Fresh from a marathon at the top of the world, extreme athlete Nicola Wearne is already dreaming about her next adventure.

The Tauranga mother of two, who was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at age 38, has just completed the Everest Marathon, a “brutal” run from 5,380m at Base Camp to Namche Bazaar. Now she has her eye on the equally demanding but very different marathon across Lake Baikal in Russia.

“The Everest run took me 12 hours. I thought it would take 10. The first half was really hard because the terrain was just rocks and I couldn’t breathe very well at that altitude. By the second half I was shattered and it was raining. You couldn’t run because it was so steep – you just have to walk down basically. It was brutal but I ran where I could,” she said.

The 15-day trek to the start line was almost just as difficult. The fortnight’s climb is essential so that runners can adjust to the altitude and steepness of the track with rest days and practice runs. Even so, some didn’t make it and around a dozen had to be evacuated from Base Camp due to altitude sickness; one woman died.

“That really impressed on me the risks of the environment and the fact that basically, it’s two events – the trek in and the run itself. Physically I coped OK, although I hadn’t done enough training and could have been in better condition. I think I was a bit naïve and casual about that part of it.

“The whole thing puts your body under incredible strain. You’re trekking for five to eight hours a day and solidly uphill the whole time. We got to joking that “Nepali flat” means straight up! Then there are the sections they tell you are going to be a climb. You just have to take one step after another.”

Nicola manages her arthritis with fortnightly self-injections of the drug Humira – which she had to do while in camp halfway up the mountain. She lost 5kg in three weeks and came home with a chest infection. In spite of the challenges, though, the whole experience was “just awesome”.

Nicola Wearne

Nicola Wearne - on top of the world, literally

“I won’t do the marathon again, but I will go back to Nepal. It’s an amazing country. The raw poverty is hard to deal with but the whole place is spectacular and the people I met were beautiful and very friendly. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.” …2/

Nicole’s next challenge could be something completely different – the 2019 Baikal Ice Marathon, a race across the frozen surface of a vast Russian lake near the Mongolian border. Apart from the physical demands of running on ice in sub-zero temperatures, the event is psychologically demanding because the route is in a straight line and completely featureless.

For now though, Nicola is back at the gym three or four times a week and running up to 70kms weekly – for the sheer fun of it.

“It would be nice to keep up my mountain fitness and I think I should enter a couple of races – maybe another marathon or two before the end of the year. What I really like is just to disappear for a couple of hours and go for a trail run. I find it relaxing,” she said.

Nicola often wears orange to support Arthritis New Zealand. She’s happy to share her experiences in the hope that it helps others who live with the disease.


Arthritis New Zealand aims to improve the life of every person affect by arthritis. We are a national charity focused on raising awareness, advocating for those with arthritis and providing advice and support. For more information, phone the helpline 0800 663 463, find us on Facebook or visit

Arthritis facts

• 624,000 New Zealanders live with a diagnosis of arthritis
• 1,000 are children and young people under the age of 15
• There are more than 140 different forms of arthritis. The most common are osteoarthritis, gout and rheumatoid arthritis.
• 87,000 New Zealanders live with rheumatoid arthritis
• Arthritis is one of the leading causes of disability in our country
• There is no cure for arthritis but it can be managed
• Most people with arthritis continue to lead productive and fulfilling lives.

For more information contact:

Andrea Candy
Communications Coordinator
Arthritis New Zealand
DDI 09 523 8904 Email:

Sandra Kirby
Chief Executive
Arthritis New Zealand
DDI 04 472 5641 Mobile 027 419 8946