The much talked-about view outside was just one big gray cloud throwing out hail. sleet and rain at regular intervals. This was my second visit to Sandakphu, and it wasn't going much better than the first. A seek earlier I had traveled up with the Stage Race - and promptly come down with pneumonia. Dr. Brown was surprised I was the only one to catch it, which was ironic, as I was one of the few not to run a step on that first day. Looking at the state of most of the competitors, I considered myself the lucky one.
Now, a week and a full course of antibiotics later, I was back with the Marathon group, contemplating whether running was wise. If it kept raining, I wouldn't have to decide.
The two trips dovetailed perfectly. The Marathon group was midway through three days of acclimatizing and sightseeing in Mirik as the Stage Racers returned for their post event dinner and prize giving, while the early tour was much the same for both groups. Even the course for the Everest Marathon, which was being run for the first time, mainly followed the route of Day Two of the Stage Race. The main difference seemed to be the mode of travel to Sandakphu. After enduring the jeep ride for a second time, I did wonder whether it could have been much worse on foot.
Calling the race the Everest Marathon seemed a bit cheeky. yes, you could see the worlds highest peak in the distance, but flanked by two mountains of almost equal height, it really wasn't that impressive. The event should have been called the Kanchenjunga Marathon, but then no one would have turned up.
The Marathon party was a smaller group and was mainly British, with one American and a smattering of other Europeans, including Rusek (again the hot tip). The atmosphere, however was very similar with a genuine feeling of camaraderie.
But as the rain continued to fall, the big question was whether the event would actually take place. Half the members of the party were still unable to make it up to Sandakphu because of the rain.
Fortunately the morning of race day broke to the kind of clear, crisp mountain views we'd been promised. The rest of the party arrived that afternoon. Surprisingly confident, I joined them on the start line at six the following morning, the race having been put back 24 hours. The sole advantages of sitting in the huts for two days were rest an acclimatization.
Running at 12,000ft was like trying to breathe with two small men sitting on your chest; you just had to slow down and prepare yourself for five or six hour on your feet rather than three or four. Actually, it was easier than I expected. Sometimes in a long race, when your quads are screaming and your lungs set to burst, you just want to stop and walk a while. Running the Himalayas, that's exactly what you have to do: walk up the hills and run down them - it's almost impossible to do anything else.
Covering this course in a jeep a week earlier, I had labeled it as flatish. Now going over it again on two feet, it seemed full of the most monstrous climbs. Funny, that. In fact the gradient was a little up and down, but the altitude was roughly the same at both ends of the course. There were three tough climbs which though minor by the standards of the previous week, that had me bent double, gasping for breath and desperately trying to pull my legs forward.
But apart from those few moments, the emphasis was on looking out rather than in. It really was the most beautiful course. As we were running above the treeline and the cloud base, there was nothing to obstruct the view of the world's highest mountains.
From halfway I had lost sight of the leaders. I know either were four or five people ahead, led by Rusek, but I was more concerned with those behind me, who I caught occasional glimpses of in the far distance. However, the best view I had all day was the first sighting of the Sherpa huts at Sandakphu.
Unfortunately they were still five kilometers off, and it was all uphill. Again, I didn't remember this on the way out. It was the slowest and most painful 5K of my life: the last 2K took about 25 minutes, and I missed my target of six hours by 11 minutes. Rusek, who is usually a 2:30 marathon runner, arrived just over an hour and five places ahead of me.
My 6:11 was a Personal Worst by some way. But who cares? You don't come to the Himalayas for fast times. In any case, it was the most enjoyable race I've ever run, and certainly the most memorable.
Thank goodness it stopped raining.