The Danish sports teacher Kristina Schou Madsen recently participated in the highest marathon in the world and talked to us about her experience as finishing as the second best woman from abroad. The 28-year old only had started long distance running almost by accident: She hurt her foot, playing football, and replaced her former favorite sport with running. After she ran her first long distance in 2008, she has been doing 15 more marathons. But for the active athlete Kristina (boxing, mountainbiking, spinning), the streets of the city and the 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. So 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. I was super lucky: The marathon was fully booked but 10 weeks before the run, another person dropped out. Out of a sudden, I was in!
How did you prepare for these extreme conditions?
Directly after I was accepted, I traveled to Nepal. What had been planned as a trekking holiday in the first place soon became sort of a boot camp! Five weeks I was trekking through the Himalaya. To walk for so many consecutive hours was quite an adventure but that made me strong. The most important thing was to prepare myself for running at a high altitude. That’s why I trained especially 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 170 meters high.
Beyond tracking, I did sports seven days a week, three to six hours a day: mountain biking, running, rafting and kayaking.
What sports do you normally do?
I usually run about 60 kilometers weekly and do a lot of circuit training. I have always done sports on a daily basis. I just need it! And I am very lucky: 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 though: “What did I even think applying for this?!” Also my mum was a little shocked at first.When I was in Nepal, I got really ill. That cost me a lot of strength. That’s why I tried in my head to reduce my expectations. I prepared mentally to maybe cross the finish line as the last runner. That was a real challenge for me.
Before the actual marathon, you had to master an enormous climb. Tell us about it.
15 days before the actual marathon, we had to climb to the starting line at Gorak Shep (5,184 m) and to the base camp (5,364) twice. We all slept in tents, that commanded me some respect. I did the climb to Gorak Shep with a group of seven other Danish people. I was the only one that finally arrived at Gorak Shep. One after the other, the climbers had to give up, some of them got altitude sickness. Two had to be transported back by helicopter! I would have never thought that and it scared me a little to be honest.
What were the conditions like and how did you manage this?
One of the many challenges was that we had to start the race at more or less minus 10 degrees Celsius and at the finish line, it was 22 degrees Celsius! When the marathon started, I had three layers on: underwear, a thin second layer and a wind- and waterproof jacket. I wore good trail running shoes and a backpack with an integrated drinking system. The first kilometers, it was so cold that I had keep the drinking hose really 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 15 km we got separated. But actually I was never really alone during the race. It was a great experience running on a terrain like Mount Everest. We had to pass crevasse, snowy paths and stony ground 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 service station, I was told that I am the first fastest woman from a foreign country. I just couldn’t believe it! At the fourth service station, I was told the same. That gave me the motivation to believe that I will make it until the finish line.
What came to mind first when you made it?
I was wiped out and totally overwhelmed. I could not believe that I not only made it, but I was second best woman and 4th best overall (of all Non-Nepalese participants).
Impressive! How 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 take it for granted and your daily life routine starts kicking back in, you miss the adventure. In the mountains, I never knew what the next day would bring. It’s this very feeling that I am missing the most.
What's your next big challenge?
Well, for this year, I planned five marathons. But after I ran the highest marathon in the world, I want to try something completely different. Maybe the desert or maybe still something icy (laughs).
Kristina was talking to us in her home city of Copenhagen.