Last updated: 20-Aug-18
By James Eacott
The Everest Trail Race – ETR – is best conveyed with a couple of simple stats:
- 6 stages
- 100 miles
- 30,000m of elevation change
- Cumulative ascent equal to climbing the height of Everest from sea level…twice.
I first heard about the Everest Trail Race through a friend of a friend. A relatively new race, particularly on the UK ultra marathon scene, all reports suggested this was a slick, well-organised race in one of Earth’s most stunning regions.
I signed up in April and forgot I’d entered until mid-September with 6 weeks to go. Commencing crammed training, the race was upon me before I knew it. A massive fan of mountains, Nepal is somewhere I’ve always wanted to go and I was so excited to finally get out there.
After a long flight via a 6-hour stopover in Istanbul airport, I made it to the Shankar Hotel – Race HQ in Kathmandu. After a couple of days hanging out in dust-ridden (but culturally and religiously fascinating) Kathmandu, we left for the village of Jiri in the foothills of the Himalaya. The 7-hour bus journey along ungraded roads was brutal, but a couple of stops on route allowed for spines to be realigned.
On arrival at Jiri, the campsite was already erected and food was being prepared. We were greeted by the staff like long lost friends and superbly well looked after – a trend that continued unreservedly throughout the race. Staff were clearly well briefed that ‘the runners come first’. I’ve raced many ultras and have never felt in such safe hands. When partaking in an ultra in such an environment, a certain amount of risk is accepted, but it was very welcome to us and family back home to know we were racing with an organisation with its head screwed on.
After a sleepless night of anticipation, Day 1 was relatively easy – a mere warm up – with ‘only’ 2,000m of ascent and some technical descent. Being a semi-sufficient race (we carried everything except food), we were fed exceptionally well from the moment we finished the stage through to the evening meal. Considering meal preparation is all done over a dodgy, spluttering gas stove, we ate very well.
Day 1 was a prelude to Day 2, which was practically all uphill with 3,500m of climbing over just 20km. 16 of these kilometres were spent cresting the many false summits on the way to Pikey Peak (about 4,100m a.s.l). A short technical descent took us up to our highest camp location. Tales of runners flaking out on the course were fed through to those who’d reached camp. The staff – armed with alternate routes should slow progress, inclement weather or altitude sickness persist – ensured everyone finally reached camp after a long day. A beautiful setting, Camp 2 offered our first views of some monstrous 8,000m peaks. No sign of Everest yet, although we were getting close. Two days down and with some DOMS already creeping in, the reality of another 4 days made for another disturbed night.
Day 3 was all about the downhill, for we faced a quad-busting 4,000m of descent along technical, rocky trails. One of the longer stages (30km), this day was perhaps the most rewarding in terms of the villages we passed. Unlike Kathmandu, which is dirty, uncared for and hectic, the peace and tranquillity that was apparent here was a wonderful sight. Carefully tendered gardens, smiley locals, beautiful children and an air of happiness was felt by everyone as we spent the night camping quite literally on the doorstep of Karikhola monastery.
An uneventful Day 4 led to Day 5, which we’d all anticipated, because this was the day we were told had the most spectacular finish. I too had been informed of this and it didn’t disappoint. Running across the famous Hilary Bridge and through Namche Bazar, the history and grandeur surrounding the region left me feeling very humbled. Knowing that such intrepid explorers – my heroes – had trodden this same path on their quest to climb the highest mountain on Earth was indescribable. It’ll stay with me forever. The rumours of the stage finish didn’t disappoint either: topping out at Tengboche, the finish line lay outside a beautiful monastery in direct view of Everest, Lhotse and Ama Dablam – considered one of the most beautiful peaks in the Himalaya.
There was no let-up on the last day for Day 6 was still 32km with 5,200m of elevation change – a pretty savage trail run in its own right, let alone the 25,000m change and 130km we already had in our legs. Nevertheless, everyone was in high spirits as we descended from Tengboche, down the valley and through Namche heading for Lukla.
Considering this must be one of the hardest ultra marathons out there, the finish rate was high – kudos to the staff. Beers flowed at the finish line but all too soon the fatigue of the race crept in and we were all in bed by 10! Before we knew it we were shooting down the horrifyingly short runway at Lukla heading for Kathmandu and the post-race party. A fun ceremony, it was great applauding and recognising everyone’s achievement – from the mind-blowingly fast sherpas who completed in a little over 20 hours to those who plugged away for three times as long.
I loved this race and the memories I’ve taken will stay with me forever – such a cliché but it’s absolutely true in this case. I crave new races and thus have never repeated a race – this feeling holds particularly strong when it comes to multi-stage races where exploring a new part of the world is a huge factor in deciding which one to do next. But this is one I’d definitely do again.
Nepal is a country of immense diversity and I initially found it confusing to take it all in – it’s such a melee. What I’ve learnt from visiting developing countries is that it’s about taking away certain lessons that we, in the ‘developed’ world, could do with remembering: much of Buddhism can be implemented to some extent in many of our lives, and the blissful happiness in which people with apparently so little live reminds us that material possession isn’t everything. It’s a case of overlooking the mess and dirt and cherry picking the good, of which there is plenty. This is so much more than just another ultra marathon. By all means, it’s an exceptional race in a stunning region, but for those open to it, it can be even more rewarding.
My 10 tips for the Everest Trail Race:
- Without question, take poles: I’d never used them before, but I did on high recommendation and am so thankful I listened.
- Hike: By all means run during training, but focus on speed hiking. A fast, efficient hike is what you need to tackle this race.
- Take hand sanitizer: Keep it on you all the time. I didn’t get sick, but many did – a dodgy gut can ruin and potentially end a race like this.
- Pace yourself: This is a long race. 100 miles doesn’t sound much, but the cumulative damage to the legs makes this equivalent to 150 miles of flat.
- Don’t take more than you need: Packs ranged from 4kg to 10kg. Mine was 4.5kg and I wanted for nothing. Don’t burden yourself.
- Train running downhill: You’ll run few uphill’s on the Everest Trail Race (unless your surname has ‘Sherpa’ in it), but most of the downs are runnable. Practice this and get your quads used to running on empty.
- Drink: Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. 1) It’s flipping hot during the days and 2) drinking water will reduce the onset of altitude sickness.
- Train on the technical stuff: Much of the trail is very technical – rocky, uneven and unstable.
- Lift weights: Strength and conditioning will set you up well to finish and compete. Squats, lunges, leg press, calf raises and deadlifts are all excellent. Most struggle through lack of strength, not lack of running speed.
- Learn about Nepal: Take time to read about where you’re about to go. It’s an immensely beautiful country on so many levels and digging under the skin is very rewarding.