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South Lakes runners in world’s highest race

Tom Gibbs

South Lakes runners were the first international competitors home in the world’s highest race, the Original Everest Marathon.

Ambleside AC’s Tom Gibbs finished in 5hrs 23 minutes, while Sabrina Vergee from Langdale was the first international woman to finish in 6 hours 41 minutes.

Sabrina Verjee

This was just a short outing for Sabrina who relishes long routes, having won the Montane Spine Fusion– a 268mile race along the Pennine Way in 82hours 19mins, outright.

Race director Ali Bramall from Sedbergh took a party of British athletes out to Everest to join the international competitors, spending time acclimatising before the race.

Thirteen local runners took part, flying down the course with ease, Ali reported. Suman Kulung finished in 3hrs 39min, taking a minute off the all-time record. Rashila Tamang, the first woman, finished in a time of 5hrs 17mins.

Said Ali: “Does this sound like a long time for a marathon? We’re talking the highest marathon in the world, starting at just below 5,200m where the air is thin. The first part of the course crosses glacial moraine and this is followed by steep, stony descents, frozen bog, steep steps and some delightful paths, easy in their width and gradient.

“The unusual hazards on the route are the Yak trains. The question is, do you wait for them to pass or risk negotiating their long, wide horns? There’s a definite degree of luck in your race if you manage to avoid the Yaks crossing the numerous wire bridges spanning the Dhuh Khosi river.

“Theoretically, it’s all downhill as you lose altitude, but the sting in the tail is the steep ziz-zag descent from Tengboche (home of the famous monastery), landing runners at the foot of a 330m climb through the forest. It’s probably the hardest climb people will do in their life.”

To get to the start was a huge challenge for most of the international runners – the basic living conditions up the Khumbu valley are a shock to some and although the daytime temperatures are good, especially with the help of the ever-present sun, the nights are cold. The trek into the start, just under Everest’s south face was done slowly, acclimatising gradually and avoiding altitude sickness.

One of the team leaders and expedition doctor was Wendy Dodds from Milnthorpe.

Tom Gibbs said: “The hardest parts of the race were watching the local runners charge off at the start, having to walk stuff I’d usually easily run, and getting cramp on the Thamo Loop. The best bits were the technical sections, especially down and beyond Dhugla, and getting so much encouragement from the locals and trekkers on the route.”

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