Capital to Country Multi Day Ultra Nepal
It may sound strange but my five day, 123-mile race through the foothills of Nepal started 28 years ago.
And no, I wasn’t that slow completing the Capital to Country Multi-Day Ultra Marathon, an event one of my fellow runners epically described as a cross between the Marathon des Sables and the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc.
In reality, it was because I was rediscovering an Emily who I had left in those same foothills almost 30 years previously.
I was only 18 when I first when to the Himalayas, an incredible trip which saw me make memories and friends that will last a lifetime. I’ve always wanted to go back, but life did its thing and always got in the way.
Then, two years ago, I got divorced. It was one of the hardest periods of my life and with two young children to look after, and a busy job as a teacher, there wasn’t much time for me.
When the chance came up to join Go Beyond and a group of just six other runners to run from Kathmandu City to the fabulously remote Lamaland village, it wasn’t one I was going to miss out on. It was time to rediscover Emily.
Before we even started running the experiences jumped at us – initially in the form of a gang of rather cheeky monkeys who we met during a visit to Kathmandu’s otherwise peaceful Monkey Temple. One of the presumptuous primates even grabbed themselves a Sprite bottle as a souvenir of our trip.
We were then privileged to receive a blessing from the local monks, wishing us luck before our incredible run got underway.
You’ll have noticed that so far I have referred to ‘run’ and that is indeed the correct description for what most of my companions did. But for me, this was a chance to try out a different tactic: power-walking. My decision to walk the whole 120-plus miles was born out of two things. Firstly, I had run flat out at what turned out to be a gruelling Glasgow to Edinburgh Ultra last October. Towards the end of that race, which my friend and I finished in something of a mess, we were being overtaken by walkers. Secondly, I am hoping to take on the Marathon des Sables in the near future, and with the heat of the Sahara I don’t think I’ll be able to run too much of that race. And so, walking seemed like a good idea all round.
Day one of the race saw us up and about bright and early, departing Kathmandu for the ancient district of Sankhu, where the event was to start. Along the way, we received another monk-assisted blessing. I guess you can’t take too many chances.
After heading off through the beautiful Sankhu gate, it didn’t take long until our first climb was upon us as we left Kathmandu in the valley below. The route snaked through jeep tracks cut in the mountain sides, taking in tree covered hills and breathtaking drops. As we meandered through a diverse mix of towns and villages, the full scale of the remoteness and mesmeric beauty of Nepal became clear to me.
In all, the constantly changing terrain of day one took us over 27 miles before we reached our camp for night at Kasibanjayang.
Day two brought more sensational scenery as I pulled myself along jeep trails, through ancient villages and bustling towns, and into jungle and woodland. Waking early, and as bright as possible, I enjoyed a stunning mountain top sunrise and a quick breakfast before hitting the road 7am.
We were straight into another all too familiar climb as the route stretched from our Kasibanjayang base to Bhakundebesi. Along the way it was eye-opening to see the reaction of the friendly locals who were mesmerised by these crazy English runners winding way through their homeland. Despite their confusion, they didn’t hold back from cheering us along the way.
The first climb ended at the spectacular Dukhiel viewpoint, where I was transfixed by some mind-blowing scenery, before finally reaching our camp in the grounds of the Kutumba resort.
Day three arrived with a slightly rude awakening as we were roused from our slumbers by the chanting of a monk, and the somewhat less melodic barking of local dogs. Heading out from Bhakundebesi, I quickly found myself partaking in yet another epic climb. If this was a practice for MDS it may very well not have had the heat of the desert, but it certainly kicked its behind in terms of energy-sapping ascents and quad busting downhill sections.
The 30-mile day three route passed through the historic home of the Temange Empire, complete with cobbled roads, plentiful temples and religious sites. The numerous hard climbs I had to drag myself up were rewarded with some stunning vistas, while green hills, a glacial river and – eventually – a well-earned beach side camp helped get my tired limbs through a gruelling but rewarding day’s running.
The fourth day of my ultra experience may have been a shorter, 16-mile leg but it still came with plenty of climbing. We left the tranquillity of our overnight riverside camp to haul ourselves up to the top of a path which supplied gorgeous views of the river valley below. Another lengthy climb followed, revealing more mind-blowing scenery, before I started the long descent back down to the river and a fun, if slippery, leap across some stepping stones to the opposite bank.
I picked my way along a particularly winding path alongside the main road, up another long climb and – gratefully – to the welcoming surrounds of Lamaland village, where we would stay on both days four and five. The finish line proved a real treat, as our hosts greeted me with garlands of flowers and an array of prayer flags and flower bowls.
With day five upon us, we set out on the final trek, a mere marathon-length 26-mile effort which finished with music from a Nepalese band that came complete with the world’s longest horn. A delightful evening followed with a delicious Nepalese meal and the opportunity to indulge in a few well-earned beers safe in the knowledge we wouldn’t be having to run the following day.
How did the power-walking go? Really well. I managed to finish each day with the sun still in the sky, and only a mere hour-and-a-half or so behind those running the course.
More importantly, I had a very different event from the other runners. Along the way I went to a Nepalese wedding, and visited temples. I made good friends with the event’s tail-walker, a lovely local guy who was very proud of his country. He showed me lots of important buildings, and on the last day we went past his school. It’s a charity school and his brother is the headmaster. All of the children were staring at us out of a window, and then they rushed out and gave me a blessing. I’m not sure what they threw on me but I smelt like Turkish Delight afterwards, which really was a blessing given I’d been smelling like a dog for days.
The event, the views, the people and even the pain of ultramarathoning all combined to make this the trip of a lifetime. I feel privileged to have been to Nepal, to have seen the country and to have taken part in this fabulously unique, friendly race. And most of all I feel privileged to have met some amazing people who will remain friends forever.
Oh, and up in those beautiful hills I did one other thing: I found Emily.
All images courtesy of Go Beyond International
Find out more about this multi day event here