Himalaya Hell Race
Mis à jour : 18 déc 2019
Four years ago I ran my first marathon. A couple of months of training had been sufficient to finish in less than four hours. I remember I still had energy left at the finish line and I knew I would try harder running challenges in the future. Ultramarathons, such as 'Marathon des Sables', a 250 km race in the Moroccan desert were on my wishlist now. I was full of inspiration and motivation. However, after the marathon, I started a new job which consumed me completely. I gained weight and lost my fitness. I never made time for running and ultramarathons seemed very far from reality.
Getting into running again
The day I quit my job and booked a one-way ticket to New Zealand, I decided to get fitter again. Several hikes helped to get back into shape and after a while I started a basic running schedule. At first I was struggling to run for five kilometers at 7 km/h. It was pretty bad. I would not give up though. I would keep on going and make small, gradual progress. I ran four times a week and started to cover longer distances at faster paces. Running became part of my life again and I loved it. As I grew more confident, I made a plan to run Marathon des Sables by 2021. Before the infamous race, I would run several other marathons, ultraraces and trail runs.
Right before I left Australia to go home without a plane, I was at a level where I could run a marathon within a decent time frame. Somewhere along the way home, I wanted to try an ultra. After a good amount of research I had found a 60 kilometer race in Manali, North West India, near the Himalaya: Solang Sky Ultra, part of The Hell Race series. The name of the series was enough motivation to be well prepared.
Trying to keep up with the schedule
As soon as I had booked and paid the race, I started a 10-week schedule to be ready for 60 km. I had also calculated an extra week to add some flexibility to my training. As I was traveling, I was often on sailboats, ferries or buses for more than 50 hours. This made it quite hard to keep up with the schedule. I was already two weeks behind my schedule, when I went to a silent retreat for 10 days, where any kind of physical exercise, except for small walks in the park, was prohibited. After the 10 days of meditation, I was determined to catch up with my schedule and I went straight for a 20 km run, resulting in another injury. Again, I lost a week of training. The race was coming closer and I was only losing progress. When I arrived in Myanmar I had one month left and I believed it was still possible to run the 60 kilometers. I made a plan to run a regular marathon in a national park and I would maintain this level to be ready for the trail run. Unfortunately, I never got to execute that plan. Fate intervened and I fell through the sidewalk in Myanmar, while running. I had cut my leg while falling and needed stitches. For another two weeks I could not train. Now, there was no way around it, I could not run the 60k race. 30 kilometer was still an option though. It would still be my first trail run and I expected it to be challenging as well. I contacted the organization and changed my race.
The last weeks before the race
Even though I had changed my race to only half the distance, I felt a little nervous. When I spent two days on the train in India, I had caught a cold, which limited proper training once more. Still, I would try the race. I had booked a bus and a hotel two days in advance to relax a little before the competition. Unfortunately, there was not much relaxing as the bus dropped me in the wrong city and the hotel had gone bankrupt. I dealt with the situation and prepared myself mentally for the run. The day before the race all participants had been invited to a briefing. The people who were running 100km and 60km received a lot of details, since there was more risk involved. For the 30km race we learned the route and received the final details. 1750m elevation, max 30% inclination, six hydration points and 45 participants. The next day was D-day.
At night, my phone would not charge. Ever since I had been in the floods in Varanasi, my phone acted a little weird. I was tired and I could not sleep without being certain of an alarm clock. Several times during the night I woke up, panicking, thinking I had missed the race. Eventually my phone did charge during the night, but when I was woken by the alarm I felt horrible. I had to run to the toilet and continued doing so every other ten minutes. It must have been the stress that caused loose bowels movements. I started to doubt whether it was a good idea to run the race. I rested as much as I could, had a small breakfast and at 8 AM, I found myself at the start line. I still felt weak, but I was determined to give it a try. When the signal was given and everyone started running, I decided to take it easy. I ran slowly, but steadily. Soon the first elevation started and the casual runners were separated from the real athletes. After a while, several people started walking or hiking. I decided to continue running at my slow pace. The views along the track were absolutely stunning and it was quite nice to run. When the inclination became too strong or the terrain too technical, I started hiking as well. Maybe I could have pushed myself to keep on running, but steady hiking seemed a safer bet. Besides the people at the hydration points, I barely saw anyone else on the trails. Trail running felt quite lonely. Each time I saw another participant, it motivated me to run faster or start running again. I guess competition does enhance performance. The last kilometers, I ran together with another guy who had been in front of me. For the very last bit, I pushed myself and went faster to the finish line. I crossed after four hours and 41 minutes. I came in 10th out of 45 participants. I was glad I had made it. If I was able to finish the race, in such a weak shape, I would definitively be able to take on more challenging races. I was confident about the future.