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Everest Marathons – World’s Highest Races

By Christopher Ryan

Start of the Tenzing Hillary Everest Marathon at the Everest Base Camp

Two Everest Marathons take place in Nepal every year – one in May that starts from the Everest Base Camp, and the other in December from Gorak Shep. Both course through some of the highest and toughest landscape, and finish in Namche Bazaar – the Sherpa heartland.

The Tenzing Hillary Everest Marathon - the world's highest, toughest and the ultimate mountain race - takes place every year on May 29. It is also the most spectacular. Initiated on May 29, 2003 – to mark the fifty years of the first ascent of Everest by Tenzing and Hillary on May 29, 1953 – this year’s marathon was the seventh. It almost got called off because of the heavy snowfall a week before the race. However, the weather relented, the snow melted and the marathon was on.

Organised by the Himalayan Expedition, the marathon starts from the Everest Base Camp at 5356m and ends at the well known Sherpa capital of the Everest region - Namche Bazar at 3446m. About 120 participants including 52 foreigners from all corners of the world participated in the 26.2 mile (42.2 km) marathon - 14 were from India. Harsh weather and altitude sickness did not deter these committed participants.

Unlike other marathons, to reach the starting point of this race is no mean feat – a flight to Kathmandu, then another flight aboard a small airplane to Lukla and the hair-raising landing on a tiny strip on a mountain slope, followed by a 10 day trek to the Everest Base Camp through mountain villages, along the whitewaters of the Bhote and the Dudh Kosi rivers, Namche Bazaar, Buddhist monasteries, and the spectacular views of Nuptse, Everest and Lhotse from Kala Patthar. The actual marathon has not even begun yet!

The Starting Line at the Base Camp is right below the Khumbu Icefall against a backdrop of Everest, Lhotse and Lola Pass – the three starting referees! Though a downhill marathon, there are two steep uphill stretches - otherwise it is an ethereal run through some of the highest landscape in the world, with its glacial moraines, rhododendron forest, wild orchid groves, monasteries, chortens, and suspension bridges.

There is yet another marathon – called the Everest Marathon – that takes place in December. This particular marathon was first held in 1987. It starts at Gorak Shep 5184m (17,000 feet), close to the Everest Base Camp in Nepal and, like the Tenzing Hillary Everest Marathon, finishes at the Sherpa town of Namche Bazaar at 3446m (11,300 feet) a distance of 42 km over rough mountain trails. Following more or less a similar route as the Tenzing Hillary marathon, this race has more snow and ice on the upper trails – given the fact that it is run in winters.


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