Friday, December 9, 2011

nepal ultra 250 - the pitts's story

Racing the planet does 4 desert races each year: antartica, gobi, atacama, and the sahara. In addition there is one roving race - in 2011 the choice for the 5th was Nepal. The 6 days consist of a marathon a day with 2 on the 5th day. In sum the total vertical is just under 10k meters with most of the up and down found on stones cut into the side of the mountains. This makes for dangerous going early in the morning as the dew pools atop the rocks making the surface worse than a saskatchewan skating rink - in addition the spacing can be deep making for extreme pressure on unprepared knees. I played witness to an unfortunate flat lander who despite his ironman tattoo, rolled off the course in front of me holding a snapped i.t. band. The race is entirely self supported which means you must pack your own food (one must prove 2k calories per day), sleeping stuff, and whatever else you consider important to surviving, what is provided by racing the planet is water (every 10k) and tents.
Nepal, while being undeniably beautiful, is also in the sub tropics and as such - is the perfect place for baddy germs or bits of disease fueled vermin. The mountains are dotted with villages and no matter how remote you think you are, the familiar waft of open sewage comes trickling by throwing ones senses back to the dark congested ally ways of Delhi. Nepal, my old doctor friend Calvin warned before i left, is the dirties cesspool on earth - disinfect at every opportunity. So i did.
Emphasis is on keeping ones pack as light as possible - one would be amazed at the number of blogs, chatrooms and the like devoted to ultra light backcountry gear. My 32 liter osprey weighted in at all of 8.2 kilos. Simone opted for a few comforts (wool booties for sub zero nights, a camera, and slightly more food as she planned to be on her feet more than me). The key to getting through the race which averages a 50% drop out is somewhat whats in your engine - but more - how your skeleton holds up (knees, turned ankles, blisters, backs). The unforeseen knock out punch in Nepal was a gastro-intestinal bug that ripped through camp putting 50% of the participants in a 24 hour tizzy of vomitting - soupy runs - and shivers. Remember, that all this sickness comes at a time where you are racing to meet cut off times and spend as little time on your feet as possible given that blisters are what keep most athletes from continuing. An example of one of my more admired pieces of equipment is "my feathered friend" sleeping bag coming in at under one pound and good until -3c, which i buttressed with a silk liner giving me an additional 5 degrees. I ordered this bag from Seattle as it has an almost cult like following amongst the climbing community - the guy whom i spoke with over the phone lectured me for 30 minutes on my gear choices - love that guy and love that store.
Simone and I agreed to both go at our separate pace - however the second day she woke up doubled over with the bug so my job was squarely and uniquely to get her over the line. Despite her friends telling her that it wasn't worth the effort given she had 2,800 meters of climbing ahead of her in +32 weather - she put her head down and plowed ahead. This made for a challenging marital dynamic: remembering its my wife that was near death so compassion need be demonstrated - yet coming to grips with the AAA nature of a competitive middle aged canadian beast i obviously didn't want my race to come an abrupt end, sick wife or no sick wife - thus the delicate balance began. Pausing after the first hour to projectile vomit which funneled out on a 5 foot arc, it was obvious the day was going to be eventful. The puke pauses became our hourly ritual until later in the afternoon when, the odd bit of bile aside, the condition degenerated into dry heaves that would scare any freshman at chico state. She keep her calories up by licking GU gels and nibbling at lance's own honey waffle stingers. After crossing a 200m swinging bridge over the most striking deep gurgling gorge - the end of the day was in sight and she trotted into camp with 30 minutes to spare. Our tent mates, and other friends ripped her pack off - got her mat and sleeping bag set up, and warmed some beef broth with dried noodles which she had thoughtfully brought as a one day alternative to dehydrated expedition food. By 6:15 she was snoring away with a double imodium dose - waking up 12 hours later feeling somewhat fresh and ready to race. God bless my wife - so strong. Below is a shot of her at the start of our day together - i love the way the picture oozes pale pain.
The week really pivoted on the 85km day. Containing 3,500 meters of up and down - its estimated that one will burn 15-17k calories. For a posterity, a picture of our "game faces" morning of the biggie.
I paced the day with a pal of mine Ali who was on his 3rd ultra so he knew what to expect and we worked together entering camp around 11 at night after our 7 am start. Very much a consistent slog with us running the flats and the downs until night hit where we marched at about 5km per hour under headlight. Never having put that much strain on my legs before - getting to sleep despite being bushed - was a challenge as my quads wouldn't stop quivering and i felt real water retention on my left shin which wasn't as achey as it was pulsing a heavy gooey sensation. Simone came in with her crew in just about 24 hours to the minute. Incredibly her laughing as she came across the line was what woke me up - and all smiles - blister free - she silently downloaded and slept until late morning.
The final day was an easy flat 16k run back into Pokhara - where pizza and beer were waiting for us - pictures were snapped, people hugged and most felt a certain sense of achievement - and i just sat - content but without the tingle that i used to get racing the bike - i would describe the feeling as a nice warm thud. Would i do a race like this again - absolutely. No question if i don't have a race to train for, a well articulated goal with a tangible chance of failure to scare - i lack the intensity and drive to maintain what i consider an acceptable level of condition which ultimately insulates us all from growing old where it matters most - in the mind. The happy clear minded couple um ziel.