Back to the start at Maneybhanjang
After a really good sleep I woke to find my legs hadn't fallen off in the night and the throbbing blister had settled. My face and lips hadn't swollen up again and I actually felt quite good. Incredible what a good sleep and a bucketload of painkillers can do.
Today was 17 miles on the road. A reasonable climb, then all downhill to the finish at Maneybhanjang - back to where we started. My greatest fear was having gotten this far, for something to go wrong today. Can you imagine not being able to finish at this stage? It didn't bear thinking about.
But as soon as I took my first steps I knew I'd be ok. Incredibly I felt really strong. I have no idea if it was the 'scent' of the finish line or just the sheer joy that I'd nearly finished, but I felt like I was flying. Adrenaline coursing through me, I felt like a different runner. No aches or pains and my legs felt amazing. I have no idea how that was even possible.
On the startline, Mr Pandey pointed out Kanchenjunga behind us. Our last glimpse of the majestic mountain. It honestly felt like she'd been looking over us the whole way, keeping us safe and willing us on. I was sad to say goodbye.
The route climbed around 500m over the first 7 miles to give us our final views of Kanchenjunga then we dropped back down through the plantations and towards the finish at Maneybhanjang. I hooked up with Zoe and we happily trotted along. We both felt strong and invincible. The running was easy in comparison to what we'd done before and the miles flew by. I couldn't stop smiling and those final 17 miles were the happiest 17 miles I've ever run.
This race had been a dream for the last 8 years. Now here I was, almost at the end and you couldn't wipe the smile off my face.
Some young children ran alongside us, laughing and clapping and trying to race us as we ran. Then suddenly the finish line was there, flanked by school children from the local school. Probably wondering what on earth all the fuss was about and what were these crazy people doing? We high-fived them as they cheered us in and we were presented with another sacred Tibetan scarf on the finish line. I had thought I'd break down and be emotional, but I was so happy I couldn't stop grinning! lots of hugs and cuddles from the others and Mr Pandey and Mansi. Soon lovely Karen and Geordie Richard came in and more hugs all round.
The feeling of happiness, achievement, relief and accomplishment was like nothing I'd ever felt before. I was on such a high, I honestly felt like I could do it all over again, 100 miles right from the start!
After everyone had finished, Mr Pandey organised a presentation of pencils and notebooks to thank the local school children and David from South Africa made a lovely speech. It was a really special afternoon. Everyone was so happy, relaxed and proud. You don't get many moments like that in life and I soaked it up.
Later that night we had the prize presentation. A lovely evening where the winners were presented with their trophies and we all were given a gorgeous personalised plaque. We all had to say a few words about our experiences and the race Doctor said he never thought he'd see the day when someone with a colostomy bag did this race. He was going to go back to Delhi and tell his patients going through similar surgery about my story, what is possible and not to give up on life.
I'll admit there were many times when I'd also wondered if it was a good idea.. during the race when I was exhausted and my legs were agony, but also back in July when I'd emailed Mr Pandey telling him I didn't think I could do it - he emailed back saying 'of course you can' and wouldn't let me pull out. And I'm really glad he didn't.
Over dinner that night, we chatted about the race and I asked everyone to sum it up in just a one word. Here's what they came up with: Overwhelming, Brutal, Relentless, Empowering, Spectacular, Humbling, Emotional, Breathtaking, Impressive, Enriching, Awe-Inspiring and Life Changing. In reality, there aren't words to describe it. You just have to go and experience it for yourself.
The Himalayan 100 isn't about the running much at all. It's about the adventure, the views, the brutality of the hills and altitude. It's about the pain, joy, tears and triumphs. But most of all it's about the shared experience with some amazing people, the friendships and camaraderie and it's something I will never forget.
For me, I've ticked off the number one event on my bucket list and it was everything I'd hoped for and so much more. The most brutal, emotional and epic adventure of my life. Up there with childbirth and spectacular on every level. Not just the race itself but the journey to get to there in the first place. As Richard Nixon once said 'Only if you have been in the deepest valley, can you truly appreciate the magnificence of the highest mountain'. And for me that could not be more true.
At one stage back in 2012, just after I had my last surgery, I wondered if I'd ever be able to eat normally again, let alone be able to run. When something you love is nearly taken away from you, you appreciate it so much more. I will never take running for granted and I truly appreciate every single glorious step I take. How lucky am I?
As for what's next? that's the trouble with meeting so many amazing people and hearing their stories and races they've done. I've had a taste of adventure and suddenly have a much longer bucket list than I ever had before!
And some final memories..... thank you Mr Pandey and thank you all the runners in the Himalayan 100 2014. It was amazing.
A must watch video made by South African Simon :-)
And some fantastic final photos taken by amazing photographer Adam Rose.. ah.. wish I still there.