Sunday, 11 November 2007

Running in India - Stage 3

Stage 3 - Sandakphu to Rimbik
Date: Tuesday, 30 October 2007
Distance: 42km (more like 48km)
My run time: 07:42 *
Accumulative ascent: 1,104m
Accumulative descent: 2,727m
* First man, Miguel Gomes (Spain), 4:31; First woman, Elin Wright (Norway), 05:40

Day dawned on our sleepy Sandakphu settlement and while my tummy had made it through the night intact, my room-mate's hadn't. Britta (UK, from Fell Runner magazine) had been up three times during the night and as our in-house Asian loo was dysfunctional, she'd had to sneak outside. Liz (Runner's World UK) and Catherine (journo) came through to our room to see how I was doing and to confess that their constitutions were in a similar situation. Apparently the toilet door in the bigger dorms opened-and-closed the whole night.

Although I wasn't feeling up to it, I managed to get down 1.5 bowls of oats and a banana. After two loo stops I was as ready for the start as I would ever be; a bit drained but certainly lighter on my feet.

Cloud cover was high and so only little of Kanchenjunga was showing; the bonus of spending two days on the section from Sandakphu to Molle gave us an extra chance to see the mountain. Fortunately yesterday had been crystal clear so our mountain-spotting requirements had been fulfilled already. It was also a bit colder so again I was wearing tights and a light-weight long sleeved top - perfect if you keep moving.

I was definitely a bit skittish on the first downhill - my thighs were a bit stiff from the previous day and they needed gentle warming up. I made a pit stop just before the first full aid station at 8km and that would be it for me - I had rapidly recovered (I still think my "Hennops Belly" from the AR sprint in early October had conveyed resistance as many runners were unwell for days). But although my tummy was now settled, I battled bouts of nausea. Still, I kept eating... slowly. It took me an hour to make my way through a 70g fruity energy bar!

Road to Phalut

I took the first section easy, reaching Molle only 8-minutes slower than the previous day. The section from Molle to Phalut (fah-loot) was again an out-and-back; never my favourite kind of course because you know what is waiting for you on the return route. I met up with Christo Snyman (fellow South African) just before Phalut. Britta (my roomie) was close behind. We joined each other on the last uphill on the return to Molle and split again on the descent.

After checking in at the Molle aid station we started the dreaded descent. The first part was not terribly steep and on a good dirt road surface. We then got onto those "steps" made when logs are placed across the trail to bank it up. But the path had eroded inbetween the logs so there was a bit of a dip. We then got onto more eroded trails and ruts - absolutely divine stuff! I moved ahead of Britta when she stopped at an aid station to get some water down; this was where the really fun section began.

This scary downhill section was actually my most favourite part of the whole race; this was the only part of the 5-day route that was actually on trails. The surrounding jungle was incrediblly dense and lush (up on the mountains the vegetation is mostly grass with scattered trees; more trees lower down). The uneven trail had me bounding between and on top of ruts, checking for the red painted route marker arrows and pink ribbons along the way. I started to catch runners.

A quick comment about competitive spirit... I am marginally competitive. I'm not going to break my neck to get ahead of someone and if I don't win I'm not going to slash my wrists. Once the first few kilometers are underway and runners have settled into their places I do not like to be overtaken. My strength is in overtaking people, especially as course distance and difficulty increases. I took great pride in gobbling up runners ahead of me on this section to Rimbik.

Lower down we ran through a village, on the paths between houses. Absolutely delightful to see the children and adults, houses and chickens along the route. In hindsight my pace slackened here because I was so busy greeting people with "Namaste" and gawking at the sights. When I reached the aid station at the bottom, before the river crossing, I was shocked to see the old Japanese man right behind me. I'd overtaken him kilometers earlier on the really technical section.

That's another thing... once I've passed someone I do not like them to catch up to me... especially not an old dude. Surprised to see him, I ran most of the gently ascending road into Rimbik (about 8km). I gained another 6 places here - much to my satisfaction - and my legs and lungs felt great. Distance certainly seems to suit me.

I was warmly welcomed at the finish by Pandey's crew and spectators from the village... this is something else... Pandey's staff were incredible the whole event and there were always many of them at the finish to welcome us at the end of each stage.

Rimbik is a small mountain town - kind of mouldy and dirty like most places we saw. Our accommodations at the Sherpa Lodge were clean and tidy (with hot showers!) and the food again was exceptional. Every day when we finished there was soup, rice, dhal and other Indian dishes waiting. Dinner on this first night in Rimbik was a tantalising feast. I really enjoy Indian food and I think the assortment of dishes is what really appeals as you can try small bits of many flavours.

I spent some time in the afternoon stretching and rubbing down with Arnica oil to loosen my muscles. My ankles were also feeling a little worked over. We would start Stage 4 with a steep downhill and I anticipated some stiffness. Liz was again my room-mate. As with previous days we were lights-out by nine-thirty in preparation for another early morning.

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