While planning my OXFAM Trailwalker trophies delivery trip to Kathmandu I realized that some cool things are happening there at that time. First the 54km Stupa to Stupa trail race. Then after a day break one could join the Kathmandu Valley Rim training tour organized by the legend Lizzy Hawker. This would nicely fit to my training for Ronda del Cims in Andorra – so I decided to join both.
Not having chance to recce the race route I actually uploaded the GPX to my watch and finally learned how to use the navigation function 🙂 . It was about the time. But frankly – it was not really necessary. The route was very well marked, one would have to try very very hard to get lost. My flight schedule made things a bit complicated. I only landed in Kathmandu around 10pm the evening before the race. After the obligatory wait for the luggage to emerge on the belt and the taxi ride it was just about midnight when I made it to the hotel. And 4am I had to wake to be able to eat something and get to the 6am morning start. Not ideal but sleep deprivation is part of ultra races so practising it can’t hurt 🙂 .
Having Purna picking me up in the morning was a great help. And the more of the AWOO Team Nepal in the team colours showed up at the start – what a great moral boost ahead of my first ever race in Nepal.
We started from the Swayambhu Stupa (aka Monkey Temple) and after short run down the steps and crossing a ring road we were quickly on the first climb of the day. Bed (who was in the race but not really racing) decided to keep me company and act as my personal photographer :-). It was amazing to watch him easily run up ahead up the hill to find some cool photo spot while I was gasping for oxygen. Climbing to 2000+ meter after arriving direct from sea level and with more less no sleep proved to be quite difficult. The hill was seriously steep at parts. I enjoyed the climb and did my best to keep steady pace but the altitude was causing me difficulties at this early stage of the race. I must say I was glad when this climb was over. I made very brief pit stop at the CP and water point at the top and went on running down.
From this point however the race was pure joy for me. My plan was to take it as a training run but I got sucked in by the atmosphere and started to push a bit. After lovely runable section to Mudkhu I was somewhere in top 30. Purna (who earlier rode on his motobike to cheer me on) was at the CP. He then jogged ahead over the hill to the next water point where I met him again as well Mira Rai who serving water to us there.
At this place Bed re-joined me again for the next section – lots of steps up (and lots of photos of me on those steps). It was a bit warm and sunny but unlike on the first climb I felt all good by now. It took a while but it seemed that I am acclimatizing quickly. Once over that hill Bed wished me sub-7 hours time and ran home :-).
My plan was to take it easy and do this around 8h-8h30mins time especially with the Kathmandu Valley Rim coming up but I was enjoying this race a lot. So I kept on pushing and the sub 7 hours suddenly looked realistic. However the climb that has begun on about 40km mark was bit longer than I expected so of course covering those 3-4km uphill took longer time than it would if they were flat or downhill. Then came some more steps after another CP followed by beautiful slightly technical downhill to the city. I remembered this section from last year but in the opposite direction. To do this part downhill was really great fun. Somewhere half way down Purna was again ready to cheer me on. Soon I was back down in the city on the dusty roads on the way to the finish at Boudhanat Stupa. I crossed the line in 7h10mins, apparently in 14th place (but I guess that was in the gents category only as everybody got beaten by some fast ladies). That was not the end though – I was told I still have to do a loop around the Stupa. So I did. And then I was told to do another one as it is either 3 loops or 108 loops :-).
This is not a big race – yet. But it is a really nice one organized by people with a great passion for trail running and passing through some great trails and hills. If you happen to be in Kathmandu when this race is on – join it. Or if you plan to travel there – match your dates with this race.
Oh, one more note – I love the idea or small size race bib made of durable material !
Then, after one day break filled up with presenting the trophies, meeting Mira and her future Trailwalker team and watching Lizzy Hawker’s talk on the Great Himalayan Trail crossing it was time to punish my body further. The Kathmandu Valley tour was lead by Lizzy Hawker and was to take 4 days. Estimated total distance about 170km so 40+km each day. We were also joined by a talented young Nepali runner Rashila Tamang – member of the all ladies Nepali team that aims to race at 2018 OTW in Hong Kong. We started from Mudkhu around 9am in the morning. Hopefully 4 days later we would arrive here again from the other side after completing the full circle.
My legs were not too happy as the post Stupa to Stupa DOMS was in full swing. The first part of the day was identical with the post Mudkhu part of Stupa to Stupa – including that big steps filled climb. We followed the same route all the way to the beginning of the Shivapuri National Park. Somewhere after here we managed to miss a trail leading us up to the ridge. We decided to continue hoping to re-join the planned route a bit later on. Unfortunately that never happened. Or fortunately – as on the other side of the mountain raged a lovely thunderstorm.
However further on we were stopped by some uniformed people telling us that there is nowhere to go beyond where we are. Sounded strange but when uniform tells you something you tend to follow. So we turned went different way down the valley. And we ended up in the wrong one. It was getting quite late and we were still very far from where our bags (and beds) were awaiting us. So in one of the villages we negotiated a jeep ride to bring us back on our route. It was a pretty hair rising ride on mountain roads. 18km twisty bumpy ride that took almost 2 hours.
Just after sunset we ended up at Chisapani. After quick dinner in a guesthouse we turned on our headlamps and to great amusement of people around we went on towards Jhule. Mild climb on dusty hill road followed by technical descent down to the village we were to stay the night. As it happened the hotel was at the very top of the hill above the village. We were picked up and brought up there on scooters – another rather scary experience 🙂 . Day one – 50km done (38km before dark, 12km after)
On day 2 the plan was to go all the way to Panuati. This was rather straight forward journey without any major climbs. It begun with some lovely trails towards Nagarkot. Then we continued south through some hillside fields towards Dhulikel and Panuati. Relatively easy days ahead of very hilly second part of the valley. Day 2 done – approx 38km.
Day 3 started with tough 15km long climb up the ridge and then up and down several hills until we made it to Fulchoki the highest point of the rim (around 2700m). I pushed all the uphill full on. And although it meant waiting often for the slower member of the party it was a very good hill training – sort of ‘hill repeats” on by now quite tired legs. The ridge was absolutely beautiful (thanks to hazy skies the pictures do not do justice to the beauty of the area). And the trails we ran on later were stunning. As we were getting close to our destination of the day we were hearing sounds of thunder again. Luckily again we missed it. Once we crossed the bridge over Bagmati we had the last 400m of elevation to climb up before reaching the monastery at the top of the hill – with the finest accommodation I have ever experience in Nepal. On the slope in direction of the next days journey we could see a hill fire raging. The locals did not seem concerned but it was a major fire. Luckily a big thunderstorm overnight extinguished the fire. As we found out the next day it was burning right where we were to pass. Day 3 done – approx 40km.
The final day was quite a monster. From the very beginning it was a climb after climb, descent after descents. The climbs were steep and the descent technical. Exactly what I came for – perfect training! Soon after we started we arrived at the area where only few hours earlier the massive hill fire was raging. It was by now largely extinguished by the overnight storm but here and there we could still see smoke rising and in one or two spots there were still visible flames. Somewhere here a random dog joined us. He ran with us over all the hills for over 20km!
On the first very hilly part of the day I recognized few sections that I ran last year with the AWOO Team Nepal boys – all the way to Chandragiri – where the cable car goes. After Chandragiri we stopped in a local hut for some aloo and chana lunch and started this relentless 1000m elevation loss descent to Thankot. This is where we lost our canine company.
The dog was fine while in the mountains. But once we reached villages full of local and very territorial dogs the thing started to worse. Dog fight after dog fight with more and more dogs getting involved. If we did not want to risk getting involved with all the fangs we had to abandon our buddy there…
After descending to Thankot we crossed the Pokhara highway and climbed up and down the final 2 hills of this journey. Then after navigating around the army camp at the top of the hill I joined Rashila on a sort of sprint finish to Mudkhu – 10+km long mad dash to finish the loop. I have no idea where I found the strength but how I enjoyed this fast run to the end. It was already dark so most of this dash I held my headlamp high in my hand illuminating the path for both of us but that did not seem to cause me any difficulties. Soon I was in Mudkhu and in taxi back to hotel and back to party time 🙂 – Day 4 done – approx 42km – mission completed.