Russell Simpson thought one of his two nights at 5380m at Mt Everest Base Camp might be his last.

His two-man tent was pitched on rocks and ice and everything inside it froze at -15C. The ice underneath was creaking. He could hear an avalanche coming closer - 18 people camped there had been swept off the mountain by an avalanche in 2015.

"It was so loud, and so close and it just kept coming," the Whanganui District Health Board's new chief executive said.

He and three friends were camped on the Khumbu Icefall at the head of the Khumbu Glacier, to be ready for the Tenzing Hillary Everest Marathon on May 29. It was an extreme experience.

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During their last week in Nepal Simpson never managed to get warm. In the base camp's low atmospheric pressure it felt as if he was getting only half the normal amount of oxygen. It scrambled his brain, so just tying shoe laces was a mission. In a photograph taken of similarly brain-addled Kiwis they held the New Zealand flag upside down.

For three weeks Simpson ate mainly dal bhat, a lentil soup on rice. There was no meat.

He'd never tried a lentil before. He liked the soup at the start but once altitude kicked in he couldn't taste anything.

"You are eating for energy, not pleasure. I didn't have any taste buds."

It was hard to get enough oxygen to run, and he finished his time in Nepal with minor frostbite on one foot and the "Khumbu cough", from breathing in dust and cold dry air.

Despite all that, Simpson feels privileged to have been there. He got to see a hospital and school started by New Zealand hero Sir Edmund Hillary, and would recommend trekking in the Himalayas to anyone.

"The beauty of the surroundings and the appreciation of how insignificant you are in those mountains is pretty inspiring."

He and friends Colin Thomson, Paul May and Colin Chapman entered the marathon together. Their team, the Good Family Chaps (GFCs), aimed to raise $250,000 for the Heart Kids charity. Simpson managed $2567 for the New Zealand Spinal Trust as well.

The four "weekend warriors" had been training in extreme events in New Zealand before leaving for Nepal.

They left on May 14 and spent two days in Kathmandu on arrival in Nepal. It was hot and busy. They had briefings and medical checks, met fellow runners and their head Sherpa, visited a couple of temples and experienced the mad traffic situation.

"There are no traffic rules, but everything seems to work."

Then they spent two days waiting for a flight to the world's most dangerous airport, Lukla. At 2860m, the height of Mt Ruapehu, it has a single, short runway and notoriously bad weather. In the end they got there by helicopter.

They had each paid $4500 for meals and accommodation in the weeks before and after the marathon. It's run on May 29, the anniversary of the day Sherpa Tenzing Norgay and New Zealand's Edmund Hillary first climbed Everest, the highest mountain in the world.

Every year 150 people are allowed to run in the marathon. Some do the standard 42km, some do half that and others do an ultra 60km.

Altitude makes it a challenge for people from elsewhere. Simpson first felt the lack of oxygen climbing the stairs out of Lukla Airport.

The marathon is preceded by a 120km trek to get acclimatised. Photo / Supplied
The marathon is preceded by a 120km trek to get acclimatised. Photo / Supplied

What came next was a 10-day trek to get used to the conditions. The GFCs were part of a group of 20. The youngest were in their twenties and at 60 May was the oldest. They had Sherpa porters to carry their heavy gear and they wore only day packs - but they still had to take small steps and stop often.

The trek was 120km, "trekking high and sleeping low" to get runners used to the altitude. It was six to eight hours' walking a day, on narrow rocky paths with sheer drops. Every foot had to be accurately placed.

"If you slip you are gone," said Simpson.

They were walking the main route to the Base Camp. They saw trains of mules and yaks, with bells jingling, carrying loads. Their Sherpa porters carried loads of up to 80kg.

Yak/cattle cross animals transport goods to Everest Base Camp. Photo / Russell Simpson
Yak/cattle cross animals transport goods to Everest Base Camp. Photo / Russell Simpson

"The yak trains are everywhere and they don't give way to anybody," Simpson said.

Being in a mountain amphitheatre at Base Camp for two nights was a privilege - but it wasn't easy. It was too cold to sleep properly at night.

The GFCs flew the 42 prayer flags they had brought, one for each kilometre of the marathon. Each had a wish from a Heart Kid on one side, and the logo of a corporate sponsor on the other.

The wishes of New Zealand Heart Kids are flown at Everest Base Camp. Photo / Supplied
The wishes of New Zealand Heart Kids are flown at Everest Base Camp. Photo / Supplied

They were almost celebrities in the camp. They had raised a lot more money than the other fundraising teams - $220,000 at that time. Also, they were New Zealanders and the Hillary legacy made them special to Sherpa people.

The day of the marathon they were up at 5am and tried to eat some breakfast. The weather was fine and it was -5C.

Good Family Chaps (from left) Paul May, Colin Thomson, Russell Simpson and Colin Chapman pose up before the race. Photo / Supplied
Good Family Chaps (from left) Paul May, Colin Thomson, Russell Simpson and Colin Chapman pose up before the race. Photo / Supplied

They started slowly, walking. They had vowed to stay together but at 8km May told the others to carry on without him.

The first 15km was tough, Simpson said. It was rocky and "technical". Running got easier as the altitude decreased and there was more oxygen. Then there was a 600m climb.

The younger three finished in 9h 17m and May finished in 10.5 hours. The first 17 runners to finish were all Nepalese and the winning time was 4h 2m 3s. The prize was US$1000 ($1450) and no one is allowed to come first more then three times in a row.

No non-Nepalese has ever won the marathon, and Simpson doesn't think anyone ever will. One competitor this year trained at a high altitude for three months before the event. He came 18th.

The Good Family Chaps and their head guide are at the marathon's finish line. Photo / supplied
The Good Family Chaps and their head guide are at the marathon's finish line. Photo / supplied

After the marathon Russell made a video call to his wife. But he had to hang up, because he couldn't breathe properly.

There was a huge party that night in Namche Bazaar, where the marathon finished.

"None of us went, but the locals kept us up until 4am," he said.

Then they had a four day trek out, still feeling sore and tired. Because they are New Zealanders they got to see the Khunde Hospital and the Khumjung Secondary School, both started by Hillary. They met the New Zealand honorary consul to Nepal, Lisa Choegya, and the chief executive of the marathon.

Leaving Nepal, the four gave most of their gear to the Sherpas they had walked with. They had watched these small people carrying huge loads and wearing Jandals.

Nepalese have a lot to teach New Zealanders, Simpson said. They don't have much, but they give a lot.

"A lot is based on relationships, trust and team work. Our survival depended on that."

Simpson's first two weeks back were "a bit rough". He had to get used to breathing at a different altitude. It initially felt good, but tiredness set in after that.

He's now focused on being with his family and running Whanganui District Health Board. But he hasn't given up all thought of adventure.

He and his friends are weighing up New Zealand's extreme events and wondering about an Amazon marathon or an Antarctica marathon. He's even had a sneaky thought about climbing Everest.

++ The GFCs haven't stopped their fundraising. They still want to get to $250,000 and have about $25,000 to go. To make a donation, go online to everydayhero.co.nz and search for Running around Everest.