Saturday, 24 November 2007

Givin' out gear

I have been having such good fun at work (Let's Play) the past 3-weeks. Just before I returned from India a container load of secondhand sports equipment, from the Gear Up Our Kids campaign run in April in association with Mr Price, was dropped off at our offices. I volunteered to deal with the gear - sorting, counting and distributing.

It took four days - with assistance from some Wits students - to work through the boxes of tennis and squash racquets, cricket pads, rugby balls, shin pads and tons of other discarded equipment. Most of the gear is good for a lot more use; we threw out anything that was really trashed.

The atrium in our Supersport office looked like a tornado had swept through...

We have no shortage of avenues to donate the equipment as there are just so many sports programmes, communities and schools who have absolutely nothing.

What I find really astounding is that schools insist that the children have their own gear, which many parents just cannot afford and so the child is then unable to participate. Take cricket for example: I looked online to check out prices and my jaw dropped. When you add up a mid-range bat, pads and gloves you're looking at R4,000. For a parent only earning R8,000pm (or less) this is out of range.

I've also had emails about children who cannot play rugby because the school, in a low income area - insists that they have rugby jerseys and boots. These children are under the age of 15. Why does the school not introduce touch rugby instead of full contact?

When I was in primary school I played netball. The school had bibs and skirts, which we would use for games and then return afterwards. I keep questioning why schools do not have a range of cricket pads, bats, gloves and helmets for the children to use during practises and games. Judging from the amount of excellent quality equipment we received, many children (and adults) do not stick with sports (and they grow out of the equipment too).

Nonetheless, the equipment that was donated to Let's Play is going out to places where it will be treasured. In general, we give equipment to programmes where it can be shared, not to individuals.

As runners and adventure racers, we all go through a pair or two of shoes a year. Most are still useable - maybe not for a 200km adventure race, but certainly for playing. Ugene Nel will have a box at his Quantum Adventures events in the Cape for your old running shoes. We will do the same at AR Club in Joburg. Keep this in mind before you throw out your old run and trail shoes. We'll take them. Please tie the shoelaces together before putting your shoes in the boxes.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Fiennes validates Scott

A few weeks ago I read my best Antarctic expedition book yet; and I have a fabulous collection of Arctic and Antarctic expedition books.

Ranulph Fiennes has written a gem. "Race to the Pole" details Captain Robert Scott's polar experiences and, of course, his tragic 1911 race to the pole (which was not the Amundsen-Scott 'pole at all costs' race it has been made out to be).

Scott's reputation was trashed by William Huntford in his "Scott and Amundsen" book where he made Scott out to be a moron who didn't know what he was doing (use of horses, the depot saga, the skiing issue) and that his death was due to poor planning.

On the contrary, Scott was thorough in his preparations and planning. His return trip from the pole was doomed by unpredictably disastrous weather conditions that brought extreme cold rarely encountered in the region.

Fiennes has man-hauled across the continent and as such is the only Scott biographer to have been there, done that and got the frostbite. Fiennes understands polar exploration and his insights and experiences blow life into this century-old story of bravery and adventure.

This book is well-written, fluent and gripping, as we'd expect from Fiennes. If you have an interest in the Antarctic and polar expeditions, this book is an essential read.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Sightseeing; Agra and Delhi

We spent most of the Friday (2 November) travelling back to Delhi. First the flight from Bagdogra to Delhi and then an hour taxi trip from the airport (trip takes less than 15-minutes in no traffic) to our hotel The Ashok. This is a lovely 5-star hotel (the only one) in New Delhi, surrounded by embassies (thank you India Tourism).

I was now with another 4 journalists, Britta, Mane, Klaus and Duncan, (hosted by India Tourism) and we would be going the next morning on a sightseeing trip to Agra (nearby city) to see the Taj Mahal. We would leave the hotel at 07h00 and had been told that the trip would take 4-hours.

Correction friends... in this overpopulated place with more traffic than I have EVER seen in my life it takes 6-hours. The secret to travelling in these places is to travel between 23h00 and 05h30... An alternative is to take the train, which leaves Delhi at 06h00. The trip takes 2.5hrs. BUT, it only leaves Agra at 21h00. The runners were booked on this option and like us, they were exhausted when they finally got back to the hotel.

We slept a lot of the way but when awake there was lots to look at; crowds of people, overloaded bicycles, overloaded tuk-tuks, camels pulling massive loads and crazy drivers.

The Taj itself is suitably impressive, especially when you consider the years (22 of them) of construction and the manpower required to build this massive mausoleum. Taj is a symbol of love, built in memory of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan's favourite wife (she died giving birth to their 14th child). What is interesting to know is that this wife was one of 4; in addition he also had some 750 concubines... Construction started in 1631.

This favourite wife is buried in the centre of the Taj. Two others wife are buried in other mausoleum's withing the Taj complex. Our guide said the 4th is buried elsewhere.

We only got there around 13h00 and were swamped by other tourists. It is best to be at the gates at the crack of dawn. Yes, the sky is as hazy as it looks in the picture. I asked our guide whether they ever see the sun. He said this was fog and that it is worse towards December. I'm betting on it being mostly pollution.

We were then taken to a place to see how the semi-precious stone is inlaid into the white marble (a la Taj). When we were taken into the show-room we were told, "No pressure to buy". These people don't know what no pressure is. While I can admire the handiwork, a big marble inlaid tabletop for US$6,000 is not my thing.

Our guide then took us to another place with carpets, pashminas and more inlaid marble. Surrounded by more "No pressure" salesmen we all turned around and walked out, keen to start travelling back to Delhi. The trip back took about 5-hours and we were bombed.

On Sunday morning we were booked for a sightseeing trip in Delhi.

Our first stop was the massive Jama Masjid, the principle mosque in Old Delhi (we were not allowed to take photos without payment). The mosque was commissioned by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan (same dude as the Taj Mahal). Construction was completed in 1656.

Next we went to the Delhi Fort (aka Red Fort - completed in 1648). Again we see the name of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. The fort was the palace for his new capital (old one was in Agra). This is an impressive red sandstone walled construction that encloses the palaces. There used to be a hundred-odd palaces within the walls. Although they were looted in the 1700's, four-fifths were destroyed by the British in 1857. They built ugly baracks within the walls, which still stand.

This photo shows one of Shah Khan's palaces. As it stands it is a plain, white marble structure with some inlaid floral designs. Go back 350-years and you would have seen ceilings covered in gold leaf, gem stones and mirrors. Interior fountains were fed by perfumed water channels (which also cooled the palaces in summer) and the water would have reflected off the ceiling.

Carpets would have hung over the big arches, replaced by the finest muslin fabrics in summer. Picture colourful carpets and cushions inside... Then add a few hundred beautiful concubines and you've got quite an establishment.

Next stop was Humayun's Tomb, a complex of buildings of Mughal architecture in New Delhi. Humayun was a Mogul Emperor (before Sher Khan) and his tomb was built on orders of his widow. Construction was started in 1562. There are also other tombs within this complex.

We stopped briefly at the Ghandi memorial, where an eternal flame burns.

Next we went to another World Heritage Site, the Qutb Complex. This complex contains numerous monuments and buildings. The most famous is the Qutub Minar, a 72.5m tall brick tower, "the tallest brick minaret in the world, and an important example of Indo-Islamic Architecture".

A mosque, built in the late 1100's is also within this complex. The mosque was built on the site of a Jain temple, which was destroyed; only the iron pillar was left and the new mosque was built around it. This makes for quite interesting reading (click on the Qutb Complex link).

The pillar is a metallurgical curiosity as it has withstood corrosion for the last 1600 years. "The pillar is made of 98% wrought iron of pure quality. It has been confirmed that the temperatures required to form such kind of pillars cannot be achieved by combustion of coal. The pillar is a testament to the high level of skill achieved by ancient Indian iron smiths in the extraction and processing of iron. The pillar's unusually good corrosion resistance appears is due to a high phosphorus content, which promotes the formation of a solid protective passivation layer of iron oxides and phosphates, rather than the non-protective, cracked rust layer that develops on most ironwork."

These World Heritage Sites (Delhi Fort, Humayun's Tomb and Qutb Complex) cover substantial land areas in Delhi and they are truly located in the heart of the city. It was also very encouraging to see a lot of maintenance and restoration happening at each site.

As for Delhi... the city is crazy. There are almost 18-million inhabitants, some 8 million cars and it is a busy, dirty place. Litter, spitting, ablutions... I don't even know where you'd start to clean the place up. While it is certainly interesting, I don't think I'd like to spend any amount of time there; the quieter mountains are a far more pleasing place to me.

All in all, India is a fabulous place and I've only been to a fraction of this large country. The run is a gentle initiation to India and the mountain areas and my brief city tours were good introductions to the Indian cities. My trip to India was a wonderful experience and I'd definitely go back.

Finally, my thanks and appreciation to Mr C.S. Pandey (www, Mr Shaw from our India Tourism office in Joburg and Mr. Sidharat Bodwal from India Tourism in Delhi. Your warmth and hospitality enriched my experience of your country.

Lisa, with journo friends, pictured in the ruins of the Jain temple in the Qutb Complex.

I have posted photos on Flickr,with descriptions.

Running in India - Stage 5

Stage 5 - Palmajua to Maneybhanjang
Date: Thursday, 1 November 2007
Distance: 27.2km
My run time: 03:19*
Accumulative Ascent: 700m
Accumulative Descent: 672m
* First man, Emlyn Christie (UK), 2:12; First woman, Elin Wright (Norway), 02:44

This last stage would be, like Stage 4, a no-brainer. Tar road, up first and then down to the finish. We started with a steep ascent (great for a warmup) - we gained 600m over about 7km. After reaching the small settlement and full aid station at the top it would be downhill all the way to the finish.
This is a very lush, forested area and the land to the side of the road drops away steeply; so steep that you can't even sneak into the bushes on the roadside!

The only notable element from this stage was the little brown mole I saw running across the road; cute little critter.

Little children lined the road at the finish in Maneybhanjang, waving little Indian flags and runners already in cheered those finishing. A festive atmosphere and a good finish to this 5-day race.

A view of Maneybhanjang - about 1km before the finish

Again food was in abundance (rice, dhal, naan and a stew/curry), which we ate while waiting for our buses to depart for Mirik.

Back at Mirik we got showered and cleaned up before the prize giving ceremony and dinner. We all received trophies (with our names on!) and also certificates for having completed Day 3's Everest Challenge Marathon. A nice ending the the event.

With breakfast from 07h00, we could sleep in. The buses would depart for Badgodra around 09h30. Zzzzz time again.

The entire race profile. Lots of ascents and descents!

Photos from my trip are posted on Flickr. I have included a description with each image.

Running in India - Stage 4

Stage 4 - Rimbik to Palmajua

Date: Wednesday, 31 October 2007
Distance: 21km
My run time: 02:17 *
Accumulative ascent: 522m
Accumulative descent: 446m
* First man, Emlyn Christie (UK), 1:33; First woman, Elin Wright (Norway), 01:55

Stage 4 started in the most fantastic weather. Being at around 2,000m it was considerably warmer than up in the mountains and the morning was sunny and clear. Today's stage was like a bowl - steep down, flat across the bottom and then steep up again.

Most of the field sped off from the start. Again I took the first few kays a little more gently to give my quads time to warm up. The road bombed down from the start, the snaking road dotted by runners. Then it levelled out and I thoroughly enjoyed this lengthy section of pure running. I set a good pace to make up time before the ascent, which I would inevitably walk (as I'd done with all the other steep ascents).

The flattish section was fabulous and all around we were watched by villa residents. Seems like the area is quite a cement making / rock crushing area. Like the rivers around Bagdogra (were we flew into from Delhi), the rivers have been pillaged for stones and piles of rounded river stones and crushed stones line the already narrow streets. We ran past a rock crushing machine and also many old women hammering rocks by hand.

As you may know, we've had a cement shortage in Joburg (maybe whole of SA?) due to lots of new construction, Gautrain etc. We import from India and as I ran past these piles of river stones and old women squatting over their stones I could only think that our demand for cement (and also that of other countries) is what has propogated this environmental destruction. Sure, it is employment for the locals and cement has to come from somewhere... but I'd rather the stones were in the rivers. Same kind of thing as dopey-eyed cattle and a succulent steak; everything has to come from somewhere.

Most of the people were friendly, especially if I greeted then first with "Namaste". One fellow shouted to me, "What country?".

"South Africa," I replied, making a cricket batting motion. This was met by cheers and laughter from the man and his many friends.

Although South Africa is well-known in India for cricket, we were certainly fresh in their minds after hosting the new Pro 20 World Cup shortly before the race. India won. This was the first time that I've ever watched cricket (I even went to the opening match) and I've become a 20-overs fan; I'm especially a fan of the Indian team and their captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

Crossing the river, we began the steep,winding ascent to Palmajua. There were a few houses on the road sides but for the most part the road is bordered by forest - some natural, some pine plantations. We ascended over 500m in about 7km.

I think that Palmajua is more of a district than a town as there was not much settlement. Our buses were waiting to take us back to Rimbik for the night (no accommodation at Palmajua).

Being a short stage day, I walked down and up Rimbik's road (there is only one), peeking at the stores and checking out the people. Strolling slowly it took me about 10-minutes to cover the place.

We were in for much excitement that night, for Pandey's Cultural Evening. He had requested that runners from each represented country prepare a song or dance. I'd been warned about this pre-race and had thought that a sokkie / langarm demo with Christo would go down well. Unfortunately Christo, although Afrikaans, doesn't dance. I had brought a piece of Karoo / W. Cape guitar music with me (from David Kramer's Karoo Kitaar Blues CD), which we did play for the audience.

In total we had 5 South African runners (me, Christo, David, Daksha and Julia). I was the only Joburger - the others hail from Cape Town. And I'm sad to say that amongst us we have very little tradition. Usual South Africn things like gumboot dancing, shosholoza and toyi-toyi are not whitie culture. Sokkie, Sarie Marais and such songs are not my culture either as an English South African lass. We were quite alarmed that we couldn't think of anything traditional to us.

We ended up telling the audience about the diversity of South African culture and languages. We told them about braais and our hot, sunny Christmas holidays spent at the poolside. And also of our rugby and cricket prowess. After our presentation I did have a really good idea (too late unfortunately). I should have introduced the audience to wonderful South Africanisms like takkie, ja, lekker, eish, vrot, just-now, now-now and koppie. Unfortunately I missed the boat on this one.

As for the other countries... there were some songs, bullfighting (Spanish), sumo wrestling (Japanese) and other festive displays. The people from Rimbik played traditional instruments and sang. Even Pandey's crew sang a popular Hindu song and Pandey sang a traditional love song. The country to certainly win hands-down would be the Austrians and their English rendition of a song; "An Austrian went a yodelling in the mountains so high". It is the same kind of thing as "There was an old lady who swallowed a fly" only each addition has an action and sound effects.

This cultural evening was really good fun and was a lovely inclusion in the event.

After dinner we headed off to bed. In the morning we would be transported by bus to Palmajua (where we finished today's stage) for the start of the final stage so we would have to wake up early.

Running in India - Stage 3

Stage 3 - Sandakphu to Rimbik
Date: Tuesday, 30 October 2007
Distance: 42km (more like 48km)
My run time: 07:42 *
Accumulative ascent: 1,104m
Accumulative descent: 2,727m
* First man, Miguel Gomes (Spain), 4:31; First woman, Elin Wright (Norway), 05:40

Day dawned on our sleepy Sandakphu settlement and while my tummy had made it through the night intact, my room-mate's hadn't. Britta (UK, from Fell Runner magazine) had been up three times during the night and as our in-house Asian loo was dysfunctional, she'd had to sneak outside. Liz (Runner's World UK) and Catherine (journo) came through to our room to see how I was doing and to confess that their constitutions were in a similar situation. Apparently the toilet door in the bigger dorms opened-and-closed the whole night.

Although I wasn't feeling up to it, I managed to get down 1.5 bowls of oats and a banana. After two loo stops I was as ready for the start as I would ever be; a bit drained but certainly lighter on my feet.

Cloud cover was high and so only little of Kanchenjunga was showing; the bonus of spending two days on the section from Sandakphu to Molle gave us an extra chance to see the mountain. Fortunately yesterday had been crystal clear so our mountain-spotting requirements had been fulfilled already. It was also a bit colder so again I was wearing tights and a light-weight long sleeved top - perfect if you keep moving.

I was definitely a bit skittish on the first downhill - my thighs were a bit stiff from the previous day and they needed gentle warming up. I made a pit stop just before the first full aid station at 8km and that would be it for me - I had rapidly recovered (I still think my "Hennops Belly" from the AR sprint in early October had conveyed resistance as many runners were unwell for days). But although my tummy was now settled, I battled bouts of nausea. Still, I kept eating... slowly. It took me an hour to make my way through a 70g fruity energy bar!

Road to Phalut

I took the first section easy, reaching Molle only 8-minutes slower than the previous day. The section from Molle to Phalut (fah-loot) was again an out-and-back; never my favourite kind of course because you know what is waiting for you on the return route. I met up with Christo Snyman (fellow South African) just before Phalut. Britta (my roomie) was close behind. We joined each other on the last uphill on the return to Molle and split again on the descent.

After checking in at the Molle aid station we started the dreaded descent. The first part was not terribly steep and on a good dirt road surface. We then got onto those "steps" made when logs are placed across the trail to bank it up. But the path had eroded inbetween the logs so there was a bit of a dip. We then got onto more eroded trails and ruts - absolutely divine stuff! I moved ahead of Britta when she stopped at an aid station to get some water down; this was where the really fun section began.

This scary downhill section was actually my most favourite part of the whole race; this was the only part of the 5-day route that was actually on trails. The surrounding jungle was incrediblly dense and lush (up on the mountains the vegetation is mostly grass with scattered trees; more trees lower down). The uneven trail had me bounding between and on top of ruts, checking for the red painted route marker arrows and pink ribbons along the way. I started to catch runners.

A quick comment about competitive spirit... I am marginally competitive. I'm not going to break my neck to get ahead of someone and if I don't win I'm not going to slash my wrists. Once the first few kilometers are underway and runners have settled into their places I do not like to be overtaken. My strength is in overtaking people, especially as course distance and difficulty increases. I took great pride in gobbling up runners ahead of me on this section to Rimbik.

Lower down we ran through a village, on the paths between houses. Absolutely delightful to see the children and adults, houses and chickens along the route. In hindsight my pace slackened here because I was so busy greeting people with "Namaste" and gawking at the sights. When I reached the aid station at the bottom, before the river crossing, I was shocked to see the old Japanese man right behind me. I'd overtaken him kilometers earlier on the really technical section.

That's another thing... once I've passed someone I do not like them to catch up to me... especially not an old dude. Surprised to see him, I ran most of the gently ascending road into Rimbik (about 8km). I gained another 6 places here - much to my satisfaction - and my legs and lungs felt great. Distance certainly seems to suit me.

I was warmly welcomed at the finish by Pandey's crew and spectators from the village... this is something else... Pandey's staff were incredible the whole event and there were always many of them at the finish to welcome us at the end of each stage.

Rimbik is a small mountain town - kind of mouldy and dirty like most places we saw. Our accommodations at the Sherpa Lodge were clean and tidy (with hot showers!) and the food again was exceptional. Every day when we finished there was soup, rice, dhal and other Indian dishes waiting. Dinner on this first night in Rimbik was a tantalising feast. I really enjoy Indian food and I think the assortment of dishes is what really appeals as you can try small bits of many flavours.

I spent some time in the afternoon stretching and rubbing down with Arnica oil to loosen my muscles. My ankles were also feeling a little worked over. We would start Stage 4 with a steep downhill and I anticipated some stiffness. Liz was again my room-mate. As with previous days we were lights-out by nine-thirty in preparation for another early morning.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Running in India - Day 2

STAGE 2 - Sandakphu to Molley and back
Date: Monday, 29 October 2007
Distance: 32km (out-and-back route; 16km each way)
My run time: 04:29 *
Accumulative ascent: 1,052m
Accumulative descent: 1,052m
* First man, Duncan Larkin (US), 2:51; First woman, Elin Wright (Norway), 03:15

After a good 10hr sleep (early to sleep, early to rise), we were up just before dawn to catch sight of nearby Kanchenjunga (8,856m; World's 3rd highest mountain) and, of course, Everest, Lhotse and Makalu (the latter are some distance away, but clearly visible).

The rising sun's rays turn the summit of Kanchenjunga peachy.
Breakfast was available from 05h30 and the spread was inviting; oats, omlettes, toast and potatoes. This saw us ready for a 06h30 start. Mr Pandey had recommended that we start 1-hour earlier than initially stated (07h30) because colder weather and cloud cover were expected to envelop our high altitude route from 10h30 (the clouds did obscure our views by this time).

This Day 2 route is really the event's pay-load. On Day 1 Mr Pandey has warned us all about "breaking our knees" on the cobbled road but he should have been warning us on this second stage; it is challenging to run on an uneven surface while gawking at this majestic vista. On the way out we ran towards Kanchenjunga, keeping Everest and company on our right. At 3,600m these mountains towered above us and the surrounding landscape. We'd also seen them from the Delhi-Bagdogra plane, which flys at the same height as their altitude; so their magnitude was put into perspective.

As for the route itself... mostly down from Sandakphu with a steep climb up to the turn-around at Molley. The road surface was decent; some cobbled sections, some dirt road. Being an out-and-back route, I encountered the first runners returning as I was on the Molley ascent.

A little about the aid stations... this event well organised and facilitated. Up in the mountains Mr Pandey has an impressive abundance of aid stations; 12 on stage 1, 4 each way on Stage 2 (averages at one every 4km), 12 on stage 3, 5 on stage 4 and 10 on stage 5. Comparable to road running... We had to sign in at each aid station and all supplied bottled mineral water. Some were designated as full aid stations as they also provided bananas, boiled potatoes, biscuits and glucose powder. Many full aid stations also had temporary toilets (seated toilet over a hole in the ground and surrounded by white plastic sheeting to provide privacy).

On the way back from Molley I had to make use of the "facilities" as my tummy hadn't been feeling great; this was to be the start of a brief dose of "Delhi Belly". I'm adamant that my "Hennops Belly" a month earlier conveyed a certain level of resistance as I was not as unwell (severity and duration) as some other runners.

On the return route I ran into Mr Pandey, who was out on the course to greet the runners. "Nature is your assistant today," he said, refering to the spectacular view of Kanchenjunga and other mountains. It was just after 10h00 and cloud was rising up, almost level with the trail. "See, yesterday I said everything would be covered by 10h30. Now my job is done and you have seen the mountains."

It was a good thing too because the next day, running out on the same first section, we would see little of the surrounding mountains.

I'd taken it easy on this second stage, especially with the marathon stage the next day. When I reached the finish I washed up (a bucket of warm water was brought to our room), wrapped up in thermals and headed off for a bowl of tomato soup before visiting the Asian facilities next to our room - again. I then had a cosy afternoon nap.

My aim was to keep getting food down, to keep hydrated and to rest and recover as much as possible by morning. I didn't want to start the marathon with an upset stomach.

We had a race briefing at 18h30 where Mr Pandey outlined instructions for our bags; finish bags would be carried down to Rimbik by sherpas and our big bags would travel by Land Rover (old ones from back in the British days). We would only get the big bags much later in the evening.

A couple of runners quizzed Pandey about the actual distance of the marathon route.

"We have measured it by bicycle, by foot device... but you can be sure it is 2-3 further," he replied.

"Miles or kilometers?" a runner asked, to laughter from the audience.

They have tried on various occasions to measure the route, especially the steep downhill to Rimbik, by GPS. But with cloud cover, twisting trails and dense jungle lower down, they have never obtained an accurate reading. Although it is stated at 42km, I'd bank on the route being around 48km. Tomorrow would be a big day and I'd been warned about the steep descent (loss of 1200m over about 9km).

Running in India - Day 1

If I had to compress my 5-day experience of running in the Himalayan foothills into 15-words, this is what I'd write: exceptional organisation, massive ascents, steep descents, well marked routes, fabulous food, magnificent mountains and new friends.

I found myself on an Emirates flight to Delhi because of an invitation from race director Mr C.S. Pandey to Runner's World SA and the kind hospitality of India Tourism (, who organised my flights and accommodation in Delhi.
The race itself took place in the Darjeeling district (see my previous Blog), which meant a 3hr flight from Delhi to Bagdogra the morning after my arrival in Delhi. The Jet India plane was jam-packed with race participants; easy to identify from their trail shoes, sporty dress and backpacks.

From Bagdogra it was a frightfully scary 2.5hr (I think) bus ride to the mountaintop town of Mirik. I say scary because the roads are narrow, the mountain switchbacks are sharp and Indian drivers wait for no man, beast, bicycle nor oncoming vehicle. Sights of interest from the bus window included: cattle strolling the streets, large rounded river stones in piles on the roadside (they crush them to make cement, thus the river beds have been pillaged), run-down buildings, women in colourful dress and multiple people on bicycles and motorbikes.

I'm never good at bus rides, especially on twisting moutain roads, so I was suitably queasy by the time we reached the Mirik Lodge, a very decent and clean establishment. This bus trip confirmed my decision to skip the group trip to Darjeeling the following day (Saturday). I stayed in Mirik and went to visit the tea factory and buddhist temple instead; I indulged in an afternoon nap too.

Date: Sunday, 28 October 2007
Distance: 38.6km
My run time: 06:27 *
Accumulative ascent: 2,498m
Accumulative descent: 937m
* First man, Duncan Larkin (US) - 04:21; First woman, Elin Wright (Norway) - 04:59

Already high up, this cobbled road leads to the entrance of the Singalilia National ParkThe race start was set from the town of Maneybhanjang (muh-nee-buh-jhan), which is well over an hour drive from Mirik (probably closer to 2hrs). We left Mirik at 06h00 and were running by 08h00. Two remarkable incidents from the start were: a) toilets and b) scarves from the town's children. Regarding the former... I was directed to some toilets near the start line (private, owned by locals)... um... nevermind Asian in design, they were only suitable for Number 1's and there were Number 2's on the floor! (I assume this gets washed down? Which town sucker gets this job?). I retreated hastily, deciding to wait for some bushes on the route. As for b)... sweet little girls from the town draped scarves around our necks in greeting and to wish us well.

My friend Michael Graz ran this race a few years ago and had warned me about the steep, long descent on Day 3, the marathon stage. What he didn't warn me about was the massive ascent on Day 1. Within 200m of the start we began climbing and climbing and climbing. The altitude profile clearly illustrates this. We climbed from 2000m to 3600m over the 38km stage. The cobbled road was challenging underfoot on the descents and the upward zig-zagging sections had my heart thumping in my chest. Yes, I walked the ups and took a few brief rests to get my heart rate under control, especially in the last few kilometers.

Graph of Stage 1 from Maneybhanjang to Sandakphu

It got colder as we ascended and cloud covered the higher sections. What I clearly remember was the sound of "rain" in the forest in the Singalila National Park. The cloud would condense on the tree leaves to rain on the ground; yet I was high and dry on the road.

An awesome day, a tough day and the finish was welcome. Hot soup and tasty food was waiting. It took me 06h27 to reach the high altitude settlement (few buildings only) of Sandakphu (sun-duh-poo).

From Wikipedia:
"Sandakfu or Sandakphu (3636 m) is the highest peak in the state of West Bengal, India. It is situated at the edge of the Singalila National Park and is the highest point of the Singalilia Ridge. Sandakphu has a small village on the peak with a number of hostels. It is accessible by 4x4 vehicles."

The Sandakphu settlement: The view of Kanchenjunga is obscured by clouds.
The temperature up here was cold enough to warrant the use
of my First Ascent Down Jacket.