Before I start the report, I first have to congratulate Racing the Planet on running the Nepal Event. This was their "roving race" for 2011. Their 4deserts series run in the same locations each year and so run very smoothly indeed. What was impressive was that the Nepal race ran equally as smoothly. It was extremely well organised from start to finish. Clearly a lot of work had gone into organising all aspects of the race, in an area of the world which is very remote. The Sherpa teams worked tirelessly, and the local people who looked after the camp did a fantastic job and added to the culture and flavour of the event. So thank you to Mary, Sam and everyone at Racing The Planet for doing such an amazing job, and anyone who is thinking of doing one of their events; be it Jordan in 2012, or any of the other desert series or 100km events, I’d say book it!
I slept quite well the night before the race started. The temperature was only dropped to about 7C, so my combination of sleeping bag and liner were fine. Most people started to get up from about 5am. I was fairly confident I could get ready fairly quickly, having had quite a bit of practice, so stayed in my sleeping bag (conserving calories!) until almost 6am. So began the daily routine of packing up my things into my bag, cleaning my hands and spork with some alcohol gel and then cutting one of the 1 litre mineral water bottles in half. Half to use as a bowl for my cereal, and half to use as a cup for my coffee. Before all that, about an hour before the race, I had a Beetroot juice stamina shot. Do a Google search and have a look at some of the research, and see what you think. Seems to be working for me. Of course carrying 250 mil of beetroot juice for each day would not be practical (too heavy), so I used some of the James White "shots". 70cl concentrate shots containing the equivalent of 250ml or 4 beetroots.
|Breakfast Mix - Rasberry mix||650||198|
|Tracker Roasted Nuts||126||27|
|SIS - Go Electrolyte x 4 (91kcal per 25g)||364||100|
|50g SIS Rego recovery powder||185||50|
|Evening Meal - Spaghetti Bolognese||716||168|
|Vacuum seal bag||14|
Stage 1 - 28.5km. Elevation: +1306M / -1387M
The course briefing was at 6:30am each morning. I've got quited used to Racing The Planet's Alistair giving the morning briefings, but someone said he'd had a knee op recentley so wasn't there. Anyway, Samantha was the course director and so best placed to give them, and did a great job all week. The course notes said the first day was only 28.5 km (18 miles). Pretty easy I thought, as in the previous few months, the course notes had said they would be 42km each day (apart from the long stage). It became apparent that the reason was that the course should be completed before sundown each day. I looked at it and thought 18 miles will only take me 5 hours at the absolute outside, so figured it was a very generous cut-off. I'd realise as the week went on that the stages were shorter because the terrain was so hard, and many people missed the cut-off every day. The race would begin with 5k flat section to CP1(Sam described all flats as Nepali flats - which essentially meant undulating!). Next would be a 740M climb over 9.4k to CP2, then what looked like (on the roadbook) a small amount more ascent before a huge descent of 650M over 9K to CP3.
The roadbook was a little deceptive as there was in fact another 400M of ascent before CP3 as well. I didn't pay enough attention to that on the day, I just looked at the elevation profile drawing. I think the CP2 marker was drawn in the wrong place on the elevation line, so showed less of a climb after CP2, when in fact the climb was really several K and another 400M or so. The elevation scale (in metres) was also different on every page, so you couldn't really gauge how big a climb was going to be based on the elevation profile from the previous page. By day 2, I'd learned the best thing to do was to use it as a rough guide; i.e. the next section was - mostly climb, mostly descent, or 'fairly flat'. If I had taken the roadbook elevation and CP locations on it literally and tried to compare then to a GPS then I would have been always surprised. As it was, my GPS had (probably mercifully) broken a few days before, so I had no way of knowing when the next CP was coming. So, it didn't matter to me if it was 1k early or 4k late. I would just get my head down and work to reach each checkpoint, and be happy when it popped into view. That worked well.
All the tent 23 tentmates bid each other good luck. None of us had got sick in the night, though we'd heard a few people who had. So, things were off to a good start. Here is me on the start line, looking clean and shiny. I was in my usual Railriders Ecomesh shirt, some CWX tights, carrying a 25l OMM rucksack with 2 Salomon Custom 3D bottle holders (sewn onto the shoulders for added stability). I'd really taken a massive gamble on footwear. Instead of wearing aggressively soled trail shoes, I was wearing Hoka Mafates. I've reviewed these shoes before. They have a lot of shortcomings; the toe area doesn't have enough space, the lacing comes too close to your ankle and bruises, the grips are all but useless - they need at least another mm studs if not 2mm, they are dangerous on wet rock, and of course they look hideous. However, they have a trump card, a massive amount of cushioning. These are the antithesis of barefoot running, indeed a barefoot runner would probably not have finished this race, or been so slow on descent they'd have missed the cut-off every day. I knew we had a lot of steps to tackle, both up and down. I plod away going uphill, but I'm very fast at descending rough ground, I'd say equally fast or faster than anyone I know. These shoes are all about descent. If the weather turned wet, the shoes would be useless, I'd probably kill myself slipping over. As it was, the weather was dry. Were the shoes going to work? We'll see.
The race got underway and I set out my stall early and set off at quick pace; a little too quick probably. Running down the first bit of descent too enthuiastically I almost ran myself into the ground, but somehow recovered it and carried on. The first 5k was on a rough jeep track, the likes of which would feature many times in the race. We were running in the foothills of the amazing Annapurna range, with stunning white capped moutains all around. The only problem during the whole week was that the terrain was so demanding, that often you had to watch every footstep, so you didn't get to admire the views as much as I would have wanted. There were some times where I would be running and literally stop and say "wow" though, and get out my camera. Not that any of these photos are going to do it justice. The first 5k probably took half an hour, so fairly standard, as much as expected.
A didn't need any more water, so just checked my number and took this photo which shows the very start of the initially easy climb up a winding track.
I ran the first few hundred metres, then rapidly slowed to a walk as it got steeper. I can't imagine many apart from the Ryan Sandes of this world would run many (or any) of the hills we tacked. The track switchbacked up the hill with people and houses frequently all around, all probably wondering what on earth we were doing. Lots of children would come out, put their hands together in prayer and say "Namaste", the customary greeting in India and Nepal. This scene would play out countless times a day on every stage, greeting the local people. Sometimes it would be me to say it first, with a little bowed head, and joined hands, or sometimes the locals. I'd make an effort to do it for pretty much everyone, so I can tell you that kept me very busy as we were in and out of villages every day. The local people were all very friendly and the Children just wanted to greet you, ask where you were from. The odd one would ask for something, but I didn't really have anything to give.
After a few K, the wide track turned into our first taste of stone steps. Sometimes the steps were well carved but often they were just flattish boulders, so very uneven. I was surprised at just how humid it was, my shirt was stuck to me. The temperature wasn't baking on the first day, but it did reach about 24C, and combined with the humidity, and climbing, it felt very warm indeed. The steps got steeper for a while, winding their way up the hill before plateauing at this Hndu Temple you can just make out.
Afterwards the ground was flat but under trees and being in shade the steps and ground were wet and slippy. The track was narrow too. My Hoka shoes were useless on the wet slipy rock and so I had to take it really slowly when I hit these sections, usually a walk. I was beginning to wonder if I had made the right decision after all. Finally I emerged onto a jeep track again and 3k later there was the CP. A had bought a cheap watch with Pokhara to use as a stopwatch. Hilariously the screen had fogged up with condensation after just a couple of hours use, and so I could barely read it for most of the week, so my idea of timing between checkpoints will be pretty vague in this report! I filled up my bottles at CP2, and at this point assumed just a small climb before a long descent, but as mentioned the CP wasn't marked that accurately and there was several more k and a long long climb before the welcome descent. As I neared the top of the climb for the day, at 1800M I glanced up from my feet and met with my first wow moment. Seen below.
The peak is Fishtail Mountain (Machuparre 6993M), the sacred mountain to the God Shiva. Climbing is banned on it. I saw this and I knew why I was there. This was the reason I wanted to come to Nepal; to see the mountains. Not long after I ran around a corner to find myself by some tea houses, local basic accomodation and food for backpackers. They are everywhere along the trails. This one had the best view in the World. Two pictures the same, one without me spoiling the view!
Everything had gone well so far as I began my first Nepali descent of the steps/boulders. I'd be following the pink flags or paint marking the route. Me and James Love were at that point running together. We were probably in the top 50 or 60 in a very spread out field, but were following half a dozen others a 100M in front as we descended very steeply. So steep we were walking at many points as there were steeo drops off one side of the steps, and one slip would have been fatal at times. From down below the guys ahead told us to stop as people even further ahead could not see course markers. We had descended an extra 100M on the steep steps than we should due to a misleading or missing marker. About a dozen people didn't realise at all, carrying on all the way down, and got lost until the race organisers put them back on course at CP3. I think they got lucky as the terrain they missed out was really very tough. Climbing up again was really very tough, as well as demoralising. It really took it out of me for some reason. James hadn't come down quite as far, and had headed off. I was feeling ropey, and it transpired had a bout of the runs (toilet stop needed!). I had to sort that out for about 10-15 mins and took some immodium, and used up the rest of my water rehydrating.
There was still a way to go before CP3, but I'd have to manage without any water. The descent was at times very slippy when in the shade so as result I didn't take any more pictures. I lost my footing frequently, but always just caught myself. The descent eventually became, with dry stone steps and boulders again, so I was able to start bouncing down and getting past plenty of people. It was very much like descending off areas of the Peak and Lake District in the UK I realised several days later, and that was probably why I was so comfortable with it.
So, I ran down the terraced hill at a good pace, passing houses and people along the way, with a quick "Namaste" to the locals of course. The descent took a long time, even at pace, and the whole stage so far had been a lot more physically demanding that I had imagined it would be. I had been eating and drinking well, up to the point of running out of water but I was feeling a little fatigued by all the climbing. I was pleased when the descent ended on a jeep track and shortly after came CP3 where I caught up James and refilled my bottles. Me and James ran on together for the last 5.5k towards camp, overtaking a few more people. I estimate we were around 50th place, from seeing the CP recordings. I was feeling good again, and James encouraged me to increase my pace further and chase down a few people in the distance. I a few more people in the last 2k. I don't think some of them were too happy about it, losing a place in the final stretch but it was a race after all, and I was running at a really good tilt down. I sprinted the last 500M, forcing a guy who was too far ahead to catch to pick up his pace to keep his pace secure. I made him run every step to the line, leaping and bouncing down a terrace and paddy fields to the finish. We had a handshake on the finish and shared a joke. It was a good finish to the day but a lot tougher than any 18 miles I had ever experienced. I had finished 47th, a great result for me for the day.
12 months ago, I'd just had my groin operation (Gilmore's Groin), and my only goal was to be able to run again. Just to be able to run 6 miles without having to walk due to the really horrible groin pain. By April I had acheived that and was running up to 10 miles again. By July I wanted to be able to confirm my entry into the race with a hope to make the start line, and hopefully just finish. I acheived that and had finished a couple of ultras for the first time in 18 months. By the time I got to Nepal, the pain hadn't stopped (it still hasn't), but it was fixed enough that finishing was no longer good enough. I had to finish in the top 50% to satisfy myself. Today I'd finished in the top 25%, so I was really happy. I was first back from our tent, so stripped off my pack, shirt and shoes and mixed up some Rego recovery drink to hydrate with immediately. I ate what few snacks I hadn't consumed during the race, and took this photo from the camp. James came in about 10 minutes later. He came in 50th and was also very happy. All his recent marathon training had really paid off, and he was a lot fitter than I remember him being in the Atacama Desert.
Steve came in next, I think maybe an hour later. Steve is a 100 mile specialist, havng completed over 100 of them! He's also completed the 200 mile Tor des Geants too; a very tough race. Next came Martina. She'd felt sick during the stage, but said she got sick in races a lot. She got sick most days, but she always did fine. She's done plenty of races too, so we knew she'd always be ok. Next came Jack, strong as always, then came Roger and Kier. I can't recall who came in first but they'd both had a tough day out there and came in several hours after I'd arrived. At 5:30 it got dark and several people came in well after the cut off. I think they waived the cut-off on the first day, and sometimes for some people on other days, but they did start to enforce it more strictly as the week wore on. Each stage would now get longer and tougher, but the cut-off time would always be 5:30PM. Those who had arrived late on day 1 would face a daily battle to qualify for the next stage, and many wouldn't make it. I forgot if I took this at sunset or sunrise the nexy day (more likely), but it's fishtail mountain again. Just amazing to be there.
Around 5:30pm I had eaten my main dehydrated meal and we all settled down to sleep by about 7pm. I remember sleeping through to about midnight without waking then waking every couple of hours briefly until 5am. So, a great nights sleep by camping standards.
Stage 2 – 32.1KM. Elevation: +1365M / -1579M
I woke in the morning, and again stayed in my sleeping bag until about 5:45. We’d heard a few people being ill in the night, and this was confirmed during the morning briefing. They were starting to see a lot of people in the medical tent with gastro intestinal (GI) problems; vomiting and diarrhea. For most people affected it they would suffer for at least 24 hours, so it was a question of them being able to push through that, suffering one bad day and then hopefully returning to form the day after. James Love in our tent threw up 10 minutes before the start that day. James is a very strong competitor having completed a marathon on every continent (ask him about the Grand Slam Club and his rather expensive T-shirt – the combined entry cost for them all! He was really pretty sick and looked awful, and later that day said that it had been the closest he’d ever felt to pulling out of any race. However, he knew he’d just need to push through that one day as there was no possibility to come back and do this event again; it was a one-off. I’d had the same thought myself, during my preparation. I’d be finishing no matter what happened; I may need to remind myself of that when I felt awful of course.
Not everyone would be able to do that, and indeed some people suffered sickness all week, or eventually had to withdraw as a result. We were told it was essential to stay on top of hygiene. I knew this from past events, and was already working my way through my bottle of alcohol gel at a rapid rate. I was using it many times a day not just after using the toilet tent. I’d use it after using the cybertent (lots of people typing on the same keyboard), and indeed after handling anything anyone but me had touched. Every morning I was using it on my Spork and drinks bottle tops to clean them since they’d be the first things to go into my mouth. So, as it was I think I managed to avoid the same bacterial infection but did suffer diarrhea daily. I don’t know why I didn’t vomit, though I felt ropey at times. I just had to suffer a daily bout and then take some Immodium each day, and I’d usually pick up as the day went on. As it was this morning I wasn’t feeling that great after breakfast. So, a slow start was going to be in order it appeared. This picture taken just before the start.
A prettier view facing the other way though
The stage started with a clamber up 10M of terraces for everyone, before emerging onto the same jeep track for 1.2km.
So it was steady running on the undulating track before crossing a bridge and then heading steeply up steps. I could see that there looked to be just a little bump on the hill profile before CP1, and that there was a much more considerable looking climb afterwards. However, I couldn’t quite read the scale and it’s only now when I look at a digital copy I see that the little bump was actually a 400M climb and then 400M descent; steps up as usual, a slippy section in the shade, then that steep descent
No wonder it was such a killer start. Certainly it went on for a lot longer than I expected, and feeling as ropey as I did that morning it took a lot out of me, and I took it pretty slowly. A lot of people were struggling, and in transpired quite a few withdrew from the race at CP1 on stage 2.
I got to CP2, where everyone was greeted by Mary from Racing The Planet. She was doing a great job of telling everyone they looked great, even if they didn’t necessarily feel it. I refilled my water bottles and sat down. There was a 740M climb immediately after the CP and I needed to eat more and feel considerably better before I set off. James came into the CP soon after, looking terrible, but pushed straight through. I needed to sort myself out first. My fortune the CP was setup by a tea shop and they allowed me to use their squat toilet. After doing so, and taking my immodium I sat back down, ate some crisps and a tracker bar (nuts). Jack then came into the CP, so I could tell I was way back in the field through stopping at the CP. He’d offered me a salt capsule to replace some lost salts (the diarrhea), which I gratefully accepted rather than look around in my main back for more salty food in my pack. I took the capsule and then got myself up. I went and glanced at the time/placing recording for the CP, and 120 people had now come through. I was a seriously long way back in the field. I was however, confident that I’d done all I needed to do in terms of fuelling to get me to the top of the big climb. I set off and immediately we crossed a wide river on some stepping stones, watched carefully by some Sherpas who were marshalling and looking out for our safety throughout the course, as well as moving and setting up the camps each day. These were amazing guys, 80% of them had sumitted Everest! The course leader of them, Karma Sherpa, had submitted 9 times!
Straight after the river crossing began a fiercely steep ascent on steep steps/boulders. It was all under tree cover, so slippy ground, and very humid too. I’d look up towards the skyline frequently, and think I could see the summit, but it was always a false one, and the climb would continue. The climb went straight up for 2K which took I’d guess perhaps an hour. Then it tapered off to an only marginally less draining incline for another 2K. I took the climb steadily, just keeping pace behind the 3 or 4 people in front all of whom were using walking poles. Interestingly, I’d estimate 60% of more of the field were using them. There were times when I envied them; particularly on the climbs, but on the descent they would have just hindered me. I also find they tie up my hands, and I’m less inclined to fuel myself properly, so I never once considered taking them even though they were recommended by the organisers.
s the climb levelled out, I emerged from the trees and onto a scree slope, that you can just make out below, and see a competitor in front. It was already pretty hot now, heading directly into the sun
Next was a narrow track which I ran along. It descended gently and was the first really good running opportunity of this leg. As a result, and very nearly missed a sharp left turn off the main track and up a hill, until another competitor pointed it out. I thanked him and headed up to join another track which ran parallel to the lower one, just 50M higher up. A lot of people would miss that turn, and indeed I saw 2 guys running on the lower track just 2 minutes later and managed to shout them, so they could back track and get back on course. The course followed a jeep track through villages for several K, where the local people had come out to greet everyone. I caught James up (pictured under the banner). He was struggling with the sickness, but plodding on. He’d he ok I thought
Amazing views all around, despiote the climbing!
I frequently saw local people carrying an amazing amount on their backs, and heads.
Another nice shot of the Annapurna range here
The jeep track undulated for a few k before starting to descend. Soon after I got to CP2. I was feeling right as rain now, so rapidly filled up by bottles and headed out. I’d picked up a few places, but not many so I knew I had my work cut out to rescue the stage. There was a 700M descent in the next section, so I fancied my chances and set off at a good pace. The first 250M after the CP was track, and then it was 2.7km straight down steep steps and boulders again. At times it was slippy and the useless grip on my shoes caused me to roll my ankle countless times. I ran on and where it was dry I was running down very fast, taking 2 or 3 steps at once, the huge cushioning on my shoes soaking up all the impact. I was running past an awful lot of people too, everyone taking it steady and walking down, using their poles for support. This pattern of steady climbing and rapid descent would repeat itself every day. By the time I’d got down off that big climb my little toes were sore. They’d taken a bashing from hitting the front of my shoes as I ran downhill, and also when I rolled my ankle. My ankles are very strong from years of trail running, so although I rolled them frequently the tendon’s were strong enough to arrest the movement so I didn’t roll it too seriously. My quads were really taking a battering from the descent too mind you.
The ground was fairly flat to CP3. I passed through another local village, and was greeted by the children. Practically every single one wanted their photo taken. I had to take about 10 pictures before they'd let me through! Here are a few.
I caught up Steve from our tent, who was having a good day. He’d said he’d been looking forward to a tent stage win and I’d gone and spoiled it! We ran together for a while, the trail was sometimes narrow and sometimes a good jeep track.
Steve demonstrated his skill descending the jeep track slopes. I reigned myself in a little on the inclines; living by the motto that “if you feel like you are running too fast downhill, then you probably are, so slow up a notch, probably two”. Steve was very enthusiastic in his descent, but I caught him back up on the flat stretches. He rolled his ankle fairly nastily on one descent and took it a little easier. A few minutes after we sighted a huge cable bridge, spanning a 250M wide ravine, and knew that this was the bridge that had been mentioned in the course briefing earlier.
Everyone was told they had to walk on the bridges, even the leaders. The bridges had all been checked and certified by engineers for safety, but nevertheless they do move, and no more than 10 at once were allowed on them (including local people and us). As it was I was never near enough to 10 other people for this to be a problem, and the field was so strung out, I doubt anyone had a problem with this rule. There was a short steep climb-down to get to the bridge where Zandy the photographer had setup to capture everyone as they began crossing. There were a load of local children there too watching us.
I took my first footstep trying to keep my focus on the end.
I hate heights remember and this bridge was a good 100M or more off the valley floor. The bridge bounced slightly with every footstep as I made my way out into the middle. Half way along, despite the heights issue, I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity for a photo, so I held the camera at arm’s length and took this picture.
I then walked along quickly, anxious to get to the other side. It was amazing how hard it was to climb up to the other side, despite the only apparent shallow incline. There must be some magic physics explanation as to why? I got almost to the other side and looked back and took a photo of Steve as he crossed
The other side there was a short steep up-climb to gain the main track. In the heat of the day that short 30M up-climb was really hard, and later on everyone commented the same. Immediately after the climb was the welcome sight of CP3. I didn’t pause any longer than to refill my bottles and then I headed straight out, running at a good steady pace that I could maintain. There was a 5km plateau, with only mild undulations, which meant I could run it all and hopefully pick off some more places and try and rescue the stage. I did just that a overtook quite a few more on this section. Surprise of the day was that I passed a school and there were a couple of hundred children and teachers all of whom were standing out in the sun and cheering every competitor as they passed. Amazing sight, and fantastic support from the local people. I took this photo.
My toes were feeling sore I noticed. I'd been ignoring them a little, thinking maybe I'll sort them out at the end of the day, but eventually good sense got the better of me, and I sat down and taped up the small and the big toe on each. I had to laugh as I tore off some tape and saw my girlfriend had carefully unwrapped some, written messages and put it back on the roll! see below!
5 minutes later I was on my way again. The track then started to descend and I knew there was a steady 300M descent on a jeep track that would wind it’s way down the river and valley floor below. I increased my pace, and ignored my rule about reigning it in a notch. I increased it by two notches instead and used the bouncy shoes to soak up all the force and stones as I came down the switchback track. Far below I could see the camp and finish just a couple of k away and set myself a task of overtaking everyone that I could see ahead. I overtook the last 3 of them about 400M before the finish and managed to hold my pace, tired as I was, until crossing the line ahead of a few people trying to chase back their place not far behind. I looked at my placing; 44th! I’d pulled back 80 places since CP1! A great rescue. If I’d have felt well in the morning who knows where I’d have finished. As it was 44th was a great result. I collected my water ration and went to my tent, expecting to be first back. Roger and Keir were there! I was very shocked and said “wow you two have had a good day”. “We haven’t they said, we both pulled out at CP1”.
They weren't sick (though Roger got the bug later in the week), I think they'd just struggled with the hills and terrain. The start of the stage was tough, but it got a lot tougher after CP1, so maybe they made a sensible decision. Kier wasn't interested in even staying in Nepal, he got a lift back to Pokhara, changed his flights and went straight back home, which I found a little strange. Why not just enjoy a week in the mountains anyway? Roger may well have done the same, but he was really on a tight budget, every dollar counted, so he opted to stay in the camp all week. He got to see the course and country at least, so not a wasted trip.
The biggest shock of the day was that Marshall Ulrich had also pulled out at CP1. One of his tentmates told me he had fallen sick with the camp bug, but an aggravating factor was that he wasn't that well coming into the race. He had apparently just climbed Aconcagua (South America's highest mountain) and had a respiratory problem and had been couhing a lot. He hadn't been able to recover in time, and the sickness had just made it impossible for him to carry on. His two team mates did continue with the race and finished. Marshall was not satisfied to just be a spectator so asked to be put to work as a volunteer, manning checkpoint but beyond that he would be out roaming on sections of the course, helping to direct at difficult sections, and provide encouragement for people. I even saw him finish a stage with one of the last people in on day 4, effectively walking a struggling guy in. The competitor was really grateful. It was just one example of where he went above and beyond and what earned him the 'Spirit Award' trophy at the awards banquet at the end of the race.
The camp was right next to a wide river and quite a few people were taking advantage of it by bathing, or at least paddling. I weighed up the risk versus benfit to my aching quads and decided on risking it. I wandered down and waded into the freezing cold water, emersing my quads in the cooling water for 10 minutes; like an ice-bath I reasoned. I'd made a poor decision to leave my shoes, as we lost the sun early and they were soaking wet. I managed to mostly dry them by the campfire a little later luckily though. My quads did benefit from the impromptu icebath though I think.
Steve camp into camp about 20 minutes or so later, and then James about an hour after me, followed by Martina and Jack. James had really had a tough day, but he had got through it and was now on the mend. At leats he'd had his bad day early in the week and not on one of the later even tougher stages. All the stages were tough, but they got progressively longer as the week wore on.
We were camped most days on out of season rice fields, so the ground was soft but vegation poked through the ground sheet sometimes. My small thermarest smoothed out the bumps for the most part, and again I got a reasonable nights sleep.
Stage 3 - 38KM. Elevation +1478 / -464
I followed my usual morning routine; last out of my sleeping bag, packing fairly quickly and settling down in front of the fire to eat whilst Sam gave the morning briefing. Today looked like an easier day. Essentially we were on a wide jeep track for virtually the entire stage; it would be undulating, but gaining 800M over the first 33.5k and then one big killer 650M hill for the last leg. A big hill just when you least wanted it, at the end. The elevation profile for the first 3 legs showed the overall gain, but looked almost flat when compared to the steep gain at the end. I think this lured people into a false sense that they could really run 2/3 of the stage quite hard. I think quite a lot of people did just that and tired out as the stage wore on due to the constant small ups and downs, that accounted for 800M of ascent in that 33.5k. I took Sam's warning on Nepali flats seriously and figured I'd run it steady sensible and walk the uphill sections where appropriate.
Here's a photo at the start; James and his friend Wendy pictured.
Here's a photo of the start
The stage started, all the top 50 headed out fairly quickly.
I lingered back a little steadier, happy to be in the top 80 or so. Photo of local farmers here
The scenary all along this stage was amazing. We were following the Kaligandaki river all day, so in a canyon sometimes, and a shallower valley at others
I had my morning loo stop and Imodium before CP1, to get it out of the way! I was running with James for almost the whole stage that day. We ran into a small town, Beni, pictured below. You can just make out a cable bridge we crossed.
We emerged into the middle of a dirt football pitch with the local kids playing football and cheering us on as we ran through. We ran through the middle of the town, small shops all around and lots of locals clapping as as we went. It was a nice atmosphere. Soon after we got to CP1. I was a little ahead of James and went straight through, but he caught up about 30 mins later. I was a little surpised actually, since I hadn't been hanging about! He was clearly feeling a lot better and wasn't hanging around either!
The stunning scenary just can't be captured as I've said already
I got into CP2 just ahead of James and this time made a little more of a concerted effort to go faster! I kept up my steady pace now overtaking quite a lot of people as they slowed down. James still managed to catch back up, damn him! I was only just ahead at CP3, but went straight through whilst fuelling myself madly with all remaining snacks, knowing that there was one hell of a climb ahead in the hottest part of the day. It started easy enough with 1km of rough jeep track. A tractor heading up to camp overtook me as I stood aside. I gave it a bit of a headstart which was lucky as half the load then fell off the back! I overtook it again as the Sherpa's gathered up the fallen load and didn't see it again. I have another hilarious story about a tractor driver that my tentmate Martina saw en-route. I won't write this story down though, you'll have to ask me about it if you see me at an event!
After that it became a narrow boulder strewn climb, sometimes with steps. The climb was really quite tough and the pictures just don't show how steep it was at times.
Often there were no steps and jusy rubble to clamber over on the steep terraced hillside.
James was with me for the earlier section, then I got my head down and quickened my pace. It was probably against my better judgement to climb so quickly up to the 1800M campsite, but I was feeling good and wanted to snatch back some more places. So, I climbed steadily but quickly and was shocked by the sudden appearance of the finish line. I clambered over the last few boulders and ran down to an amazing welcome from people from a local village and school who were lined up. They put a garland of flowers around my neck as I crossed the finish and there was music and dancing; amazing! I'd finished in 44th place. My placing was pretty consistent it seems. Again, I was very happy.
James finished about 15 minutes later and came over to join me sitting on the floor. We've beaten the tent I said. It's a benchmark achievemnt to get to camp before your tent has been setup. The Sherpa's hadn't yet set up our tent. You could tell we were performing well! We were both very impressed with that acheivement! Soon after the tent was setup and I had my rego drink as usual. I didn't realise that I must have burned through a lot of water on that last climb. I didn't realise how dehydrated I was that day. In fact I didn't realise how dehydrated I was until half way through the next stage, when things went a little pear-shaped. More of that later though.
A landscape of the camp.
The local people all sat on a huge boulder and observed the comings and goings of everyone. I guess it was the biggest thing to happen in a long time, if ever, in the locality.
We were camped on farming terraces again as you can see, both in camp and a view to the opposite mountain.
The local people tended the camp fire all week, supplying hot water for our meals; this was very much appreciated by everyone.
A helicopter landed by the finish line during the afternoon, and it was explained the next day that this was because we were heading up to the highest point on the course where there was no car access. Sherpa extraction would take 10 hours, so as a safety measure a helicopter would take a doctor up and be on stand by to medivac anyone who struggled with the altitude or any other problems. This was very reassuring for everyone I'm sure.
The other guys from the tent came in as the afternoon went on. Martina had been struggling with some sickness but was doing ok still. As it got dark we all ate and soon got into the tent as it was very cold. We were camped up above 1800M, and for the only night in the week there was no rain inside the tent. It was very cold and I slept very poorly. Arriving first into camp as I did, I setup my sleeping bag at the back of the tent furthest from the door. I really needed to go to the toilet in the night, but a combination of not wanting to get out into the freezing cold (1-2C) and also not wanting to wake everyone up by clambering over them all to get to the door, I stayed put. As a result of not going to the toilet, I unconciously, also didn't rehydrate. This proved to be an absolutely terrible decision.
Stage 4 – 27.2km +1524M –2275M
I didn’t get much sleep at all that night. There was no dripping from the ceiling that night. It had been very cold, close to 0C. Even with my lightweight sleeping bag and liner I wasn’t that warm. I’d slept in some clothes which I’m not sure really helped, as I don’t think the sleeping bags works as well if you are clothed. Also of course I’d been desperate to go to the toilet but hadn’t, and as a result hadn’t hydrated properly. I stayed in my sleeping bag until 6am, and then got up had my beet shot and went and sat by the fire to have breakfast. Today’s stage was a shorter one, but that meant it was probably going to be touge. The hill profile showed it was one huge climb for 10k to CP1, gaining over 1200M to an altitude just short of 3000M. Then one huge descent of over 3500 steps and boulders to CP2 over the next 10k, before a gradual descent with some undulation to the finish 8k later. It didn’t look too bad. Of course this first 10k was going to be pretty horrible but I was just going to have to get my head down and tough that out, then I figured I could coast the rest all day. Maybe it was going to be an easy stage for me?
It didn’t work out that way. The stage started and we ran out of the camp and actually lost a little height before we started the climb. The climb was the usual mix of fairly decent cut steps and rough boulders varying in steepness but of course when you are gaining 1200M it was all continuous climbing. I’d started off reasonably ok, running the start and then settling into a steady march uphill like everyone else. I’d had a headache all morning and had a couple of paracetamol on the start line but an hour later and they had no effect. I was feeling rough as well. Was it the altitude? Can’t be I thought, as I’d done some altitude training back in the UK to at least this altitude and been fine, and be fine at well over this altitude before now. Nevertheless I was short of breath and even paused a few times to take a few breaths and get my heart rate back down.
Over an hour and a half solid climbing and several cruel false summits later, and the ascent went on. I’d estimated 2 to 2.5 hours and it wasn’t going to be any less. My head was really pounding now and I couldn’t understand why I was feeling so rough. My usual checklist is eat more food, up my hydration and electrolytes, and one of those things will fix the problem. I had doubtless burned through plenty of calories but didn’t feel desperately hungry. I did however up my hydration, and in fact was somewhat surprised to find that I had sunk 2l of water and electrolytes and now had none left. I just figured that meant I was well hydrated and struggled on. Close to the top as I was I had to take 2 x 1 minute breaks, just sitting on the steps. I felt a little confused. It was hot and humid too. It was on one of these breaks that I took off my Sahara sun cap and must have put in down, then in somewhat of a daze got up and carried on climbing; I left it behind never to be seen again.
It wasn’t until I got to the top of the climb to the village of Ghorepani at the peak and was directed to the CP that I realised my suncap was lost. I certainly wasn’t going to go back and find it, and I was really feeling pretty terrible. I was going to take a break at the CP. The CP was busy, and wasn’t quite as well organised as all the other CPs. Usually there were people on hand to help refill your water bottles. I just sat down and took off my pack when I got there. I didn’t get any water initially; a little too dazed to realise what I was doing. I figured the altitude must be having this effect on me for some unknown reason, and I knew the best cure for that was descent. I spent about 15 minutes trying to bring myself round, forced down some food and then got up. I only took 1 litre of water, still a little confused and perhaps I thought since I’d already drank 2 litres I was ok. I’m not sure why, but that’s all I took, then headed out of the CP. It was such an amazing viewpoint, and much as I didn't feel like it, I took these photos. Glad I made the effort now though. The mountain is Anapurna South.
The route immediately started to head down hill, and would do so for a long time now. Normally I’d be bouncing down the steps, but I was sometimes doing a half hearted jog, sometimes just walking it steadily. I was feeling thirsty and 30 minutes after leaving the CP I realised I’d drank all my 1 litre of water, and hadn’t taken any more. It was at that point that a suspicion of dehydration occurred to me. Well, there was an easy way to see if that was the case. I forced myself to go to the toilet. The tiny bit that I managed was a very bad dark colour, the worst I’d ever seen, even in a desert race. It then all made sense. I’d not rehydrated properly last night, and being dehydrated can make any altitude gains more acutely felt, so it was highly likely I was suffering from some altitude effects (the headache) and was also why I was feeling dazed. Stupid me I thought, though the realisation didn’t make me feel any better. I needed more water. There were many tea houses on the route, and we were all carrying some money for emergencies, so I was going to have to stop and buy some water. I hadn’t picked up my full ration at the CP, so I was due some anyway. I stopped and bought some, and sat down in the doorway of the teahouse. I drank a little and then just lay flat on my back in the shade, feeling really ropey. I had to get myself out of this mess anyway. There would be no bailing out of the race because the race was a one-off, so no chance to repeat it, and any extraction even if it had been serious would take hours as I was so remote. I knew I just had to get all the water down me. I sipped it every few minutes and laafty in the shade. Lots of people were coming past; I was very much getting to the back of the pack. A big group of French hikers were nearby clapping everyone as they went by, but casting concerned glances and whispers in my direction. About 40 minutes later and still not feeling particularly good, I forced myself to get up. I had taken on plenty of water, I just needed to get going. I’d likely feel a lot better as I descended I reasoned.
The route down was initially heavily shaded, and parts of the route were very slippy and muddy. There was a fabled 3500 steps down, but I wasn’t counting.
They were boulder-steps of all shapes and sizes and the route down frequently went back ‘up’ sometimes too. Even feeling rough as I did I began to start to pass a few people again.
After about an hour of descent I almost magically began to feel much better. It was probably around 2000M altitude. I rapidly increased my decent, even though I had now emerged onto sun-baked terraces with no cover from the sun, and no sun hat either. There was nothing I could do about that, so I just ran on. Route finding became a little more difficult as there as many small villages and paths on the way down and not always were the route markers quite as often as we would have liked. I asked local people from time to time if they had seen other runners and I was on the right path.
The vierws as always were amazing though.
They indicated that I was, so I’d run on. I was going quickly again now, bouncing down the steps, eager to catch up as many lost places as I could. There was no way I was going to finish as high as I did the previous 3 days, so this was just damage limitation. I could feel myself catching the sun on my unprotected head, but I could also feel myself sweating again, so that was a good sign. I also needed the loo again, and it was back to all clear!I’d finished off all of my water again, but I was well enough hydrated to get to the next CP. Going down all those steps took a lot longer than I thought, but eventually the path started to level out and I crossed a cable bridge into a small village to the CP.
I took a seat in the shade for a couple of minutes. The staff at the CP were really helpful, especially Marshall Ulrich who took my bottles off me, and refilled them. I mentioned I’d had a rough stage so far, running out of water, and dehydrated, and losing my cap too. Marshall turned around and opened up his pack, and took out his cap and gave it to me! I was obviously very grateful, and said “I’ll give it back to you later in camp”. He said “you can keep it”! Woo hoo best race souvenir ever!
Here it is pictured later on in the teahouse.
I tightened the lids on my bottles thanked everyone at the CP, and set off for the last leg of the stage to camp. It was around 10k mostly downhill, but undulating in places. The good news was that it was good quality trail, or jeep track for the whole way, following a river again. There were a fair few steps still to negotiate of course.
I’d done a fair amount of overtaking on the decent into CP2, but picked up a few more places in that last leg. I pushed really hard, too hard to be honest. I had my new lucky hat on, and maybe some of that talent was going to transfer. I’m not sure it works like that, but you never know! I can’t really recall how long it took me to do that last leg. The cheap watch that I had brought was fogged up with condensation and unreadable again. I ran the whole leg though, before running into the finishing village. There were competitors who had all finished earlier strewn throughout the village in the tea houses and shops as I zigzagged along the twisting paths. I crossed the line in 6 hours and 59th place and pretty shattered. I’d pulled back an awful lot of places, but nothing was going to make up the hour I’d lost to the dehydrated episode. I hadn’t even finished first out of the tent that day. James had a storming day and had finished 45 mins ahead of me. It made up for the awful day he had with sickness the day before. We later both agreed that pretty much everyone had one bad day. I was given a meal ticket and told that I could only use it in the tea house that I was assigned to. Oh yes, I forgot, tonight we had a special treat, we would be staying in a tea house in the village of Birethanti for this one night. Tea houses and very basic accommodation, like wooden Inn’s really. Just a small room and bed. The bedding had been taken away, so we still had to use our sleeping bags. There were squat toilets shared between all the rooms, which was a luxury compared to the toilet tents we had been sharing.
I went to my room and took off my shoes. My little toe had been getting more bashed about as the days went by and after today’s huge descent, the underside of my small right toe was just one big blood blister. You can just about make it out on this photo, and see the other little toe looking a little battle scarred too.
This was bad news. 2 years previous I had burst an blood blister, and it got infected and took me out of a race, and landed me in hospital. I hobbled along to the race doctors and asked for their opinion. I was going to have a hard time running on it without bursting it, but bursting it meant a strong chance of infection. They said “you’re between a rock and a hard place”. Ideally you don’t burst it though. I cleaned up my feet there and happened to go to the toilet. I almost jumped out of my skin when my urine was red. I then remembered I had a beet shot at breakfast time. However, I had been to the loo several times earlier and it had been clear? I was a little concerned that maybe it wasn’t beet (which does turn your output pink!) and could be blood in my urine. I peed in a bottle and showed it to the docs “holy shit is that your urine!” was the response. I said yes, but it’s probably beet, and not blood what do you think? They said “if we had a lab we’d tell you in 5 minutes, but we don’t so we can’t really say with 100% certainty. It’s probably not blood as it may be a slightly muddier colour, but keep an eye on it to be on the safe side”. They gave me a bottle of water and I sat and rehydrated until I peed again. It was more pink this time, but they said that drinking more water would also dilute the colour of blood too. Oh dear, my sometimes hypochondriac tendencies were not settled by this news. I decided to do a scientific test. I went back to my room and rehydrated and filled up some more bottles, and then dipped my finger in a beet shot and added it to a fresh bottle of water. It turned the same colour as my urine. Small panic over!
I felt fairly ropey for the rest of the evening, a mixture of over-exertion and too much sun I think. I wasn’t told my free meal ticket was for only one specific dish, so I ordered off the menu; a vegetable cutlet and then had to pay for it. Still I wasn’t that hungry. I had a couple of hours rest, and then got up to have dinner with the rest of my tent mates who had since come in. I used my meal ticket this time and had a dhal bhat, which was really good. I polished it off pretty rapidly, putting back some much needed calories. Thoughts turned to the next stage, the long day 75km with 2900M of ascent. I wondered how I would cope with my smashed up toes. Both little toes were in a state, but the right one had the big blood blister and was sore to put pressure on. Soon after dinner I went to bed. I slept well and rehydrated like a demon. No hydration mistakes this time. I still filled the water bottles to check when my colour returned to normal. Believe it or not, it took 4 litres of peeing to go clear again! I slept really well in the bed that night, just what I needed. This pic was taken in the tea house, and I've put this photo up for your amusement!
Day 5 – 75km +2919M –3249M
I woke feeling refreshed, and went downstairs to eat my breakfast. The tea house owners had been told to supply us with hot water for our own supplied breakfast. However, because we had been given a free meal the night before, I had a spare meal. In fact I had a 1400 calorie Mountain House big pack Spaghetti Bolognese spare. So, I ate as much of it as I could manage, which was only about half of it, but 700kcal is good fuelling to start a 75km stage.
I had been studying the road book for this stage, for several days now. The day was essentially 3 very big climbs (roughly 600M, 700M and 400M changes in altitude) and descents over 45km, and then a predominantly flattish last 30km. So I had make a clear decision that I was going to go steady and “tough out” the first 45Km, making sure I had enough in my legs to clear those big ascents and descents, and then if I had anything left in the tank I’d “open up” in the last 30km, which was very likely to be all tackled in darkness. The route would be going through some jungle like terrain and we were told to check ourselves for leeches. Parts of the route would also be very slippery and very slow going, so trying to estimate how long the route might take would just be hazarding a guess. I made an approximation of 15 hours.
Have a look at what the local men carry things around with, here pictured on the start line.
We started at 7:15am, crossing a large bridge with a nice flat run for 2k before we hit big climb number 1. It was 600M+ straight up on switch back rough steps, mostly in heavy shade, but humid as hell, even this early in the morning.
I settled into what I estimated was around 70th place but happily let other eager climbers with their poles past me. Some people were climbing too fast I thought; I’d be seeing them later. There was a three man Irish team who marched together with their poles. They were leading the team race by about an hour from their nearest rivals. They were setting their stall out early and marched past me up the first climb. They’d gone past me a few times going up the hills over the week, but at the top of the climbs I’d usually pass them later in the day.
There were a lot of false summits
and some avoidance of cows carrying huge buckets on the way up! They almsot swept us off the path as they came down, as they have no idea the 2ft wide buckets are part of their required width! Near the top was a scree section, you can just about make out the guy ahead of me.
I was fairly glad I was behind them this time though as at the top of the climb was a plateau for a while before CP1 in a village. All the local people had turned out and had put on an amazing welcome for all the competitors as we passed through. The local kids said “Namaste” and asked for sweets etc as usual. A little child, probably only 5 or 6 years old seemed to take offence at one of the Irish guys not having any spare sweets and so threw a good size rock at him before running off and hiding in his house. It struck him on the top of the head, producing a nasty-looking head wound that bled quite a lot. The poor guy had just got through CP1, and had to go back as he was bleeding a fair bit and fortunately there were doctors at CP1. His teammates then had to carry on alone, as the doctors checked he was ok and stitched his head up.
Of course the local people were furious at the child, effectively bringing shame on them I guess, and I’m told a “posse” had formed and marched up to the child’s house. His mother brought him out and apparently gave him a sound spanking in front of everyone. The kid was so young he probably didn’t really understand what he was doing, and I don’t think the Irish guy would have necessarily wanted the kid spanking. Anyway, it didn’t end there as a village “elder” then took a hold of the child and proceeded to give him a spanking as well. The kid’s mother didn’t like this one bit, and the injured Irish guy told me a bit of a scuffle then broke out and the police got involved! Oh dear. Anyway, I was about 10 minutes behind all of this drama, so I passed through CP1 just to observe the guy with blood all over him being stitched up again.
I didn’t hang around any longer than to refill my bottles. It was another clear and hot day, but at least that was the first killer climb out of the way. We were told that extra markers had been placed on the next section as parts of the descent were very slippy and precipitous in places. Just past the CP, I took this great shot of a cow with the impressive skyline.
Also, one with me, and one without me!
I soon caught up with the other 2 Irish guys who hoped their team-mate would catch them up later (and he did). Soon after, I caught up James who was feeling strong again today. We stayed fairly close together, chatting at times, but drifting apart sometimes over the next section of the course as I ran ahead. James would put in some effort and catch back up though. The decent was indeed very slippy but well marked as such.
Progress was really slow going down these sections, which was really pulling down the average speed. You wanted to be able to run down fast to pull back the average but it was just too hard to do so; to risk injury for speed. The track gradually improved and allowed for some proper running again, but it was during this section that I must have smashed open the blood blister. I kind of realised I had done it, but resolved not to take my shoes off until the finish line. The damage was now done, I just hoped I could avoid infection. The descent came down through farming terraces and a wide track before levelling out in the valley below. I came into CP2 just before James and was going to wait for him to refill his bottles. He ushered me on ahead and said he’d catch up. However, I ran steadily over the next 2k in the flat valley before the start of killer climb number 2, and in fact didn’t see James again.
We crossed a rickety old bridge before the climb started.
This climb even longer and tougher than the first, especially since it was done in the midday heat and there was no shade cover whatsoever. It was just a march up farming terraces in the heat. Again I kept a steady pace. The field was already really well strung out but there were a few people around me as I climbed.
About half way up there was a water pump where a competitor ahead was rinsing himself off and wetting his camp, which I eagerly emulated. He said “just don’t drink it”. I didn’t intend to, but was pleased to have the opportunity to cool off. I took a picture or two looking back, great photos I think.
The path up continued, but above the terraces the trail deteriorated into rubble at times and then all of a sudden hit a tree line. Great I thought, shade. However, this was the jungle/leeches section it transpired and was really slow going. The ground was like glass, especially in my Hoka shoes which are utterly hopeless in wet terrain. The grip is beyond awful. I slipped and tripped frequently as I climbed. The humidity must have been almost 100% and it looked like rainforest all around. The loud sound of insects made it sound just like a jungle. Incredible how the terrain could change so quickly.
On one section the Sherpas had put in ropes to help negotiate the rocks. It was so slippy that it would have been really hard to get by safely without them. The slow climb had taken me a couple of hours and I had ran out of water, despite taking a full ration at CP2. The jungle section lasted about half an hour and ended as suddenly as it had began with a final steep climb to a plateau and village. I hoped the CP was there but it wasn’t. However a couple of Sherpas were giving everyone a few hundred mil of water to keep them going for the next 15 minutes until the actual CP3 appeared.
I ran into CP3 steadily, and still feeling good. Again, I didn’t waste any time and was in and out within a minute or so. Straight away came a long descent, but this time it was mostly on a wide jeep trail. It was easy running, too easy I thought as I ran down. I remembered the rule “if you feel like you are running too fast, then you probably are, so reign it in a notch, probably two”, and promptly easy off to a steadier jog. My cheap watch suddenly went haywire, the condensation had got into the electronics and it beeped crazily. I wouldn’t stop and I knew there was only one thing for it, or be driven insane. I took it off and repeatedly smashed the face on a nearby rock, until the beeping groaned and changed pitch, then eventually stopped. A competitor nearby looked like me, like I was crazy. I said “it was annoying me”. They probably thought I had broke a £200 GPS watch and not a £3 cheap nasty watch from Pokhara. So, from that point on, I had no idea of time at all. However, I had a Silva-40 watch-strap compass attached to it's strap, so I had to put the smashed up thing back on my wrist and wear it for the rest of the race anyway!
A group of 10 or so 5/6 year old kids decided to run with me and hit me with a barrage of questions. I answered many of them, but eventually it actually became a hassle and I hoped they’d leave me alone. I even tried to run off ahead, but the kids actually overtook me running downhill, and they were wearing flip-flops! I gave up trying to outrun them, and had to stop talking to them and eventually after about 2k they gave up and left me alone. The wide track went down and down, losing a lot more elevation than gained on the ascent. The track ended in a short section on a tarmac road before a really nasty narrow and rubble filled trail that went steeply down for a couple of k. This was probably the worst section on the course for terrain, and could possibly have been chosen better. Extra warning had been put up after some of the leaders had taken nasty falls on slippy sections. Even marked up and walking slowly over these parts, I still fell on my arse a few times. The last section was down a steep terrace which was tricky to route find. I could see the CP below, but couldn’t see the way down. I made my own path until I saw some later markers, and later advised they had some more markers up there, which they promptly dispatched a Sherpa to do, to help the later competitors. I ran into CP4 in the valley bottom, and because I had taken so much water on at CP3, and drank only half of it, I didn’t actually need any more water.
I was feeling really good. A few people were in the CP4 tent taking some recovery time, maybe having pushed a little too hard so far. So, I simply paused to give my number, said I felt good and didn’t need any more water and headed straight out to cross a marsh section for the next 1k. It included a long jump to cross a river too.
All of which I found lots of fun! I ate a couple of energy bars in this section to fuel for the last climb. The terrain for this leg didn’t really match the roadbook at all. There was a climb, then a plateau, then a small descent, a flat 2k and then the big climb, none of which was shown on the hill profile at all. Still, I’d long since learned that the roadbook elevation charts were very approximate. After crossing the valley the proper last big climb began. On paper it looked like the least difficult, and was all on a wide jeep track. However, it was probably the worst climb, as the switchbacks and incline went on for an age. There isn’t a great deal to say about this climb, other than it was long, and I was glad to have my ipod on. I only usually use my ipod on the long stage and it was nice to hear some message from back home that had been recorded by my girlfriend, and young son. So, I retained my sense of humour even though it felt like considerably more elevation gain than 400m and it must have been another 2 hours since leaving CP4 that I eventually got to the summit plateau. Still there was a steady incline through a couple of small villages, and past some road building activities where a huge digger was making a dirt road for the locals. They kindly stopped and let me run past. I ran past Sam from RacingThePlanet and knew that CP5 must be close, which it was as over the next hill was indeed the “overnight camp”. It was here that they had hot water where you could eat a meal, and could even sleep if you wished, and continue early the next day. It was only around 4:30pm (I judged by the sun height in the sky; no watch remember!), so I had no intention of sleeping, and neither did I intend to eat. So it was another 2 minute pit-stop to fill my bottles before I could put phase II of today’s race plan into effect.
I’d reached the summit of the last big climb, and with that the rest of the course was a big descent and what looked like a long plateau along a jeep track to CP6, then more flat jeep track to CP7, then a short stiff climb and decent into the finish. It wasn’t quite like that in reality, but the overall decision I came to was that I was feeling good, and I would now “open up” and chew up the last 30k as fast as I could manage it. I tightened up my rucksack straps, and increased my pace on the initial flat section, before it gave out to another wide descent on a switchback jeep track. The light was now fading , and I didn’t really want to be running this quickly downhill in the dark. Could I outrun the sunset and make it down to the valley road before dark? I was going to have a damn good go! I took one last photo that day, just capturing the setting sun hitting the Anapurna range.
I saw very few competitors now, so I knew I had at least got up to the top 50 and likely better. I ran fast past some others, who had probably run hard early, and were now easing up, the opposite to what I had done. People were few and far between and the sun had now set and the light was almost gone. A marshal was out striking up the glow sticks which would be welcome markers in the dark. I got to the bottom of the hill and onto the jeep track with about 10 minutes of fading light left; result!
There was a small climb as I passed another competitor before the road levelled out. A huge bus came past with loads of people on board and about 30 on the roof! They were making a huge amount of noise as they went passed, a proper party bus! I ran along the road, which was still a gravel trail but very wide and well used. Quite few motorbikes and cars came past. The light was pretty much gone now, but I resisted the urge to put on my headtorch just yet. I could just about see my way on the road with use of peripheral vision. I passed a couple more people just turning into CP6. Still feeling good, I refilled just one bottle. I wouldn’t need much water now. We were told to turn our lights on; headtorch and rear red flashing light on the backpack. So I did then, I headed straight back out. It was 8.5k to the next CP, and looked fairly flat. At the speed I was running at, even in the darkness it shouldn’t take me more than an hour I guessed, possibly less. There were a lot of people around and lots of houses alongside the jeep track. I passed one more competitor, and that was the last one I saw that night. I saw no one for over 2 hours after that point. It got very dark very quickly, and there were of course no street lights. I turned off my headtorch briefly just to confirm that it was indeed very dark and without the torch I’d have almost no chance of staying upright on the potholed track. The glow sticks that had been left out were being systematically taken down and played with by the local kids. Can’t really blame them to be honest, I’m sure they were fascinated by them. It just meant that there were no glow sticks to navigate with and I had to scan the roadside furiously for the pink paint spots, and hoped I didn’t miss them.
I ran on relentlessly, heading down into a short steep valley and then back up a stiff climb the other side, the only time where I walked in that section for about 5 minutes as I climbed out. I must be getting near the CP now surely, I had been going for about an hour. I came to a fork in the road and with no glowsticks took a wrong turn, but when it started to head uphill I figured it must be wrong and backtracked, then finding the a pink marker some way down the other track. A bus came past and the kids on the roof had handfuls of glowsticks. The bus it had appeared was stopping at the glowsticks and allowing them to untie them from the height at which they had been secured (out of reach of someone on foot!). I continued to run on but there were few markers and I was concerned I had somehow missed CP7. I ran into the next small village and there was 1 solitary glow stick, the first one not stolen for several miles, and shortly after was CP7. It was a welcome site, but well beyond the 9k mark. I had no idea how far at the time, but a competitor told me the next day it was 13k between CP6 and CP7, not 8.5k! I was starting to tire out a little now, and hoped the route description was accurate from there at there was really only 10.5k left. Still that 10.5k sounded a long way and there looked to be some climbing involved. I was in and out of CP7 quickly, keen to get it over with, though fully realising I could have a couple of hours to go depending on the terrain I met. There was a sharp 100M climb into a fairly large town. I emerged on wide and very busy tarmac road. Lots of lorries were coming past, and I stayed off to the side as much as possible to avoid them. I ran up the road in what I hoped was the right direction, but again with few route markers to see it was worrying that I was on the right route. After about 1k there was a group of armed police or army signalling that I should then head off the main road and along a side road. I assumed these guys were organised by RTP so followed the instruction and soon by head torch began to pick up reflective tape on trees and poles. The reflective tape was not as attractive to the kids it seemed.
I was slowing up now on a very gradual incline when the tarmc road ran out at a T-junction of dirt track to take me 5k from the last CP, and after a brief search I spotted some tape on the left fork. This section was away from all housing and again for amusement I tuned off my torch. It was utterly pitch black, I could not see a thing. I was running alongside a drainage ditch along a trail, but without the torch would have really struggled route find, especially since the reflective tape needed a headtorch to work of course. I hoped I was near the top of the hill on the hill profile, and it would then start to go down, but the elevation profile was again misleading and CP7 was marked in the wrong place. I found out when a group of Sherpas directed me off the main trail and onto a narrow path. I was pleased they were there to help, but soon realised I wasn’t expecting the next section when I hit a rough trail and fierce climb into another jungle type section. This unexpected climb really took the last out of my and I struggled, even sitting and catching my breath for 2 minutes at one point. I had no idea how long the climb would go on for, I just had to get up and keep going. It went on for longer than I expected, or wanted it to, but probably no more than 20 minutes all told. I emerged shattered onto a tarmac road to find a Headtorch shining down at me. It was Marshall Ulrich, in the middle of nowhere, just headed out to help tiring competitors route-find on this last tricky section, made tougher as he said all the glow sticks he kept putting out were stolen minutes later. He gave me good directions, basically staying on the tarmac road for a couple k, and then taking a left turn onto a trail and heading down towards the camp.
I thanked him for being out there helping and ran on, albeit a lot more slowly now. That last climb had sapped a lot of me and I my feet had started hurting. The pain of the burst blood blister and also something new, left Achilles heel pain, which was quite acute. So, I ran-hobbled along the road. It undulated, so I ran the downhill and walked the uphill. I found the turn off and I think expected the camp a lot sooner than it came. I went through another village, where they said 1k to camp. In fact it was about 2k later when I crashed through onto a trail which lead down the final few hundred metres and into camp. I hobbled down the last few steps, and into the floodlit stage finish line. I was happy to finish, but shattered and desperately in need of food. I’d eaten up all my snacks and carb drinks, and had been running on empty for the last 20k. I had however finished in 13 hours 17 mins and in 35th place! The race plan for the today had worked well for me.
I went into the medical tent to ask for advice about my feet. I took off my shoes and as suspected the blood blister had burst open, and similar on the other toe, leaving a mess of skin hanging on. Look away now unless you want to see my little toe skin hat!
The doctor advised me just to put alcohol gel on it every few hours until the end of the race, and hope it didn’t get infected. I explained I had cellulitis before, and she said she’d dispense some antibiotics if it started to look nasty. I soaked my feet in some iodine and water for 10 minutes in the medical tent, whilst stuffing myself with a pop-tart and explaining to the bemused doctor that I always carry one pop-tart in a race, for the one time of need, and that my time of need was now. My blood sugar was definitely on the low side. In fact I finished up, then sat round the camp fire and ate a chicken curry dehydrated meal. After that I went to my tent, crawled into my sleeping bag and went to sleep. A couple of hours later, James came in and asked how long I’d been in. I said I got back at half eight. “bloody hell!” he said, “you have had a good day”. During the night everyone of the other remaining tent mates; Steve, Martina, and Jack came in. I think Jack came in around 3 or 4am, but was always a going to finish, as I’ve previously said.
Not sure what time I woke, but it was earlier than the others, so I got up and warmed myself around the campfire and ate my breakfast. People were still finishing and would do until around midday when the last person came into camp to great cheers from everyone. The race was effectively over, just a 13k fun run to glory the next day. So, we all spent a lazy day in the lakeside camp, and ate some food in one of the two local cafe’s.
Some people came and set up a little market stall to sell their things.
I ate a meal with Marilena, a friend from previous races, and some of her friends from Spain, and Japan. I think we had eight different nationalities around the table in fact, so quite an international dinner. I slept quite well that night again.
Stage 6: 13k +130M
I woke and ate my last breakfast, and tightened all the straps on what was now a very small pack, weighing only a few kilos. I dressed my feet as well as I could, and had been diligently putting on alcohol gel (much gritting of teeth and pain!). Today would start a little differently. We took a team surivor photo before we struck camp for the last time.
We all queued up on the lakeside and put on life jackets before climbing into 5-man (including the boatsman) canoes.
James, and Martina were in a different canoe and had found an extra oar. They came paddling past me, overtaking, very pleased with themselves and I shouted “I’m not worried, It’s the only time you’ll be ahead today”! James said, “We’ll see about that”! So, we had a race on between us it seemed!
We then had a 40 minute journey being paddled across an eerie mist covered lake across to the other side. There was no sign of the sun just yet, so a heavy mist hung on the air as we all gathered on the start line for the last stage. We had a few photos before the start. Jack and James, and the three of us; me wearing my lucky cap of course!
Me, James and about 30 or so others set off like we really meant it, running at the kind of pace we’d probably run a steady 10k back home when on fresh legs. The first 2k was across very muddy rice fields and water, very draining actually. We then turned off onto a dirt road. The 13k course was gradually uphill all the way, but only gaining 130M in total. Soon after we got onto the road, James who had been a few paces behind me, made a break and overtook me, heading off through the field of competitors ahead. I figured I would probably have to be for about the next hour, and held the pace I knew I could confidently hold. I looked at James running off ahead, and thought, “if he’s got the legs for that pace, then well done to him, but I'm not sure he has”! Needless to say, with my race face on, I didn't take any photos on this last stage, sorry.
We ran through the streets of Pokhara and the sun soon broke through the mist and it got quite warm. There were a lot of people on the street, great support again. I pushed on, thinking how crazy it was to be trying to run quite this quickly after so many miles and climbing in the last week, as well as still carrying pack, and with bandaged feet to boot! The route headed down steeply into a ravine, before a sharp climb out the other side. It then levelled out but went across marshlands, and through streams which were effectively used as sewers. I was ankle deep in smelly nastiness you can only imagine, and I feared the worst for infection of my toes. The ground over the marsh was very rough lots of leaping jumping, and all very draining. It was however, like a lot of ground I am used to running on in LDWA events, over moorland in the UK, so I picked up a few more places and wasn’t too surprised to see James a couple of hundred metres ahead, he had slowed down. The route then came off the marsh and back into the dirt road streets of Pokhara. We were less than 3k from the finish at this stage. I caught up James a minute or so later, who was running next to second lady overall Sam Gash. I shouted out to him “I got your number”! His race number was 118, those in the UK will understand that. James had been tempted to run in a red and white striped shirt and wig but made a late decision not too! Anyway, I could see James was very tired and probably not up to racing out the last 3k against me. He said “you go on, and get a good time”. I said “No, it doesn’t matter, my placing overall is safe, the person behind has no chance of catching me, so let’s finish this race together”. So, I eased up a little and ran with James for the last 2K, still at still a good steady pace until we ran into the grounds of the Fulbari Hotel, when we both increased our pace to cross the finish, where James did a big celebration jump, looked on a little alarmingly by me! Thanks to Racing The Planet, and photographer Zandy Mangold for kind use of this next photograph.
I finished in 1 hour 16 minutes, and 25th place for the stage! We’d managed 9.5 minute mile average for the 13k stage, not a bad effort all things considered. I finished 35th place overall, which is just about the top 15% of the field. So, this way surpassed my expectations of my race performance, which a few months previously I questioned that I could even take part in. It was great to finish the race with James, who had been around or about me at various times all week, and who I get on with very well.
I finished in 1 hour 16 minutes, and 25th place for the stage! We’d managed 9.5 minute mile average for the 13k stage, not a bad effort all things considered. I finished 35th place overall, which is just about the top 15% of the field. So, this way surpassed my expectations of my race performance, which a few months previously I questioned that I could even take part in. It was great to finish the race with James, who had been around or about me at various times all week, and who I get on with very well.
Sam, the race director from RacingThePanet put my medal on and we took a few photos.
There was music being played by local people and lots of happy finishers.
I passed on the food and drink to go and sit apart and sort out my feet. After running through all that nastiness, I was keen to clean them and cover them in alcohol gel to kill off any potential infections. I’m sure you’ll all thank me for this photo, of my little skin-hat hanging off my toe!
The whole thing, skin and nail came off in one little parcel, on both little toes a few days after. I did put it in my bag as a souvenir for my girflfriend (lol) but sadly it somehow escaped on the way home. There is probably a horrified cleaner on an airplane wondering what animal had shed it's skin in the hold.
I waited for our entire tent to come in, and congratulated them all. Jack’s wife was there to meet him as he did his famous rugby charge sprint finish.
I waited for our entire tent to come in, and congratulated them all. Jack’s wife was there to meet him as he did his famous rugby charge sprint finish.
Martina and Steve finished well too, along with my friend Marilena, and we’re all in contact since the race ended and there are plans to meet up and various races around the globe for some of them already.James and Martina in this photo.
Marilena and Steve
After they were all in, we had a group survivors photo.
A photo of the finish area
I went and checked back in, and had a shower to wash off the last week of racing. I took one self portrait before I attempted to remove my nasty smelly clothes!
A photo out of the window of the whole range too.
I thought I was going to have to be surgically removed from my compression tights, before they were removed and burned by men in hazmat suits. After I had shaved I vaguely resembled something human again, albeit a very thin one. However, I had a good go at correcting my thinness at the awards banquet that night. We all had a good time, cheering the winners and listening to the speeches, as well as watching the slideshow of photos too. A Nepal Government member gave a speech, which was translated later, encouraging tourism in Nepal. I hope they made plenty of money in the 2011 year of tourism in Nepal and can use the money to start to put a decent infrastructure in place for the population. Nepal is an amazing country, and I’d encourage people to visit to see the mountains. The towns and cities need a lot of money spending on them though.
I got up early the next morning and caught a taxi to the coach stand.
I had gambled on turning up after being told all seats were sold, on all the buses. Somehow I lucked out and got the last seat on a coach for the same torturous 7 hour bus ride back. The internal flights were going again, but I was happy to be cautious and take the bus. Back in Kathmandu. Here are a few Kathmandu scenes for you to get the flavour.
I checked into a fairly expensive hotel for Nepal (£90), not wanting to make the mistake of staying in a similar terrible hostel that I stayed in on the way out. The hotel was really nice, and I ended up getting a suite for no extra cost, not that I really needed the space. I spent the evening and the following morning topping up on a few gifts to bring back, and buying some tea. Did I mention I run a small tea company too, that I’ve recently started? The Fine Tea Company Tea Shop, selling green tea, white tea and holding tea tasting days etc. So, I’m always intrigued to try new teas, and it turns out Nepali tea is rather good, so I bought some to stock on the website. Drinking green tea is proven to be great for endurance for all you runners out there!
I got my flight out from Kathmandu the following afternoon, and was kindly upgraded by Kingfisher Airlines to business Class. I got a few great photos out of the plane window as we went up.
On landing in Delhi, I suffered the same agony in the international transition lounge; waiting for 2 hours from someone from BA to shown up and give me a boarding pass top I could pass into the departure lounge. I then got about 4 hour sleep in the lounge before flying back to Heathrow, where my girlfriend met me and drove me back home to find my house decorated in congratulation messages and banners; my girlfriend and mother to blame!
So it was an amazing race, and I’m so pleased I was able to go after the groin injury looked to have stopped me running for good. I picked up an Achilles heel problem on that long day in Nepal; I think from all the climbing, and running down those steps. Seems to be taking a while to clear, but I’ve not had any running I had to do really other than a race in Shropshire on Christmas Eve which I ended up walking the last 6 miles of (20 miles race). The injury may prevent me from taking part in TransGranCanaria at the beginning of March, as I realistically need a 50 miler in the bank by the end of January and that’s looking very unlikely. TG is a 123km race with about 5500M of ascent (same amount of descent). It’s very tough, and would not be Achilles-Heel-injury friendly. So I’ll get a few treatments on it and see how it is in a week or two. If it’s no good, I’ll just cancel it and plan some races later in the year. An entry form for the Wenlock 100 miler(July) has just been thrust under my nose, already filled in and awaiting my signature. We’ll see.
Thanks for all the support through my training to everyone, and for all the messages during the week I was there. It was all very much appreciated.
Have a good week!