Stairway to the Himalayas

Photo by Ron Howard

Traveling halfway around the world to run a race sounded like an exciting idea when I signed up for the 2010 Himalayan Run & Trek (HRT), a five day, 100-plus-mile stage race held in India.

But fresh off the plane and waiting alone for my ride at the Indira Gandhi airport in Delhi, I was engulfed in a swarm of horn honking, acrid air and rushing crowds.

I started to question the possible lunacy of my idea. For a Colorado girl used to running on quiet, woodsy trails, this was a whole new world.

My duffel bag of running gear and I were headed to the mountains in the Darjeeling Region of West Bengal. Another flight landed me in Bagdogra, a bustling town surrounded by verdant green tea plantations and rice paddies.

In this breathtaking village, I met my fellow HRT runners and filled my lungs with country air. Quick introductions revealed an international mix of adventurers from Europe, the United States, South America, Serbia and beyond. English was the lingua franca as we feverishly compared training notes and travel stories on the ride to Mirik, our lakeside headquarters for race week.

Upon arrival, we quenched our dusty throats with tea before attending the pre-race information meeting. Some details were lost in translation, but the race directors were wonderful, and any confusion only heightened the adventure. We were told that toilets may actually be in someone's house, and if you end up in Nepal, you obviously weren't paying attention.

Going the Distance

In the months leading up to the race, I'd had trouble with my illiotibital band. On the way to India, my plan was to run only the longest leg of the stage race and spend the other days exploring and nursing my knee.

But the energy of the group was contagious, and after catching my first glimpse of Mount Kanchenjunga's massive, snow-blanketed top, I knew I had to try for the entire distance.

My hastily formed race plan was to hike the inclines, run the flats and survive the downhills. I hadn't packed for this sort of distance and my hydration carrier was a bit smaller than advisable, but I was ready to relax into the experience and absorb as much of the culture as possible.

The First Step

As I stood on the gorgeous marigold-adorned starting line in Manebhanjang, the 24 miles and 10,000 feet of climbing in front of me had me shaking in my skort and questioning my decision. But a melodic Hindu chant and local children who presented each racer with prayer scarves calmed my nerves. I cautiously took my first step across the line. There was no turning back now.

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