Only two years ago I decided to hang up my football boots due to ongoing inquires, but with football being my whole life I needed to find a new challenge.
Having never ran more than 5 miles in one go, I decided to take on a massive challenge and run my first ever race, The Marathon des Sables. The MdS is the equivalent to running 6 marathons in 7 days, but through the Saharan desert, and being self sufficient the entire way, this was to be my baptism into the world of endurance sports (with only 5 months until race day). Since crossing that finishing line in Morocco in April 2012, I was hooked; going long was my new passion. One of my craziest adventures was cycling 412kms from London to Newquay in a day, before learning to surf the next day, but what takes the cake so far in extreme races I’ve competed in is The Mount Everest 65k Ultra Marathon.
“What is the Mt Everest ultra marathon, I’ve never heard of it?” You might well ask! It’s a 65k race, heading “downhill” from Gorakshep (16,942ft) to Lukla (9,383ft), and having only been run twice before, competing in this years race I would be within the second group of foreigners to ever take on this task (the inaugural was just for locals).
This is more than a just race though, it’s an experience like no other on the ultra running scene.
Competitors must trek for 8 days from Lukla to Gorakshep, dealing with the effects of high altitude, average food, and the cold before even getting to the start line. If you do make it to the official start line (trust me several people haven’t) then you will be tired, sleep deprived, fatigued, hungry, but will have observed some of the most breathtaking scenery on this planet, before turning around the following day (no rest days at the top) and beginning the race for its single day 65k brutal descent.
The Everest Ultra Experience not only gives you the opportunity to spend over a week in the glorious Himalayan Mountains, and feel the warmth of the Nepalese people and their culture, but also to run against some of the most elite ultra runners Nepal has to offer, and these guys are seriously fast! Best of all I think is, once you have finished you can say to all your running friends that you have run down Mt Everest, how crazy is that!
It’s not as simple as just cruising down smooth gradual descents though, there are several long steady climbs, with two sharp ones. Heading up towards Namchee Bazaar, at times you feel this tight switch backed climb, through the thick over growth of trees will never end.
The real killer though is just a few miles from the finishing line, it’s a constant climb for 2-3 miles all the way up to Lukla, brutal at the end of any ultra marathon, but to finish your 9 day Everest ultra experience with such a climb, well I will let you describe it when you go and do it for yourself…
Having only returned from Nepal a few months ago, I thought I would share my top 10 tips for getting from Lukla back to Lukla as the Everest Ultra experience.
Top 10 Everest Ultra Experience Tips
Be open minded to conditions while trekking to start line
Remember you are trekking up a mountain not staying at the Ritz. Do research to understand the potential living conditions (and if you could handle them) for over a week.
Keep yourself clean
Extremely important after walking for several hours a day to minimise chaffing and other friction related ailments which dirt and grime can make worse. I took anti bacterial baby wipes and had a full body wash every day, and continually used anti bacterial hand gel, it’s not just a physical challenge, but also a lifestyle one too.
Rest when it is time to rest
Being at altitude will make your body tired, its needing to work hard to simply give you enough oxygen to function. So when there is down time in the afternoons, take it easy, cards was a big hit for our group. Be aware though, playing cards with competitive ultra runners can get ultra competitive…
Stay well hydrated everyday
Being at high altitude (with its low air pressure), makes Moisture evaporate quicker from your skin, and even lungs. This results in your body losing water more rapidly than normal.
So constantly drink regular amounts each day, just make sure you use bottled water, and the cap is properly sealed when purchasing.
Practice walking up and down hills
You may be super fit and can run up hills all day, but walking them is entirely different Your body holds a different posture, and therefore use some slightly different muscles.
Carry a small day pack as well to get your legs, core, and upper body used to being under a small amount of load for the way up, the way down you’re pack free!
Train running up and down hills at your own pace
Like any ultra, you must train and race at your own pace. With this race being at high altitude from the start, people’s bodies will react differently to these conditions, regardless of previous exposure, fitness levels, or body composition.
Complete an equal amount of up hill running as down hill throughout your training, and DO NOT try to follow a Nepalese runner on a descent, that’s just an accident waiting to happen, these guys don’t have brakes!
Spend some time in the gym
Completing a couple of strength training sessions a week will help with your all round strength for this adventure. Exercises like steps ups, and deadlifts for your gluteal muscles and hamstrings. Squats and step downs for your quadriceps, with plank variations for your transverse abdominals would be a good start.
Also some calf raises, and weighted calf raises, just the eccentric phase too. I did these for months prior to race, and didn’t suffer any Achilles problems (I’ve also had an Achilles surgery in the past). Eccentrics will load your Achilles keeping them strong and sliding smooth.
Listen to your body
Tell others in the group how you are feeling. Altitude sickness can be quite mild to extreme depending on the person and the height they are at. Some symptoms are, shortness of breath, headaches, nausea, pins and needles, insomnia, swelling of peripherals, and feeling tired and lethargic.
Don’t keep how you feel a secret, it’s a team effort getting to the start line, then you’re on your own for the way down
Carry your own nutrition
The local Nepalese runners eat very little while they run, so for them this 5-5:30hr event is not long enough to warrant food. The checkpoints for all runners is simply water, and if you’re lucky some orange cordial!
Take as many pictures as you can on the way up
There are numerous opportunities to take photos of the stunning scenery while trekking to Gorakshep. While you are running 65kms back to Lukla, although breathtakingly amazing, photographing the Himalayas may not be at the forefront of your mind while navigating down loose rocky trails.
Trust me, when you get home and look through the countless amounts of scenes you have captured on the way up, you will not be disappointed if you felt you missed a photo opportunity during the race. The views of not only the snow capped mountains, glaciers, and valleys are spectacular, but so is the experience getting to the start line with the other runners.
You may wonder why so many of these tips are not necessarily about “running”, well from experience, the running part is only part of the battle. I fell badly sick with an intestine bacteria the day before the race, combined with severe altitude sickness. Although I did make it to the start line, only 11 hours prior to the beginning of the race I had to be escorted 10km down the mountain to be at a lower altitude. So my Everest Ultra experience entailed me starting at Dughla (15,075ft) and making the 55km trek back to Lukla.
I combined walking, running, and then stumbling (from not being able to ingest any food or liquids for an entire 24 hours) to get back to Lukla in just over 10 hours. Would I do it again, well I do feel I have some unfinished business with the Everest Ultra, but maybe not next year, the wounds haven’t quite completely healed yet…
The Everest Ultra takes place in March each year, if you do decide to take on this awesome challenge, don’t say I didn’t warn you!