takes longer, it does help promote the same endurance in your feet and legs as running, only without the same injury risk. Some studies I read actually said that adding regular long walks into your running routine can help keep you running long into old age!

This is all great news since a few weeks after our Kili climb, we are headed right into training for a September half marathon! I’m looking forward to reaping the benefits of all this walking, even if I do have to do it in ugly boots.

Mountain Warehouse should probably hire me as their model.

Mountain Warehouse should probably hire me as their model.

Not Kilimanjaro, but another volcano. This was at the top of the Sierra Negra volcano in the Galapagos Islands

Not Kilimanjaro, but another volcano. This was at the top of the Sierra Negra volcano in the Galapagos Islands

Yes, that is the age-old question, isn’t it? <insert cricket sounds>

OK, so maybe this isn’t a question that the average person finds themselves asking, but this is something I’ve been pondering quite a bit lately. In June, my husband and I will head to Tanzania to tackle the highest mountain in Africa and the highest free-standing mountain in the world: Mount Kilimanjaro.

This challenging climb reaches 19,341 feet and will take a total of 7 days to reach the top. A team of hardy porters carry all our gear, food, water and shelter for the ascent and our group will hike 10-20km a day eventually reaching the summit on Day 7 after an 8 hour hike in the middle of the night. Each day gets increasingly more challenging with the altitude, which can sometimes have intense side effects. What’s more, altitude effects everyone differently, and there’s really no way to tell in advance if you’ll be one of the unlucky ones that gets altitude sickness and has to abandon the climb.

In total, if we make it to the top, we will climb approximately 90km. Overall, it seems pretty intense. I’m scared and excited and hopeful and terrified all at once.

The itinerary that we received when we signed up includes encouraging phrases such as:

Totally exposed to the ever-present gales, the tents are pitched on a narrow, stony, and dangerous ridge. Make sure that you familiarize yourself with the terrain before dark to avoid any accidents.

Remind me why we’re doing this again?

Right. I remember. We love challenges! And this is a BIG bucket-list item that we’ll get to check off this year. The accomplishment will be well worth it.

The hike is being hosted by my husband’s company, Acacia Mining, so we’ll be joined by an entourage of his coworkers and their families. We’ll also be climbing for a good cause, raising money for CanEducate, a charity that provides support, education and learning tools to under privileged children in Africa. I’ll update this post as soon as the donation page is live (read: hit you all up for donations!)

So far, I’m noticing a lot of similarities between marathon training and mountain climbing training.

We bought our hiking boots – the most essential piece of equipment – and we’re working on breaking them in. Like running, it would be a massive mistake to trial your shoes for the first time on race day, so it’s important that we get some miles in on the new shoes before we arrive in Africa. To do this, we’ve planned some hikes, we wear them to walk to work and I even wear mine around the flat while I make dinner.

The other similarity between marathon running and mountain climbing is the endurance and determination needed to finish it. We’ll do the training and we’ll be in good shape, but advice from people who have climbed Kili before is that the final ascent requires just as much mental stamina as it does physical. Kind of like the last couple kilometres of a marathon. I feel like that part might seem strangely familiar.

But will the actual climb itself be tougher than a running a marathon? I hope that will be a subject of a blog post set to publish around July 2015. Stay tuned!

If any former Kili climbers out there want to give us some advice, we’re all ears!