First Ultra Trail Race – in the books!

On Saturday, I completed my first ultra marathon trail race – the Western Kathmandu Valley Rim 50k!! It was probably the most difficult physical challenge I’ve ever accomplished – and was achieved with the help of fun and supportive running (and non-running) friends, Nepal’s scenery (which is hugely motivational for me, even when seriously fatigued), and the many Snickers bars I consumed along the way. Four, to be exact.

On the car ride back from the Jamacho trail race in January, Chris, Suman and I decided that we would run the 50k race in March (maybe they had decided earlier than that, but high on endorphins after that 18k race, I distinctly remember that being the moment when I thought – Ok yeah, my goal has been to finish a 50k this year, my running friends are on board, let’s do this!)

Over the past two months or so, I’ve been training for the race with my usual running crew – Chris & Suman – with some runs thrown in with Raj, Narayan and others. I built up to running about 35-45 miles per week, with some long 20ish mile runs thrown in. I could tell I was gaining strength and endurance, and things were looking good.

Still though, nothing can quite prepare you for a 50k, and especially not one like the Western KTM Valley 50k, which demands 3,816m (~12,000 ft) of elevation gain over the course’s 31 miles. Czech out that elevation map:

The elevation map (courtesy of Trail Running Nepal).

The 50k elevation map – still get chills looking at it! (courtesy of Trail Running Nepal)

From seasoned ultra/trail runners, I had learned the game plan for survival: walk (literally) every uphill, run the flats and downs. As someone used to running races in which you actually RUN the entire time, it initially seemed counterintuitive to walk so much of a running race (hell, you don’t even stop during a road marathon!). But having run enough of the hills around Kathmandu to respect their hilly-ness, this plan made the daunting 50k feat seem doable. Packing my running bag the night before – stuffing nuts, gummy bears, and muesli bars into every available crevice, I felt pretty calm.

Course map (courtesy of Trail Running Nepal)

Course map (courtesy of Trail Running Nepal)

The gun went off at 7:15 am, and we immediately started the first climb up Jamacho.

At the start with Mira (Nepali trail running star!). Check out the documentary they're making about her incredible journey: http://www.miraraifilm.com

At the start with Mira, Nepali ultra trail running super star. Check out this documentary they’re making about her incredible journey: http://www.miraraifilm.com

11078060_787718591296215_8150117137680080304_o

The start: sync Garmin, smile.

This is a STEEP climb (~1,000m climb over 3k of distance), but one which rewards you with a stupa, cheerful prayer flags and (on a clear day) amazing mountain views – though none on this race day. I made it to this point with Suman, and we took a victorious photo together at the top.

Suman and me at the top of Jamacho. First major climb, done!

Suman and me at the top of Jamacho. First major climb, done!

After Jamacho, the real trials of miles/miles of trials began. I ran with a few other women/guys for awhile, but then after Checkpoint #1, found myself alone – for the hottest, most difficult part of the course (if you refer back to the elevation map, it’s that HUGE climb in the middle). That was one humbling hill. I had to stop about every 10-20 meters just to re-group and catch my breath. Shoutout to my friend Sarah, who had provided me with Sports Beans (you can’t really find nutrition stuff like Gu, etc. here, so I have been saving those electrolyte-laden beans for weeks!) – I swear those Sports Beans got me up that monster hill. Stuffed them all into my mouth, chased ’em with a Snickers, and slowly made it up and over.

While going up the ‘hill’ (hate calling these hills ‘hills’ – they are mountains, people! but not when the Himalayas are in your backyard…), my legs aching, my lungs strained, sweat pouring down my face, I resolved myself to doing the 33k instead (I knew there was an upcoming turnoff where some runners would do the shorter route while others would continue on for the 50). But funny enough, as soon as the hill was over, my legs felt refreshed, I got my breath back, and by the time I reached the next checkpoint, I was feeling good again. Ironically, the folks at the checkpoint then tried to convince me to do the 33k route, but there were other Nepali guys continuing on to the 50k, so at least I’d have some people to run with for awhile. Off on the 50k route we went, no turning back.

The rest of the race was much more ‘pleasant’ – albeit still really tough. It was so nice to be running with other people! We reached the next checkpoint pretty quickly (it was pretty much an all downhill ~7k stretch) – and this checkpoint was managed by villagers who presented us with flowers and homemade roti, among myriad other treats. They were really nice people, and I also felt energized by their telling us that I was the second female to come through (after superstar Nepali runner Mira Rai)!

More uphills. A guy named Mahindra and I separated from the rest of the guys and did our walk/run routine up and down rolling hills for the next 8k or so. We reached the next checkpoint, which was in a beautiful village nestled in the hills behind Champadevi. The villagers running this checkpoint were quite hilarious. The sequential questions they asked me, in Nepali: 1) do you have a baby? 2) are you married? 3) do you have a boyfriend? 4) how MANY boyfriends do you have? Cue LOTS of laughter. Mahindra and I laughed along and went on our way.

From behind, we saw another woman (Katiya – I think?) catching up to us, and she turned out to be an ultra veteran (has done 100k+ races before). She set a faster pace for us going up Champadevi, and was very motivational. With her stamina, strength and determination pulling us up the hill, she, Mahindra and I made it to the next checkpoint – at the 42k mark.

At that point, something kind of animalistic emerged inside me, and I decided the race NEEDED to be over. I was exhausted, I wanted to be done (we had been going for 8+ hours at this point). I grabbed another Snickers, downed some water, and started off at a jog. Slowly I peeled away from Katiya and Mahindra and forced my legs to take me up and down the rolling hills of Champadevi until we reached the staircase, which I’ve hiked before. I knew exactly how far it was to the finish line, and decided to give it all I had.

Not sure exactly how fast I did the last 5k, which was mostly downhill save for one last gruesome staircase – but it felt like a sprint. Once I crested the hill heading toward Hattiban, I could hear the festival and knew I was close. I barreled downhill as fast as I could and before I knew it, the 50k, those 31 miles, the farthest I’ve ever run –

was over.

And that was that. Then, pizza and a beer.

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

STRIKE! but… why??

From a political perspective, it is a very interesting day in Kathmandu today. I’m experiencing my first bandh – Nepali for “strike.” Basically, all throughout the city, vehicles – both public and private – are being* blocked. It’s almost 10am and only a few of my colleagues and I have managed to make it to work as of yet. Some folks have to walk an hour just to get here today.

Perhaps most significantly, our cook can’t make it to work today, so no daal bhat for us, as usual. Just put my order in for a plate of veg momos (Nepali dumplings), to be ordered in. Momos to the rescue! 🙂

*Why the passive language? Well, the situation is confusing. The new constitution is scheduled to be promulgated on January 22; however, the Constitutional Assembly has not come to a consensus on ANYTHING and has missed every single deadline associated with publishing the new Constitution. That said, the Maoists (who overthrew the Nepalese monarchy in 1996 and thrust the country into civil war that just ended in 2006) have decided to block the constitution altogether. I’ve heard that they say they want to create a brand new constitution (aka starting this years-long process anew), just to seriously delay the development of any constitution. But I’m still not clear on exactly why that is.

So, most people think today’s bandh was organized by the Maoists. However, some think that folks from the Terai (lowland plains bordering India) are involved because there have been recent uprisings there – apparently the police may have killed a man just last week or so, but the police are saying he died of a heart attack. Supposedly the Terai folks have been agitating to become part of India because they are influenced by India much more than other Nepalis, given that they are located along the open border with our influential southern neighbor…

Other folks are saying the bandh has been called because there’s been a liquid gas shortage for the past couple of weeks, and it was discovered that gas distributers have been hoarding extra canisters to sell at a premium on the black market. The liquid gas shortage has been an issue – when I visited my Fulbright friend in her village last weekend, they were back to cooking on the traditional wood stove and didn’t have hot water because there hasn’t been any gas. But when this came up at lunch yesterday, others said no, it’s not the liquid gas for cooking, it’s in response to the high prices of diesel and gasoline for vehicles.

See the confusion?!?!

As I write this, an online article was just published providing an overview of the recent strikes (I should also have mentioned that they have been occurring throughout the country in days leading up to today’s ‘central district’ bandh. The article also cites the Maoists as the organizers, which I think makes the most sense and which I’ve heard from a number of other people. Here it is so you can read for yourself! http://www.ekantipur.com.np/2015/01/13/top-story/banda-brings-life-to-a-halt-in-districts/400271.html

More bandhs are scheduled for Saturday and Monday – and according to this schedule, there’s even going to be a sit in to declare Nepal a Hindu state! Plus a symbolic burning of the constitution if it is in fact promulgated on Jan 22 (which is extremely unlikely at this point…). http://directionkathmandu.com/information/upcoming-protests-and-strikes/

One silver lining of today’s strike? Less air pollution and road cacophony! I enjoyed a relatively calm run through the (typically quite busy) streets of Lalitpur this morning…

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

It’s almost December?!

It’s not a good sign when you go to update your blog and the website layout has changed… thanks, WordPress, for reminding me it’s been awhile since I last posted. Now it’s almost December (apparently?! how did that happen?). So much has happened since Dashain, when I last posted!  Some highlights:

Oct. 23-26: a Tihar (festival of lights, aka Diwali in India) trek in Shivapuri National Park with Claire, Jamie, Erin, Lauren, and Kenda. We hiked from Kakani – Budhanilkantha – Shivapuri Peak – Chisopani – Nagarkot.

P1020655

photo 3

The gang, as we set out from our hotel to hit the road to Chisopani. Our photographer, a passerby, instructed: “hands up!”

Oct. 27: Field visit to Methinkot, about 1.5 hrs outside KTM, to interview villagers about underutilized/abandoned land.

IMG_7617

Oct 31: Celebrated Halloween in the ‘Du! From left: Claire as Swayambunath stupa, Lauren as a Nepali princess, Oda as a fortune teller, Dan as a sheriff, myself as a Nepali street dog, Kate as a magic eight ball, Erin as load shedding (aka no electricity, it’s a Nepal thing), and Jamie as a ninja.

10382832_10152429819372651_8979463698860532245_n

Nov 5-9: My parents visited from Hong Kong!!! It was the best! Took them to the major sites in KTM (Patan Durbar Square, Swayambunath, Pashupatinath, Boudhanath, Thamel), showed them around my neighborhood, and then we spent a night in Nagarkot to take in the mountains and fresh air.

Dinner with parents and friends at Boudha

Dinner with parents and friends at Boudha

Nov. 13-16: I battled my first parasite in Kathmandu. Its name was Blastocystis. Luckily, there are no photographs to document this sad event.

Nov. 16: Stomach stabilized just in time for a “Friendsgiving” – potluck Thanksgiving feast! Sadly, there are no photographs to document this delicious event.

Nov. 22-23: Spent a day/night in Namobuddha with Oda and Helga. It was a lovely 24 hours filled with fresh air, organic food, and mountain views! The visit included a nice walk to the nearby monastery, which was a beautiful structure with a gorgeous view.

Helga looking at the Himalayas

Helga looking at the Himalayas

Oda keeping warm

Oda keeping warm

Gold Buddha at the monastery

Gold Buddha at the monastery

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Bhaktapur

Bhaktapur is a culturally-rich traditional Newari town (Newars are the indigenous people of the Kathmandu Valley). Various people described it to me as “well-preserved,” to the point that I was nervous that it would be unpleasantly touristy and Disneyland-esque. I was happily surprised to find that, although it is immaculately clean and vehicles aren’t allowed through, it’s not as sanitized as I had imagined.

After spending about 40 minutes sitting atop the engine of a local bus on the way to Bhaktapur (hey, I’ll sit anywhere for a long ride that costs only 25 Rs, about 25 cents!), I made it to the bus stop where I had planned to meet my tour guide – a new friend named Prativa whom I met at an IUCN dinner. She’s from a village outside Bhaktapur, but she now lives in her husband’s family’s home right in the middle of Bhaktapur itself.

IMG_3003

Prativa!

Bhaktapur is well-known for its wood carvings, pottery, ponds, and curd (yogurt) – which is thicker than the usual dahi we have in Kathmandu; it’s known as “king curd”.

IMG_2971

A man doing something technical to this kiln in Bhaktapur’s “Potter’s Square,” where most of the pottery shops and kilns are located. In this type of kiln, the pots are fired for four days.

IMG_2972

Pots drying in the sun, along with some straw, which is burned to fire the pots…

IMG_2977

Nyatapola Temple, Bhaktapur

IMG_2979

Prativa on the temple steps

IMG_2980

IMG_2982

An old goat at the top of Nyatapola Temple in Bhaktapur. He’s kept (alive) as an offering to the gods.

IMG_2993

King curd – served in a fired mud pot! The mud pot absorbs extra water from the yogurt – making it thicker – and is also eco-friendly; the shopkeeper pitches the used pot out back and, since it’s dirt, it just decomposes over time!

IMG_2998

An example of the exquisite wood-carved windows in Bhaktapur; this is known as a “peacock window”

IMG_3005

In front of one of Bhaktapur’s many ponds, after receiving tika at a temple and just before Prativa and I indulged in some tasty veg momos (Nepali dumplings filled with curried vegetables – a personal favorite)

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Dashain Festival Retrospective

Back in the office today after four working days off for the Dashain Festival, the most important Nepali festival (in magnitude, the equivalent of Christmas for Christians). The festival is celebrated slightly differently among Hindus, Buddhists, and the various castes, but from what I was able to glean and experienced, it involved puja or offerings (particularly on Fulpati, the most important day), planting grass seeds in a clay pot that grow over the course of the festival’s ten days, kite flying, swinging on huge swings called pings, receiving tika or blessings from family members, and, sadly for this goat-lover, the sacrifice/slaughter of many goats.

My Dashain holiday began with gaaDi puja – giving offerings to the vehicles/tools/machinery – at the IUCN office.

P1020447

Laxmi dai, our office manager, and Sri Krishna, head driver, after performing the vehicle puja

vehicle puja

vehicle puja

P1020452

P1020453

P1020454

After performing the puja, we drank sweet tea and ate hardboiled eggs and sweet bread. A few hours later, lunch consisted of daal bhat and goat meat from the goat that was sacrificed for the puja. 

After the puja, I took a trip to Patan Durbar Square, the ancient royal palace where the Malla King of Lalitpur used to reside (now a UNESCO World Heritage Site).

Folks using the fountain on a hot afternoon

Folks using the fountain on a hot afternoon

View of the Durbar Square from the Patan Museum

View of the Durbar Square from the Patan Museum

P1020496

The next day, I hopped on the bus to Pokhara to spend a few days in the lakeside town with friends. It was a nice change of pace from Kathmandu – cleaner air, less traffic, and a serene lake (albeit one suffering from eutrophication).

IMG_2904

IMG_2913

IMG_2922

I rode a slow pony up to the World Peace Pagoda atop a hill overlooking the lake

I rode a slow pony up to the World Peace Pagoda atop a hill overlooking the lake

water break!

water break!

Rowing across the lake with two hilarious Chinese girls and one very small Nepalese boy/ rower.

Rowing across the lake with two hilarious Chinese girls and one very small Nepalese boy/ rower.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Vetiver: whatta grass!

This past Saturday, I joined Cheryl, a new friend and consultant, Ramjee, head of the Nepal Vetiver Network, and other volunteers to plant vetiver on a landslide-prone slope in Gokarna, northeast of Kathmandu.

What’s vetiver? Well, it’s one heck of a grass, I’ll tell you that much! I first became familiar with vetiver in college when I chanced upon a vetiver-based perfume that I loved. Sadly, I lost it and have since been searching for a similar scent. Last Thursday, I happened to go over to Cheryl and (her husband) Ron’s home for a cocktail and dinner party. It turns out that Cheryl is very interested in vetiver – not only for the scent, but for its bioengineering properties; see, vetiver is one of the few grasses that has a very substantial root system – it extends very deep into the soil and is also rather broad. This means that it’s great for use in landslide and other areas where soil movement is problematic (ahem, Nepal). The root system can also improve soil quality (can even remove heavy metals from the soil) and filter water. The grass itself can be used in basket weaving and other livelihood enhancement projects. Plus, even before they’re diluted into perfume, the roots smell delightful.

As I was saying… whatta grass!

Here are some pictures of myself and the group planting vetiver on the steep slope. We really earned the daal bhat that followed!

Getting started

Tory precariously perched

Nearing the end of the row

Tory persisting despite the blisters

Vetiver crew hard at work

15-2

1-2

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Visiting Elsie in Lamatar

On Saturday, Claire and I took the bus (first we got on a big bus, then had to make a quick switch to a small ‘micro-bus’) to Lamatar, a VDC within Lalitpur District, where Elsie is living with a family and teaching in a local school as a Fulbright ETA. Lamatar is semi-remote, part way up one of the valley’s many hills.

Elsie, Claire, and I in Lamatar

Elsie, Claire, and I in Lamatar

This past week, monsoon season has been getting the last of its kicks out, in full force (a few nights of some serious thunder and lightening earlier this week). It ended up pouring rain while we were there, but no matter – we still had a great time catching up, eating daal bhat with Elsie’s family and fellow school teachers (two big helpings in a short period of time, ke gar ne?), and walking around Elsie’s village.

P1020395

Exploring

Terraced rice paddies in Lamatar

Terraced rice paddies in Lamatar

Shielding ourselves from the crazy monsoon rain!

Shielding ourselves from the crazy monsoon rain!

P1020401

Drying out after our walk, and watching the rain

Drying out after our walk, and watching the rain

We also met several of Elsie’s extended family members, who live in the same village, and we couldn’t go far without another person (mainly Elsie’s students) calling out “Hi, Elsie!” and sometimes, “Are those your sisters?”

Another highlight was getting to see a day old goat, whose mother has given birth 21 times to over 40 little goats (!). That’s a lot of births for one mamma goat. I also got a kick out of watching the many ducks in the village doing their thing.

She's one of the most amazing women you'll ever meet; giving birth to that little guy marked her 21st time giving birth. Twenty. First.

She’s one of the most amazing women you’ll ever meet; giving birth to that little guy marked her 21st time giving birth. Twenty. First.

P1020407

I imagine this closely resembles duck heaven.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment