It was a brutal race, light on oxygen and heavy on the legs. But for Lower Hutt's Brendan Quirke, it was all just "a bit of a holiday".
The 40-year-old locomotive engineer journeyed to Nepal to compete in the "world's highest marathon", a notoriously difficult race around the base of Mt Everest.
The competition is held annually to commemorate Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay's historic climb in 1953.
Quirke, an experienced marathon runner, took on the challenge in an attempt to revive his waning interest in the sport - but when he arrived, he found himself in the midst of a once-in-a-lifetime adventure holiday.
"It's not just fly in, do a race, then fly out," he said. "Nepal was a place I was really keen to go to. Now I can say I've been to Base Camp, and other places I've always wanted to see."
Competitors spent three weeks in Nepal before the race to acclimatise to the unfamiliar conditions, which gave Quirke the rare experience of befriending his rivals in the usually solitary sport.
"They put us into groups of about 20 for the flight, so we just sort of stuck together the whole time.
"There's a bit of a team thing going on, even though it's an individual sport - you get to know everyone you're camping, eating and sleeping around."
The race may have seemed incidental once it arrived, but there was no doubt Quirke found the challenge he was searching for - which didn't stop once the race had finished. "You definitely know you're suffering when you try to go uphill and your heart rate goes up and you have difficulty breathing.
"The finish area is the worst place to end a marathon. It's a little village in an amphitheatre, so it's all steps up and down. It was a huge struggle just to get to the hotel. We spent the next day just trying to get the legs moving again."
Quirke was "reasonably happy" with his time (six hours 15 minutes), placing him fourth among the international runners and 22nd overall, but the experience made the biggest impression. He's yet to decide when to "dream up another adventurous holiday somewhere".
- The Dominion Post