TIME TO CREATE COMMUNITY WITH JP ALIPIO

Meet JP Alipio. One of the founders of the Cordillera Conservation Trust a Mountain Conservation organization based in the Philippines that works with communities through outdoor and adventure activities for the conservation of the wild spaces. The Cordillera Mountain Ultra (CMU), a 50km trail race that goes around some of the most beautiful mountain ridges, forests, and remote villages in the northern mountain range of the Philippine Island of Luzon, is organized by the Cordillera Conservation Trust. It is said to be one of the most beautiful trail races in Asia and it certainly is the most competitive in the Philippines with runners like Harry Jones competing over the years. A trail runner himself, JP has been running for 20 years now since college.

JP Alipio (@jpalipio)
JP Alipio (@jpalipio)

How did you get into running?

I got into running to keep fit for mountain climbing activities when I was in college. I wanted to go further into the mountains and explore more of the wild spaces of my home in the Cordilleras. Running on the trails around my home, roads and paths in the community was a great way to get more fit to be able to carry a big pack in the mountains over weeks. This evolved into mountain and ultra-running and for me this opened a whole new world of adventure. Being able to explore the wild spaces unencumbered by big packs and equipment it really is the closest to nature you can get. You can be running in the mountains with just the sole of your shoes separating you from the ground and your body moving through the landscape like the wild animals that roam through with the barest of essentials, drinking from the streams, and just freeing your soul to be a part of nature again.

Some of my biggest achievements over the last few years of running has been completing the Transvulcania on the La Palma Island of Spain in 2018. Also, finishing the 2019 Dragon’s Back Race in Wales. This race is said to be the most difficult mountain race in the world traversing over 315kms and 15000m of elevation gain over 5 days across the spine of Wales.

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Tell us about Illi

Illi is a term we use here in the Cordillera mountains for our homes. It refers not simply to a physical place but also the people, culture and environment in which we live in. It is a place of our ancestors and the generations that will follow us. For many indigenous groups, not just ours, land is life but to expound on that it really is land, community, culture, environment and generations before and after us that defines life. During the Cordillera Mountain Ultra we welcome over 30 nations into our Illi and when you run through the landscape, sleep in our homes, and share our food you become part of our story, part of our Illi and part of the community we call home.

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How has growing up in a village influenced your relationship with running?

I grew up in a small town in the mountains that has now grown into a small city. When I was younger, we used to spend our days playing in the neighboring farms, catching tadpoles from the canals, or going down to the river behind our house to play. As the years went by the farms turned into buildings, and the river was no longer fit to play in. Seeing these changes happen firsthand really reinforced for me the need to protect the wild spaces. Not simply the ones that are in national parks but the wild spaces close to home and close to our communities.

Running was a way that allowed me to go outdoors into nature and explore all these areas. First the areas around my neighborhood and next to the more remote regions of the mountains. This background also allowed me to appreciate the role that communities play in conservation. You can’t just fence out people from wild spaces but each person that values the outdoors, values the wild places, adds to the inherent value of nature and nature needs a constituency. The more people that go outdoors, whether it is running or even just walking starts to build that constituency for the wild.

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What does community mean to you?

Community is something for me that is constantly evolving from the family unit I grew up with to the greater running community that I am now a part of. The Cordillera Mountain Ultra is a unique race in that we encourage the building of bonds and relationships between the runners from all over the Philippines and all over the world with the members of the community where we hold the race in. They stay in homestays in the little village and while accommodations are pretty basic, time and again it is the warmth and welcoming of the community of all the runners that has truly made a difference here. Many of the runners have a special relationship now with the homes they stay in for the duration of the race and for many in the community meeting runners who have traveled so far to visit their beautiful home offers a fresh perspective on the value of their backyards as well as providing stories from all over the world to people who may not have the opportunity to explore beyond their own borders. In this way during the CMU we create a global community in the little village that carries over way past the date of the race.

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How has your community motivated you?

The community has always motivated me to create better lives for everyone. Myself, my family, my community and the greater wild space that we all live in.

I have been privileged to be part of a global community of like-minded individuals, runners, explorers, bikers, people who love the outdoors and this community has been integral to my growth as a person. Having peers who share the same passions is important but also to be able to admire the talent and be mentored by your own peers is something quite important to me.

Why is it important to share your community with the world?

What we do is to create value for the wild spaces. We create a constituency around the mountains which we live in. By sharing these mountains with the world, we add value to these areas simply by knowing that they exist and each footstep and each experience that goes through these beautiful areas makes them much more valuable and multiplies their value and constituency tenfold.

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Anything else you’d like to share?

The isolation of this global pandemic makes it difficult for us all to feel like we are part of a greater community. But every day I look up at the sky and realize that we all, no matter where we are on earth are part of a global community, whether you’re at home by yourself or with your loved ones, anywhere on the globe we are all under the same sky, one community of human kind and every sunset means that there will be a sunrise tomorrow to look forward to, together.

Follow JP’s journey on Spotify and on Twitter.

About the Cordillera Conservation Trust
The Cordillera Conservation Trust is a local Environmental Organization myself and a few other friends set up in 2006 as a response to a need we saw for a local conservation organization that focused work on the wild spaces and the communities that lived within these beautiful areas. We have gone through a few iterations of the organization from doing reforestation, building forest nurseries, media, and now creating adventure economies that create conservation outcomes in the wild spaces we work in. We started the CMU (Cordillera Mountain Ultra) in 2015 in Mt. Pulag as part of this adventure economy development program. Part of putting together the race we trained the local community in homestays, cooking, accounting, hospitality, etc… so that they would be able to access the adventure economy and move them away from less sustainable forms of livelihood like large scale commercial agriculture which is the leading cause of deforestation in the Cordillera mountain region. So far, this program has become quite successful wherever we do it. We are now in the third village for the CMU which is in Tinongdan in Itogon and the first two villages have become leaders in the homestay industry in the entire region because of our work and of course the many runners of the CMU who come from over 30 countries these days. In the villages we’ve seen an increase of up to 1000% in incomes during the CMU race weekend and there are now permanent homestays that cater to guests the whole year-round moving people away from less sustainable economies. This way they make an income from keeping the mountains wild, pristine, and beautiful rather than seeing it simply as a resource to take from.

INTRO TO RUNNING WITH YOUR DOG

Nicky Inge (@Nickyingenn)
Nicky Inge (@Nickyingenn)

If you’ve been feeling a little cooped up lately, chances are your four-legged friend feels the same way.

After a while, those walks to the park for a game of fetch might feel like a missed opportunity to get even more active.

You might want to try a dog jog.

Running with your dog is a great way to stay active, reconnect with your furriest family member, stay safe during solo runs, and reinforce positive pet behaviors along the way.

But there are some guidelines to follow to make sure you and your pet are running smoothly.

Keep the following in mind:

Not Every Dog is a Born Runner

As much as every pooch can benefit from exercise, some breeds are just not run-ready.

If your pup is built for comfort more than speed – short-legged and short-snouted varieties can especially struggle – it might be best to leave them at home when you hit the road.

The last thing you want is to end up miles from home with a worn-out Basset Hound or wheezing Bulldog. That’s a recipe for switching your own workout from a leisurely run to hardcore endurance weight training.

You’ll know if your dog is a good potential running partner if they have energy to burn around the house.

If you’re already tossing tennis balls for hours on end, or if they’re zooming all over the couch every time you turn around, those are good signs you have a runner on your hands. Less so if their usual activity level puts them in danger of growing moss.

Mireille Sine (@mireille.sine)
Mireille Sine (@mireille.sine)

The Leash of Your Worries

If leash discipline isn’t your dog’s strong suit, you’ll want to work on it during your regular walks (two tips: treats and consistency) before bringing them up to a full gallop.

Why?

Because as much as we’d all love to run free with our perfectly behaved best friends, let’s face it, not every dog is Lassie.

You’ll be running too, and unless you enjoy brushing off road rash to chase your dog through the bushes (or worse, traffic), you want an obedient and reliable running partner who won’t dart away at the first sign of squirrel.

Plan to run with a leash, and make sure you’re confident in your dog’s ability to do so. Getting there will require diligence and focus. If you’re having a rough start, enlist another human to help reinforce the pack rules.

As for the leash setup, when your dog is ready you’ll want to put them in a non-chafing shoulder harness with a back loop, and you might want to try an extendable leash option once your furry friend proves themselves trustworthy.

Keep leash etiquette in mind, and hold your dog close whenever you cross paths with any other humans or canines to avoid tangles or clotheslining.

Run at the Pooch’s Pace (and Distance)

If you’re used to a brisk daily five mile run, you might want to temper expectations for your first trip out with the dog.

Try a nice slow, even jogging pace over your usual shorter “business trip” dog walking route first as a primer, and go from there.

Remember, they’re new to running. Slow down when they slow down. Stop when they stop. Wait when they do their business (and definitely bring baggies for cleanup).

And if an encouraging “let’s go” command doesn’t get them back on track, don’t push – or pull.

If they’re tugging against the harness to go faster than is usual for you, a heel command and a quick short yank on your leash (just enough to remind them you’re there) will work better than sustained pulling – but as mentioned before, leash discipline should be worked out already.

Hot day? Bring a water bottle and a fanny pack with collapsible bowl to keep both you and your dog hydrated.

Scott Fauble (@sfaubs)
Scott Fauble (@sfaubs)

Footwear and Paw Care

What’s the best shoe to wear for interspecies running?

This can get tricky.

The grip-added features of a trail running shoe can help you be a more sure-footed master, but the deeper grooves and bigger lugs associated with trail running soles can make for a messy cleanup in case “it” happens.

A road running model makes the worst-step scenario a little less bad, but running exclusively over concrete surfaces can be tough on a pooch’s paws – especially when it’s hot.

All in all, a trail running shoe, extra vigilance, and a planned route with at least some natural, unpaved running surfaces are the best mix for all six legs involved.

Shop Trail Running Shoes

And if your dog pulls up limpy from any initial test runs, you might want to explore booties or paw healing ointment options before you give it another try.

The main thing to remember, across every aspect of dog running, is you’re the responsible party. So always train your dog up, make every concession you can to their needs and abilities, and take small steps as you develop into a trusty running tandem.

Good luck, and enjoy your run.

Snacking Tips from HOKA NJNY Track Club Nutritionist Amy Stephens

My name’s Amy Stephens, team nutritionist for the HOKA NJNY Track Club, and this is my first post! Our club is coached by legendary coach Frank Gagliano, Tommy Nohilly and John Trautman, and comprises an elite group of mid-distance runners. I’ve been practicing nutrition for over 20 years in NYC, specializing in diabetes and sports nutrition. When I’m not serving the team, I’m running marathons and ultra marathons. After having four children, time for exercise became more precious.

I’ve discovered how important the right food is to: help you run fast, facilitate recovery, and move on with your day. On-point fueling for short and long runs has become my specialty. As the field of nutrition continues to evolve, I’m excited to share the latest updates and find the best strategies that work. Fortunately, I work with a great group of athletes that enjoy hearing about it! Here’s an inside peek at how our HOKA track team keeps energy levels high with great snacks tailored for athletes or simply suited for one’s everyday diet.

Food

Snacks to up your energy levels
Whether you’re logging 60 miles a week or working long hours, the right snacks will keep your energy up and your ability to concentrate sharp. Snacks will prevent an energy crash and keep glycogen stores fully stocked. When working with the NJNY Track Club, we discuss snacks as an opportunity to eat more high quality nutrients.

Timing is key
The best time to eat snacks is in between meals when your blood sugar is dropping. Snacks give you the added boost of energy to get you through to the next meal. Our bodies are constantly using up energy even when we are sitting. Snacks are a great way to keep energy levels up.

Protein + carbs are best
The best way to keep energy levels stable is to eat foods that have a
combination of protein and carbohydrates. The best snacks are low-sugar, high in protein, with some healthy carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are digested and converted into usable energy at a fast rate. However, protein is the key to longer lasting energy because it’s digested more slowly, allowing the release of energy to be slow over a longer period. The pick-me-up-effect of combining carbs and protein will last longer than sugary foods alone. Sugary foods and caffeine will give you a quick burst of energy, followed by a crash. This is not ideal if you’re planning to work long
hours or hit the weights for a double workout.

Food-label

What’s in a label
There are many snacks to choose from; what separates them is on
the label. I look at labels for grams of sugar, fiber, and protein. Sugar content needs to be low (less than 10 grams is ideal). Too much sugar can cause energy peaks and crashes. Fiber is an overlooked nutrient, though very important. Fiber in food slows down the digestion process and keeps energy levels up for longer, which keeps you going longer. Look for snacks with >3 grams fiber per serving. Fiber is mostly found in fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains. Protein will slow digestion of carbohydrates, so choose snacks with more than 5 grams of protein per serving. Fresh foods without labels are even better!

Energy boosting vitamins and minerals
Keep up your stamina: don’t let yourself get tired! Make sure you eat a variety of food that includes these vitamins. While all vitamins and minerals are important, I’ve highlighted a few that have a big impact on energy levels.

  • Iron is an element found mostly in animal proteins like beef, chicken, whole grains and fish. Low levels in your blood can leave you feeling tired all the time.
  • Vitamin D can easily be obtained from the sunlight, eggs and dairy products. Low levels can cause fatigue and low energy.
  • B vitamins (B-12, B-6 and folic acid) are involved in many energy producing reactions. If you’re running more than 50 miles per week, you need more! B vitamins are mostly found in fish, dairy products, eggs, meat, poultry and fortified cereals. Vegans/vegetarians can use nutritional yeast to obtain B-12.

Snacking tips before you dig in:
1. Keep snacks handy – prep snacks ahead of time.
2. Portion control – if you’re afraid to overdo it on the snacks, portion out pretzels, chips, and nuts in a bowl or small plate. Don’t eat out of the bag.
3. Plan ahead and add your favorite snacks to each week’s grocery list.

Snack like the Pros!
Here’s what our HOKA NJNY pro runners choose:

PC: Jay Benlin
PC: Jay Benlin

Katy Kunc looks for snacks that are easy to grab, offer high nutritional value, and are low in sugar. Her favorite go-to’s are: dried mangos (unsweetened), Larabars , Greek yogurt with granola, pretzels or bell pepper with hummus, mixed nuts / nut butters, and popcorn.

PC: Jay Benlin
PC: Jay Benlin

Cecilia Leeper rotates different flavors of hummus like everything bagel, roasted red pepper, garlic, chocolate and classic hummus. Some of her
favorite foods to dip are: carrots, snap peas, celery, peppers, pretzels or pita chips.

PC: Jay Benlin
PC: Jay Benlin

Rob Napolitano loves homemade energy bars in between workouts. They provide a big boost of energy without causing an upset stomach.

Here’s a full list of snacks to kick up your energy and keep you energized. Adjust portions based on your activity level that day. Portions are particularly important!

  • Celery with peanut butter (try sprinkling a few
    chocolate chips)
  • Apple slices + peanut butter
  • No-Bake Energy Bites – click here for the recipe
  • Tortilla chips with mashed avocado or salsa
  • Hummus with carrots or cucumbers
  • Saltines with peanut butter and jelly or tuna salad
  • Hard-boiled egg and multi-grain crackers
  • Banana with peanut butter
  • Cottage cheese with almond butter and sliced banana, sprinkle with chia seeds for added fiber
  • Yogurt with slivered almonds, berries + salted almonds
  • Roasted chickpeas – paprika or cayenne pepper, or Hippeas
  • Edamame
  • Sliced fruit + almonds
  • Frozen cherries + cashews
  • Toast with ricotta sliced peaches
  • Applesauce + handful almonds
  • Pistachios + handful blueberries
  • Pumpkin seeds with sea salt + sliced apple

Stay healthy and stay energized…Time to Fly!

HOKA NJNY Track Club’s Favorite Meals

My name’s Amy Stephens, team nutritionist for the HOKA NJNY Track Club. I’ve been practicing nutrition for over 20 years in NYC, specializing in diabetes and sports nutrition. When I’m not serving the team, I’m running marathons and ultra marathons.

I’ve discovered how important the right food is to: help you run fast, facilitate recovery, and move on with your day. On-point fueling for short and long runs has become my specialty. As the field of nutrition continues to evolve, I’m excited to share the latest updates and find the best strategies that work.

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Easy meals at home
This is a great time to try a new recipe. Use the extra time to experiment with a new dish or sift through your pile of favorite recipes. Finding a great recipe can be overwhelming and time-consuming, so I reached out to the HOKA NJNY Track Club of professional runners to find their favorite go-to quarantine meals. The recipes below are packed with nutrition from fresh veggies, lean protein and healthy carbohydrates. They’re making great food and running fast! I’ve included a few quick and easy recipes that are packed with flavor. These meals will inspire and impress you!

Benefits of home-cooked meals
When cooking meals at home, the focus is more on good quality ingredients and less on added fats and sugars. Preparing meals at home not only enables for healthier options, but helps with portion control, too! When cooking in your own kitchen, you can add extra veggies and cut back on the added oil. Home-cooked meals have half the amount of harmful saturated fats, half the sodium and calories. The flavor is based more on the high-quality ingredients, which makes these meals more nutritious.

Organize your pantry
Great meals start with great ingredients. Whether you’re new to cooking or are a master chef, stock your pantry with these items. I created a grocery list as a guide to keep these staples on-hand.

Recipe-1

Start with your favorite meal
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, start with your favorite meals. HOKA NJNY runner Cecilia Leeper makes different versions of her favorite spaghetti and meatballs, based on what’s in the fridge. Add spinach to the meatballs to boost the nutrition with antioxidants and iron without changing the flavor. Try adding your favorite green or grate vegetables into your favorite pasta sauce. Zucchini, carrots, kale and spinach are great add-ons.

For the sauce:
2-48 oz cans chopped tomatoes
1 tsp sugar
Fresh basil or 1 Tbsp dry
Add meatballs to sauce and simmer for 20 min. Serve with your favorite pasta.

Recipe-2

Avocado pesto pasta with chicken sausage
This is Rob Napolitano‘s favorite quarantine meal.
Add the following into a food processor: a few cloves of garlic, salt, pepper, basil, 2-3 avocados, a bit of parmesan and olive oil to make the sauce.
For the pasta, Rob uses tagliatelle or chickpea pasta. Saute 3-5 oz chicken sausage and combine with sauce. Finish up by shaking some red pepper flakes over it and serve up.

Fried-Rice

Quick fried rice with veggies and tofu
Kyle Merber‘s go-to is homemade fried rice.
Makes for great leftovers, too! All ingredients are easy to find in local grocery stores, even during lock-down. Save time by using frozen Trader Joe’s chicken and frozen veggies. Leftover rice saves time and tastes great.
Click here for the recipe. Enjoy these great meal ideas from the pros…time to fly!

A Big, Long Day: The Fastest Known Time on the Everest Base Camp Trail

Author’s Note: This is an abridged version of the original post, which includes a good bit more detail, particularly about the attempt itself. If you’ve got 20 minutes, I’d recommend checking that out: https://www.chaski.run/post/ebc-fkt

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I start at 12:06am. Only the town mutts notice, arfing as I walk to the arch that marks the start of the 65 mile journey to Everest Base Camp, EBC, (and back). There’s no starting gun, no fanfare, no chip timing. I start my Polar Vantage M (hoping that it’ll last the 20-24 hours I’ll need) and I’m off.

But what am I doing here? Why am I about to run 65 miles through the Himalayas by myself?

As with seemingly everything in life, this long day represents serendipity at its finest. After running the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Atlanta just two weeks earlier, a cancelled trip to Spain led me to reroute my post-Trials time-off to Nepal.

A note about COVID-19 — when I was making all these plans in late February, the Corona Virus was but a minor epidemic in a handful of East Asian countries. A few people (like my parents) seemed alarmed at my plans to go to Asia, but Nepal had no cases yet and the risk seemed low.

But, after spending a mere week hiking in the mountains, I was flooded by news and messages documenting the exponential growth of COVID-19 and its effects on the world and the running community. In the handful of days I’d been incommunicado, cases had skyrocketed worldwide, events had been cancelled, and the World seemed much more concerned. Thus is the way of exponential growth.

I was concerned for my parents — both in their sixties — along with other family and friends. But (more relevant to this narrative), I also began reading about the cancellation of sporting events, from the NBA season to the Boston Marathon; it seemed that any large-scale race was off the table for now.

I felt overwhelmed. Even as a Reddit regular (where the seriousness of the oncoming pandemic was noted early), I hadn’t expected such an immediate and consequential impact.

I’d known about the Everest Base Camp Trail FKT (fastest known time) for months, if not years. The route is out and back, so there were really three FKTs: uphill (15 hours by Pemba Sherpa, 2010), downhill (12 hours, 34 minutes by Ben Southall), and round-trip (30 hours by Pemba Sherpa, 2010).

And here I was, with time and energy to tackle this. I might as well strike while the iron was hot.

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***

Now, it’s all real. I’m hopping down the stone steps that begin the eventual journey upward nearly two vertical miles. My headlamp illuminates the pitch black night and I feel like I can maintain this effort all day; we’re about to find out.

The first hours pass in a dark blur. I cross a half-dozen steel-wire suspension bridges in the impermeable darkness, making for dream-like traverses. The only indication that I’m not navigating some Twilight-Zone outer space is the river roaring 600 feet below.

That first significant climb is steep and relentless, but (relatively) low (8000 ft to 11,500 ft) and short. I’m making great time and before the three-hour mark (03:00am), I’m in sound-asleep Namche Bazaar, still setting off every alarm-dog I pass.

Despite the warmth in the valley, now, 3500 ft. higher, it’s frigid. It’s after 03:00 and, upon passing a treacherous series of icy steps, I arrive at one of my favorite sections of smooth, (relatively) flat trail.

I let myself run and, despite the absolutely arctic temperatures, I am having a grand time. I can see the outlines of Ama Dablam and Everest by the glow of the rising moon. I’ve got one of the most famous trails on Earth all to myself. Life is good.

Just after 04:00am, I put in my headphones, the “Hamilton” soundtrack providing some extra motivation navigating the next monotonous, steep stretch up to Tengboche Monastery. I’m singing along and glad no one’s here to judge me.

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Finally, I can see the light of the morning sun, first illuminating the top of the World, Everest herself at 29,028 ft., and then panning down to our measly 13,000-something feet. I pass the town and the light is just across the valley and the air is beginning to warm.

The sun shines, but the air begins to get seriously thin. I struggle to stay positive throughout the long climb to the Khumbu Glacier (the 12-mile river of rock and ice falling off Everest’s south side). Perhaps it’s the 7+ hours of continuous movement, perhaps it’s the decreasing supply of available oxygen, perhaps it’s because Hamilton ended, perhaps it’s the knowledge (that I’m trying very hard not to acknowledge) that every step that I take I’ll have to retrace; but, I am just not feeling great.

Within the last 1.5 miles from Gorak Shep to EBC my mind shifts from thinking “I’m almost there! Wahoo!” to “I might have to turn around and get heli-evac’d out of G.S.” It’s difficult to describe but I simply feel unwell. I take a few long breaks to catch my breath, reduce my aggressive pace to a crawl, especially up the steeper pieces, and then finally, I see a few orange tents. I plunge down into the glacier and, pulse pounding in my peripheral vision, arrive at the giant rock spray-painted w/ “EVEREST BASE CAMP 5364m [17,598 ft]” after 11h01.

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BACK DOWN

I’ve got the uphill record but the out & back FKT is on the line, so after 9 minutes and 37 sec,  I begin the 32.5 miles journey back to Hiker’s Inn and — by the way — my flight back to Kathmandu and then home to the USA at 6:50am on Tuesday, less than 20 hours from now.

The adrenaline that had propelled me through those final few minutes has run dry. I’m still feeling funny, off, but I know that there’s only one thing that will really help: going down.

One of the things I learn about myself during this big, long day is my ability to accept much larger chunks of suffering than I have in the past. This isn’t going to be the painful last 30 minutes of a marathon; it might be 10+ hours of brutal suffering. But, there’s only one way down and the quicker I get started, the lower I’ll get, the better I’ll feel.

I do feel immensely better within a couple hours and with more oxygen molecules in the air I’m jogging down to the 14,000 ft. plane, but the snowscape of the morning has melted entirely and the trail has been stomped into a filthy mud-pit by dozens of trekkers, yaks, and donkeys. It’s frustrating and my legs and mind are beginning to feel the two vertical kilometers (6500 ft.) of net downhill and the 17+ hours of relentless forward motion. My knees ache, my ankles throb with every hop off a steep step, and my quads are beginning to quiver.

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Finally, I see the sign for Gokyo which marks the beginning of the runnable stretch back into Namche. The sun has set; I’ve been moving for almost 19 hours as I trade my sunglasses and cap for headlamp and beanie.

By the time I pass through Namche, my watch reads 19:25 and it’s fully night again. I really, really want to stop. I smell hot soup as I pass the dozen hostels on the way out of town. Only 11 miles separate me from Lukla, a stretch which should take about 3 hours. I know that sub-24 hours is still a possibility, but it’s not going to be easy.

But, I’ve got to catch that flight. And record or no record, I know that if I do stop, sleep for a few hours and have a hot meal, there’s no way I’ll make it.

There is only one way out. I can either feel sorry for myself and be miserable for the next 3 or 4 or 5 or 8 hours; or, I can just turn my brain off, put one foot in front of the other, then do it again.

If I think about it logically as I stand at the top of that final knee-jarring, toe-jamming descent, there’s no way I can wrap my mind around continuing on for four hours and seventeen minutes longer. But I do just that. I tell myself to just keep going, around this corner, over this bridge, down these stairs, up to this town, one more step, one more step.

The valley is empty and silent (save the dogs whom I am again alarming with my late-night perambulation). I stop in the center of one of the longer suspension bridges and turn off my headlamp, a trillion stars shining above, the rush of water far below.

And then I recognize the last little suspension bridge. I’m going to make it. I’m past 100km (62.2 miles), maybe 2.5 miles to go, all uphill. I’m so disoriented. I think I’m on the final climb and then the trail will spit me out into another indiscernible township.

This is it. For sure. Up the stairs, through the gate, the prayer wheels. I stop my watch. 23 hours, 42 minutes, 13 seconds.Before-Pic-1

AFTERWARD

It seems like a lifetime ago when I walked down this dark, empty street, my vest and backpack and glycogen stores filled to the brim. Yet, it’s also deja-vu: just me and the dogs.

I have had the privilege of spending nearly the entire day in the Himalaya, running, moving, pushing my body and my mind. Despite those moments, hours, of suffering — real physical and mental pain — I am so grateful for this great, big, long day.

Maybe most importantly, I learned more about my own personal answer to that question, the one that pops up when your mind and/or body begin to fatigue, in a workout, a race, or just trying to get out the door: “why?”

To me, that “why?” is driven by a deep desire, a need, to prove to myself (and to others, I’m not too ashamed to admit) that I have more, I can dig deeper, push harder than I thought. If I’ve learned one thing in my twenties, it’s that I feel most alive when chasing those goals that I’m not sure I can catch, that seem scary, daunting, give me the howling fantods.

This was one of those pursuits. I truly didn’t know I’d make it back to Lukla in time to catch my flight home when I set off. But, as I crossed that seemingly infinite bridge through the impenetrable night, unable to see the safety of land on either side, suspended in the blackness, I’d never felt more alive.

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