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Sexton prepares for Everest marathon challenge

Ken Tate outside St George’s Parish Church, Belfast, where he is Sexton.
Ken Tate outside St George’s Parish Church, Belfast, where he is Sexton.
Ken Tate competing in the 2007 Everest Marathon.
Ken Tate competing in the 2007 Everest Marathon.

Ken Tate, Sexton at St George’s Parish Church, Belfast, will revisit the Himalayas to take part in his second Everest Marathon this November.

Ken took up running in his forties, and did his first marathon in Belfast on his 50th birthday. Since then, he has participated in city marathons, adventure races and ultra–marathons. He did his first Everest Marathon 10 years ago and despite admitting it was his toughest challenge ever, Ken is all set to do it again!

There have been 16 Everest Marathons since 1987. Starting at Gorak Shep at 5184m, close to Everest Base Camp, and finishing in the Sherpa ‘capital’ of Namche Bazaar at 3446m, this is considered the world’s most spectacular race.

Ken will be raising funds for the charity which organises this unique race – the UK–based Everest Marathon Fund. The Fund supports charities in Nepal, one of the poorest countries in South Asia, where people continue to battle the effects of the devastating earthquakes of April and May 2015.

Ken’s application to participate had to be supported by doctors’ certificates and evidence that he will in fact be fit enough to compete in this challenge.

In order to acclimatise naturally to the high altitude, all competitors have to commit to 26 days in the region. Ken said “The number of runners is limited to 75 non–Nepalese with up to 20 Nepalese runners. Taking into account our non–runners and medical staff we will have a trekking group numbering around 100 plus Sherpa porters and guides.”

The challenge has many risks – one of the main dangers is Acute Mountain Sickness which can be fatal. “Our medics will have a portable hyperbaric chamber which can provide life–saving emergency treatment to those suffering from the most serious forms of Acute Mountain Sickness,” Ken said.

Ken Tate in the Everest region during acclimatisation for the last Everest Marathon.
Ken Tate in the Everest region during acclimatisation for the last Everest Marathon.

After completing the 2007 Everest Marathon he said he would never do it again. “To me it was a once in a lifetime experience, but then the opportunity came up again this year and as it is the last chance I will have to take part [there is an upper age limit] I decided to apply. I also felt that this would give me the opportunity to contribute something to Nepal, particularly after the earthquakes.”

He anticipates the 42km will take him at least twice as long as a normal marathon. “It is a long, long race along terrain that goes up and down, up and down. I think it will take me around eight hours,” he said. “In ‘07 I was running with a broken shoulder and this slowed me down a little. This summer I’m staying well away from motorcycles, push bikes and skis!”

The race itself is the easy part, according to Ken. “The difficult part of the whole endeavour is getting to the start line in good health. That is why we spend so much time trekking in. It is critically important that we are properly acclimatised.

“This time round I have a good idea of what’s involved which makes what I am attempting to do even more lunatic!”

Ken, however, is no stranger to running in extreme conditions. In Mongolia, he completed the Sunrise to Sunset ultra–marathon which covered 100km in one day. An adventure race in Mali, west Africa, was run over six stages, while a Sahara run took him through deep sand and over mountains.

During his last Everest Marathon, there was a blizzard the day before the race began.
Ken is anticipating snow and ice in the early stages but things will warm up as the runners descend. “Last time it was –5 degrees when we started at 6.30am but was up to 25 degrees when we got down to the finish,” he said.

His training is already well underway. “Before I go I will be aiming to be doing around 100km a week with a weekly long run of 30km,” he said. “I do most of my running in places like Black Mountain and Cave Hill and other off road paths. I avoid running on the road. It puts a lot of strain on the skeleton and I don’t particularly enjoy it.

On race day, Ken will set out running in his warm down jacket, and will discard clothing at the first aid stations as he descends and as the temperatures rise. The rules state he must carry his own safety equipment for the entire race.

Race organisers are mindful of the environmental impact on this busy Everest base camp site. All supplies are carried by foot or hoof, no wheeled vehicle can access the site due to the terrain.

During the acclimatisation period, the competitors and their team will be well fed by Sherpas who will carry their tents and other equipment. It is important that the competitors eat well. “Because of the conditions and the cold you don’t want your body fat percentage to be too low,” Ken said. “We are fed plenty of nutritious but monotonous food, no meat, but lots of tinned fish and spam!”

Looking forward to the marathon, Ken said: “I feel very grateful for the privilege of being given the chance to once again set foot in a unique and sacred place – the Tibetans call it Chomolungma, Goddess Mother of Mountains.”

You can sponsor Ken online by visiting www.virginmoneygiving.com/kentate or make a donation at St George’s Parish Church.