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The highest marathon in the world

Original Everest Marathon Itinerary

Original Everest Marathon November 2019

A 23 day holiday including a 15 day acclimatisation trek, a 42 kms High altitude marathon and some optional sight seeing in Kathmandu!

It’s the highest marathon in the world and it’s also a whole world that you’re signing up to. To reach the start of the race, you’ll journey through the Sherpa land of the Khumbu valley, an adventure into the land of Sagamatha, the sacred ‘Mother of the Universe.’

Day 1 Kathmandu Hotel Shanker

We’ll be meeting in the exotic city of Kathmandu. It was the royal capital of the Kingdom of Nepal and has many important Hindu temples and Buddhist Stupa. It’s a city to be experienced at least once in your life – the vibrant colours, a riot of sights, sounds and smells and riches side by side with poverty. If you’re arriving by plane, you’ll be met at the airport and taken to the wonderful Hotel Shanker. Originally the royal residence of the rulers of Nepal from 1894 until 1964, it was converted into a luxury hotel. Having been damaged in the 2014 earthquake, it has been beautifully restored and it’s gardens and rooms are an oasis of calm.

Day 2 Sightseeing around Kathmandu

After a feast of a breakfast we’ll get down to preparing for the trek, with team meetings, kit issue, medicals and packing. There’s time for a walk into Thamel, the pedestrianised shopping area where it’s possible to buy everything you might need for the trek as well as presents ranging from prayer flags to fabulous rugs and jewellery. There’s time for a swim in the pool before dinner at the hotel with your new team mates.

Day 3 Flight to Lukla and trek to Phakding at 2610m

We’ll be up very early to get to the airport for the flight to Lukla. If the weather’s good and the gods are with us, we’ll get an early flight. We’re going from 1,400m to 2,860m (9,383 feet), a huge jump in altitude and the start of the acclimatisation process. The noise and pollution of the city is left behind and we walk into a world of lush greens, the bright white of steep mountain peaks and the deep blue of the Dub Kosi river below. Luggage bags are loaded onto the Naks and taken to the first campsite at Phakding, 2610m, listening to the rumble of the turning prayer wheels and sending our thoughts to the Gods.

Day 4 Into the Sagamatha National Park and on to Namche Bazaar

As we follow the river upstream, crossing suspension bridges festooned with fluttering prayer flags, we pass through the ornate gateway into the Sagamatha National Park. The steps down beside the rock face feel a little like a passage from Lord of the Rings. A lovely path alongside the river leads up the steep hill to Namche Bazaar - the Sherpa capital. This town, nestled in a natural bowl, has grown dramatically over the last 10 years, providing more shops and tea houses to cater for the increase in trekkers. We’ll be camping above the town for two nights, to let our bodies catch up with the extra altitude.

Day 5 Acclimatisation in Namche Bazaar

You need to familiarise yourself with the next bit of the race route and then you can enjoy walking to the Everest View Hotel where the terrace looks up the valley to the fabulous views of Everest and Ama Dablam. You might want to visit the Edmund Hilary School that was set up in 1961, or the Edmund Hillary hospital in Khunde, or just tour the shops and cafés in Namche Bazaar. It’s a great place to buy cheap extra gear, provided you can carry it.

Day 6 trekking to Khumjung

Bags are packed up for the Yaks to take them onto the campsite at Khumjung while the runners get to stretch their legs along the ‘Thamo Loop’, the last 6 miles of the marathon. Three of the race control points are visited today and they need to be etched into the memory. On the way you’ll probably see Impeyan, the Nepali national bird, similar to a pheasant - the males, with deep iridescent blue and green plumage, wander the stone-walled fields.

Day 7 Trekking to Dole 4110m

The valley drops below us as we ascend the path to the Mong La, a high point, where we stop and take tea, before descending steeply to the lunch stop at Phortse Tenga. The path divides - straight on is the Khumbu valley but we take the left fork to Phortse Tenga and the climb to the campsite at Dole. At 4110m, the effects of altitude start to kick in here and ‘taking it easy’ now becomes the way of the trek.

Day 8 Trekking to Machermo 4410m

Trekking to Machermo, 4410m, the terrain changes to a wide open, grassy valley with steep, rocky peaks either side. A large chorten signals that Machermo is just down below, the tea houses laid out neatly in the field boundaries. This is to be our campsite for the next 3 nights.

Day 9 Acclimatising in Machermo

A day of taking it easy, means doing some washing, walking up the ridge above Machermo, to the base of the trekking peak and visiting the Machermo Porter Shelter. This much needed rescue service for Porters and trekkers, was financed by Community Action Nepal. The doctors who volunteer to work here for 3 month stints, provide a talk on the effects of altitude every afternoon.

Day 10 Walking to Gokyo 4790m

Walking up the valley to Gokyo is a delight. The valley becomes a little steeper and narrower and then opens out to the dry Ngozumpa glacier, (the largest in the Himalaya). The sparkling turquoise First and Second lakes are one of Nepal’s most memorable sights. This is a sacred area – the lakes nestled into the mountain side with maybe a pair of Brahminy Ducks and the ground dotted with stone cairns, each a monument. The tea houses of Gokyo, 4790m have a view over the Third Lake and Gokyo Ri. There is an option to climb this ‘hill’ but at 5357m it feels more of a mountain. Once there, you experience spectacular views of Everest. This is the third and final night at Machermo.

Day 11 Descending to Kangjuma at 3550m

After gaining all that lovely height, it’s time to go down again, all the way to Kangjuma at 3550m. And it feels so easy. This is the day that the Nepali runners have their briefing in Namche Bazaar but you don’t get to meet them until the day before the race when they arrive at Lobuche for the pre-race medical.

Day 12 Trekking to Deboche 3820m

Now we’re walking up the race route with a steep uphill to Tengboche. Famous for its Buddhist monastery, (the largest gompa in the Khumbu region), and the cake shop; you can visit both. The views of Everest, Lhotse, Nuptse, Ama Dablam, Thamserku and Tawache dominate the skyline. We walk on just a little further to camp at Deboche, 3820m.

Day 13 Trekking to Dingboche 4410m

The path crosses the river and we follow it’s to Lower Pangboche, stopping at a race control point for tea. On these steep rocky mountain sides it’s possible to spot Himalayan Tahr, a threatened species of wild goat. After Pheriche, where there is a control point, we go off the marathon route to Dingboche for a two night stay at 4410m.

Day 14 Walking to Chukhung 4730m

This is a day of resting or if you feel good, taking a walk further up the valley to Chhukhung. This is the way to Island Peak and Mera Peak and it’s far quieter than the main valley. The field pattern of stone walls feels very welcoming and a respite from the continuous flow of EBC traffic. Sea Buckthorn grows here and is made into a delicious drink that is a powerhouse of nutrients – just what’s needed for the final push to Gorak Shep.

Day 15 Trekking to Lobuche 4910m

Returning to Pheriche and the race route, we climb up to the Thokla Pass through an increasingly rocky landscape to the tombstones hung with prayer flags. Here there’s a memorial to Rob Hall, the New Zealand Guide who died on Everest. Crossing the river we will be stopping for tea near control 2, before the last bit of the walk to Lobuche. There’s a good sized camping area here on the bumpy ground. We’re way up now at 4910 and there’s not much in the way of vegetation – the big mountains are getting closer and even with the sun out it is cold, we need to wear another layer.

Day 16 Walking to the summit of Kalar Pattar 5550m

This is a day of Options. If you want to save yourself for the race, it’s wise to stay and rest. If you want to experience more of the mountain and you’re feeling good, you can walk up to Gorak Shep and then either go onto the top of Kalar Pattar at 5550m or Everest Base Camp at 5465m before returning to Lobuche for the night.

Day 17 Trekking to Gorak Shep 5200m

Everyone has a pre-race medical and kit check in Lobuche, before moving up to Gorak Shep. It’s cold up here at 5,200m, even with the sun shining from a cobalt sky. Assembling on the flat area between the teahouses and Kalar Patthar, we have a practice start and lots of photos. From now on, it’s a countdown to the start so everyone will be getting as much rest and sleep as the altitude allows so we’re staying in a lodge for the night.

Day 18 Race day from Gorak Shep 5200m

This is the day that has been the focus of so many minds, for many months. It’s a two stage start. The runners who are expected to do fast times will be setting off after the slower group. It’s cold at the start and full body cover is needed just to get going but by the time the sun shines and a few hundred meters have been descended, the skin is bared. Doctors and marshals are stationed along the route at the controls and the team leaders and a doctor make up the ‘Sweep Team’ at the back of the race, ensuring everyone is accounted for and taken care of. At the finish at Namche Bazaar, the question is whether any of the internationals will be able to snatch the winning time from the Nepali’s this year?

Day 19 Resting in Namche Bazaar

Having spent the night in a lodge you can rest, eat and shop in NB. In the morning there is a prize giving event for the Nepali runners, as they won’t be travelling to Kathmandu. After lunch, we’re making our way downhill to Monjo for the final night of camping.

Day 20 Returning to Lukla

Walking down the valley to Lukla should be easy but there’s a sting in the tail with a couple of uphill sections. It’s so lovely to come back down into a warmer climate and see the lush, bright green of the valley crops. We’ll have a good feed in Lukla and sleep well in the oxygen-rich air. After a Tip-giving and donation of gear ceremony to our support team, we have a good meal in the lodges we’re staying in.

Day 21 Return to Kathmandu

If we’re lucky, we’ll get a morning flight to Kathmandu and the early rising will have had a purpose. Returning to Kathmandu is a bitter-sweet experience – the longing for that wonderful shower versus the leaving behind of the bright, clean air of the mountains.

Day 22 Back in Kathmandu

After a huge Hotel Shanker breakfast we have arranged a guided trip to the World Heritage Sites of Bodhanath Stupa and Pashupatinath Temple. When you get back, there’s time to relax and get ready for dinner and the Awards Evening.

Day 23 Flying home or the next stage of your journey

It’s time to say good bye to the friends you’ve just spent the last three weeks with. If you’ve arranged your international flight for the evening, you have almost a day to spend in Kathmandu. Or you might be staying on for your next adventure...

“When you start a race at over 5,000m, it’s not a case of going hard from the start line – it’s about setting off at a pace that will ensure you don’t blow up before halfway.”

Angela Mudge is a Scottish champion hillrunner and skyrunner whose achievements include winning the Scottish Hill Running Championships in 1997, 1998 and 2006, and she holds the women’s record on more than 13 courses in Scotland alone. In 2007 she set a new women’s record in the Everest Marathon, the world’s highest marathon, which starts two hours from Everest Base Camp, at an altitude of 5,200m.

Registration is now open for next year’s Original Everest Marathon (Nov 15 – Dec 7 2019), which supports the charity Community Action Nepal. Find out more about the marathon here. Register here.

We got in touch with Angela to find out a bit more about her remarkable mountain running career .

TGO: Please introduce yourself. Who are you and what do you do?

Angela: My name is Angela Mudge, and live in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park in Scotland with two Jack Russell terriers and a cat. I work part time as a massage therapist and have recently taken on a role with Scottish Athletics – National lead for hill and mountain running. When not working I’ll be found in the hills, running, cycling or simply dog walking.

TGO: How did you get into mountain running and eventually high-altitude running? Tell us a bit about your journey and progression. What were the high and low points along the way (figuratively, that is)?

Angela: I started running at school in Devon, and followed the conventional path of track and field and cross-country running. It wasn’t until I moved to Scotland to study at Stirling University in 1991 that I was introduced to hill running. A gang of university employees used to head up Dumyat (the local hill) at lunch times so I naturally joined them and found the discipline of running I much preferred. Shortly afterwards, the Ochil hill running club formed and I was quickly introduced to the hill races in Scotland and found myself climbing Munros most weekends. After a few years I gained my first international vest for Scotland and was introduced to racing on the continent, spending summers racing in the Alps where there were limitless mountains to run up and trials to explore. I won the World Mountain Running Championships in 2000 and was runner up in 2003.

“I’d never trekked in Nepal so decided the best introduction to trekking would be to do the Everest Marathon.”

In 2004 I suffered a career-threatening knee injury and after an operation and lots of rehab I decided in 2007 to try something different. Instead of competing in the world mountain-running circuit (predominantly based in Europe) I decided to give skyrunning a go. I found I was no longer able to do the intense faster training (my knee would swell) required for the shorter races, so reckoned longer would suit me. At the time sky races were all at altitude and mostly around marathon distance. At my first race in Zergama, Spain, I broke the course record and found I was good at the longer, rougher events. I’d already competed the Mount Kinabulu race in Borneo several times but found I underperformed. It was that bit too high, whereas races up to 3,000m suited me better – living at sea level I could perform at a reasonable altitude but not an outrageous one.

TGO: You’ve been injured a few times – how has that affected both your training and your racing?

Angela: All runners are injured some time in their career, unless they are not training hard enough! I was born with club foot so have always suffered from lower limb issues. When I’ve been injured I’ve always turned to the bike, either road or mountain biking, and very often head off on a long cycle tour to forget about running for a bit. In 2004 I wore the cartilage away on my femur so had an operation on that which saw me non-weight bearing for two months then a very slow road back to running. I was in my thirties so cross-trained really hard and was able to start racing again a year later at international standard.

“Scotland is my favourite place to run. It’s one of the few places in the world where you have the freedom to run wherever you like.”

In 2015 I had an ankle operation after I ruptured my spring ligament. This injury has taken a long time to recover from and due to my age I’ll never get back to where I was. So now I’m just happy running and have realised I can’t run every day and twice a day like I used to. So the bike supplements a lot of my training, and I’m seeing parts of Scotland I’d never run through before. I’m racing a lot less than I used to but am just happy to still be able to run in the hills.

TGO: Tell us about the 2007 Everest Marathon. How was the experience for you, and what attracted you to the race? What did it take to break the previous record by 14 minutes?

Angela: I’d never trekked in Nepal so decided the best introduction to trekking would be to do the Everest Marathon. I’ve never had a desire to climb Everest so a run back from base camp to Namche suited me fine. I liked the concept of trekking into base camp with the guys you were racing against and acclimatising along the route. I didn’t travel out early to gain any advantage of acclimatising better for the race; I wanted to compete on a level playing field. As far as I was concerned I was just another competitor there for the race and the experience of the Himalayas. The race was always secondary to the trek in. It’s a lottery – many of the competitors fell ill on the trek and some suffered from altitude sickness so weren’t even able to make the start line. For me it was always a case of getting to the start line as healthy as possible.

Jungfrau, 2012

When you start a race at over 5,000m, it’s not a case of going hard from the start line – it’s about setting off at a pace that will ensure you don’t blow up before halfway. I had no expectations and just set off at a pace I was comfortable with I don’t even use my watch to gauge my time. I always run to how I feel, so it was a nice surprise when I finished to find I’d broken the record. I didn’t plan how I was going to race the event, as it was a race into the unknown – I had no idea how long each section would take as I’d only trekked on the route and hadn’t trained on it.

TGO: How do you find the hillrunning at home in Scotland compares with some of the running you’ve done in bigger mountain ranges abroad? Any favourite routes in the Scottish hills?

Angela: Scotland is my favourite place to run. It’s one of the few places in the world where you have the freedom to run wherever you like. I love running on grassy, boggy terrain; having spent my childhood on Dartmoor, bog and tussocks feel like a second home. Scotland has its fair share of bog! Another attraction to Scotland is that you can always get to the top of the mountain, whereas in many of the places I’ve trained abroad, the top involves scaling a glacier or some very unstable rock. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Alps but always look forward to returning home and having the freedom to roam, not be constrained by where the paths will take me or who owns the land. As spectacular as the Dolomites are I always return home loving the wet green landscape.

I’m frequently up the local hills: Ben Ledi, Stuc a’ Chroin, the Ochils and Ben Lomond. On weekends I’ll venture further afield and I love the west coast of Scotland. One of my favourite races is the Scottish Island Peaks Race, which is a combination of running and sailing.

TGO: Do you have any advice for people hoping to get into running at high altitude?

Angela: Try running at a sensible altitude first. Running above 1,500m will have an effect on your performance, so see how you fare at lower altitudes before venturing higher. Your body takes a while to get acclimatised to altitude – anything from ten days to much longer. So it’s best to either arrive ten days before a race at altitude or arrive at the last minute. The body doesn’t have time to try and adapt to the altitude. If you are spending a period running at altitude you have to appreciate it takes a lot more out of your body than running at sea level so you need to do less than normal initially – else you will crash and burn.

angelamudge.co.uk

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