Client focus: Congratulations Gareth 30th place in one of the toughest races in the world

Racing the Planet: Nepal – a 250km self-supported foot race through the Annapurna range of the Himalayas. Competitors carry everything they need for the week in a backpack weighing an average of 10kgs. There were over 200 competitors from 40 countries. I had the privilege of training Gareth Andrews in preparation for this epic endurance race.

Gareth, a young Doctor and an accomplished athlete having represented Scotland at rugby and having competed in the U.K National Athletic Championships. Since taking up Ultramarathon running in 2009 Gareth has completed a number of high profile endurance running events (Atacama Crossing 2010, The North Face 100 2011, GeoQuest Adventure Race 2011). He is hoping to use his future races to raise as much money as possible for charity and is supporting the Australian Himalayan foundation in his upcoming race in the himalayas.
Gareth came to Joe to fine tune his preparation for his first Himalayan Race. The following is his account of his grueling Himalayan effort which saw him come a fantastic 30th in an international field of 220 competitors who started and 170 who finished.

Racing The Planet: Nepal 2011, Gareth’s Race

Stage 1 – 30kms
After final kit checks and race registration at race HQ in Pokhara we drove to Camp 1 ready for the race start the following morning. After a cold night we woke to a view of the Himalayas in all their glory, the early morning sun just catching the snow capped peaks set against a clear blue sky. I felt good on the first morning and eager to get under way and find out if all the training was going to pay off. It was a 30km day, shorter than normal stages but with an overall altitude gain of 700m. After the start at 7am it was a gentle 5km run to the first checkpoint along an old dirt jeep track on the valley floor. From that point on the fun was over. We faced a 2 hour climb initially on the jeep track then towards the top the dreaded stairs. As we reached the summit of this rather modest mountain (in comparison to its neighbours) we ran through a small farming villages with cobbled streets and small stone farmhouses then onto a ridgeline with an incredible view of the Annapurna range. From here it was all downhill, literally. I was able to run most of the way into camp, apart from one section that was so steep and broken down that it was more of a scramble than a run. I arrived in camp in 18th place.
Stage 2 – 32kms
After starting the race so well on Stage 1, today wasn’t such a good day. Half the camp had come down with a stomach bug and I thought I was in the clear until I woke up this morning and couldn’t keep my breakfast down. Once the race started I couldn’t even take on any fluids without bringing them back up. So, with no food to keep me going and no fluids or electrolytes Stage 2 was hard. We started from camp at 7am ready to take on the 32kms of stairs, trails and dirt tracks. We started to climb almost immediately from the valley floor up a steep section of stairs. After half an hour it finally levelled out and we were running through farms and small villages. Just after Checkpoint 1 we started the days biggest climb. A vertical stone staircase that went on for hours, gaining 736m altitude. From the top of the stairs I was exhausted, with no food or water to give me a lift my legs felt very heavy. For the rest of the race I had to walk, it was relatively flat but the nausea and vomiting was really holding me back and I was concerned about getting very dehydrated. On a lighter note, the scenery was as spectacular as ever. At the top of the giant staircase we had views of the hills and valleys with the peaks of the Annapurna range in the distance.
Stage 3 – 38kms
The stomach bug was still hanging around today but I managed to get some good running in. With no food the night before and only a muesli bar for breakfast I was slow over the first section of Stage 3. It was a relatively easy start to the day with a 14km run alongside a river to the first checkpoint. The stage in all gained 1150m in elevation with the first 30kms going up by 500m along an undulating jeep track. From the last checkpoint it was roughly 8km to camp, straight up with a gain of 650m. With only electrolytes, water and a couple of sachets of carbohydrate drink the going was tough. To finish the day we hiked from the valley floor up a stone staircase with areas of rough ground where landslides had taken out the path. The stairs wound through small farming villages, some with tea houses for trekkers. Everyone here is so friendly, in each village we passed though we were welcomed by crowds clapping and cheering. I eventually made it to camp after 6.5 hours on the course with tired legs and aching shoulders but still positive and looking forward to Stage 4.
Stage 4 – 30kms
After a very cold night on the mountainside we rose to clear skies and the start of Stage 4. The mornings always start the same, up at 5.15, quickly pull on the jacket and rush to the fireside and attempt to eat some breakfast. Today was a good day and I managed some porridge and it made the world of difference. Then it’s back to the tent strap the feet and fix the blisters, pack the bag ready for the course briefing at 6.30 and the start at 7am. Stage 4 was only 30kms but it was a huge day. The first section of course was the route of the first approach for expeditions to Annapurna. From camp we immediately started the day’s big ascent, following a mix of goat tracks and stone stairs up 1200m to a height of 2800m. My legs felt strong today and I managed the climb with no problems. The summit and checkpoint 1 was at a village called Ghorapani and from here we started the descent. After all this climbing up we were suddenly faced with a very technically difficult set of 3200 steps to the valley floor. The stairs were steep, wet, uneven, broken and frequented by trekkers, goats and pack horses. I almost got knocked over a couple of times by the pack horses and had to flee up the hillside to avoid a marauding herd of goats. It was tough on the legs and on the mind, it requires quite intense concentration over a long period so as not to slip and fall.  Once at the bottom of the stairs it was a 7km run to the finish.
Stage 5 – The Long March 78kms
I woke feeling like a new man with my mind firmly focused on the task ahead, getting myself over those 78kms of mountains as fast as possible. There was a nervous anticipation amongst competitors at the 6.30 race briefing, the mood oddly somber with none of the usual start line banter. I think everyone was just contemplating the task ahead and getting themselves prepared mentally, some for over 26hrs on the course. We left camp at 7.15am and the much anticipated ‘long march’ was finally underway. After a kilometer on a road we hit our first of three major 600m climbs of the day. A long slippery stone staircase took us to the top of ridgeline and on to the best trails of the whole race. We followed winding single track trails for a number of kms along a ridgeline with the Annapurna range in full view in the distance, by far the best views of the race. After CP1 we headed down the first big descent again on steps and trails. We found some relief from the already burning sun on the northern face of the mountain running through damp forest, the only drawback was the incredibly slippery steps that really slowed progress. I made it through to CP2 feeling great with loads in the tank. I was actually surprised at how fresh I was feeling, I think it was a combination of mentally preparing for a very long day and also feeling back to normal physically. The second climb was the toughest of the day. A winding stone staircase through paddy fields and in the full glare of the sun. It took a lot out of me but I managed a consistent speed to the top. From here we followed another ridgeline and passed through a beautiful old stone farming village and then down a long descent to the halfway mark. A further long climb and the third of the day took me up to CP5. It was around 3pm at this stage and this was the checkpoint with tents and hot water for those who wanted a rest and some food, but feeling great I pushed on. The remainder of the race followed old rough jeep tracks constructed from jumbled rocks and very hard to run on. This slowed the progress down because of the sore feet, but I was running the downhills and flats up until the finish. I finished in 12h30mins in 26th place with a great feeling of accomplishment at having finished the toughest stage of the race.
Stage 6 – 13kms
The final stage of the race, a 13km run into the finish. A fierce pace was set early as we raced through the first of the paddy fields and small villages. I wanted to keep pace with the leading group to try and get myself a top 30 finish. After around 3km the pace settled and I stuck to a good rhythm and slowly the kms ticked over. The stage was rather uninspiring running along jeep tracks and through grazing paddocks to the finish at the Fulbari Resort. It was a fantastic feeling running this last couple of hundred meters past the flags and cheers to the finish. In taking on this challenge we raised $5000 for the Australian Himalayan Foundation and provided 25 schools with teachers and educational resources for years to come.
You can find out more about Gareth and his races at the official Himalayan Challenge 2011 website.

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