A ten-day trek across Mount Everest, followed by a half marathon and another trek down the mountain with a nasty lung infection, but South Africa’s own Bucket List Genie would not have it any other way. After all, she is only the third South African female to complete the Everest Trek-Marathon Experience.
Adventure is in her blood, and that’s one of the reasons why she pushes herself to the limits when she’s not creating once-in-a-lifetime experiences for clients at Celestial Gifts, or running after her two young boys, Keanu and Connor.
Many months of training, including a gruelling weekly fitness programme that included two kilometres of swimming two to three times a week, and fifty kilometres of running, culminated in Odette Butcher (AKA the Bucket List Genie)’s latest accomplishment – becoming the third South African woman ever to complete the Tenzing Hillary Everest Marathon. Having completed the Petra Desert Marathon in 2014, the Great Wall Marathon in 2015, and the Polar Circle Marathon in 2016, Odette is no stranger to adventure marathons, but this time, she approached her preparations with great respect for the mountain, which has claimed countless lives. Safely back home, Odette recollects her thoughts and catches up on sleep, which comes so much easier in a soft, warm bed.
It saddens her to encounter negative perceptions about South Africa whenever she travels, says Odette, but she tries to balance it with perspective. When she announced her plans to complete the Everest Marathon, she encountered similar alarmist rumours, perpetuated by the negative experiences of trekkers who weren’t properly equipped, who trekked alone, and who refused to turn back when they should have – mostly beyond Base Camp. “If you have a realistic dream, it is well within your reach. You lessen your risks by ignoring urban rumours and bad press and by always using reputable operators. Make sure you have the correct gear, listen to the leader, and then relax into the experience.” advises Odette.
Her strategy from the start was to take it slow and steady, and after ten days of trekking the 65kms to the start and experiencing oxygen deprivation and sleep apnoea due to the high altitudes and sub-zero temperatures, Odette was exhausted, but adamant to finish the marathon. Like many other runners, she contracted a nasty chest infection that forced her to make a solo-parent responsible decision at the eleventh hour to switch to the half-marathon instead of the full marathon. Her focus was not about finishing first, but finishing alive, and her training and wise decision paid off as she was the fifth woman to cross the finish line.
“The mountains will always have the last word and I’ve learnt to be flexible in order to avoid being another statistic. The altitude made me humble!” she laughs, enjoying deep breaths of clean, Cape Town air.
For all the bad press associated with the flight to and landing at Lukla Airport, it was executed with precision and perfection in every way. Lukla is 2800 m above sea level, with a 150 runway and vertical drop, which makes it one of the most dangerous in the world.
Odette attributes much of the success of her trip to the wonderful support team. “Life of a Sherpa is hard. Absolutely everything must be carried up the mountain on their backs. The load is stabilised by a head strap. Some of their loads weigh well over 50kgs and some of them are young teenagers who look the same weight as their load. They walk without energy bars or water, and often wear flip flops.”
A fantastic event management team and support staff that included fourteen porters, Sherpas, cooks, a yak herder, and a trekking guide met an exceptional team of brave runners. One-hundred and seventy international runners and forty Nepalese runners competed in the marathon. Many of the international runners have been (or still are) in the defence- or air force and several have completed various iron man competitions, which made them worthy adversaries on the track, and wonderful and inspiring people to know.
Few things inspire confidence as much as an adventure marathon. It makes one realise their own inner strength. Accomplishing the training and competing in the marathon gives you the strength to believe that you can do whatever you put your mind to. “In fact sometimes a day in the life of a solo parent and business person is harder than any of these challenges put together. Based on what we deal with daily, we do not give ourselves enough credit for what we are able to accomplish.
“A humbling experience indeed, many of the runners have overcome immense challenges to beat the odds in order to participate in the marathon. Several individuals were cancer survivors and had great physical and emotional challenges. For Odette, the marathon was a manifestation of her own journey of personal growth and overcoming negative internal dialogue by breaking her own self-imposed limitations.
If there’s one thing that the four endurance marathons have in common, is the fact that each one offers a unique climatic challenge. Petra Desert Marathon is known for the desert heat, while the Great Wall Marathon’s greatest challenge was climbing those stairs in excruciating humidity. The Polar Circle Marathon’s challenge was twofold – the -37 degrees sub-zero temperatures and wind chill. Everest was a challenging experience due to not only the brutal terrain, but also the fact that many runners became ill due to poor sanitation and food hygiene, lack of piped water and overall cleanliness. Close living quarters made picking up a bug a real risk, especially since Odette was already run down from ten days of sleep deprivation.
Everest’s gruelling terrain included suspension bridges above the tree lines, which revealed powerful lunar-like landscapes. Runners had to zigzag up and down the mountain in order to acclimatise before they reached base camp. One of the ‘rest’ days included an upward ascent of 1217 feet to 3880m and then back down again. At times, the team were trekking at an average of two kilometres per hour through forests of rhododendrons; exquisite panoramic landscapes, gushing rivers, and over suspension bridges, surrounded by snow capped gargantuan mountains as far as the eye can see. However, they remained in good spirits and shared the camaraderie of an experience of a lifetime.
While much of the experience was all about patience and balancing that inner desire for perfection with reality that not everything always goes according to plan. At the end of the day, it’s those experiences that make connections, create memories, and strengthen character – the very cornerstones upon which Celestial Gift Experiences was built, and the principles by which the Bucket List Genie lives.
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