“May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears”

It’s 7am on Saturday 26th November and I’m walking with a group of other runners through the Kakani village of Nepal to head to the start line of the Nepal International Marathon.

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There’s an excited-nervous buzz in the air but having never before run further than 15km and also in the midst of recovering from a recent stomach bug, I’ve no idea what to expect from today. I don’t feel even slightly ready — but when do we ever? I lace up my running shoes, try to ignore the feelings of nausea lurking and tell myself I’ll do the best I can, despite struggling to eat anything more than half a piece of bread with honey for breakfast.

Let’s rewind a bit shall we?

I arrived into Nepal 6 days before race day and throughout the week, my fellow runners and I had been getting to know Nepal and the projects that this event was set up to benefit. The Tuesday before heading up to basecamp we’d all set off on buses to personally visit various local projects. I was supporting UN Global Goal 5, Gender Equality, so I spent Tuesday finding out more about the phenomenal work done by Burns Violence Survivors — Nepal.

Much like the Helen Bamber Foundation, who I was also proudly supporting through this challenge, Burns Violence Surivors are a small but committed group of people making a huge difference. I’ve taken a brief summary of the important work they do:

“There are an estimated 56,000 burns violence cases in Nepal each year, very few of which are treated, as there are very limited dedicated burns units, and with almost no discussion of the underlying issues and causes. Simply put, female burns victims do not admit their burns are caused by violence from their partners, because of a culture of silence around the issue. Additionally, many of the cases are due to self-immolation. BVS is dedicated to treating burns victims effectively, an issue no other major organisation in Nepal is focused on as it is very complex and considered niche. They support treatment as well as rehabilitation, through counselling and vocational training. The charity also aims to prevent attacks through education. They hope to bring the discussion about domestic violence into the open, going into villages and educating through street performances, as well as putting out radio jingles.”

Visiting the children’s burns unit was a day I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

I could go into the harrowing details about the extent of the burns on the children we met or the immensely difficult financial situations and seemingly impossible odds many of the families faced. But it would be remiss to not focus on the incredible resilience that permeated each of the stories — like this little guy that totally stole my heart.

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Full of smiles despite his hands & feet being covered in bandages after a severe electrical burns accident — most of his toes were recently amputated.

BVS really are making an incredible difference with the smallest acts of kindness. From counselling, to medical supplies through to nutrition boxes

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And rehabilation:

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Making scented candles to sell

By the time our day with BVS had ended, I was in awe. My day with the amazing team behind this organisation was humbling, heart-breaking and inspiring all at once.

From the colourful streets of Kathmandu..

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… we all headed up in to the mountains of Kakani — home for the rest of the week.

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The next 2 days were all about Project Pipeline — an impressive goal to work with the local community to lay a 5km water pipe that would enable the villagers to have clean water all year round (the current pipes were freezing in winter!).

And so we return to race day. A few last minute hugs and high fives rippled through the group — and we were off!

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Photo credit: David Altabev

The first section of the race was wonderful in that it was entirely downhill so we ran, laughed and joked that this running lark wasn’t quite so bad after all! This bliss was short lived — hills, hills and more hills would be the theme for the rest of the day. I’d had ample warning about just how hilly this course would be, but my legs still screamed.

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Thankfully, as the course continued there was plenty of stunning scenery to distract me.

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Progress was slow, but steady. As the day went on, I worried that I was going too slow and that I would miss the cut off time to allow me to finish the marathon. It was therefore a hugely happy moment when I made it to the aid station and was given my red band that signalled my second loop! To celebrate, I treated myself to a pedicure, of sorts:

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The first section of the second loop was fuelled by the sheer elation of being able to carry on running, as I’d convinced myself I was last (I wasn’t). The return of hills soon wiped out my feelings of joy and it became about how stubborn I could be — thankfully, very! The hours of training at the altitude chamber had certainly helped with that and I thought of how grateful I was for the support of the Altitude Centre and The Running School — I smiled as I thought of how far I’d come thanks to their help and encouragement. I gave up thinking about my time and focussed instead on using the run as some much needed headspace. I gave up being annoyed at myself for being slower than I’d like and instead considered that after vomiting for 3 days, maybe I was doing okay after all. We are so often our worst critic but a negative mindset makes a long race so much longer. As with most things, mindset is everything and before you get to the finish line you’ve had to face a few battles along the way.

Eventually crossing the finish line was a moment to feel proud of:

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Photo credit: David Altabev

The next day, it was time to say goodbye to camp and head off to Pokhara with Emma and David where, despite Emma and I struggling to walk properly after our running endeavours, more adventures awaited!

Thankfully, we didn’t need fully functioning legs to do this — the world’s biggest zipline:

Taking a shortcut down the mountains — genius!

It’ll be no secret to anyone reading this that I tend to gravitate towards water so it’ll be no surprise that I soon found myself doing this:

Pokhara was the perfect place to recharge our batteries and I’ll confess I was a little sad to leave.

Back in Kathmandu for one more day before flying back to the UK, I went in search of monkeys to cheer me up.

Monkeys make everything better!

Like the sound of combining marathons with social impact? Then you’ll love this!

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