On the morning of the inaugural Kathmandu Ultra, we stood at the gate of the Shivapuri National Park craning our necks up to the challenge that lay before us. A light dew covered the grass and a soft breeze moved the cool air through the edge of the valley. A few of us had loaded onto the early bus and braved the morning chill in order to start the race at 7:00 am, an hour before most of the competitors began. There were three courses– 50 kilometers (km) 27 km, and 11 km. But even the shortest among them deserves respect, climbing 1,100 meters straight to the top of Shivapuri on several thousand hand-carved stone steps.
With a “three, two, one!” we were on our ways. The 11k started on the relentless stone steps, and two longer courses followed a gently inclining single track that met the stairs a few hundred meters up. With straining breath and sweaty brow, I marched upwards, gaining false hope that I had topped out each time the terrain flattened. We journeyed up to the ridge, where you could steal a glimpse of the snow-covered Ganesh Himal and Langtang ranges to the north.
The 11k racers caught no break– immediately after their climb, their legs had to take them right back to where they started. The longer courses continued onto lovely, runnable trail that gently went down over the course of seven km. Through the cover of the forest, I could see snippets of the peaks to my left and the valley to my right. The ultra course continued to Chisapani, where it then descended to Mulkharka. Running the 27 km course, I instead went straight down to Mulkharka, through the terraced farmland, where I was greeted by an enthusiastic aid station loaded with fuel for the final push– oranges, tea, biscuits, and more. I drank some juice, pocketed a Snickers bar, and went on my way, climbing another 600 meters through shady forest to the striking Nagi Gumba. From here begins the final descent to the finish line. The 50k runners continue back up the steps to the top of Shivapuri before returning back down to end their race. Climbing those stairs twice in one day is an impressive feat in itself, much less in addition to 50k of running.
It was a spectacular race for anyone enthusiastic about running (or walking), filled with the quiet of the mountains and the companionship of the other racers. Yes, my legs were tired, but it was well worth it. I’d highly recommend signing up for its second iteration in January of 2015, a great way to bring in the new year.