Monday, January 16, 2012

Annapurna 100: The Race

Race starts at 5:30am. I was already awake at 4 sth. It was cold as usual. The major concerns that I had was the low temperature & the altitude. For top, I wore 2xu as base, and the Salomon red shirt as the secondary layer. I also wore the buff, white cap & for pants the knee length Salomon tights. As for socks I wore nike as base, and another thicker socks. I choosed the NB minimus for shoes.

As for hydration, I used the Salomon XT adanved skin 12, which was great cause I could chuck in the top thermal layer just in case. And I also brought trekking poles.

5:30am was still dark, with another hour before daylight. We were let off, and soon we were running the streets of Pokhara. The first 12km will be on tarmac. The temperature was in the sub 10 range. But once I started moving, that didn't bother much. We were running past some buildings & houses, bridges, and some minor elevation up.

I think after half an hour, my right knee pain started to creep up. Not good. Seems like the injury is still there.

By 12k, the run detoured from the tarmac, into a village called Hyangja. There were spectators cheering us on as we make our way to the first checkpoint. I stopped by to fill some water into the bladder, as I wasn't carrying any. I did bring a 600ml bottle of accelerade as well. At the checkpoint they had ramen soup, with potatoes & salt, as well as water in bottles.

The route afterwards was 10-20% gradient dirt road. I started to use my poles. I could still move on, with some pain which I could manage. It wasn't at the speed that I usually could push.

The weather was an anamoly that day. It had been cloudy from morning. Thus, we can't see the beautiful mountain range, even as we were running nearer to them now.

As I was running on the road, suddenly, a sign showed Dhampus to the right. So I followed. Then I met 2 Nepalese runners who were resting, and they asked for something to eat. So I gave each a date. I guessed they must have bonked or hadn't ate breakfast. Then we ran alongside some open rice fields, when a japanese runner ran the opposite way. I guess he was on the phone trying to find the way. Are we lost?

Seems like it. A big group of runners, including me, was running in padi fields cut off the slopes, which were kind of odd. I thought we were supposed to run on obvious tracks? Problem was there wasn't much signage from the race.

Anyway, I followed some guys, and soon we reached a village. That lead uphill where I saw Roger, and a few more meters it was the 2nd checkpoint at 23km mark.

I went off after having some potatoes, and making sure I have salt in it. The next part was gradually uphill, as we head up to Deurali, Pothana (1890m), and Pitam Deurali (2080m). I kept a fast moving pace, trying to move up the ascent as best as possible using the poles. As we went up, it got more chilly.

Then it was a really steep downhill, with rocky steps. I had to traverse slowly as downhill caused more pain on my right knee. The poles helped greatly. Else I would have been more crippled.

I noticed I was moving slowly, which took more time. The 12pm cut off at Gandruk is slowly seeping away from target. There was a Brit lady who I paced with most of the way. She had signed up for 100k, but decided to do the 50 instead. She was kind of chirpy and seemed enjoying the race.

As I moved past Tolka (1700m), I could see Mount Machapuchare among the clouds. Although it's still cloudy with no blue skies in sight, the mountain size was huge, and at that moment it felt awesome just to be running there.

It was now drizzling a litle, with cold wind sweeping by the valley. The amazing thing about the track is the sheer vertical drop on the left side, almost a few hundred meters drop. There's no railings, so if you do fell over, it could be a long way down.

After passing more houses and farms, I finally reached Landruk (37.5km) at 11:20am. Great, I still have 40 minutes to Gandruk. It was all descent with stairs down to the river. With the hampering knee pain, I have to descend slowly. After crossing the bridge, I tried my best to push the pace. I wanted to get to the top before 12. It's steps after steps vertically up. And that's 800m up to Gandruk!

Just to give you an idea, how high is that: KLCC is 450m plus the antenna. You'll have to plus another 350m. That means the whole KLCC can sit inside the valley, and still you have some space on top.

I reached Gandruk (1940m 40km) at 12:20pm, exactly an hour from Landruk with a distance of 2.5km only. I took quite a long rest, gulping down ramen & potatoes and even hot milk tea. It was now very cold at around 5c. After leaving the station, I took my thermals out and wore them as outer layer. My fingers were getting numb as well.

I decided to go for the 70km now, since 100km is out of reach. After this it's still all the way up to Tadapani (2590m). I think I reached it at 4pm, which was really slow. The wind was really blowing hard at Tadapani, and the cold just gets colder. I didn't stayed too long, as I have to move to get to Ghorepani.

It's still climbing up most of the way here. I bumped into George, and we criss crossed a few times. I couldn't passed him on the downhills, but on the uphills, I could. I was pushing the pace regardless of elevation or fatigue. As we went up to 2800, it started to snow! It was a first for me. At first it started to snow lightly, but as the altitude went up, the snow started to feel more like rain. I was elated to see snow for the first time. But daylight will soon turn into darkness.

By 5pm I reached a lodge at Banthati (I think), went in and have a hot cup of milk tea. I really needed one, as the snow fell even heavier. George came in, drank his juice, and quickly left. He wanted to get to Ghorepani asap as well. As I left the lodge, a man bid "Good luck with your madness". Well, I guess running in this weather is indeed madness.

It was some uphills a bit more, and by this time, the thickness of the groud snow has grew into inches. I was alone, and it was getting dark. I turned on my headlamps. It's now trying to see George's track in the snow.

At the top, I reached a formation of rocks. The westward wind was blowing snow all over the place. On the left & right were sheer drops of unknown depths. It was an awesome sight to behold, if not for the creeping darkness, I would have enjoyed hanging there. Soon after, it was descent.

And for this reason, I was glad to have the poles again for support and balance. It made descending in snow easier.

As I almost reached Ghorepani, a guy with a Nepalese runner "Daba" came from behind. They claimed that somebody might have lost the way. Was that George? I couldn't tell. But one of the locals took my lamp and went searching.

I was glad to reach Ghorepani (2874m) around 6pm. It's very dark now. At least there's a heater in the middle. We all sat closed to it, trying to get some warmth in. It's hard to describe how cold things were. When night sets in, that's when it gets colder by a few notches. It was snowing heavily outside, and some local kids were having fun throwing snowballs at each other. But we were all huddled near the heater.

I was now thinking if I should just stayed there, and forget about the race. To continue, it would mean going in the dark, with very low temperatures outside. Soon, a finnish couple joined us. Finally after some rest, we decided to make it all the way back to Birethanti. Walking in daylight will take 4 hours. But with the night it will take more than that. I took out my poncho and wore it.

We started the trek at 7:30pm and kept walking, chatting at some point. Daba was a bit injured in his knee as well, so the finnish lady gave him some painkillers, and their poles to help him going.

Now walking in the snow wasn't that cold. But as we descend lower, snow turned into rain, and the snow beneath turned into cold wet slurpy mud. After 2 hours, we reached a checkpoint at Banthanti.
It was really pouring now, and coupled with the knee pain & cold, at times I couldn't really take it. But there's no choice to move forward in this terrain. Even if you stopped, there's no fast accessible roads to this part of the trails. The only way is to walk all the way down to Birethanti.

After resting, we went off again. I was only worried about the 3280 stone steps downwards at Uleri. The steps just kept on going and going without end of sight. It's wet and slippery so each step was cautious. For myself, the knee pain just makes things very slow. Finally the Finnish lady offered  a pain killer, and I took it since we have to keep on moving.

As we descend, I could see faraway yellow lights from villages. It gave the sense of space in the darkness. We were really descending a steep slope but how steep? I couldn't tell.

Finally when we reached Sudame, things got better. I think this was the last checkpoint, before we walked on open roads still on the descent. I was getting sleepier on the walk. I have finished all my physical reserves, and all I have left was the mental part. I was moving purely on will. The pain killer was also playing havoc with my gut. I knew I could vomit anytime.

We got lost a bit as well. We should have joined the main road, but detoured abit.

Finally we reached Birethanti at 1:15am. I think the time was 19:51 for 70km. Roger & Ramesh was there to greet us. I felt a sense of relieve that we have made it. Afterwards I was too tired and cold to think about food. Not that I can eat anyway. I grabbed my bag, head to the cold lodge, changed into a new set of clothes and slept. The thing was I didn't had any blankets and socks, just a thin sheet. It was terribly cold. But I did sleep.

Woke up in the morning with my toes numbed. Went to grab some breakfast and chatted with a few fellow runners. It seems like many has decided to stay at lodges along the path, instead of continuing in the dark.

After the breakfast, the bus took us back to Pokhara. Though the distance is short, but it took 2 hours as the bus has to move up a hill, then descend on the other side of the valley.

There was a prize giving at 11:30am, where they hand out medals & certs to the finishers, and a lunch for all the participants afterwards.

Just some thoughts about this race. NB minimus is indeed not the right shoe as most of the paths are paved with stones that can be sharp. The steps are made of stones as well, so more protection is needed. I think I have tested the minimus to the extreme by using it here. If the path has many stones, it's a better idea to get a thicker sets of shoes, cause it's easier to just step on it, and move on.

If you were wearing minimalism, one has to think where to step, which waste time.

For the steps, you'll need to train going up vertical elevation for a few hours. The limiting factor for ascent is your cardio, rather than technique. For the descent, try running down steps in quick succession. It's hard to find the same altitude in Malaysia, but mountains at 1500m should suffice.

I think this is a very hard 100k to finish within 18.5hr, but it can be done. I was racing with injury so that really slowed things down. But I still doubted I can finish the 100km even if not injured. It will take a few tries to get this right.

* Sorry no pictures on the race. Perhaps the organisers will have some soon.


RaYzeef said...

Great race Yip and magnificent story telling, i felt as i was there with you...can i come with you next year? :D

yipwt said...


If I go for this next year, I will be doing Annapurna circuit. Will take the most 15 days...So I guess 20 days will be needed. :)

See if you can join this one too.

RaYzeef said...

wow ...rubbing hands in anticipation :D

gracie said...

Epic race! Thanks for sharing the details of your amazing experience, which I am sure you'll remember for the rest of your life.

The Jackal said...

yip, you never cease to inspire me! when are you going for the leadville100??

Joseph wyatt said...

Brilliant inspiring post! Head over to my blog for tips and tricks about triathlon =)

Mervin said...

Hi Yip, have you ever thought of collecting enough points for UTMB? Do you know of any Malaysian who has reached Mont Blanc?

Anonymous said...

Hey..I have been following your posts for many months..

wonder why no update for past few months?

Are you ok?