Tuesday 27 May 2014

Everest Base Camp Marathon Contd 15th May to 3es June

Sunday 18th May
The sun came up pretty early and our alarms set to a precision wake up time of 630am for a 7am breakfast were not of much use as we woke at 5am with the light.
Oats porridge, 2 boiled eggs and toast and tea and we were off to Namche Bazar.

The trek was steady with some ups and downs and a few suspension bridges en route to the gateway of Sagarmatha National Park. I think the Indian National Park managers should learn a thing or two about park management and implement it – from general cleanliness, to some base information to friendly staff and onwards. No hard selling of photographs and gear and snacks! No wonder so many foreigners feel so much more welcome in Nepal.

The fun part about an easy paced acclimatization with many stops is that you get time to chat with everyone individually and collectively and laugh and joke and bond. Around 7km and a net 200m higher we were having lunch at Jhorsalle post which the trek started getting a little more rugged. The Dudh Kosi Gorge narrowed as we crossed a few more suspension bridges and we started climbing a bit more. Today we were bumping in to the group A trekkers more frequently including at some of the stops. The focus was on easy and gradual acclimatization. Then started the steep climb up as we left the river roaring down below and started climbing up the rocky switchbacks and doing what we had never yet done before on the 2 day trek. It was tiring, energising and rewarding as we looked down every now and then to see how much further we had ascended. We then came to a set of 2 suspension bridges high above the Dudh Kosi and we had to cross the river on the upper one which was a good 300m above the river and over 100m long. Going over that was a much talked about experience in itself. And then the ascent continued. Switchbacks and less chatter and then a wee bit of singing to cheer things up. And more. 200m altitude to go. And then we came around to Namche Bazar. A sigh of relief as we started seeing more homes and hotels. We had been really lucky with the weather so far and had no rain. The forecast for the week ahead unfortunately seems much more rainy – but lets see how it goes. Sona Lodge was nice and comfortable and will be home for 2 nights. Everyone tired but feeling great. Susan came in an hour after us but she was looking good

Monday 19th
Susan and Harry not feeling good this morning – both look like they are going down. Went out for a leisurely walk with the group this morning – being our rest day. Great first view of Ama Dablam, Lhotse and Everest! Too bright to take snaps of the snow peaks but we tried our luck in any case.
Got to head to the bank to get some local currency for charging stuff and perhaps for a couple of locations of wifi if possible post which we will have a group yoga session back at the lodge.

Tue 20th
1st Blow – Susan on oxygen and evacuated by helicopter to Kathmandu and Harry feeling like he had to go down too. We left post breakfast of porridge to which I added my protein powder, still debating about whether or not to have diamox as a preventive for high altitude sickness. I hadn’t slept too well the night before with a bit of heavy breathing and I tossed and turned weighing the side effects vs being evacuated by a helicopter later on. All but three of us were on diamox in any case by now. So I started on the preventive dose.
The start was stiff – a straight climb from out of the lodge to the top of Namche Bazar where we went to the finish line and checked out where a few of us would finish!!

And then started a really steep ascent from 3400-3800m which was breathtakingly beautiful up past the tree line and on to the dirt airstrip of Shangboche and then to Everest View Hotel. The gradual pace helped since this was no race yet – all of us had to make sure we acclimatized and did not screw up in the process with any heroics. Had to carry tons of water apart from a warm jacket, windcheater, snacks etc in my backpack along with my heavy camera bag – anyways – all this was good for acclimatization too, so I chugged along. Being pretty cloudy we only got snatches of quick peeps if some peaks but the route was gorgeous as we descended to the twin villages of Khumjum and Kande past Rhododendron and other flora. Dianne from S Australia and Ulefat from Israel and Samir from Nepal and I did the walk down – the clouds started clearing a bit and we started getting some stunning views of Ama Dablam but it was too harsh light for any half way decent snaps of the mountain.
Khumjum is yet another neat and clean Sherpa village with all the fields neatly lined with stone boundaries and all the stone homes with green corrugated tin roofs.
Reached our lovely Inn with an Italian owner and his Sherpa wife, and then did a walk around to a monastery with ostensibly a Yeti scalp and then to the Kande Village Hospital. I was impressed with the simplicity of the people, the non commercialization and lack of peddling wares and begging for stuff and touts.
Slept really well after a lovely pasta and cheese dinner and set my alarm for 430am to catch some snaps of Ama Dablam by sunrise.

Wed 21st
Foggy and misty at 430 but I saw the shadowy outline of Ama Dablam through my window and dashed off to the dining area with a blanket and camera and lay there facing the window opening my eyes every 2 minutes to see if things had cleared. Saw some interesting lights displays around this peak with a rainbow halo and lights changing a bit, and then I walked out at around 5am to the school and around the Paradise Inn Lodge to get some different angles of Thamserku and Ama Dablam peaks.
8am saw us depart to Thyangboche and join the marathon route- this stretch was going to be a tough section of the marathon with a 100m ascent to Thyangboche Monastery, a 600m switchback drop down to the Dudh Kosi river past a suspension bridge and a 500m climb up towards Khumjum and finally a 5k or so back to Namche. We were doing this route in reverse and it was a killer – the switchbacks, the terrain, the weight on the back, and the continuous, unending climb gave us a taste of what was in store on race day as most of us added on a few hours to our earlier estimated finish times. But this also rewarded us with spectacular views around Ama Dablam, Rhododendron forest, phenomenal views of the Dudh Kosi Valley and more. Well worth it. We all added an extra hour to our estimated marathon finish time.

When we reached Thyangboche monastery, on of the holier Buddhist sites in this area we were delighted to be able to go in for a while and sit in silence as the 15 monks there chanted, amidst clanging bells, a huge drum and some horns. Time really stood still and I wondered what if anything must have changed in their lives over the last 200 years.
A delightful and huge Bakery just below the monastery was where our group decided to go for coffee and some sweet stuff – I downed a cappuccino and shared some apple pie – both of which were delightful. Our two trekking groups who were staying in lodges, were there so it was nice to mingle with others whom we used to only meet once in a while as we were too big a group to stay in one lodge. Great views of Everest and Lhotse and Nuptse and many snaps were clicked with many poses.
A scenic descent through rhododendron forest then took us to Debuche village to our really posh Rivendell Lodge – PHENOMENAL views of Everest and its neighbours from the dining room , garden and even from our room and over the last 5 hours I have just been clicking snaps from different angles with different settings hoping at least a couple will come out right, and now awaiting the perfect sunset snap in case the clouds behave and a lovely sunrise snap of Everest tomorrow.

Thu 22nd May
1 week to go and we have a lovely trek up to Dingboche which was going to be all along the river till our lunch stop and then across it and up another valley. 5hrs and 11km approximately and 600 m of net ascent perhaps 1000m gross. The trail started through a rhododendron forest with white and pink flowers in bloom with a descent of around 100m or more – but this is what we would have to climb up during the marathon. Many descents to rivers to cross a bridge and then climb up close to the ridge back again on the trail. Beautiful views of Everest, Lhotse Nuptse and Ama Dablam till a few clouds covered them.

The climb, altitude, backpack and camera bag were tiring, especially with the continuous switchbacks after every river crossing. We were all adding hours onto our estimated marathon finish time. And then we finally arrived at Dingboche at our lodge, above the tree line, only juniper and other scrub around.
Charged my laptop for Rs500 but was unable to get a signal to connect with my family or to the internet to upload this and a few photographs.
The high point of the evening was hot towels at dinner, so all of us felt fresh as lilies as we had a good dinner followed by our nightly briefing of the next day’s plan.

Fri 23rd May
Today is a rest day for acclimatization at Dingboche and as part of that we went up for a trek of 6km up and down the Vivre loop that we were all going to be running. While it was only a 100m higher than where we were it definitely was around 250m + of gross height gain. I had lost track of what the gross ascent was overall and I don’t think my cell phone with runkeeper will hold out for the whole time of my marathon.

Lovely views of Ama Dablam’s West Face, Khangtega, Peak 38 and Island peak, as well as Lhotse and Nuptse – Everest was no longer visible. The 3km trek up from where we were also expected to get cell phone coverage was humbling but gorgeous. I had changed back into my heavy duty Puma trail shoes from the lighter ones I had tried on the last few days. Lots of group photographs and fun as we went up and then a few of us ran down bits and pieces to acclimatize.

Sat 24th May
We were off on our way to Lobuche- with the usual 645am packing, 7 am breakfast and 8 am departure. Ulefat was down with a stomach bug and she puked 10 minutes out. Bad time to get this but still a few days to recover, Shogo was steadily recovering from his tummy bug, I was getting a sore throat so my running towel doubled up at as muffler at night. The tree line was crossed as we trekked over juniper lined rocky trails and saw Pheriche village down below us with Pheriche Kola river below us in a wide valley – kept looking back to see what the trail would look like as we would be running down. This would be one heck of an adventurous marathon – one of the most exciting in the world. Had to make sure we did not descend on the way back to Pheriche but kept onwards to the Stupas above Lobuche and then the vivre loop. Ots of things to keep in mind while running down on the 29th.

We reached the terminal moraine of the Khumbu Glacier to the main memorial of many of those who died on Everest and neighbouring peaks in the region. Solemn and humbling, but this would have been the way these people would have wanted to go.

This section was more runnable but at 4500m + I am sure we would be gasping for breath while running even here. A few more uphills later we reached the ‘village’ of Lobuche just as the weather packed up and the clouds came in. Many helicopter landings on the helipad just outside our lodge – wonder how the Italian pilot of the chopper does these landings with pretty poor visibility to land on a teeny 10ft by 10ft ‘helipad’ and lift off within 30 seconds of dropping his cargo and picking up his passenger. We were hoping he would be dropping vargo of meat for our dinner J but no such luck. The guitar that was to have made it from Namche a few days ago to Dingboche was back at Namche so I told Pasang Sherpa, our leader, to keep it that way.

Sun 25th May
We started our trek up to Gorak Shep at 5150m and this was spectacular. The valley opened up more for some panoramic views, The Khumbu Glacier was below us and we could see several glacial pools and seracs and the icefall coming down from Nuptse just as the swirling clouds moved up the valley. Going up and down on the moraine was tough and each of us wondered how we had to be extra careful especially on the downhill sections here on the rocky terrain and stay on the right ‘track’.
Pumori – the perfect peak was now visible and this panorama really had us mesmerized so as we huffed and puffed up, we felt it was more than worth it.
A few more uphill sections later we were delighted to reach Gorak Shep.

Really looking forward to tomorrow’s trip up to Kala Patthar at 5550m both for better acclimatization and a gorgeous panoramic view of the Everest range. The plan was for a 4 am start for most folks and I decided to keep Harry and a few others company and start at 3am. I now had a headache and had lost my voice so I was being over protective of my throat and I stopped talking, I am sure much to the relief of my mates.
A few medicines later I went off to sleep at 8 after dinner. It had been snowing mildly from 4pm but nothing much to worry about.

Mon 26th May
Got up at 340am as the 3am start had been canned. Got ready with all the layers – 3 on the legs and 4 on the upper body with socks on top of my ski socks and came down with my trekking pack, water, concentrated sports drink )magic potion) to a white out – the 4am trip was called off and we were told to come back for brekker at 830. Conditions not better with around 3-4 inches of snow but visibility very poor at camp itself – around 100m at the moment which could drop to 5m any time. Anyways – was decided to have a trek to base camp and back and another to Kala Patthar and back starting at 10am – I bravely opted for the latter, as many checked out of both those options.

We set out at 10am and slowly started the snowy and rocky climb up – it was amazing how quickly a lot of us were getting out of breath. Michael came down from 50 ft and then Di and Rex decided to turn back another 100m up and Craig and me also decided to come down – there was no view and it was going to be a few hours coming down with clear visibility. This was another beast altogether.
We were three days before a really tough marathon and under normal conditions we would be resting, carbo loading and staying off our feet. I was not going to risk going up and then slipping on the way down, with no view as an upside.

Throat much better, fever seems to have subsided but now the headache and tummy flu have kicked in. This marathon is a pharma company’s delight. Hope I get these two out of the way by tomorrow, and focus on the run down. This

Sunday 18 May 2014

Everest Marathon Continued

17th May
4am wake up and Kurt my roomie who had come in from HK at 1130pm was up and bright too. 457am with all the bags at reception with the other folks – those who were camping were leaving the next day, us guys in the lodges were in 2 groups of around 22 each. The Twin Otter 14 seater taking us was an experience – the smallest I had been on before this was a Dornier. A half hour later I realized that this was the only size that could make it to Lukla which has a sharply inclined airstrip, which looks all of 300m long. That was quite an amazing landing, even according to Kurt who flies for Cathay.
Briefing, teaming up, baggage check and a few hours later we were off – Past the Lukla airport to the road to Everest. I wondered how many thousands of people made it on this route every year to climb Everest or a peak around, and several more, to trek to Everest Base Camp – EBC. Irish Pub, German Bakery and more – Lukla was buzzing from what used to be grazing pasture land before Tenzing and Hillary’s climb in 1953.

The mule track was wide but rough enough to fuel the excitement of what was to come ahead, as we walk along the Dudh Kosi Valley. Kosi meaning river and Dudh for milk – because of all the rapids.
We kept a slow easy pace, and chatted as we went along – Ulefa, a climber from Israel is the first Palestinian woman to come on this marathon. Susan Weeks a 200 time ultra marathon from LA – a gritty and tough 72 year old was all set, Steve from Cape Town had been through many triathlons and a few marathons before. Diane and Rex from Adelaide were here because Diane had gotten into ultra running post starting off with a 10k just 5 years ago. Shawn from Canada and Shogo from Tokyo were rooming up and had run several marathons themselves.
We passed several villages along the way and the loveliest one was just called Ghat 6 in the Solo Khumbu District. The houses looked really inviting, much like Switzerland perhaps 100 years ago. I could settle down here for a few months a year for sure. Bland dinner of great soup, rice, dal, boiled veggies and papad. Off to sleep like a baby – 20 rooms with one loo and one wash basin!!

Friday 16 May 2014

Tenzing Hillary Everest Marathon - 2014 - Here I come for my 50th

EVEREST BASE CAMP MARATHON AHOY: At Kathmandu now - tuning off emails and work and getting down to the fun part of getting ready for the trek up to Everest base camp - am all kitted up with harmonica, guitar and cameras for the way up, and Puma gear and cameras for the way down. I will surely remember this 50th Marathon.

There comes a time when you are close to achieving some goal - but then you realise you are also pushing yourself to the limit. And you wonder what the heck you are doing. Well - this is one such time for me as I have just started reviewing the list of things we need for the Everest Marathon - my way to celebrate my 50th Marathon a goal I set for myself in 2002 in Chicago at my 2nd Marathon. Headlight with spare batteries in case you get lost or take longer than 10 hours and it starts getting dark, whistle, wound cleaning kit, compression bandage among a whole host of other things. I am meanwhile packing a harmonica, asked the organisers if they could arrange a guitar for the 12 day trek, and stuff like that so that one can chill out while acclimatising. I am also eagerly awaiting the Nikon that I have ordered and hope that comes in before I leave on the 15th of May and get ready for this one on the 29th of May. As a mountaineering enthusiast in school and college i was always fascinated by Everest and keen to make it to the base camp. Now I will be going there in a different avatar - as a runner. I think that will get me to appreciate the approach to the base of Everest as much as the mountain itself.

Wednesday 7 May 2014

Focus on foot strike and form in a cross country run

I was off to Sangla for 10 days for our 3rd Himalayan Running And Living Marathon and I would get some time to run on rough trails at some altitude of around 10-12000 ft.
On the 24th I did a 15k run and walk along the Shimla Half Marathon route including the 2 tough climbs of Annadale and Indus and that made me feel much better. I was winded, with the sudden change of altitude from Delhi, but it was a good start. 2 days later, at Sangla, I did a tough Raksham trek where we did a recce for the 10k run that would happen in the following week. And then a walk and light jog at Chitkul at 11300 ft in the snow.
Went out for a 21.1k walk along the half marathon route this morning on the 25th, using the rocks along the road for the stretches that my physio had given me to do after sternly telling me about the need for discipline in this routine. I am now feeling much more flexible and also more acclimatized and all set to go for a short run tomorrow in my 2nd pair of Puma trail shoes.

I got my friends to take multiple shots of me running so that I could focus on improving my running form and my landing style - I would recommend this to anyone who is keen on improving, as I firmly believe you will begin to understand what you need to do, to run better.

 Try and get someone to do the same for you and see how you can improve, and focus on it, and you will improve, no matter how slowly.

 short steps while running downhill helps in a midfoot strike while long strides would get a good heel pounding.

 Not bad - finally getting a bit better.

Running downhill on a cross country trail is never the most elegant for running form as you go all over the place avoiding rocks and seeking out others for a firm foot hold but as you can see from the 15 snaps here - I seem to be looking in good shape in only a few. Have to work on getting body straighter and then angled forward from the heel for a better aerodynamic and efficient form.

EVEREST here I come – Gulp!!

My 50th (full) marathon had to be a big one, so I chose to run it from Everest Base Camp to Namche Bazar on May 29th 2014. The easy part was telling everybody and myself about it, the tough part was to try and raise some funds to pay for it, and to train so that I could finish with a smile.
A meniscus surgery in my left knee had kept me off running for 4 months in the latter part of 2013 but 2014 saw me as a pacer yet again for the party animals (and several first timers) at the Mumbai Marathon in January. That was fun as usual, but for me it was my 49th and it also gave me the confidence that all was well and I could at least manage a slow marathon without any injury.

I had run many marathons but the highest was at 12000 ft, I had been climbing up to 20,000 ft but that was when I was in college. Starting a marathon at 17800 ft was another experience altogether and I had to be in much better shape for this one.  March 2nd was when I got out of my slumber and did a 28km trail run at an event in Gurgaon – a gorgeous trail and weather to boot, made for a good way to overcome my inertia and inner demons and start my journey of training. Puma was sponsoring a big chunk of m costs for the run and I was running in their ACTV compression leggings for the first time and their trail running shoes and some of their other apparel and accessories. I was surprised by how good I felt on the run despite the long hiatus from running, The 30 runs we organise a year had taken it’s toll with most weekends and traditional long run days, occupied. But that was an excuse.

The next month saw a few runs in considerably rougher terrain on our recce runs in the Aravalli for a new cross country route and my 2 pairs of Puma trail shoes were being put through a rough challenge. Sometimes the tough thorns from the Aravalli scrub won, but their light weight and flexible sole were a great plus. I loved the new found comfort of the ACTV wear compressions tights especially on the trail and when it was cool. I would have to be as comfortable in them, as I was in my shorts or windproof pants, for keeping options open for the Everest Marathon.
But I was not training enough. I had to step up the intensity as there was not much time left.

Meanwhile – I had started going for physiotherapy to regain my flexibility which I had almost completely lost – so my calves and quads and hamstrings had to be stretched for 90 minutes a day I was told. I was definitely not being a good patient and my erratic stretches were showing.

On April 18th I had a wonderful 10.55k run on the route of our Corbett Marathon which was happening the next day and I began to feel somewhat more reassured that I would get into good shape. I could also finally touch my toes with a considerable amount of effort.And I had lost 2 kilos over the last 2 months which I am delighted about.
I finally felt I was getting into some shape.