Wednesday 4 June 2014

D Day - Tenzing Hillary Everest Marathon 2014 - May 29th 8 hrs 8 mins and 48 secs

D Day – The 2014 Everest Marathon 29th May 8 hrs 8mins and 48 secs – flag off time
Flag off time was approaching. The whole of last evening was spent trying to figure out what clothes to carry- will it be warm, cold, wet or what?
I decided to wear my long sleeve compression T with the race T on top with my Puma windcheater – I was not going to carry any warm gear as I was targeting to finish around 9 – 9:30 hrs which wd be around 530pm. I do not carry spare shoes either as the terrain was too rough for my lightweight Puma trail racing shoe but was great for my heavy duty Puma trail shoe. I carried a few extra socks, borrowed Pasang’s sunglasses again, and left my warm beanie and took my ear muffs and a headband and Puma gloves – left the heavy ones behind. TP for emergencies, 2 water bottles and one with a sports drink – chocolates, raisins, cashewnuts and seeds to munch. Additional Gatorade powder and salt to make some more sports drink at the half way point – and I was about done. Put on my Puma briefs and ACTV leggings and I was all Puma’d up and now ready to crash. Could not sleep much at night – the paracetamol had brought the mild fever under control and my coughing was a bit better – rolled out of bed – went to the Gorakshep toilet for one last time and said to myself – never again!! Packed our stuff and got the kit bag ready to give to the porters and down we went for brekker.
The crazy 60km ultra had been flagged off at 6am and now we were led to the start line with our names being called for a final attendance – definitely required in this sort of race. Two Brazilians who had returned from base camp at the same time as Lara and myself were stricken with snow blindness and had to be helicoptered off to Kathmandu – a reminder of what all could go wrong.
So here we were – calf and knee deep in snow – at 17000 ft and ready to start our run – we were already battered and bruised in the most part – but that was only physically – mentally we were all raring to go.

The countdown began and in a few moments the 50 Nepalese were off – they ran as if this was some level road race at sea level. Then followed the 100 foreign participants – a few running but most of us walking behind – trying to catch our breath at the first uphill section. The sky was clear and the views of the peaks around gorgeous as we continued towards Lobuche. I had set a 90 minute goal for those 5km – had no walking sticks (wd have been a boon on the run down) and then on a level part of the slippery icy track made by the 50-60 people ahead, started a slow jog with small steps. Felt great and continued till – whoooosh – I was down on my back – having slipped. The snow was soft and so was the landing and then I got up and started walking again. There were smiles on our faces as I and several others stopped frequently to take photographs and videos of this phenomenal experience and –slam! Down I went again with my right hand once again breaking my fall. This time my arm went down shoulder deep into the snow – but this was noting much to worry about – other than telling me I had to walk on this snow and icy section. So I continued down as did the 50 others behind me and we tried to quicken our pace wherever possible.
Reached Lobuche in around 1 hr 20 mins so was delighted about being on track with my target time.
The snow continued beyond Lobuche to Thula and the Memorial at the end of the Khumbu Glacier – it just looked so different from when we had seen it just 5 days before that – no snow vs everything being covered in snow. Stopped for a minute’s silence in this serene spot where memorials were set up for so many, from across the world, united to doing what they loved to do – climb!

The flat section where all of us said we would speed up, was now full of mushy snow, melting snow, water puddles and juniper as we criss crossed in our now squelching shoes down here. Started running again and on a few occasions had to get my right arm out to balance and felt a shooting pain come down from the shoulder and I realized that some damage had been done to my right shoulder and wrist but I did not know how bad it was. Decided to give it a rest by walking as briskly as I could.
I was frustrated that I had to walk on this flat section which was still snowy and mushy but the pace was decent. Then came the stupa above Dingboche and as I looked over the ridge on the left I saw the Vivre loop of around 10km which was scenic but incredibly tough – going steadily uphill before the descent, and on the right was the route towards Pangboche and onwards to Namche.
Came quickly down the track to Upper Dingboche and got on towards Vivre – met Rex as I also downed some soup out here and had a glug of water. Left my backpack and continued up the loop. Met Steve and Chris as they were finishing the loop – looking somewhat drained but going very strong. Saw tons of other folks coming down and encouraged many who were broken – going up – ‘”This is impossible! I cant do it” said a few folks as I passed them – told them they were almost at the half way mark of the marathon and to think of their friends and family who would be thinking of them right now, and to carry on.

Saw Samir at the U turn point of the Vivre loop – which was an uphill without end – the peaks around were a visual treat and a reward for all of us as we finally made it to the half way point and began the 5k descent. Met Lara and Harry and Bee and Ulefat and several others as I came down. The sun had by now gotten covered by clouds that had come up the valley and the wind upped its speed a little .Luckily it was not too cold and I was wondering if it would have been a good idea to get my fleece jacket along too. But no point crying over spilt milk, I was glad it was not too cold. Back at the junction the noodle soup I was dreaming about for the previous 2km, was over. So I picked up my backpack and started the journey down to Pangboche from Dingboche. I was alone and met up with trekkers and porters and villagers as they made their way up the mountain track as the steady drizzle began.

The rain is what I was dreading – but then again luckily there was no strong wind. The windcheater kept the water at bay and I started dreaming about ordering a noodle soup at the next village. I was hungry. I reached a small restaurant in Pangbiche and ordered a soup- tried to see if I could get a big plastic bag for my daypack and myself or an umbrella but no luck. The Rara noodle soup was great for Rs300 and after another selfie and a Fb post I carried down – I had lost around 30 minutes with this stop but felt it was well worth it as I felt rejuvenated and the rain did not matter any longer. Thyangboche was the next place to head for and the steep switchback descent to the river began. Had to be a little careful about not slipping on the wet gravelly sections of the track, Soon I came across Gunther and Monique from Germany and I shared some raisins with them as we continued pretty much together. We crossed the collapsed bridge too and then started the climb up to Thyangboche monastery – up though the rhododendron forest with white and pink flowers, past Rivendell lodge in Debuche where we had stayed a night and then the climb continued up as we got closer to Thyangboche. That’s when I got a fright – red pee. Wow – this was a sign of severe dehydration although it could have been something else too – so I glugged down my water, gave more of the salty snacks to Gunther and Monique and tried to keep my mid off it. An hour later we were on the other side of Thyangboche making the 500m descent to the river over the 3km distance over steep switchbacks. And then after 2 more water bottles glugged down – the pee was still red. I called up Pasang and told him what was happening – He also told me it was most likely acute dehydration and I should drink more water and meet the doc at the next check point. So I kept glugging and reached the check point finally but the doc was not there. Filled up more water and glugged again. Met Sahara and Bindra who were walking back to Namche too and they joined me – gave them my dark toblerone chocolates since I could not have them with my dehydration and now all my snacks had finished.
The steep and never ending climb towards Khumjung turn had begun. Every 5 mins needed a few seconds to regain my breath and perhaps take a pic every now and then.
I asked Sahara – how much longer to the top to which he said – 30 minutes.
The sound of the gushing river waters seemed more and more distance as the last of the 1500 ft climb was done and the seemingly level ground reached.
It was here that I was delighted to meet with Smiley Norbu, a 60km ultra runner who was coming in 10th. We started chatting and he said he would walk with me to the finish. We chatted about what he was doing in college in Pokhara, and his French GodMother who had funded his education and his dreams of doing some adventure camp training in India. His music from his cell phone kept us going as the shadows became longer the light started fading around 7pm. I told him I desperately wanted to finish while there was still light as I did not have a headlamp and I only had a small torch with me. Chatting with him kept me off worrying about my red pee and dehydration – though surprisingly I was not feeling weak at all. Smiley was a sweet guy and as we passed the last aid station and I filled my bottle for the last time – I picked up the Indian flag kept there for me and he – a Nepali flag and a French flag for his godmother.
It had gotten dark by now and out came my small torch flashing away brightly 10 ft ahead of the two of us on this rocky track.
After what seemed like eternity we saw the finish line and ran towards it arm in arm and flags in hand. We had finished this run together and I had done my 50th Marathon and this one was decidedly the most grueling and punishing one which was about 10 marathons in one experience.

We got our photographs taken, we hugged each other and then I collected my track suit and cert and continued down to our lodge to a boisterous greeting from those of our group already there – to whom I was able to only whisper about my delight in having joined them, at a time when for a few moments at pangboche in particular, I was tempted to consider the option of sleeping in the night there and contuing the next morning which was permissible under the race rules.

I told Colin – an anesthetist from Melbourne about my red pee and apart from dehydration it could be the busting of some capillaries with all the downhill and the pounding and if I was not having any other symptoms of dehydration – the latter could potentially be the issue.
I could not have beer given my throat condition so I settled for some Khukhri rum – felt great, throat felt better and I downed the delicious mushroom soup. There was mutton curry awaiting us and I downed a few helpings of that.
Another round of Khukhri rum later I decided to book my shower for Rs 300 and also decided to have a shave – with no mirror however. I returned t the gang a cleaner, and a less smelly version of the guy who had gone in for the bath, with the 10 day stubble removed in parts from my face!! And most importantly the pee was colourless – Khukhri rum had done it. I told Colin and Pasang about the magical medicinal properties of Khukhri run.
It was amazing – we were strangers hurled together, a fortnight ago, and now we were discussing bowel movements and more!!

Everest had brought us so close together!

Namche Bazar was the most comfortable home and we had a great evening as Pasang got out a Birthday cake for Kurt’s 40th – he had cracked it in an amazing time of 6 hrs 42 mins. One Nepali ultra runner was down with a fracture and was being airlifted to Kathmandu. A pole who had come in 1st had finished in around 4 hrs 20 – amazingly awesome and suffered a few broken fingers on a fall.

We were champions all, delighted to have been humbled but not humiliated by Everest.

The next 2 days of the trek back to Lukla were fun, full of chatter ( although I could not speak yet) an then we reached Lukla on May 31st and we spent the night at Buddha Lodge just overlooking the airport.
If the weather was good our flights would take off to Kathmandu starting at 6am so we had to be ready at 5am on June 1st. But before that we had an important event of our party with the porters and staff attached to support our group.

We got our tips together and gear that we were not going to take back – the gear was divided into piles each with a number and the staff got a lucky dip. They were delighted and each did a little jig and went around shaking our hands. They had been great, selflessly waiting on us attentively- shaking off the snow from our tents at base camp at 2am and 3am in the morning and more – always smiling. We may never see them again but I know we will always remember them and learn from them about some aspects of life, and working with passion.

1st June Sunday
We got up at 445am and were ready by 530am and down at the airport. Group A had got onto the 1st flight of Tara air and we were on the 2nd plane. Waiting in the departure lounge for our plane to come in, we had a flight from Siat air land and then all of a sudden 20 people rain out near the runway with sirens wailing to see what help they could be off. The Sita plane apparently had a brake jammed on the right wheel and the plane veered to the right on this short 400m airstrip. The pilot had to then jam on full power to get the plan to keep going up the 15% inclined runway and safely offload the passengers – that was frightening.
Our Tara air flight landed without any undue excitement, we boarded and then were off- 30 minutes later at Kathmandu airport and then back to Shanker Hotel.

Went out for steak that night and did some shopping along with Kurt.
Monday June 2nd
Went to the Himex office and met with a supplier who took me to  a printing house where I got portraits onto mugs and a group photo on a slate for each of our group
And then we had a wild farewell party at Shanker hosted by the organisers – wine, beer, dancing, chatting and celebration was what it was all about.

We were all on top of the world!!

Monday 2 June 2014

Everest Marathon - The saga continues - May 27th/28th

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 I was told by our doc that this could be cold induced so I had to wait till tomorrow to see how things go. Meanwhile the snow continued unabated and the dry land we had walked into, with Kala Patthar black as stone, now white as snow. Incredible change over the last 24 hrs.  Took some paracetamol and went to sleep waiting for the big day to get to base camp.

Tue May 27th
The snow was coming down thick and fast as we made our way through breakfast looking out of the window, downing the porridge and egg and waiting to get out.
The loos in each of the lodges as we went higher got more and more basic with running water and flushes in Namche with a separate bin for TP, to no running water and water to be chucked into the flush, to flushes not working!!! With the temperature dropping as we gained altitude from 13000 ft in Namche to 16500 ft in Gorak Shep.
Each bit we ascended was a learning in how important the basics of life were, and how much we had to be grateful for.
So off we went while the snow continued to fall incessantly and we trudged up and forward gradually. My child hood dream of getting to Everest Base Camp was on its way to being fulfilled. I was not focused at all on the run now, it was all about the trek to EBC from Gorak Shep. Another ridge and then we had great views of glacial pools and seracs on Khumbu Glacier. Then a descent to cross a gushing river and up again to get closer and closer to EBC.
A great cheer came up from the leaders of the group as the view of the tents came into sight. The amazing porters had already carried out big bags and made it to Base Camp to set up the tents, the toilet tents and mess tents – while the snow kept on its onslaught.

Hot tea and soup later we had another round of diamox to act as a preventive for altitude sickness. The only downside was that you had to drink tons of water and pee every few hours including at night. Kurt and I got into our tent and set up our thermarests on top of the mattresses that had been laid out, and set up our tent. Got out for dinner after an attempted snooze with heavy breathing wondering how I would last that night and another night. I thought about all the nights in our college expeditions or school treks, staying at similar altitudes and I realised I was now tending towards being claustrophobic and would need to give up my sleeping bags and tent living after all these years now when I had great equipment.

The dinner was great. It was luxury to get served hot food on our plates at Everest Base Camp. Everest did not want to be seen and the tragedy of the Sherpa lives lost on the mountain was fresh in everyone’s minds and all we could see were clouds and tents and a few bits of the Khumbu icefall whenever visibility improved. We then trudged back to our tents and got ready for our 1st night at base camp while the snow kept coming down- every 5 minutes the tracks to the 70 tents were obliterated as we slipped and went waist deep in parts, as we went off the ‘track’, It took 15 minutes to get inside our tent as Kurt and I dusted the snow off our jackets, snow off our shoes, and pause to catch our breath. Were we actually going to be able to run(?) over here J I t was going to be one exciting and challenging night. I hoped I was not going to have to pee often given that we were still on diamox for preventing acute mountain sickness. No stars, no view, just snow coming down like crazy – we were lucky there was no wind else that would have been crazy. Our tent was on a bit of a slope and that was going to be a challenging sleep particularly as I was still coughing like crazy and was worried that Kurt would be the next group casualty.

Wed 28th May
The decision had been taken to move back to Gorak Shep – there was too much snow for us to have the run start at Base Camp – it had NEVER been so bad in the 13 years of this event. So we were to pack up and move back to Gorak Shep.
I was happy since the night had been rough on me and I would rather start from a sleep in a lodge at Gorak Shep as opposed to starting from EBC in the tent – wet, cold, a bit claustrophobic and then having to pack everything back before the run. The 15 times we had to kick and hit the top and sides of the tent to get the snow off and reduce condensation, and the 2 times the staff cleared the tents again, and the incessant snowfall all added to the excitement but also took it’s toll as I coughed and spluttered through the night.
The tea was great in the morning but for the life of me I could not find my sunglasses either in the mess tent or our tent and my running pack. I have to thank Pasang our leader and 7 time Everester - for gallantly lending me his sunglasses for me to use on the way down, to prevent snow blindness – even though it was overcast and snowing. We took quick pics as we then packed and began our slow and somewhat dicey descent down on a freshly made slippery track. The glacial lakes were beautiful, made somewhat more ethereal by the low visibility and the clouds and the falling snow. That 5k trip took a loooooong time to happen. It was almost as if Everest did not want to reveal her face and yet wanted us to be close by for as long as possible. We had stayed a night on base camp – a privilege kept only for mountaineering expeditions and now the marathoners. That was a treat in itself.
Since many of the porters had already been sent back down, we were carrying heavier loads down than when we were coming up, and the conditions made it quite and exercise, not the best for a total rest day before a grueling marathon.
Two of the Brazilians who were just behind us seemed dehydrated and we gave them water and some munchies and later the next morning we were horrified to learn that both were down with snow blindness since they had now worn sunglasses that day, and were helicoptered down to Kathmandu, as was another couple also down with snow blindness, and another participant who had to opt out after an hour of the race for the same reason.

Reaching the start line with no injury and in a fit condition was a feat in itself as many of us were depleted with one or more of headache, tummy flu, fever, poor acclimatization, and more. Over the last few days I had been hit by laryngitis, tummy flu (which luckily only lasted a day), fever which was more off than on particularly in the last 3 days, and a headache – something that under normal circumstances would have gotten me to pull out of the run. But running was also the quickest way down the mountain – and so I quickly scratched out any plan B from my imagination. Paracetamol for getting the mild temperature down, lozenges for the throat and cough were popped and sucked while I got into my race gear, added a few layers, and the post a great dinner, went off to sleep.