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"After a mile of uphill, we crested the top and were surrounded by Tibetan monks, Sherpas and trekkers. Their cheers echoed in our ears as we started down the steep hill toward a river."
- Mike Dennison
Rapture of the Steep - the Everest Marathon
And, here I was, freezing and gasping and hoping not to have to use any of the "kit" in the small waterproof daypack I was required to carry during the marathon. Its contents included a dry set of racing clothes. We all knew that we needed to be warm and dry if we were no longer running. There was a whistle. If a runner fell off-trail, he or she might be out of sight of others; the whistle would alert passers by. Portions of the trail would render the whistle as useless as the need to change clothes, but we didn't dwell on that. The last item was a notebook. In our initial pre-race briefing in Kathmandu, no one had known what that was for. Blakeney had everyone's complete attention as he explained that a note could be pinned to the unconscious body regarding injuries and treatment - in the event that the next person along the trail had to go for help. His pronouncement was met with cathedral quiet.
"You have trekked for sixteen days to reach this moment. I hope that you achieve all that you want and have a safe and enjoyable race. Ready, steady, go!" And we went. There were two hundred yards of level ground before a steep hill and the jumbled rock that made up the glacial moraines. Within a hundred yards, there were a great many walkers. We gasped our way through the first few miles to the first of ten aid stations.
There are many unusual things about the Everest Marathon. One of the best is that there are nearly three weeks of being together as a group. Friendships are born and respect earned. As I moved into the moraines, I heard other runners wheezing out best wishes or else offering to let someone ease past on the narrow aretes. I heard a steady and measured tread behind me and the now familiar German accent of Stefan Schlett. As he moved easily by, he smiled and cast a "Morgen" back over his shoulder. I thought back to what I had learned about this international "adventurist."
He hadn't exaggerated his occupation: the word "adventurist" fit. He had done an 1,800 mile bike ride through the heat of the Sahara, and also had set a German record for a 600 mile run in eight days, three hours and fifty-one minutes. Today, he would place sixteenth.
After the moraines, the trail settles down to merely "difficult." The marathon course winds steeply down from its start until the seven-mile mark just after the small village of Pheriche, where a small medical facility has been established. I gulped down some Gatorade and water, and tried to answer a question from "Dr. Tom" - from the clinic. How was I doing? It was too soon to tell. I waved and continued on toward the Tengboche Monastery.
From Pheriche to the thirteen-mile mark, we encountered both downhill and level running. Then, we crossed a small suspension bridge and some of the nearly 4,500 feet of elevation gain began. Tiring muscles welcomed the change in direction; the lungs didn't. After a mile of uphill, we crested the top and were surrounded by Tibetan monks, Sherpas and trekkers. Their cheers echoed in our ears as we started down the steep hill toward a river.
A week ago, Pierre Andre Gobet, a Swiss chemist, had done a training run on this same part of the course. From Namche Bazaar to the monastery and back had taken him an hour and twenty minutes. It had taken me nearly twice that. He was expected to win this race; I was hoping to finish before nightfall.
As the race continued toward the twenty-mile mark, I thought back on why I was here. Almost nine months before, I had sold everything I owned, resigned from an excellent job in Seattle, and bought a one-way ticket for Singapore. The nebulous goal had been to backpack around the world. Somehow that had brought me to some of the most remote places in Asia. If I lived through this marathon, I would have Africa as the next stop….
Namche Bazaar has a downtown; it also has an uptown. And there are about 300 vertical feet separating the two. This geologic anomaly allowed me to look down on the finish line on my way to a 6.2-mile loop to the small village of Thamo. Far below me, I saw Pierre finish. First? I couldn't tell. But I was only 6.2 miles behind one of the leaders. I had also done a training run on this loop and had negotiated the rolling hills in just over fifty minutes. I might be doing better than I thought.
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