All competitors headed out to the start line on the other side of Khardung la pass on Wednesday morning. The drive took about 5 hrs with numerous roadblocks and stops due to clearing of wall/road collapses on the way down Khardung la due to recent wet weather.
We all arrived at the resort and were given our rooms, greeted by the hosts and given tea and food. We sat around chatting, talking about our past experiences and races and our ideas on the upcoming event, it was such an experience being able to talk to veteran runners that have raced all over the world. We then had dinner and went to bed. The next morning I was up at 6am, got ready for my filming and shoot and completed that by 8am, had breakfast with everyone. I then started double checking my gear and repacking my running vest. I packed my drop bag and was ready.
In my running vest I had 1L of tailwind, 300mls of hammer fizz and EAA's. And 500ml of water. I also had 5 gels, salt tablets, nut bars. I had phone, merino gloves, beanie, space blanket, vest, headlamp, flashing red light, thermal 2xu leggings, ibuprofen, rain jacket, merino thermal top, strapping tape, anti chaff cream and electrical tape
In my drop bag I had 2L of tailwind, 2L of fizz and EAA's, thicker gloves, thermal top, down jacket, thick buff, spare head lamp, spare red light, batteries, course map, tracksuit pants, thermal pants, socks, spare shoes, gels, lollies,
we all had lunch together, then straight after I was in bed with my headphones on, eye mask on and listening to some relaxing meditation for 3 hrs.
At 4pm I was back with the group and we were all loading into vans to go to the start line 5km down the road. We got there and there was a special ceremony before we started, a couple small speeches, lots of photos and we were then lined up ready to go. I had been sipping on water and drank about 650mls before the start gun. The countdown started and we were all off, I hung back with Tim and we crossed the start line together, probably one of the last 5 people or so. After a short 300m warm up run I started increasing my pace and slowly started making my way forward, until I was comfortably travelling at 6 min k's which was 1 minute slower than my original race plan which I had been advised to change from all the veteran runners. Every 4 k there was a chance to grab a quick drink of water from mobile aid stations, I did this without hesitation as it was warm and with the higher altitudes you tend to dehydrate more quickly. When possible I also grabbed 150mls of mountain dew and 2 x 20g snicker bars I felt strong and comfortable and slowly moved my way towards the front of the pack. The scenery was beautiful and made the run a lot more pleasant. The only thing I didn't like was the dust and dry air. I had my thin la ultra buff around my neck and occasionally covered my nose and mouth to restrict the full a amount of dust I could have potentially breathed in and moisten the air as it went to my lungs. By the 20km checkpoint I had peed 3 times and was I feeling great. My mind and body were cruising along perfectly. No niggles, pains or aches.
It quickly got dark, I was not cold at all, and didn't need to change. I was running in my 2xu compression socks, Hoka shoes, 2xu running shorts, 2xu light weight top (very very light), running vest (6kg), and buff. I did not get my headlamp out or stop until the 16km mobile aid station. I continued running right the way through until the 40km checkpoint at Khardung village other than to get my headlamp out at 16km aid station. Wherever possible grabbing 150mls of mountain dew and 2 x 20g snicker bars. I continually sipped on my tailwind from my hydration pack and also over the 40kms consumed my FIZZ and EAA mix. I only drank about 200 mls of my own plain water as I also grabbed this at the mobile aid stations every 4kms.
Recap up to 40km checkpoint. - 150mls of mountain dew at each 4km aid station - 2 x 20g snickers at each mobile aid station - 150mls – 300mls of water at each mobile aid station - consumed the entire Litre of tailwind (200 calories) by 40km checkpoint - consumed my fizz and Essential Amino Acids mix by 40km checkpoint. - HR kept below 155 - about 3 Endurolyte caps and beetroot anti fatigue caps
At 40Km I had a 5-10 minute massage provided by the doctors, After leaving Khardung village the incline started to steepen and my jog slowed down, This is where I started incorporating more walking. As the altitude was getting higher I decided to keep my HR below 140, my breathing was a lot heavier, though I managed to slowly reel in more and more people, overtaking many up the mountain at a fast walking pace. My goal here was to monitor my HR, keep it at an efficient level and just focus on my own race, not to worry about anyone else. I had been warned by all the veterans to not overdo it on this pass as it could lead to acute mountain sickness or worse and bad fatigue on the way down the other side. I reached a major checkpoint next, North Pullu 57kms in, here again I had a small massage and I packed my down jacket into my pack, I refilled my hydration pack with tailwind and my 300ml flask with Fizz and EAA's and also topped up my water. I had a cup of soup, I put on my thermal merino top and under armour thermal top and balaclava. I took out my high vis vest and wet weather pants and jacket and placed them in the drop bag. This stop was my longest so far and took me about 15minutes. Again continuing climbing up the pass I continued to have my 150ml of mountain dew, though I cut my snicker bars down to only 1 per station. I had to go to the toilet once and peed about 3 more times. I reached the top of Khardung La 73kms in at about 520am, just over 11hrs since starting, the way up was not too difficult but not fast either, I was conserving energy and not pushing my HR or breathing rate too high. The view was amazing, the sun was just starting to rise and the colours in the sky were absolutely stunning. I was feeling great. I went in for another massage and also had a cup of soup once again. This stop was about 10minutes. I had made the cut off time easy and had time up my sleeve if needed. I finished my soup and stated down the mountain. I decided to walk the first part until I had descended to below 5000m, as advised to by fellow veterans of this mountain pass. I think I actually walked even lower to about 4900m. I had tiny spurts of running but for no longer than 30s followed by a longer period of walking. Once I was down below 4900m I started increasing my running walking ratio, to favour more and more running as I got lower and lower. On the way down to the next major checkpoint at South Pullu I had needed to go to the toilet 2 times, I was a little concerned as this is not the norm for me, usually I can go a whole 24hr race without needing to go once. Anyhow I continued on my way not changing anything as I felt strong and was feeling good otherwise. I arrived at South Pullu 87kms at about 730-745am. Here my support crew had patiently been waiting for me as I had planned to be there an hour earlier. I informed them I was feeling good and didn't want to stop until the 111km finish line and checkpoint for the longer runners.
By the time I had reached South Pullu, I had had 6 endurolytes and beetroot caps and I had 200mg of ibuprofen at 3.5hrs, 8.5hrs and 11.5hrs into the race. Endurolytes have various salts in them and help with cramping and muscle function. Ibuprofen, I took as a precaution to headaches to do with low oxygen levels at high altitudes.
So I had a quick drink, quick chat and continued on. From here on in my crew could join me. So we arranged they would drive 3kms ahead and wait, each time giving me a quick drink and small amount of food, which still consisted of chocolate and mountain dew or water. 14.5hrs in my garmin watch went flat so I sent some of the crew back to the hotel as they had forgotten my charger. I continued a steady pace to the 111km finish line, rarely stopping, unfortunately looking back I did need to go to the toilet again twice more, which I dint notice at the time as a bad thing. I got to the Shanti Stupa finish line/checkpoint 111km at 10:20am, 16hrs into the race, 7.5 hrs ahead of the cut-off.
I attended to my feet popping blisters, cutting away dead skin, to make the 2nd half of running more pleasant and a little easier. I had some noodles, chocolate, water and watermelon, I had another 10 minute massage, grabbed out my sleeping bag and headphones and had a 25 minute rest trying to cut out all noise and distractions. When my alarm went off and woke me up I had been stopped for about 40 minutes. No 222km runners had come in yet. So I prepared myself got ready and set off. This time Carly came with me to pace walk me for the first 3kms until my body warmed up. It was from about 2kms in disaster struck and my plan to beat the course record started to come to an end. 2Kms down the road I let my pacer jump back in the car, my stomach was growling at me and within 3kms I had needed to go to the toilet 2 more times. I continued staying hydrated and drank lots of water. I continued running but at this stage was finding it difficult to eat. Every time I ate my stomach felt very ill and I was starting to slightly worry, though I kept this from my support team, I didn't want them to think anything bad was happening. All I told them was I didn't enjoy trying to eat and the food wasn't going down too well. I was now on the straight, and in my race plan I had planned to increase speed and running at 5-6 minute k's again. I was now running without running vest as I was supported and could grab a drink from my team every 3kms. Or even sooner if I wanted to. The flat road was painful, my body wasn't functioning properly and I wanted to run but I just couldn't. Every time I ate, or drank anything except water 2minutes later I was squatting behind a rock or wall. I still hadn't told my support crew and at times they wondered why it was taking me 20 minutes (maximum time) to run the 2kms we had agreed upon for them to meet me up the road. My legs were getting heavier and heavier, my speed was slowing down as I couldn't keep any food in, I was losing energy and becoming very lethargic. I was starting to experience extreme pain in my quads and small cramp like feelings which I had never had before. I was getting frustrated and the only thing I could keep down was plain rice and potato. Which was so bland it was making me feel sick cos of the taste and texture. I was getting desperate and didn't know what to do. I was yelling at my crew and I even laid down in a stream to alleviate the pain in my muscles. The cold running water was awesome and I felt so good. It gave me a 2nd wind for about 30 minutes. Then I felt like shit again. I told my crew I needed a medic to come and see me and massage out my cramps in my quads. Not putting 2 and 2 together due to exhaustion this was the result of dehydration from shitting myself every 2 kms. My muslces were shutting down and my speed was becoming a walk now. Eventually the medics got to us at about 4pm, 22hrs into the race, I told them I had gone to the toilet about 30 times and they were in shock I was still moving. I had one thing on my mind and that was beating the course record, so I must had subconsciously just kept going and going trying to obtain my goal. They gave me some medicine, got me to lie down on a small mattress, they massaged my aching body for 10 minutes then ordered me to close my eyes and have a 45 minute lay down. Which I did. The sleep was good. I woke up to a bunch of cute little school kids all around me curious as to why there were 3 cars, 6 guys in fluro vests and me laying on the ground with headphones in and a cover over my face to block out the sun. The kids wee awesome and I could feed off their good vibes and absorb some of their energy. I got up and set off again, this time the medics stayed upfront with us and I had a fresh pacer. We slowly ran at about 7-8 minute pace for the next 16kms then the medics had to leave us and I started to slow down again, I again started feeling terrible. It was now dark, and I was frustrated and said to my team, I'm stopping right here and sleeping for 30 minutes. I cant go on, they said please just make it to the guesthouse its only 16kms away, but I blatantly refused. I refused to move any more and stopped, my crew couldnt motivate me to keep going. They pulled out the mattress, cooking utensils, sleeping bag and food, and it was there 1m away from the edge of a cliff I stopped and covered myself inside my sleeping bag headphones on and closed my eyes to the world. I was woken by noise a short time later. It was the race officials, they had turned up and wondered what we were doing stopped where we were, in hindsight it was a little dangerous and probably not the best place to stop but I was feeling shit and didn't care. I got up and we chatted had a bit of a laugh then it was decided I would make my way to Serthi, where the guesthouse was, another major checkpoint 171kms into the race. I could rest here and have a sleep if I wanted. So I got my gear on, the crew packed up and we set off at a walking pace. The guesthouse was about 18kms away. And when u have already travelled over 150kms walking 18kms feels like walking around the entire world! During the next 18kms I was still unable to eat properly. Some of crew had gone off to get some delicious traditional food, including momo and noodles. I now had a pacer again and my film guy outside walking as well. We had sticks and rocks to fight off any crazy dog packs that tried attacking us, and yes I am being for real. Its amazing watching them in the shadows they are so stealthy and I could imagine one of them sneaking up and attacking me, probably without any of us noticing, they attack in packs. The sticks tend to keep them at bay, and the rocks u throw in their direction to scare them off when u see them. This was by far one of the toughest parts of the race, I was spent, I couldn't eat properly and I was out of energy, in my original race plan I should have been at the top of Wari La the final pass and well and truly on the way to finishing the race. But I was only about 165kms in, with about 60ks still to go, my dreams of shattering the record had ended a good 8hrs earlier. My mind was in a dark place and I had thoughts of stopping and just sleeping there on the spot on the dirt. We all stopped and I tried eating some momos, they actually went down really well and I probably could have eaten 5 or 6 of them but the person who served them to my crew – Angdu, had put chilli sauce in the same bag, and it exploded. So our momo's were covered in chilli, and man this chilli was hot, not one of us could enjoy the food. I got down 2 momo's. One had no chilli on it as it was in the corner off the bag, but he 2nd, OMG, it burnt my mouth like no tomorrow! Fu#@ it was so HOT. Everyone had what they could and we continued on. This road kept going and going and I had doubts in my mind we were heading the right way. Kilometre markings were out and my garmin watch was saying different to the road markings. I was getting angry and frustrated, I was so tired and exhausted, often arguing at my pacer to slow down, how would they feel if they were in my shoes and had travelled 160kms already and were trying to keep up. These are all the things you think about and argue about with no sleep and complete exhaustion from sickness. We eventually got to a small junction, I thought we were finally at the guesthouse. The maps and markings were confusing, no one really knew where to go, we tried contacting the medics and they thought we were in a different spot. Eventually I cracked it. I said fu#$ it, I'm sleeping on that dirt over there. Everyone was tired and arguing, we were all tired and had all been awake for a long time now. My crew eventually agreeing to stake out – I could put a marking on the road and leave the course. To come back later and continue off from the same spot. The only issue was we thought we were in a different spot 2kms further ahead. I jumped in the crew car and we went searching for the guesthouse. Hahaha yep we found it 2kms away, towards the last Mountain pass. Which meant I had to go back 2kms in the morning and start behind, further back from where we currently were resting. I was so tired, my crew mentioned lets go back and walk it now so I dont have to when I wake up, I snapped at them and told them where to go. We got to the guesthouse I found an empty bed and headed straight to it. I argued with my crew they wanted me to have 3hrs sleep, I said if anyone overtakes me I will be so pi$$ed off, they all said dont worry no one is anywhere near you, you have a big big lead, I kept disagreeing, and they eventually agreed to a 2hr sleep instead of 3, I was out like a light as soon as I
The alarm went off it was 330am, I fell back asleep and my back up alarm startled me a few minutes later. So lucky I set 2 alarms, I was knackered, I moved and tried to get up, my joints had seized. I could hardly do anything, my right knee was in agony. We got the doctors to come in, they got me on the floor and helped me with massaging and getting me mobile again. The stretches and movements hurt so much, I decided to have 400mg of ibuprofen to help me get started. I had been sipping water before I went to sleep so I wasn't to badly dehydrated. One of the medics checked my feet, they were all good, so I got ready and dressed, this time changing shoes to my older hokas, and I headed back to the crew car. We started heading back to where I had staked out and thats when I cracked it big time. We come up to a runner, they had passed my stake and were now ahead of me, I was so angry and mad, I was not happy, I said a few words to my crew about making me sleep too long and I had told them it was a stupid idea. We got to the stake and shit there was another runner. I jumped out of the car and started walking. After 500m I felt warmer and the Adrenalin was pumping. I told my crew if they were to speak to anyone to tell them I had 6hrs sleep and a big feed and was feeling awesome, this of course was a lie, I was feeling pretty awful still, but I wanted to create the illusion I was fine and rested. It was then I started picking up the pace and running. 6 minute pace up to the guesthouse. Here we found out the lead runner had stopped, so I regained the lead. I had time to think and be by myself, I refocused and reminded myself the race was in fact between me and the mountains, not some other guy. This was a race against ones self, a battle in the mind. I continued up the hill. Drinking plenty of water but not much else, I was terrified I would upset my stomach again, so it wasn't long before I was out of energy and running on empty. I just kept going and going, reminding myself of all the shit I had overcome in my life and it wasn't that much at all, to walk and occasionally jog. In fact if that's all I had to do to finish the race, life is actually pretty easy.
So I continued up the pass, Wari La was long and had many many switchbacks, it seemed like it went forever, looking off into the distance towards the top looked like an eternity away. I was still running on empty still unable to eat comfortably. The meds the doctors had given me had blocked me up so I no longer had to worry about crapping myself. I had started eating tiny tiny amounts of food and just trudged up the pass slowly. I was almost at the top when I realised someone was slowly closing in on me. Looking down the pass I realised they were about 3-5kms away, so I had about an hour lead on them. My hard work in the first 111km had given me a big enough lead to be sick and stuff up a lot. I was lucky for that. I was grateful I could see down upon everyone coming up the pass to. It looked quite amazing watching all those runners weaving their way up the mountain side. Also knowing I had less oxygen than those below gave me some comfort. I knew they would slow down as they ascended higher and higher. Still though I told my crew how close they were and I rarely stopped and if I did it was for a few minutes rather than tens of minutes. I got to the last km marker before hitting the top of the mountain and it read 1km, obviously. I was so excited and relieved, after this I no longer had to climb higher in altitude. This pass was high and I had started to feel the difficulty in breathing about 700m lower than where we currently were at over 5200m above sea level. This also gave me extra comfort looking down at the guy slowly ascending I reminded myself he was in a more oxygen rich environment. I was heading to the turn around point, my film crew were instructing me on the shots they wanted at the top and on the way to it. Glimpsing at my garmin I noticed the last km marking was so far off it wasnt funny. I got to the top in a fluster and was frustrated the last km had in fact been over 2kms and I didn't want to stuff around at the top, looking back I wish I had spent 5 minutes enjoying the views, but oh well, lesson learned. I told the film guys to hurry up and I wasn't co-operating the best, I exchanged some unpleasant words with my crew and said we were heading back down now. People were congratulating me and saying well done, but in my eyes I was still 19kms from the finish line and the race wasn't over yet.
I started jogging and walking back down, I wanted to make more of a lead on 2nd place. I ended up passing him at the final km marking I mentioned above. It was Tim, an awesome guy and in fact if he toughed it out and overtook me, I wouldn't have minded as much, as he would have deserved it and we had become mates. We stopped for about 3 minutes and had a chat and I said that the marker was wrong and its about 2ks to the top, he said he already knew as he had been there a week earlier checking out the route. I said good luck we had some photos then we left in our opposite directions. I ran the next 2km as I knew he could look down on me, I was to give the impression I was strong and fine, which in fact I felt tired and exhausted. On the way down I almost fell asleep numerous times while walking, which could have been a disaster. I tried eating more, I had a spoon of honey every 2-3kms and 1 mouthful of coke, this was enough to fuel me, just. I made my way SLOWLY down the mountain, not often going any faster than walking speed, I was mostly on my own. We got down to about 12kms to go, I changed my shoes and socks had a small feed of different foods, which was actually unsuccessful. So stuck to my honey and coke. I laid down, with my feet up to release the swelling and get the blood flowing away from my ankles. 20 minutes later I was again heading back down. I had a pacer from here to the finish line, I also had 2 medics walking with us getting some exercise themselves. We kept hearing the finish line was close, at times it was 5kms then someone would say 10kms, I was again getting a little frustrated and tired. I just wanted a number so I knew when this death march would be over! I kept walking, my feet were in pain, my mind knew the end was near which I think can make it worse as you start feeling all the niggles and blisters, and physiologically your body starts decided its the end and wants to give up even more and more, as each metre goes by. We had travelled 10kms, Tim was behind about 2kms or so but I was never worried, I knew now if I had to I could jog a bit and get away in front, but I power walked more doing about 9-10 minute kms and could see the distance increasing between us. It was now I was frustrated once again – exhaustion and lack of sleep can do that to you, I told my crew to drive ahead and measure the distance to the end. The came back shortly, it was 2.2 kms away. Finally. After completing 220kms it was so near. I had been worried on the way down I may twist or hurt my feet as the slope down is often harder than the slope up, especially when you are so tired. I realised now even if I did hurt myself I could crawl to the finish and still finish ahead. The whole way down I had power walked and wasn't feeling too bad. I knew I had some left in the tank for any emergency that may arise. Its funny how knowing distances can sometimes be bad. Honestly the last 2kms felt like about 10. we walked around the corner and finally our crew car was in sight. I had made it. I was at the end. I had a quick discussion with my film crew and was instructed to run to the finishing tape following the car, they would film me crossing the line. Everyone was tired there were some arguments but we got there in the end. I crossed the line about 46.5hrs in and I finished. I had 1.5hrs to spare, my dreams of shattering the record were destroyed with my stomach issues, but my goal to complete the event was a success and what was even better was I still managed to cross that line first, even with all the setbacks. People ask how it feels to finish the race and win it. I dunno. Its a relief. It feels good to have accomplished such a feat. But then at the finish line, I was standing there, and thinking that's great, but hats next.? I got into running for my mental health, I have never been fitter mentally or physically in my whole life, I enjoy running, it gives me focus and keeps life interesting. The places I get to travel and the people I get to meet, its an amazing experience and the people are all awesome and have such great stories to share. I know I have been through lot, and use running as my form of meditation and flow, it doesn't always work, but when it does there is no better feeling in the world. So I finish this race, the race that many professional athletes have looked into and said no way, its a crazy race they would never do it. Running at that altitude is unknown, it could be dangerous, even deadly. Now I'm left here trying to decide whats next. What will be my next BIG challenge?
Thanks to all the officials, volunteers, medical crew, and support crew for such an amazing experience. This is by far one of the biggest challenges I have ever faced, and thanks for giving me the opportunity to complete it. Thanks to my support and film crew and the doctors that were out running with me Craig, Sri, Ajay, Kirtik, Tashi, Carly, Angdu. Thanks heaps guys!