Durbanite wins Himalayan 100 Mile Stage Race
South African enthusiast multisporter and trail runner Deon Braun (44) won the 21st annual 160km Himalayan 100 Mile Stage Race (H100) held from 18-22 October in the Darjeeling region of the Indian Himalayan foothills.
Braun labours up a climb on the cobblestone road back from the turnaround on Day 2, with the Everest / Makalu group in the backdrop, over 160km away. Photo: Sean Falconer / Modern Athlete www.modernathlete.co.za
He scored a surprise win in the opening 37km stage from Manebhanjang (2,100m) that climbed 1,500 vertical metres to the breath-taking finish in Sandakhpur National Park (3,636m). The terrain followed the rugged jeeptrack on sharp cobblestones and a multitude of switchback ascents on the stone road built by Nawab of Hyderabad in 1948 to give vehicles access to the area. It also forms the boundary between India and Nepal. Warm temperatures proved to give Braun an edge over Irishmen Stephen Wallace (49) and Mark King (48), and 22-year-old star of the future, Lars Drageryd in fourth. Braun finished in 4h59, with Wallace in 5h16. Brit Karen McGibbon (47) took the women’s race in 6h59.
After an overnight at the rustic but spectacular Sandakphu Park, the race started at temperatures of just above zero, with a fresh wind adding a biting chill to the 39 starters. The campsite is the only point on earth to give simultaneous views of four of the five highest peaks on earth (Everest, Kanchenjunga, Makalu and Lhotse. K2 in Pakistan is not visible). In this stage, 22-year-old Swede Lars Drageryd (with a marathon PB of 2:37) showed his intentions to overcome his setback of the opening day (when he cramped in the heat), by running into the lead at the 6km mark. Irishman Stephen Wallace spent most of the first half of the km stage exchanging second place with Braun. Finally Braun accelerated away from Wallace on a long rocky descent on the return leg to the Park but the day belonged to Drageryd who reduced his deficit on Braun by 8 minutes. Wallace’s 3:29 in third place increased Braun’s lead by 12 minutes.
The third day of the H100 offers the standalone Everest Marathon, with a start from the same line with sacred mountain Kanchenjunga 100km away in the distance. This course followed along the first 16km, then added a vicious 4km climb in cold, misty conditions, to the checkpoint at Phulet Hut. The course bombed back downhill to the turn south that would take competitors from the high ground to the warmer conditions near Sikkim. Experienced American marathon runner Christopher Solarz showed his intentions early and Braun recognised him as the danger man for the day, although his choice to hike the other legs did not threaten for the overall lead. “My legs did not feel ready to continue with the pace of Christopher, Lars and Stephen, so I decided to race at my own pace rather than try to match them and blow up later”, said Braun, who lost contact with them 7km from the turnaround. He lost further ground when he turned back thinking he had missed the turn south, having to double-back upon realising his error. Solarz surged clear of Drageryd and Wallace before the misty, wind-swept turnaround at Phulet Hut, finally entering the partial sunshine of the Siri Khola area (2,000m altitude), a drop in elevation of 1,600m in just 10km. Drageryd caught him on the rutted descent to the fast-flowing river but fell in one of the tricky gulley sections, twisting his ankle and seemingly losing any chance of taking the stage. Amazingly, he regained his composure on the remainder of the stony, muddy descent into the verdant semi-tropical valley and the pair finished together, taking a massive 35 minute chunk from Braun’s lead.
The fourth stage, the first of the two road stages on almost untrafficked roads, started in rainy conditions from the Sherpa Hotel grounds and included a hedge jump to get competitors’ blood flowing. The course took racers on an immediate 4km downhill plummet through several tiny villages lining a fast-flowing mountain stream and a torturous 10km climb in rain to a roadside finish on the verdant forest hillside at Palmajua. Drageryd sped down the hillside and remained at the head of the race for 3km but the previous day’s racing and his fall had taken their toll on his legs and Braun caught him before the flat section along the river. They ran together for 10km until Braun accelerated away on one of the steep switchbacks, claiming his second win of the race, one minute ahead of his young rival.
The final 27km stage had entrants being bussed 21km along the same narrow tarred road to the the previous day’s finish at Palmajua, a journey which took an hour. Stiff, tired bodies faced a 10km climb and then 17km of brutally hard undulations, mainly downhill, interspersed with another long uphill grind. From within the first 400m, young Swede Drageryd lead Braun up the seemingly neverending switchbacks through humid forests, but Braun hung on doggedly, knowing he needed to just stay with the young Swede to take the overall win. At the crest, with 17km of hard downhill running left, Drageryd turned to Braun and said “Let me be the first to congratulate you on your win”, a choice he made due to suffering from stomach issues. They decided that a run in together to savour the scenery would be better than fighting it out for very little chance of gain. Women’s winner Brit Karen McGibbon had a freak fall in the final 2km, gashing her face, but this did not have any influence on her overall result.
The area was a fitting one to end the Himalayan 100 Mile Stage Run, with dense sub-tropical forests, stunning montane vistas and fresh mountain air. A black panther was spotted by one of the marshalls as it padded across the narrow tar road. Competitors also saw snakes, yak and many species of birds along the course.
Pics by Joel Wolpert at https://picasaweb.google.com/scherzandocorrendo/IndiaZoiks
The 22nd Himalayan Stage Race is scheduled for October 27 – November 3, 2012, while the 18th Everest Challenge Marathon is scheduled for October 31, 2012.
More at www.himalayan.com