For anyone who hasn’t travelled to India before even getting off the plane is an assault of the senses. The heat and the smell are overwhelming, a concoction of spices, sewage, incense, dirt and sweat. We landed in Delhi very late at night. We had a worrying couple of hours where we thought our bags had been lost. Once they had been found again we were taken on a joy ride through the busy honking traffic before reaching our hotel in the embassy area.
The Himalayan 100mile multistage race is set up by the Himalayan Run and Trek company. The company is run by a family and headed up by Mr C.S Pandey. Mr Pandey becomes part of the experience from the very point of signing up to the challenge. I read about this event over a decade ago after reading an article in a women running magazine. It has been on my bucket list ever since. Therefore to actually sign up with my husband to do the challenge was a dream come true. From the moment of signing your email box will be filled with very upbeat, overly organised and therefore highly confusing extremely long emails from Mr Pandey congratulating you for joining in with the “most beautiful trail race in the world”. The event has be going for 28 years, each year it has about 50 participants. Trail running, ultra events and multistage races are becoming more and more popular, I therefore could not understand why this event isn’t more famous and doesn’t have bigger participation numbers. Throughout the race it became clear why higher numbers would be a huge problem and the charm of the event would be completely lost.
After a couple of hours sleep on a lovely soft mattress with clean sheets we were picked up to head off on another flight to Bagdogra. The time we were picked up with lots of other runners, it was nice to finally be able to meet some of the follow participants. People had travelled from all over the world to be part of the event. Over the next couple of hours the bus wound it way higher into the hills and past hundreds of tea plantations of West Bengal. Again we didn’t arrive to Mirik until late afternoon, giving us just enough time to get a “snack” of curry and see our rooms before the full race briefing.
This was the first time we got to meet Mr Pandey in the flesh. It can be seen instantly that he is very passionate about the race, the Himalayas and the natural environment. This race briefing went on for hours! It was a very confusing brief and I think most of the runners were more confused then when it started. After the runners conferred with each other we worked out where we needed to be, with what kit, at what time. The hardest bit of the whole race is understanding the baggage logistics, if you can manage to understand that you can put one foot in front of the other and run 100miles. After a very strong beer we had an early night. We were still confused with the time zone change and weren’t actually very tired.
The next day was spent acclimatising in Darjeeling itself. Darjeeling is beautiful. It is surrounded by huge mountains, it is precariously balanced on the steep side of a hill. We got a ride on the famous toy train and went to visit the mountaineering museum and zoo. The activities were organised for us and I would have liked to have gone into the centre of Darjeeling to find some tea shops rather an go to a zoo; however I did see a snow leopard.
Day 1 of race:
4:30am wake up. A two hour drive to the start line. 24miles of running and over 2000m of ascent.
This was a seriously hard day, Probably the hardest 24miles I have ever ran. I say the word run in the loosest of terms. The gradient was mainly uphill and most of that was over 20%. Within the first 30mins my legs were screaming at me and my calf muscles felt like they were going to explode. It probably didn’t help that we had been travelling or sitting for three days and then boom! Get up that hill. At the start we had a prayer ceremony and a fun start line with bagpipes and local musicians. Mr Pandey was there and being hilarious as normal.
The hills were brutal and relentless, I was completely out of breathe from the offset. Many people headed off to quickly but Will and I gradually overtook a few. The views were stunning and the weather was a dream; just the up up up that made it so hard. Whenever there was a slight down I wished for it to stop as I knew that would mean more of an up to run. Will and I both found different points in the day difficult; we were pretty slow for the last 10km as the hills were so steep and the altitude was getting to us. We could finally see the finish at Sandakphu but it seemed like such a long way away. Music was needed and slowly but surely we reached the top of the hill and ran through the finish banner holding hands. A wash, soup, coffee, sort out, dinner and a very very early night ready for the next day. Sandakphu is at a height of 3600metres, it is very cold at night and the facilities are very basic, long drop toilets and and a bucket of warm water to wash in; however it was a beautiful place to be. I was glad to have my thick down jacket and sleeping bag.
Running time: 7:00hrs
Day 2 of race:
5am wake up to see the sun rise on 4 of the 5 highest mountains in the world. 20miles of running out and back to Sandakphu. 10miles down hill and 10miles back up.
Today felt like uphill all day. How does that work? Today I struggled with energy, I felt like I didn’t have any energy and could not take on enough fuel. Throughout the run I did start to get into more of a rhythm and managed to feel really good by the last 5km. The views throughout the day were utterly unbelievable, each day the scenery was getting better and better. As it was an out and back run, we were able to see both the faster and slower runners, everyone gave each other encouragement and high fives. It really felt like a team effort whether you were at the front or at the back.
We had a free afternoon to chill and have a nap; we also managed to find a tiny little tuck shop to by soft drinks and chocolate, an absolute bonus. The race briefing was lead by the Niece of Mr Pandey, Mansi. It was clear and concise and everyone understood what the plan was for tomorrow Everest Challenge Marathon.
Running time: 4hrs 56mins.
Day 3 of race:
4am wake up. 26miles of running. 15miles at 3800metres and then down down down down to 1800metres!
The Everest Challenge Marathon certainly lived up to its name. It was a serious challenge. My body was already very tired from two days of very hard running, not much sleep, cold conditions and not enough calories, so to run a marathon at nearly 4000m is super tough. The plan was to take it steady all day, enjoy the views of Everest and try and smile our way around. We re-traced our first 10miles of yesterday to get to Molle point, we then took an 4mile out and back off-shoot. It was by far the best trail run I have ever done. It was beyond beautiful; if the altitude didn’t take my breathe away that view would. I would run that 8mile stretch everyday for the rest of my life and never get bored of it. After reaching Molle for the second time it meant a 10mile very steep downhill run through the forests to the finish. Will and I were having a blast running downhill, it was nice to get the legs moving from a shuffle and start to breath better as we gradually moved downhill. The path was very technical and needed 100% concentration at all times. I sadly had a fall and lost my whole packet of M&M’s on the floor, I was more upset by that than the fact I hit my knee! The steep path kept heading down the hill, it seemed to go on for a long time but gradually small huts, houses and the villages came into view. We reached Shrekola bridge, the bridge marked the last of the down hill, this meant just 5 more miles of the marathon and we would be done for the day. Those last miles were undulating road, it was hard to get into a rhythm as we had been running downhill for so long, we were shuffling forward at this point listening to tunes and saying hello and waving to all of the local people as we ran through their small villages. We finally reached the town of Rimbik, the finish line was in the melee of a very busy market. It was great to be finished for the day and even nicer to find a lovely lawn, beer and chips to relax on for a couple of hours.
Running time: 7hours 29mins (The slowest marathon I have ever run).
Day 4 of race:
13miles on road. Down hill for 4.5miles, flat for 4.5miles, up hill for 4.5miles.
This day I was sadly dreading. Only having to run 13miles was fantastic however it was a full day of road running. Road running is not really my preferred option of running. Within the group there were some amazing road runners so they were taking it very seriously and the start line actually felt quite competitive. The majority of the group started off like rockets, I had never seen people run down all so quickly. I this point I thought Will and I would be finishing the day at the back of the group. It was nice to be able to run faster than normal but once again pacing ourselves was key. When we got to the flat section the heat was extreme, people were really starting to slow down and we just overtook people one by one. After the 4.5miles of flat we reached the hill, it was to steep to run so the power walk came back out, I was in a happy place and felt good, the hill provided shade and the miles were being ticked off. With about a mile still to push I saw the finish line. What? That can’t be. The finish was at a distance of just over 12 miles. Will and I even managed a little sprint finish.
We spent the next couple of hours on the bus heading back to Rimbik. Some of the quick athletes could have run back faster. However we all enjoyed being finished for the day before lunch. The rest of the afternoon and evening was then taken up by a cultural exchange. It was really fun, lots of dancing and singing. All nations had to stand up and show off part of their culture, the Brits decided that the Can-Can and the Hokey-Cokey were more then appropriate.
Running time: 2hours 18minutes
Day 5 of race:
17miles starting where we left off yesterday at Palmajua and finishing where we started 5 days ago at Maneybhajang.
The day had to start with the bus journey back to the finish of yesterday run. The start was a daunting 6miles up. The hill didn’t seem to be as steep as the previous day and we managed a walk-run routine. We headed up through the forest to crest a hill at 2012m, our last big hill of the whole 5days, it was a sad thought. It was the last sight of the 8000metre mountains, I took some final pictures and waved goodbye ready for the final 11miles gradually winding down to the town of Maneybhajang where it all began.
Running time: 3hours 21minutes
I was so glad to cross the finish line and for it all to be over but it was also so sad to think that it was complete. The decade long dream of completing the race was done. I was very proud of the fact it was part of this years thirty4thirty challenge but I was also proud that Will and I had completed the event together and ran with each other the whole way. Experiences like that can never be taken away, the words that I write will never explain what an incredible race it is and how unique the running is. I have never completed a multistage ultra race before but I truly loved it. It is amazing what your body can achieve and how much you can ask of it day by day.
I would not have been able to add this event to the thirty4thirty list if it wasn’t for a few companies that helped pay for the deposit and flights to India. A huge thank you goes to these sponsors; BG Pearce Ltd, MMK Engineering and Woodwarm Stoves.
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