Trail Running in the Nepal Himalayas (with video)

After a few weeks of slow group trekking, acclimatizing to the high altitude and losing about 15 pounds using the very effective dysentery diet, I was aching to get out on my own and run these amazing Himalayan trails.  I checked with our group leader and head guide privately and received permission to take my life in my own hands and embark on a run from Namche at about 11,500 feet to Lukla at about 9,000 feet covering nearly 13 miles.  This stretch took our group two days and about 15 hours on the way to Base Camp, and it was supposed to be one of the easier days on the return trip.  It was the last trekking day and was listed in the itinerary as a 7-8 hour hike.

After some group drama and discussion, and with the head guide deeming it unsafe to run the night before, I woke up determined to go, breaking out the running shorts, trail shoes and gaiters and ready to defy the head guide's advice because I have never been good with being told what to do.  I ate a quick breakfast of porridge and a hard-boiled egg, spoke clandestinely with the group leader and set out alone on the trail.

Due to the drama, I took the initial steep descent much more carefully than I normally would have because I really didn't want a twisted ankle and an "I told you so" from the guide.  The trails varied from crude stone steps, to smooth dirt, to slick rocks and streams.  It ended with a seemingly never-ending stair and rock climb into the airstrip town of Lukla.

Along the way, I passed porters carrying a few hundred pounds on their backs, over bouncy suspension bridges, yaks and the dung that goes along with them, and people staring at the crazy runner and asking "marathon?" because the Everest marathon was later that month, and I just shook my head no because, for the most part, I couldn't catch my breath enough to give a coherent answer.  I passed some kids walking to school and was impressed that they could just pick up and run with me, laughing, racing, and enjoying the trail that they walk every day.  I stopped halfway in Phakding and downed some chicken curry, rice and tea at one of the more scenic aid stations I have passed through.  I wanted to run through, but the owner of the lodge wouldn't hear of it, he jumped out in front of me on the trail, asking if I was with the big group, and wouldn't let me pass until I ate.  I was glad I did, because the curry tasted great and I'm sure I needed the salt and the caffeine.  It was slow going after that, with a lot of uphill and a stomach-full of curry, so I ended up walking the uphills and jogging the flats and the downhills when they weren't too steep and rocky.

Towards the end I talked to a local girl who I had passed earlier, and she caught up to me on the steep and long climb to Lukla.  She taught me some Nepalese and I could tell she wanted to practice her English.  She was walking to the hospital in Lukla because she was sick and everyone walks everywhere in the Himalayas.  Her name was Khumbila, like the sacred mountain in Nepal, the mountain no one is allowed to climb.  She walked up the hill, keeping a steady pace, encouraging me to keep up, teaching me slowly, slowly, in Nepalese, but in the end I was too slow.  I passed under the Lukla welcoming arch and crudely painted sign reading "Enjoy Your Trek" three and a half hours after leaving Namche.  I sat there at the base of the arch, massaging the cramps out of my legs, recovering at the same spot that I passed under a couple of weeks before, not realizing the beauty, the suffering and the change the experience would bring.




Along the river

Nepal aid station

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