Run at altitudes over 10,000 ft, expect a personal worst
The Mt. Everest Marathon is the perfect trip for the runner who has run everything. Starting at an altitude of 17,000 feet, you might get that runner's high just crawling out of your tent in the morning.
Despite dire predictions from medical and sports experts about running at high altitude, the first race was held in 1987. And it was such a success it has been held every two years since. And with so many runners from around the world vying for a spot, there's even a waiting list.
This year's event will be held April 11 and consists of runners from 10 countries being required to spend two weeks trekking to altitude in order to adjust. Each participant is assigned a doctor, and anyone showing serious signs of Acute Mountain Sickness anywhere along the way is forced to descend immediately.
In past years people haven't made it to Gorak Shep for a number of reasons, including gut rot, chest infections, injuries one American lady gave up because she couldn't take the cold; a young German just decided he didn't want to run the race; and, two English ladies just gave up. The number of people doctors say are not fit enough to go up to Gorak Shep depends not only on their physical fitness, but also on the caution of that year's medical team. In one year any number of people might be held back, but in another, everybody might be allowed up.
The race starts at Gorak Shep (17,000 feet) and finishes in Namche Bazaar (11,300 feet) [click for the map]. With two steep uphills and rugged trails, the course record is 3 hours 59 minutes, compared to 2:07 for something like the Boston Marathon. And for women, it's 5:16, (ladies, we need to talk), expect a personal worst.
But you have to consider the course. "There are several suspension bridges and some of the planks are likely to be loose or missing," race instructions warn. In 1995, freak snows and avalanches kept anybody from reaching the start and instead, a half marathon was run.
Cash prizes are awarded to the top finishers, but even the first place prize of 500 Pounds Sterling (approx. $818USD) is not enough to offset the cost of the trip. The race directors feel anything larger would be inappropriate. Five hundred Pounds is six times the annual average income in Nepal and the last two races have been won by Nepalis.
In return for the privilege of running in one of the world's most beautiful countries, everyone is asked to participate in fundraising events prior to going. Money is raised for local charities and mountains of medical supplies are donated to hospitals in the Everest region. The 1999 project is to build a public latrine at Gorak Shep. Just goes to show, runners don't take the subject of high altitude sanitation sitting down.
Cathy Tibbetts, Mountain Zone Correspondent
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