Saturday 10 November 2007

Running in India - Day 2

STAGE 2 - Sandakphu to Molley and back
Date: Monday, 29 October 2007
Distance: 32km (out-and-back route; 16km each way)
My run time: 04:29 *
Accumulative ascent: 1,052m
Accumulative descent: 1,052m
* First man, Duncan Larkin (US), 2:51; First woman, Elin Wright (Norway), 03:15

After a good 10hr sleep (early to sleep, early to rise), we were up just before dawn to catch sight of nearby Kanchenjunga (8,856m; World's 3rd highest mountain) and, of course, Everest, Lhotse and Makalu (the latter are some distance away, but clearly visible).

The rising sun's rays turn the summit of Kanchenjunga peachy.
Breakfast was available from 05h30 and the spread was inviting; oats, omlettes, toast and potatoes. This saw us ready for a 06h30 start. Mr Pandey had recommended that we start 1-hour earlier than initially stated (07h30) because colder weather and cloud cover were expected to envelop our high altitude route from 10h30 (the clouds did obscure our views by this time).

This Day 2 route is really the event's pay-load. On Day 1 Mr Pandey has warned us all about "breaking our knees" on the cobbled road but he should have been warning us on this second stage; it is challenging to run on an uneven surface while gawking at this majestic vista. On the way out we ran towards Kanchenjunga, keeping Everest and company on our right. At 3,600m these mountains towered above us and the surrounding landscape. We'd also seen them from the Delhi-Bagdogra plane, which flys at the same height as their altitude; so their magnitude was put into perspective.

As for the route itself... mostly down from Sandakphu with a steep climb up to the turn-around at Molley. The road surface was decent; some cobbled sections, some dirt road. Being an out-and-back route, I encountered the first runners returning as I was on the Molley ascent.

A little about the aid stations... this event well organised and facilitated. Up in the mountains Mr Pandey has an impressive abundance of aid stations; 12 on stage 1, 4 each way on Stage 2 (averages at one every 4km), 12 on stage 3, 5 on stage 4 and 10 on stage 5. Comparable to road running... We had to sign in at each aid station and all supplied bottled mineral water. Some were designated as full aid stations as they also provided bananas, boiled potatoes, biscuits and glucose powder. Many full aid stations also had temporary toilets (seated toilet over a hole in the ground and surrounded by white plastic sheeting to provide privacy).

On the way back from Molley I had to make use of the "facilities" as my tummy hadn't been feeling great; this was to be the start of a brief dose of "Delhi Belly". I'm adamant that my "Hennops Belly" a month earlier conveyed a certain level of resistance as I was not as unwell (severity and duration) as some other runners.

On the return route I ran into Mr Pandey, who was out on the course to greet the runners. "Nature is your assistant today," he said, refering to the spectacular view of Kanchenjunga and other mountains. It was just after 10h00 and cloud was rising up, almost level with the trail. "See, yesterday I said everything would be covered by 10h30. Now my job is done and you have seen the mountains."

It was a good thing too because the next day, running out on the same first section, we would see little of the surrounding mountains.

I'd taken it easy on this second stage, especially with the marathon stage the next day. When I reached the finish I washed up (a bucket of warm water was brought to our room), wrapped up in thermals and headed off for a bowl of tomato soup before visiting the Asian facilities next to our room - again. I then had a cosy afternoon nap.

My aim was to keep getting food down, to keep hydrated and to rest and recover as much as possible by morning. I didn't want to start the marathon with an upset stomach.

We had a race briefing at 18h30 where Mr Pandey outlined instructions for our bags; finish bags would be carried down to Rimbik by sherpas and our big bags would travel by Land Rover (old ones from back in the British days). We would only get the big bags much later in the evening.

A couple of runners quizzed Pandey about the actual distance of the marathon route.

"We have measured it by bicycle, by foot device... but you can be sure it is 2-3 further," he replied.

"Miles or kilometers?" a runner asked, to laughter from the audience.

They have tried on various occasions to measure the route, especially the steep downhill to Rimbik, by GPS. But with cloud cover, twisting trails and dense jungle lower down, they have never obtained an accurate reading. Although it is stated at 42km, I'd bank on the route being around 48km. Tomorrow would be a big day and I'd been warned about the steep descent (loss of 1200m over about 9km).

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