Himalayan 100 Mile Stage Race: Day 2, a 20 mile out-and-back along the India-Nepal border

LP1020460Day 2 of our 5-day ultramarathon was a 32 km / 20 mile out-and-back run, along the ridgeline that is the border between India and Nepal. The weather was exceptionally cold – we had passed a freezing night up at Sandakphu (3600 m, nearly 12,000′), with the wind battering our huts and occasional rain squalls. I wasn’t even sure whether today’s stage would go ahead – but it did.

Most of us had to wear all of the running clothes we had brought with us, as well as some of our camp clothes. I really don’t do well in the cold – I chill very easily – so I decided to play this stage very safe and not risk anything (there were still three more days to go). I didn’t want to run and get sweaty, and then get chilled out there on that windy ridgeline. So I dressed for hiking.

But once we started, I felt like running. The cobblestone road wasn’t as uneven as it had been on the way up – many sections were very runnable hard-packed dirt. And, following the ridgeline, we were going both up and down, starting mainly with a descent. It was hard to make myself not run… so, a kilometre or so in, I stripped off most of the layers I was wearing (I had worn my day pack, not my little running pack, just in case I needed to do that). That long stop put me right at the back of the pack – but I gradually worked my way back forward and caught up and passed a few of the other back-of-the-pack runners. (I had some motivation… it’s hard to photograph a race when you don’t see anyone…)

OK, again, here are the pictorial highlights. If you want the full race report then check out SleepMonsters.

Trying to stay warm on the start line.

Trying to stay warm on the start line.

Because of the cold, many of us started very conservatively, walking rather than running.

Because of the cold, many of us started very conservatively, walking rather than running.

Because of the cold, many of us started very conservatively, walking rather than running.

Once I decided to run after all, after my stop to strip off my layers, I was alone for a long time. With no one else around, I wasn’t taking any pictures. Finally did this selfie!

Finally I started catching up to some of the other runners! It was eery, being alone in the fog for so long.

Finally I started catching up to some of the other runners! It was eery, being alone in the fog for so long.

Out-and-back routes are great for the photography. Here is the first racer, Martin, already 2/3 of the way through the course, when I haven't even reached the turnaround yet!

Out-and-back routes are great for the photography. Here is the first racer, Martin, already 2/3 of the way through the course, when I haven’t even reached the turnaround yet!

Right behind him came Greg, and then these two, Marit and Dan.

Right behind him came Greg, and then these two, Marit and Dan.

Water station in the clouds. We only found out later that, when the aid station workers left camp at 3am to set up the aid stations, their jeep broke down. They ended up running the route in the dark, carrying cartons of water bottles, just so they would be ready for us!

Water station in the clouds. We only found out later that, when the aid station workers left camp at 3am to set up the aid stations, their jeep broke down. They ended up running the route in the dark, carrying cartons of water bottles, just so they would be ready for us!

Jake picks the best line possible as he runs down the cobblestones.

Jake picks the best line possible as he runs down the cobblestones.

And here's Thamar, my new friend and room-mate for the trip, all rugged up for the cold.

And here’s Thamar, my new friend and room-mate for the trip, all rugged up for the cold.

Barbara, a really strong runner, especially on the downhills.

Barbara, a really strong runner, especially on the downhills.

Towards the end of my run, the sky actually cleared for a few moments. I finally had some idea of where we were...

Towards the end of my run, the sky actually cleared for a few moments. I finally had some idea of where we were…

I could finally see far enough to look around a bit. Here are some of the runners behind me.

I could finally see far enough to look around a bit. Here are some of the runners behind me.

It soon fogged over - but I was lucky enough to see a Kiang, a Himalayan Wild Horse!

It soon fogged over – but I was lucky enough to see a wild horse!

I’m not sure whether this is truly the Himalayan wild horse, or Kyang – it doesn’t look as white in its underparts as a normal Kyang – but the subspecies down here on the India-Nepal border is different from the main one that occurs further north, through much of southwestern China. If anyone knows, please leave me a comment! (They can also interbreed with domestic horses – maybe this one is a hybrid? It does have the stature and white muzzle of a Kyang).

Anyway, all in all, for a day on which I started out very nervous because of the challenging weather conditions, I was very pleased with my result. I finished in 5:30, not a great time for a 32k run I know – but remember, it was my first day up at altitude, we had cumulative climbing of about 1000 m, and I had set out planning to hike it because of the bad weather, and expecting to take 7 or 8 hours. And the big thing is that I came in feeling really good, ready to tackle the next day, which would be our longest of the whole race: a full marathon distance, the first 29 km of it up here on these high exposed ridgelines, and the final 13 km a super-steep 2000 m descent back down to the jungles.

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