It’s amazing how quickly mountain runners find each other.
It took me less than 24 hours after arriving in Kathmandu to work out that the manager of the hotel where I was staying was a mad ultra mountain runner. Dutchman Roger Henke manages the Summit Hotel. He also hosts a website Nepal Running and has his own Saturday running group to boot.
“We’re doing a 40 kilometre run out of Kathmandu next Saturday. Want to come along?”
It had been a long time since I did anything over 25k. But I was so desperate to get out into the mountains that teeter all around Kathmandu valley that I signed up and wished my body good luck.
It was an early 6.30am start on Saturday, Roger bouncing up and down in the reception raring to get going. Soon Richard and Billi arrived on their mountain bikes, quickly ditching them to embark on my inaugural run. I soon found out that Billi climbed Mount Everest last year. I was in formidable company.
We first jogged through Patan, winding our way through narrow Nepali streets, past temples full of morning worshipers. We swerved around street dogs, coughed past burnt offerings, avoided women carrying metal urns full of water. On our way, we picked up two Nepali runners, Rajman and Bhimsen. They looked small and wiry. Roger had already warned us that they’d kill us all on the hills.
Soon we were over the Ring Road and running away from the stodgy pollution of Kathmandu.
“This used to be all paddy fields”, Billi protested pointing at all the brand new houses put up in a haphazard way. So many lament how rapidly Kathmandu is expanding. There is nowhere to hide from urban sprawl. However within half an hour, we had found the paddy fields, glistening green with ready-to-reap rice. Then it was on through small villages, women tending the cattle, men drinking tea, children carrying water, and five international runners sprinting through, taking it all in.
We hit the ridge at Suryabinayak and called in to visit the local temple. Goats were being hoisted up the steps into the courtyard to be sacrificed for good fortune. People were busy lighting candles, putting red dots on their foreheads, milling around doing religious sorts of things. It was a market place of ritual that I was unsure if I was allowed to watch, especially given the fact that I was wearing relatively skimpy shorts. After a quick photo, we sprinted down the stairs and at the bottom of the temple found a teahouse, so stopped for traditional refreshments.
Then it was onwards and upwards, heading south up a dusty track that conveniently lead to another teahouse perched right at the top. We sipped another cup of tea and took in the plunging view. Just on the horizon, barely perceptible, we could make out a faint white line. The Himalaya Mountains were right in front of us. At a height of 2000 metres, we could see the snow-lined peaks of Langtang Ridge. I could barely hide my excitement. This is what I had come to Nepal for. To see and be in the mountains. I was all of a sudden feeling very happy.
We hurried on before the rising sun hit us and headed down into a neighbouring valley. We ran through more villages, along dusty roads beside copious streams, then past pristinely planted potatoes that would put an Irish farmer to shame. It was one more teashop stop, this time for cold yoghurt and hot noodles before the last ten kilometres of steady climb and steep descent.
We eventually emerged from a forest at Lamatar near Lubhu around 1pm. It marked the end of our run. But we still had enough reserves to race each other straight to the nearest soft drinks vendor. We had barely time to down our drinks before the local bus arrived and threatened to leave without us. We crammed ourselves into the backseats, sweaty, dirty, blistered, weary, yet all bubbling with the energy of a fun run well done. Despite our undesirables states, sari enrobed women didn’t mind sidling up beside us to take advantage of a spare seat. At a mere 15 rupees a ticket, they weren’t in a position to complain.
The bus dropped us back to the Ring Road and we walked back to the Summit Hotel from there. And so to next week’s planned run, the Annapurna Ultra run, starting from Pokhara early on Saturday morning. Richard, Roger, Bhimsen and Rajman are going for the 71k. I’ve decided I’d like to not kill myself, so have opted for the shorter 35k option. Billi on the other hand is off to interview expeditions hoping to summit Everest this month.
I think I’m going to like this place.