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Photo credit: Ian Corless.

The Everest Trail Race

20-Nov-18

Last updated: 22-Nov-18

By Alice Morrison

Got your bucket list out? Good. You are going to need it. If you aren’t clicking here by the end of this piece, then I have not written the race up properly.

The 8th edition of the Everest Trail Race has just taken place in Nepal from Jiri to Lukla and I was lucky enough to be one of the 44 competitors that took part. It is a 160km semi self-sufficient stage race over 6 days that takes place at high altitude and has – wait for it – over 15,000 metres of positive ascent.

Click here for a race report.

The stages are:

  1. Jiri-Bhandar. 21.5km. 1,975m ascent. 1,820m descent
  2. Bhandar-Jase Bhaniyang. 23.9km. 3,486m ascent. 1,796m descent (highest point Pikey Peak 4,068m)
  3. Jase Bhaniyang-Kharikhola. 37.4km. 2,521m ascent. 4,110m descent
  4. Kharikhola-Phakding. 27.5km. 2,479m ascent. 1,975m descent
  5. Phakding – Tyangboche. 20km. 2,224 ascent. 1,022m descent
  6. Tyangboche – Lukla. 29.5km. 2,105m ascent. 3,138m descent

I hope those numbers have got your brain working and your legs twitching ever so slightly at the thought. The race is organised by Adeaventura based in Barcelona and the racers were from Nepal, Spain, UK, Italy, France, Germany, Ukraine and the USA.

We had four nights in tents and three nights in lodges and food, tents and sleeping mats were provided by the ETR team. The race is brilliantly organised and the team are absolutely fantastic. The food is good and plentiful and everything that can be done for your comfort, given the conditions, is done.

“It’s very, very, very difficult. What surprised me was that it was much less about stomping on forever and much more about brutal cardio.” Anthony Dunkels.

What I like the most is to see how the people of a country live in places that are so difficult  to get to but so beautiful at the same time.” Aleix Olivé.

The challenge of this race is the climbing at altitude so that although the days aren’t long, they are tough. Most of the race takes place over the 3000 metre mark and the highest point comes on stage 2, Pikey Peak at 4068 metres. 

That means thin air, pumping hearts, cold air and nights when sleep doesn’t come easily.

It was physically harder but mentally easier than the MDS. I enjoyed the camaraderie. I liked the challenge and the sense of achievement.” Mark Burgess.

The best thing about the race is to be able to share a great experience with people from all over the world.” Oleguer Torrents.

RUNULTRA_ETR-2018_Bryan-McClure-photo-Ian-corless

Stage 1: Jiri-Bhandar. 21.5km. 1,975m ascent. 1,820m descent

We all set off together for the first day, quickly up on a dirt road and onto the forested hill. A 500 metre ascent and a short descent took us to checkpoint one where there was the one and only DNF of the week, Fabio, who fund the effects of altitude too much.

A single track path descended through small clusters of houses flanked by terraced fields and ended in Shivalaya village and after that a steep climb of a thousand metres gave intimations of what was to come.

4 kilometres downhill brought us into camp where luxury was awaiting: soup, spicy potatoes and hot tea. There was time to go and find a bar in Bhandar and join in the festivities for the Festival of Diwali.

It was the boys’ night when the men of the village dance and sing and the women are meant to give them gifts: national differences emerged as the Spanish and Italians joined in with gusto and the British looked on pints in hand.

There’s this theory that your goals affect the weight that your pack should be. I disagree. Whatever your goal, you should have the lightest pack possible. If the fastest person can get away with a 3.5kg pack, so can the slowest.” Ian Caldwell.

RUNULTRA_ETR-2018_Camp-stage-2-photo-ian-corless

Stage 2: Bhandar-Jase Bhaniyang. 23.9km. 3,486m ascent. 1,796m descent (highest point Pikey Peak 4,068m)

I’d been having nightmares about this stage ever since I signed up for the race. 3,486+ in one push is not my idea of fun and I was worried that I wouldn’t make the cut off and would be disqualified.

The day actually started with a brief downhill but then it was time for the climb: relentless, steep and enclosed by forest for most of the way. This was a head down, poles out, keep it going experience.

The organisers made it as easy as possible for us with a cut off time of twelve and a half hours and an alternative slightly lower and longer route for the slower runners if the afternoon weather turned bad on the Peak, which would incur a time penalty of 45 minutes.

That was to be my route and actually it was hellish. It undulated steeply and seemingly without end through a section of bleak, blasted forest shrouded in thick fog and punctuated by sections of sheet ice.

It was still a lot easier than the alternative push up to 4,068m though, where the racers were met with shrouded peaks and minimal visibility. No bars for us that night, but the craic in the mess tent was still pretty good and spirits soared when the ETR team lit a giant bonfire and we went out to warm hands and feet at the flames and watch the sparks rise up to the stars.

I really enjoyed the climbing on the second day. I climbed really well and we got higher and more remote. I felt the altitude when we came out of the trees to get up to Pikey’s Peak but it still felt amazing to get to the top.” Lou Staples.

RUNULTRA_ETR-2018_Jordi-Gamito-photo-Ian-Corless

Stage 3: Jase Bhaniyang-Kharikhola. 37.4km. 2,521m ascent. 4,110m descent

The views from camp as dawn broke were magical. We were on a high moorland with ice-tipped grasses and wide skies above. Today was all about the descent, starting again down forest paths then with a long, flattish section where you could see the miles of terraced farmland punctuated by what looked like dolls’ houses.

The last part of the descent after CP3 was a horror. Big boulders meant you couldn’t get any rhythm going and you had to keep the concentration at 100%. The sting in the day’s tail was a final 500m push up steps to the monastery where we were camped out.

I was worried I wasn’t going to make it before cut off and had an hour of hell with the threat of failure shrouding every thought. But finally it was over and, as always, the ETR team was there with Race Director, Jordi Abad, at the line, ready to cheer me in and make me feel that even though I was the last runner, I was just as important as the elites.

Supper had been kept and when Kami, the Head Sherpa, saw me shivering, he magicked up a bucket of hot water so I could have a shower. That act of kindness summed up the amazing care that the team took of all of us all week.

A fantastic experience but the highlight was the people. The organisers and competitors felt like one big community. It felt like everyone was pulling for each other. I am a very competitive person but this was 40+ people all saying let’s get across this finish line together.” Bryan McClure.“

I would recommend to someone who wants to do the race that they carry the least weight possible and train with a lot of descent before going there." Jose Barrachina

RUNULTRA_ETR-2018_Lou-Staples-photo-Ian-Corless

Stage 4: Kharikhola-Phakding. 27.5km. 2,479m ascent. 1,975m descent

Our first three days had been off the beaten track but today we joined the route for the commercial Everest treks and suddenly the paths were not dedicated solely to us anymore. In the briefing, we were told to “Beware the yaks,” which I didn’t take too seriously. I should have.

Rocky descents are not improved by piles of yak shit and long trains of pack mules shoving you into the rocks. If you overtake on the down, you better be sure you can keep the pace going on the up.
One great thing though was the feeling of superiority that flooded over us as we pounded past the hikers. “Ahhh, super mensch,” I heard one German group say.

We’d been told that today was an easier day, and in fairness it was, when compared to stages 2 and 3 but it was still hard and high and the constant rolling nature of the ground took its own toll.

I like the routine of it: up early, bag packed, set up, ready, gear out. I know exactly what to do. Mentally, I deal with it like going to work. I’ve got an eight hour job to do.” Perry Wade.

RUNULTRA_ETR-2018_Pikey-s-Peak-photo-Ian-Corless

Stage 5: Phakding – Tyangboche. 20km. 2,224 ascent. 1,022m descent

Wow, wow, wow, wow. Today we ran round Everest. Nothing prepares you for that feeling as you run along a long ribbon of a road and there ahead of you are Everest, Lhotse and Ama Dablam soaring into an impossibly blue sky.

This was the definitive moment of the race for me, that moment when you think, “I am running round Everest, I am truly, completely and intensely alive.”  We were in a lodge in a monastery that night and a fire was lit in the wooden stove in the dining room where we congregated to drink hot chocolate and dry out sweaty, stinking kit.

Lou, my tent mate, had declared my socks and trainers a national health hazard the day before and they were banished to outside the room where their delightful odour could be shared with the entire corridor.

I didn’t do the best preparation and got through it more by mental strength than by physical prep. If I did it again, I’d bring poles.” Gavin Barrett.

Advice for future runners? Come with an open mind and on the practical side seek advice from previous runners on logistics etc.” Carlos Lourenço.

RUNULTRA_ETR-2018_Rai-first-woman-photo-Ian-Corless

Stage 6: Tyangboche – Lukla. 29.5km. 2,105m ascent. 3,138m descent

The last day always comes too quickly and too slowly but this day began with a clearing in the clouds so we could once again see Everest before we set off. I’m glad we had that moment because the day soon closed in and the first long ascent was clouded.

We dropped down into Namche Bazaar. This was a really intense descent, almost like a narrow, blocky, stone ladder where you could potentially dive hundreds of metres down on to the blue roofs of the houses below.

We were going against the stream of hikers who were plodding up in a long stream. After Namche Bazaar it was really the home straight. The mule and yak trains were back, with long queues at some of the bridges that crossed the river gorges, “Don’t try to pass a laden yak on a narrow, swaying bridge,” was my learnt wisdom for the day.

It started to rain and this last part of the run took on that bittersweetness where you are desperate to finish on the one hand and desperate for the experience not to finish on the other. Then, suddenly, it was over.

There was the line at Lukla and Jordi and the team waiting for us. For me, personally, it was an unbelievably difficult goal to accomplish and I felt not only joy but enormous relief that I had done it. I was the last runner in the race but I felt nothing but pride at the achievement.

I was the only Englishmen there when I crossed the line, They were all Spanish. It happened so quick. I felt relief but I didn’t want it to stop. It was an adventure as well as a race.“ Tim Gardner, 7th overall.

And that is why you should do this race. It is an Adventure. It tests you and hurts you but it rewards you in equal measure. It is about the common experience with your fellow runners and the ETR team, the magic of the world’s highest mountains, and the good will and strong spirits that surround you.

My advice to that runner thinking about going to do it is - do not think about it, do it and go enjoy it like never before.” Sergio Alfonso Arias Esteban (2nd overall)

The last word has to go to Jordi Abad, Race Director, “In this race, you have allowed us to meet and know you… special and exceptional people on the sporting and human side. For us it has been a true privilege to share with you this Everest Trail Race 2018.”

For more information and to sign up (go on you know you want to) … click here.

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