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Five-Day Ultra Marathon in India Challenges Diverse Contenders

TV report transcript

Once a year, the small Himalayan town of Manaybhanyjang opens its crowded streets to a group of foreign adventurers who have an ambitious, some would say insane, program for a five-day visit.

The village of Manaybhanyjang in northeastern India is the official start of the Himalayan 100-mile stage race, a five-day ultra marathon unrivaled in the Eastern world. Thirty nine runners from 12 countries embrace the festive atmosphere before enduring the challenging race.

Richard Wang of Hong Kong was one of four Asians in the race.


"I'm not planning or training to win the race. I just come to enjoy myself."

There was some pleasure during the early portion of the first stage--a grueling 24-mile journey. Along the way, the trail was both inviting...


"You are doing so well."


"I told you, how hard can it be?"

…and treacherous. It began at 2,200 meters and ended several hours later at 4,000 meters. Patrick Johns of the U.S.-- the only competitor who had run the race twice before--knows the challenges of the first day.


"The most difficult thing is the finish of day one, it really is a whipping. It's really tiring, the altitude and the angle create the difficulties. At that point you just get through to the mental part and continue on and it's doable. It's hard but doable."

By the end, as they approached the finish with clouds rolling in, most competitors were walking.


"At the beginning it was okay, it was not too hard, but at the end I was really struggling to go up. Even the last hill was very, very steep."

Christian Scheister of Austria managed to run the entire stage and led the race.


"I've trained very hard the last eight months; I live in the mountains, it's not so for me, because, I ran 6,000 kilometers in the last eight months, 160,000 meters high. I had a good race today."

It was not as easy for most racers. Martin Harrow of Britain quickly sought comfort as the chill at elevation set in.


"When you get to the finish line you're so exhilarated, you start to relax, then your body chills immediately. And I just need to get warm. And then I might eat something."

Nausea overtook Harrow, and he could not eat the rest of the day.

But all seemed forgotten the next morning, with a glorious awakening at camp in the outpost village of Sandahkpu: clear views of four of the five highest peaks in the world. One of them, Kanchenjunga, provides a compelling backdrop to the start of the second stage, a 20-miler out and back, along a trail that serves as the border between India and Nepal. Runners enjoy beautiful views on this day, including one of Mount Everest, the world's highest peak, in the distance.

Day 3: the Mt. Everest Marathon--a brisk chill greets runners for the start shortly after sunrise.


"Warm tea, with tons of sugar."

Scheister, the race leader, completes the grueling marathon in four hours, 21 minutes, almost double his best marathon time. The challenges of the stage were many: steep elevations and sharp declines. Some runners finished after dark. The stage ended at 1,935 meters, back in civilized territory, in the village of Rimbik, known as a resting spot for Himalayan trekkers. Pleasant surroundings welcome the runners. Boys play India's pastime sport: cricket. The worst was over…


“If we hadn't been together to just cheer each other up, we would have given up.

I wanted to jump among the horses and just ride in, on horseback.”

Day 4: the shortest stage at 13 miles. Off again, through Rimbik, and winding trails that first went steeply down, leveled slightly, then rose sharply again.


"It's great, I like it very much today. How about the other days? I don't want to remember."

Women's leader Delores Avendano of Argentina planned to walk the rest of the way


"I've run the whole thing so far, but now I think I'm going to walk fast."

A big difference from the previous day. Smiles at the finish of Stage 4.


"At least it was manageable. The grade was decent, so it was nice to be able to run uphill for a change."

The final day, a last group breakfast before a 17-mile run, more rolling than climbing. Outside, the sun beckons the final challenge.


"There's nothing to prove today. Everyone's done so well to get to this point. We just want to enjoy it and see the finish line and see the smiles on everyone's faces as we come through."

The race leader, Christian Scheister, had something else on his mind: a new course record. The less severe terrain allowed many runners to savor, rather than struggle through, the last miles. Scheister finished the stage in just more than two hours.

He finished the race back in Manaybanjang in 14 hours, 43 minutes--beating the record by 15 minutes. Wang completed his journey in 24 hours, 45 minutes. The women's winner, Avandano, finished in just over 20 hours.


“I can't believe I did it. Believe it, you did it.”

One hundred miles in five days over treacherous terrain. For most runners it was the achievement of a lifetime.