09 December 2022
| THE HEARTBEAT OF WOMEN'S SPORT

Readers blog: The 100 mile Himalayan stage race

December 5, 2014
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Aggressive Recovery, that’s what we’ll call it. That’s my excuse for eating pretty much anything I can get my hands on for the last couple of weeks. I think my colleagues are slightly disgusted. The reason for such drastic eating – I mean – action? That’d be the 100 mile Himalayan stage race I’ve just completed.

TypicalTrackandView

100 Big Miles. At Altitude. And Rising.

I never thought it’d be a walk in the park, but I generally approach life with a pretty optimistic view and give anything a go. Race entry was a night involving a certain quantity red wine. This in mind, training was approached in a similar, relaxed way. Whilst I’d never call myself a ‘runner’ I do enjoy running, so training runs were squeezed in with lovely friends and the ever-faithful dog. Unfortunately run training came to an abrupt end about 6 weeks before the race with a bad hip. Cycling and swimming helped with fitness but I wasn’t going to India full of confidence that’s for sure.

Day 1, Maneybhanjang – Sandakphu.
24 miles with a cracking 6500ft (2km) ascent.

We awoke at dawn and were bundled onto the bus to the start with a packed breakfast. It was similar to the first day of school with comparable nerves. You don’t often get (cold) egg fried rice and a traditional Tibetan blessing to see you on your way though, at least, not in Bristol. A couple of obligatory loo visits later and we were off, running from the start line like a pack of excited schoolkids, for a MASSIVE 500m. Then we went up. And we slowed. And went up some more. And we plodded.

MeandRichard
Zoe (above right) with Richard

A couple of (steep) hours in and I’d fallen into step with a man. We’d not really spoken and still hadn’t swapped names but I’d already taken most of my clothes off. Not my usual tactic admittedly. There was a kind of unsaid agreement that we’d do all that introductory stuff when we’d survived this first day and could smile and talk instead of grimace and grunt at each other. Though I guess what we did know by this stage was that we were of a similar mindset/fitness/strength and that was all that mattered at a point when it felt like you were breathing through a straw and still going higher.

Day1Switchbacks

We needed each other, whatever our names were. The day’s bonding experiences; started with me stripping; ‘Nice man’ being sick over the side of the mountain (a point hopefully not related to the first); and ended with our joyous little faces lighting up at the sight of the finish to gleefully break the finish tape hand in hand.

Save a couple of speedy Gonzales (including Gabriel, eventual winner and Georgia who finished just 2 mins later that day!), the day was really slow for all, with a mentality of head down and crack on when the hills really hit. Boy did they hit.

Day 2, Sandakphu – Molle – Sandakphu
20 miles out and back trails at 12,000ft (3,500m)

Another early start, but very willingly this time, as we caught the promised spectacle of sunrise over Everest, Lhotse, Makalu, & Kanchenjunga. It was bloody cold but absolutely spectacular. Before this trip I’d never even dreamed I’d see that, let alone be running with them looming over and looking after us All Day Long.

Everest

Day Two found me running with ‘Nice man’ again. ‘Richard’ it turns out, a dairy farmer from Scotland. Also Sarah, from the UK and Simon, a South African currently experiencing a self-confessed mid-life crisis thus, travelling the world. The four of us had a good one with more running than the previous day, but I have to admit I found it harder than I thought. I’d kidded myself that it’d be easier because we wouldn’t have the massive ascents we’d experienced the day before. What an idiot. Just because you start and end at the same altitude doesn’t mean there are no hills in the middle to contend with – oh and you’re at 12,000ft!

The route was also a lot rockier and so difficult to run on without risking a bit of a fall. The out and back route meant we all got to see each other along the way which was a great boost just when you needed it; high fives and (sweaty) hugs aplenty!

We ended the day with a strong run which belied the rest of the morning’s efforts, this time breaking the finish tape (everyone gets to do this every day!) 4-abreast. I then headed straight to our basic hut to don the essential down jacket and gulp down some soup before heading to bed for a couple of hours. A fitful night’s sleep plus the hills had really taken it out of me and I immediately fell into a pretty deep slumber! I briefly woke for a sociable dinner before falling into another fitful night’s sleep.

Day 3, Sandakphu – Rimbik (12,000 – 6350ft via Molle and Phulet)
26.4 miles (Everest Challenge Marathon Day) with a merciless 8 miles downhill

Another day at altitude, another pre-dawn alarm, another stunning sunrise, ho hum.. I wanted to be more prepared than the previous day which had seen me running to the start line from the loo*. By now I had been suffering with Delhi Belly for three days, which is not ideal for either recovery post-runs (excuse the pun) or prep for a mountainous marathon. I wasn’t feeling fabulous, in fact a bit weak, and to be honest, I was worried about the day ahead. Possibly with good reason.

At the race briefing the previous night we’d been warned that people often finish the marathon day in the dark which for the final section was pretty treacherous. Eeeeek.

Inevitably the start line for the third day was quieter than it had been with some lycra-clad nerves skulking around. We also had an additional couple of people doing the marathon day – two (Ruks, India and MJ, USA) had been with the walking group and were now joining us for the day and another had flown from El Salvador just for this day! Darn him and his fresh legs!

We followed the same route as the previous day for the first 10 miles – hello again rocks – then a further 4 miles out (and up) and back to Molle. At Molle the second time I felt awful. I didn’t have much in me to keep me going and was fully aware I still had 8 miles to go. I’d spent most the morning running with Beardy Simon but it was clear to me that he was finding the day easier than I was and so he ploughed on ahead.

Day3Hills

Exit stage left; Simon and Enter stage right; Sarah and Richard. Ta-dah! We’d been joking over the previous days that I was Richard’s heroine (remember the first day biscuit?), and Sarah was his Guardian Angel having kept an eye on him with food/water intake and medical supplies. But that lunchtime they were my saviours! Plied with electrolytes by Sarah I buoyed slightly and over the next hour or so they saw me through a pretty dark time.

We’d started in the mountains and by now were descending in deep, dry tracks. Paul (USA) soon came hurtling past us with “I like the downhills!”. Humph.  And so we went down. And down and down. Usually I love downhills but this was something else. Narrow, steep, windy, wet, cobbled paths switching back from top to bottom meant a rhythm was pretty impossible. And so we walked. Doooooown. Through almost tropical wilderness and into tiny farming villages, the surroundings changed by the hour.

The end couldn’t come soon enough. 10 Long Exhausting Hours = the longest marathon any of us had ever done! Utterly convinced we’d done a day with mileage closer to 30 miles I’m still a bit miffed that various GPS say it was spot on or thereabouts! Having been through some beautiful villages with inviting guest houses I was inordinately relieved on arrival at a sherpa lodge to be greeted with a plate of steaming noodles and a HOT SHOWER. Wowsers, we’d worked for that.

Ruks and MJ had a long hard day too. Those steep wet paths were indeed much harder in the dark by all accounts. For MJ the day ended with a jeep ride to camp for the final few miles but Ruks had plodded on and made it to our cheering, slightly emotional group at about 21.00. We were all in bed by 21.10.

*Toilet = hole in the ground

Day 4, Rimbik – Palmajua (6560ft)
13 miles ‘undulating’ – I said it was in the Himalayas right?

I’ve done a couple of 3-day races and so this was new territory for me, a forth day, dum dum dum! A couple more bowls of noodles the previous evening meant I felt a lot more human stood on the start line ready for Day 4. Camaraderie was at an all time high with relief that Marathon Day was survived, we’d covered 70+ miles and well and truly broken the back of this thing. Downhill from here right?

Wrong. Well, right initially. Downhill on tired quads for about 4 miles was a rude awakening and slowed most down or even stopped some who’d pushed hard the previous day completely. Running with the usual suspects we soon warmed and loosened up. On a nice couple of flat miles we were able to stretch our legs and found ourselves able to breathe a lot more easily being that much lower, thank you red blood cells! Obviously, being in Himalaya, the flat didn’t last too long and we were treated to another beastly uphill the last 4 miles or so to the finish but spirits were still pretty high in our little group.

Back by lunchtime! A trip to the local market followed by lounging about on the grass with beer and new friends was a great way to pass the afternoon. Only one beer though – my stomach still wasn’t 100%! The warm afternoon flowed into a cool evening of which the entertainment was Mr Pandey’s ‘Cultural night’. Each represented country is requested to share something with the group – this ranged from a German army song to Spanish fire-jumping, a patriotic Juan educating us on the El Salvador flag to the British Human Pyramid. The Indian contingent entertained with traditional folk songs and dances and everyone was dancing by the end of the evening!

Day 5, Palmajua – Maneybhanjyang (6600ft).
17 miles. The day I found my running legs. Better late than never.

Day5Start

Having really enjoyed the previous day’s run I was excited for the final stage. Excited, relieved, proud, sad, all of that mixed up in a Zoe-shape. Looking around I could see that everyone was the same. We’d been through a great experience together and genuinely bonded as a group but after today we’d all be jetting off back to our own lives. How often do you feel that in a race?

In massive mountains and huge views you felt a tiny part of the world. Knowing that we’d all be going separate ways though, made the world feel that little bit smaller, friendly and more accessible.

The last stage was another day of road running and this time it actually was downhill.

We lost Richard to a call of nature pretty early but running with Sarah for the final stage was great, she’s an incredible lady with one helluva story. We both felt good and comparatively flew down the route, enjoying Every Single Second. The scenery, whilst beautiful, wasn’t as jaw-dropping as previous days and running on roads as opposed to the Pony Tracks in the mountains meant we could concentrate more on running and enjoying ourselves rather than watching our step or gawking at mountains!

Every aid station was a tick in the box. They passed pretty easily and before we knew it we were on the final descent, back to where we’d started 5 days earlier, slightly naïve, certainly paler and 2kgs heavier! I’d thought I’d be highly emotional but the run down to the final finish tape through the line of school children clapping was perfect. There were no tears; just Huge Big Grins and hugs all round.

An interesting element of this race is the ethos. It obviously prides itself on its ecological philosophy (there’s a LOT of rubbish in the towns and a surprising amount on the mountains too), but also on the mind, body and soul of participants. There’s no point in competing hard if, with headphones on and head down, you miss the incredible world around you. It’s actually frowned upon by Mr Pandey (Race Director) who is immensely proud of ‘his’ mountains and wants to share them with everyone. Runners who break themselves during the race are told in no uncertain terms that it’s because mind, body and spirit aren’t in balance.

So, complete the ‘Race’ I did and what an experience it was. Incredible people, astonishing scenery and definitely The Hardest Thing I’ve Ever Done. Absolutely relentless.

But, I Did It.

I have no idea how to describe the race and the whole experience. There’s too much to say but two things stand out by far:

Scenery. Seriously, running with Everest and 4 of the 5 highest mountains in the world as a backdrop makes you feel pretty small, yet also on top of the world!

Friends. I’ve made some wonderful friends who I’ve experienced HUGE highs and lows with (both physically and emotionally) and most of whom I’m still completely in awe of. Everyone had a story and all are extraordinary.

I’m back now and despite still eating everything in sight (I can’t use this as an excuse for too much longer), recovered and as annoyingly optimistic as usual, maybe more so.

Oh yes, recovered, save for a couple of missing toenails. Right, what’s next then?

Zoe Grimes, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine

Want to find out more? www.himalayan.com

The Readers Blog is supported by Moving Comfort – The writer of each blog post submitted is send a free Moving Comfort Bra

 

 

 

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