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La Ultra - The High

La Ultra – The High is a relatively new and extreme ultra marathon, deemed the highest and toughest ultra marathon in the world. Held in the spectacular foothills of the Himalayas, India, the punishing course runs a total distance of 222km (137.64 miles) with an average altitude of 14,765 feet and crosses two of the 7 highest mountain passes in the world:-

Highest point: Khardung La at 17,700 ft (5395 m)

Cumulative vertical ascent: 10,193 ft (3,107 m)

Cumulative vertical descent: 8,873 ft (2,704 m)

At 14,765 ft (4,500 m), The High’s average altitude, the partial pressure of oxygen is 40% less than at sea level

 But only a handful of the world's top ultra endurance athletes are invited to take part and experience this elite non-stop race, many of which will not make it to the finish line. In 2010, only a single runner managed to complete the gruelling course – UK ultra runner Mark Cockbain, in a time of 48hrs and 50 mins. Fellow racers Dr William (Bill) Andrews and Molly Sheridan were forced to pull out due to injuries.

UK Gear wear tester and International ultra distance runner, Sharon Gayter was one of just 7 runners from around the world who signed up to the race this summer, which was held on 11th - 13th August 2011.

In her race report, Sharon gives an account of the mental and physical strength it took to not only prepare for such a race, but to take part, finish and win in a staggering 37hrs 34 mins and 37 secs!


La Ultra – The High

Race Report by Sharon Gayter

So I have run the Marathon des Sables and Badwater Ultramarathon, both of which claim to be the toughest race on earth, I have run in snow and ice across Slovenia, run the alpine paths of the Trans-Alpine race, run phenomenal distances such as Lands End to John O’Groats (837 miles) and earlier in the year my second longest run of 750km in 6 days in Athens, ran numerous 24 hour races and 100 kilometre races, have run back to back marathons such as Moravian Ultra Marathon (7 marathons in 7 days), run stage races such as Al Andalus Ultra Trail, run with packs on such at the unsupported Libyan Challange, run through canyons, Verdon Canyon, have run deserts, trails, track and road races and now I had the ultimate before me – altitude! Would this be tougher than the rest or just another claim? I would find out as this was the challenge and relished the chance to try.

We were soon flying to Leh and got glimpses of the mountains of the Himalayas as we came in to land. As last we could step off at around 11,486 feet (3,501 metres) and be in the glorious mountains that I had longed to see. We were greeted by the sound of drums and pipes, and had a traditional Ladakhi welcome. It was only on climbing the two flights of stairs to our room that our breathing became laboured due to the altitude and lack of oxygen. The room had almost floor to ceiling windows on two sides and the most glorious outlook imaginable. I just pulled back all the curtains and admired the view. It was time to unpack as we were to be here for some time. It was now Monday 1st August and race day was Thursday 11th August.

We had a week to acclimatise. On Tuesday when I went for my first undulating run, I covered approximately 5.5 miles in the hour and came back feeling totally exhilarated and alive. The next day we went to the highest point on the course at Khardung La (17,700 feet). Bill cycled back and I ran the 40 kilometres, again it was great running and good to experience the course. The next day was a trek to Mankarmo and the day after a rest day and walked to Shanti Stupa, a local temple high above Leh. The next two days were driving over the course, first to the start and a 10 kilometre run to the top of Khardung La and then to the second highest point of Tanglang La.

We had now been here a week and on Tuesday 9th August we went to a camp-site around 10 kilometres from the start. I had three goals for this race; goal 1 was to finish, goal 2 was to beat

Mark Cockbain’s (UK) time of 48 hrs 50 minutes (the only finisher of this race last year), and goal 3 was to win the race.

Race day was 6am on Thursday 11th August and six runners started. Sharon (UK), Ray (USA), Molly (USA), Lisa (NZ), Samantha (AUS) and Jason (AUS). The countdown began and Ray zoomed off in the distance. By the time I reached Khardung Village around 10 kilometres I was in second place progressing nicely, controlled running and yet to walk. It was before North Pullu that Girish (one of my crew with Bill) appeared with the nebuliser, I was to take this every 4 hours for my asthma as my usual pumps were not working at this altitude. Then there was a commotion, there was a landslide ahead. I had to wait until the digger above stopped and then climbed over the mud and rocks so that I could be on my way while the vehicles had to wait until the road was cleared.

Khardung La was easy to see, there was a big mast that you could see for miles and knew exactly where the top was. This was 42 kilometres (a marathon) into the race and was all uphill for around 5,000 feet, it took me 6 hours and 15 minutes to reach here, Ray was 10 minutes ahead. The next 40 kilometres were all downhill back to Leh, some 6,000 feet to descend and my shins just above my ankles started to feel bruised at this point with the intense gradient. Through Leh and for around 10 kilometres the traffic was mayhem and got a police escort through here – it was needed as I remember at least three occasions where I had my hands on vehicles trying to avoid being run down!

I heard that Ray was over half an hour ahead now, but as always this was simply for interest and the race had still not even begun, merely ticking away the miles and trying to enjoy the experience. The light was fading, but with the darkness came the dogs. Right from the first night of being here we heard the dogs barking and howling during the night, during the day these street dogs lay around sleeping and harmless, but out here they roamed in packs and were very intimidating. My pace was slowly diminishing. The route was still slowly downhill, lowering in altitude and remember Bill telling me I had run nearly 100 kilometres when I asked. This was now at one of the lowest altitude we would reach at around 10,500 feet.

Karu was the next significant place for me. A big military camp and got a shock when I was asked to stop and give my passport, luckily Bill was still here and the problem was sorted. After here the route climbed and then dropped to the river. This was a strange section for me and all sorts happened, none of which the crew were aware of even though they were never more than a couple of kilometres from me. First there was a man on a bicycle with no lights in the pitch black, he cycled back and forth a couple of times before finally approaching me, probably couldn’t make head nor tail as to what I was up to. He simply asked if I needed help! Very sweet and I tried to explain I was running because I wanted too. The next thing I knew the road seemed to turn very sandy and gravelly and became uphill again. It wasn’t until another car passed with the headlights on that I realised he was following a tarmac road and although I thought I had maintained direction I had veered off course and was on a dirt track. I soon short-cutted back to the road and immediately made a note to become more aware of where I was going! Then a motorbike passed with a couple of young lads on, again they went by and came back, this time it was to see if I wanted a lift! Three on a motorbike! I kindly refused and thanked them for the offer. The last incident was not so amusing. There were two young men ahead walking towards me. I still had my head down in my own little world in the darkness, walking as fast as I could when my forearm was grabbed firmly. I looked up and in the darkness initially thought the man was Justin, one of the medics, until he spoke in Indian and wasn’t quite sure what to do. My car was nowhere in sight, I knew it wasn’t far away but pulled my arm away and tried to continue and told them to leave me alone. He spoke to his friend, released me and apologised and I scooted off sharply! Bill was a mere 200 metres around the corner from this incident and easily within shouting distance had I realised, but it came to nothing, just had my heart rate racing for a little more that it should have done!

The river by night was special. I had seen this during the drives across and loved it but by night it was flickering in the light of the full moon and could hear it gushing around, forceful and lively. The only concern here was the broken road and avoiding getting too close to the edge. Girish came out for a walk with me on this section to keep me safe. I had told him I don’t speak much when running and he diligently walked alongside in almost silence with me.

It was late at night, I had no idea what the time was but I was really beginning to feel tired. I felt as though the pace was dropping. I never usually stop in these races but knew this race was always going to throw up the unexpected. I felt sick. Food was not going down and could barely face eating anything. Instead of eating a slice of potato, I was barely eating a mouthful, instead of a pot of custard it was a teaspoon of custard. I tried different things. Coke wouldn’t go down, my faithful milkshakes of Glycoslim wouldn’t go down, I tried ginger cake but the minute Bill cut a slice I couldn’t even face taking a bite and he ate it. Eventually I asked to lay down for 20 minutes and hoped that my concentration would return and I would feel better. The back seat was immediately cleared and I rested. I am not entirely sure I slept but closed my eyes and all was quiet.

I returned to walking and immediately felt better. I didn’t feel so sick and felt as though the break had done me good. I was walking along quite merrily again when Rajat (race organiser) came from nowhere and joined me. We chatted for a bit and he asked me to turn off my torch and turn around. The view by moon light was stunning, only here in the Himalayas could you experience this, I knew why I was here and this was what I had come for, I was pleased Rajat had shown me. Although I felt good for a bit I was beginning to slow up again. I am not too sure how long after this it actually was but the tiredness started to seriously affect me. I had never experienced tiredness like this in 24 hours and so far I had not even run 24 hours. I was aware that I really wasn’t walking in a straight line, I am not sure if I even bumped into Girish a couple of times but was aware that I kept getting told to walk to the right as the river was on the left. Bill was there asking what I wanted. A break was the answer, but only 20 minutes! The back seat was immediately cleared again. I felt heaps better again now and the pace picked up again. I dreaded to think how slow I had been over this section and how I was doing relative to the schedule. I was still going, the number one goal was to finish and in my own head I never doubted that I would finish. I was tired, I felt sick, I knew I had a few blisters now, my breathing was terrible, I had no energy, had barely eaten a thing, I was still barely half way into the race but I knew I would finish. I told Bill this. I said I would finish this because I didn’t think I ever want to come back and go through this again, and I couldn’t leave the race with unfinished business. To fail a race means you have to come back to fix it another time!

Rumptse was the next significant place and had the last camp for the race which I knew was around the 100 mile mark (around 161 kilometres into the race), but it seemed to be an age away. Since my last stop I had eaten nothing. I felt less sick by not eating, but as I was planning a break at Rumptse the idea was to stop and eat when the food would probably go down better rather than walking and eating. Slowly the sun was rising and the daylight it brought made me feel more awake. I arrived around 6:30am and heard that Ray had only left about an hour previously. I wasn’t concerned about the race, just finishing and was pleased to hear the rest of the runners were still progressing well and no-one had been taken ill. No sooner had I sat down that out came the nebuliser. I had still been using this regularly and taking it every 4 hours, it had last been due at 6am but with Rumptse being so close it had been decided to wait until I sat down to take this. I had the medical and decided to change my socks and shoes here (into UK Gear PT-1000) as my feet had now been wet for some time. I had some plain noodles that were none too warm, some tea and then asked Bill if he would make some of my pasta soup that was a lot more tasty than the noodles. He brought me crunchy, uncooked, luke warm pasta that I really could not eat! The water obviously doesn’t boil too hot at 14,000 feet.

My sleeping bag was retrieved and tried to sleep for 30 minutes. But it was impossible. I was wide awake now that the sun was shining and just lay and rested until my time was up, frustrated that I would rather be out and getting on with the job of finishing. I left still encased in my monstrous down jacket for winter expeditions and within minutes was overheating and down to my lighter red jacket. The car zipped by and someone hanging out the window grabbed the jacket. The sun was warm and soon the red jacket was off and my sleeves were rolled up looking ahead to the climb. It still felt like a very long day ahead. I left shortly after 8am and my schedule had me leaving here at 8:15am so I was still on course for a sub 40 hour race. That still meant to finish in 40 hours was 10pm that night and that was 14 hours ahead of me and was already 26 hours into the race. Head down and walk as fast as my breathing and shins will allow was my thoughts. I never looked up, only to see the car. Onwards and upwards, as the road started twisting and climbing again. It was warm. It felt the hottest so far but the pace was steady. Soon it was time for the nebuliser again. I still managed to walk and take this and was pleased I didn’t have to sit and waste time. My breathing was continuously laboured, always far more laboured than in any other ultra. The climb seemed to go on forever. The hours were slowly ticking and the kilometres extremely slowly passing. Occasionally I saw a friendly face pass by in the car or Kunal would jump out and ask “How’s my runner?” He was always funny and put a smile on my face. The only good news was that I no longer felt sick (but I was no longer eating anything!).

Eventually I got feedback that I was at 14 kilometres from the top and Ray was 4 kilometres from the top and struggling, but that still meant nothing as 10 kilometres was a long way at this altitude. With only 9 kilometres to go to the top the car was ordered to stay close to me and go only 1 kilometre at a time. This was pleasing for me as all I had to count was another 9 kilometres but do you want to know how tough this was? All year my 10 kilometres times have been around 42-43 minutes, my 5 kilometres times usually between 20 and 21 minutes. But here, at this altitude and being over 100 miles into the race and into the last 1,000 feet of climbing up to around 17,500 feet it took me around 20 minutes to slowly walk 1 kilometre and my breathing was harder than any 5 kilometre race I had done. Five times slower than my normal 5 kilometre time and much harder! At the end of each kilometre I sat on the bumper of the car to get my breath back as best possible before embarking on one more kilometre. One kilometre has never seemed so far in my entire life. Each time I had a break and got moving again the car would move and park 1 kilometre ahead, you would not believe how far that felt. So now I thought I knew how Ray had felt and why he was struggling with 4 kilometres to go. I was at 9 kilometres to go and I was struggling! By my way of reckoning this last 10 kilometres was going to take me well over 3 hours to complete!

It was 2pm when I needed the nebuliser again. I was 2 kilometres from the top now, but there was no way I could walk and breathe and take my medication. I had to sit in the back of the car to take the nebuliser and was feeling quite lightheaded now. It wasn’t until this point that looking ahead both Bill and Girish could clearly see Ray ahead and still on the climb up. I was gobsmacked. He was walking incredibly slowly and I thought I was going slow!

I had 2 kilometres to go, but there was no stopping me now, 15 minutes in the car resting to take the nebuliser and it was out all guns blazing. I powered away and was gaining on Ray with every stride. While almost at the top Barry (doing a documentary on race) was poised with his camera. He couldn’t believe his luck, a 222 kilometre race and it was about to change lead at one of the two high points on the course and he was there to capture the moment! We scuppered it! I didn’t overtake as I was desperate for the toilet and shot off sideways to relieve myself. Ray got taken into the car for a medical and the moment was lost. Ray continued on and then it was my turn for the medical at the top of Tanglang La. I was fine and didn’t want to hang about, the sooner I got going, the lower the altitude the better I hoped to feel. I tried to run but the pain in my shins was immense and my breathing immediately went out of control. I walked again, took 3-4 mouthfuls of noodles and then some ibuprofen and could then see Ray ahead. Fast walking resumed and just metres from catching Ray he retreated into his car again. Yet again Barry was ready with the camera and so the big climax of me overtaking Ray to lead the race was a non-event! As I heard later Ray had not even realised I was behind him.

I carried on as fast as possible, trying to lose height and hope that my breathing would improve. It didn’t. In fact it only progressed to getting worse! I intermittently tried running when the surface of the road was better; the road was still very broken and dusty, but the UK Gear shoes felt better and my toes not so crushed. When Ray got out of the car he was told I was in the distance and he tried to run too. Ray’s car came right up and parked behind my car a couple of times, obviously trying to say he was closing in and measuring the time between us. Two can play at this game so I asked Bill to hold back and see how he was running and precisely how far behind he was. We had been descending for around 30 minutes or so now. Bill held back and next up was another landslide. The two diggers were well away clearing the mud and rocks when Girish waded in hands waving to stop the diggers and let me climb over the mud. I had wet muddy feet yet again, but the end was near, the top was 193 kilometres, the finish only 29 kilometres further.

I thought the route would flatten out and plateau, but on and on downhill it went, me fighting for every breath and fearful that a strong finishing Ray would get his second wind and close me down. Bill got held up by the landslide but informed me that Ray was progressing much slower than me and that I had made up 13 minutes on him. I should not have panicked but I didn’t want to relinquish the lead so close to the finish. I knew I had my last nebuliser treatment at 2pm and was on the top not far from 2:30pm. I felt that I was going at least 7 kilometres an hour on this downhill section and estimated a 6:30pm finish time and began to watch the clock tick, glued to the road ahead for any signs of the finish in the distance. I took my asthma pump but it did little to help, I was probably working too hard and stressing too much that Ray would catch me instead of relaxing and enjoying the finale of the race.

The time kept passing but still nothing was appearing. The weather was changing. The temperature was dropping. The wind was blowing hard, so hard in fact it was like a sandstorm at times and grit was getting in my eyes. I was getting colder and had my hat on now when something came into view. Was it the finish? No, it was a cafe and the finish was another 8 kilometres from the cafe. Another 8 kilometres! I couldn’t believe it. I felt sure I had already covered the distance and began to whinge. I was hurting. My breathing was barely under control. I wanted to finish. It was getting colder and darker and I was fading. I felt sure Ray would be chasing me down and whoever was with me kept checking behind to reassure me I was safe.

The path to the cafe was about a kilometre in a straight line across some very rough ground. I kicked rocks and holes and stumbled many times hurting my shins. I was getting very cold but thought the finish was so close I thought I could hang on, but I couldn’t. Another 8 kilometres and I needed to get warm. As much as I was trying to move as fast as possible the heat was draining from me. I stopped at the cafe to get my small down jacket on and some warm sweet tea. It was at this point that Bill looked back along the course and right where the track started about a kilometre away he could see a runner. Although he could not identify him it looked like Ray. So there was 8 kilometres until the finish and Ray was possibly a kilometre behind. Could I hold on?

There was only fast walking from me, this was all I could do to hold my breathing together. The route was finally flattening out and I was probably around 16,000 feet now as the light was slowly diminishing. I was desperate to finish and was feeling very “spaced out” now. What more could my body do to me? It was like driving along and all of a sudden you feel like you have woken up but you haven’t been asleep. I think I was just getting very, very tired and the body was trying to shut down but I was ignoring it. There were only 8 more kilometres to go, surely less than an hour in time? It was gone 6pm now. The nebuliser was due but that was going to wait, no way did I have 15 minutes to spare to sit down now. Finally there was a smooth tarmac road. I settled down again, still my eyes were glued to the road ahead looking for any signs of the finish. I watched every car pass by and watched where it went to see where the route was going. No signs. No indications. No idea how far the finish was. I thought those last 10 kilometres took an age on the top of Tanglang La but this was taking even longer. Never before had 8 kilometres felt so long, surely there was less than a parkrun 5 kilometres now?

It was getting darker. Rajat then appeared beside me and my car was sent ahead to the finish. This must surely mean I am nearly there? It was now gone 7pm and felt the finish was long overdue. Rajat now got a taste of my whinging! Where is the finish line? I can’t see the finish line. How far to go? Eventually he said it was only a couple of kilometres. I was expecting something like half a mile! I was not impressed and tried my hardest to keep going, but was slowly beginning to lose it. I wasn’t quite sure how much more my body had to give. There was nothing in the tank. I had eaten nothing since the top of Tanglang La, nearly five hours ago now and had barely drunk a couple of bottles of drink since then. But the clock was ticking and surely soon I would see the finish.

Gently Rajat took my hand, “I think we need to go faster Sharon”. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Ray was obviously catching as Rajat looked back; apparently his car was right behind me! I was distraught now and really NEEDED the finish. I started to run, the pain in my shins completely gone, just adrenalin and my breathing went through the roof. There was probably just over a kilometre left and I really don’t know how I managed to keep going. I was barely aware of a few lights ahead when Rajat finally said that was the finish. There was no smile, no big glorious finish, no big wave to the cameras. Still clinging on to Rajat with one hand I managed to hold one hand in the air before staggering across the line to finally stop. I had no immediate thoughts, just trying not to hit the deck!

My car was close at hand and I was immediately helped into the back seat with the nebuliser at the ready. I could hardly breathe and was coughing and spluttering and barely able to take it. Pierre (medic) was sat next to me and heard him tell Bill to shut the door to keep me warm. No sooner had the car door shut that I knew I was going to be sick. I panicked and couldn’t find the door handle in the dark and so banged on the window for Bill to open the door. I still hadn’t been sick in a race – I had waited until the finish! My record is still intact! I didn’t think there was anything in me to throw up as it had been so long since I had eaten, but what did come out looked like blood! I ignored it and tried to take the nebuliser. It was over. I could rest and recover. I felt nothing. No pangs of excitement. No pleasure that I had just finished and won the race outright. No feelings of satisfaction that I had achieved all three goals that I had set out to achieve. Just feelings of relief that I no longer had to keep fighting and keep pushing. I still felt a bit lightheaded and not entirely with it.

I kind of sat in a bit of daze and let whatever was happening carry on. Soon the oxygen mask was put on me. Can’t do any harm and can only help my recovery I thought and so just sat and did whatever I was asked. There was nothing here at the finish line and the best thing was to be taken straight back to get to a lower altitude. The one thing I had dreaded at the finish was the long bumpy drive back.

It was dark now. It was raining and it was cold and windy. We began the journey back to Rumptse but I was beginning to cough pretty badly now. Pierre was becoming more concerned, but I really wasn’t that bothered. He could obviously see signs of things that I was completely oblivious to at this stage. We went by the section where the land slide was and knew we probably weren’t too far off the top when the driver stopped. He refused to drive any further because the rain was now turning to snow. It was frustrating. I had been running for 37 hours and had now spent nearly 3 hours driving around in the back of this car bumping around and going nowhere! The car turned around but before we went down Pierre put a needle in me. I had been taking various pills since finishing. I am sure he was probably telling me what they were for but was kind of “chilled out” and just doing what was asked and not really taking in much of what he was telling me. I know there was a tablet under the tongue initially to help with the sickness. Not that I was feeling sick once the business had been done. There were a few tablets of Prednisolone which I knew were steroids for the asthma as have taken these previously (and on the banned substances list for athletes unless given under these conditions!). I can’t remember much else but Pierre was becoming concerned about the coughing and that I was getting pulmonary edema. The problem here being that the symptoms of this are identical to the state of an athlete finishing such an ultra distance event (sickness, exhaustion, coughing). Caution had to be exercised as this condition can very quickly become fatal if not treated. In our opening meeting, we were informed of two people that arrived in Leh a week prior to us and died shortly after due to the altitude. One had died of pulmonary edema! Pierre was monitoring me closely, frequently listening to my chest, and the usual observations.

Suddenly some cars were coming at us the other way and Pierre jumped out. It was Ray returning (who had apparently finished around 90 minutes behind me), we got in the second car and arrived around 1am at Rumptse. I was tired and just wanted to be wherever I was going. I know I was checked over and had some mushroom soup; it was my first food in nearly 12 hours!

Ray was taken straight back to Leh, we were shown to a bed for the night and were to return later in the morning. Usually after 24 hour races I can’t sleep at all, but within 5 minutes I was out completely and didn’t wake until 6am, still in the same position I had laid down. We left at 7am to return to Leh, and finally got cleaned up – with a cold shower and no electric in the hotel yet again. We had many visitors that afternoon and was very tired again by the time 10pm arrived.

We were ready to leave on the coach at 5:30am the next day for Bill’s turn to run. The venue was a school about an hour away and a little lower at around 10,000 feet. Bill had entered the 10 kilometres, the route was a little undulating on the soft sand and gravel tracks. Bill came back bouncing after 64 minutes of running full of stories of his race. I hardly dare tell him that kids in flip flops had beaten him! The natural talent and enthusiasm here was fantastic. It was lunch time by the time we returned and went for some pasta at Cafe Jeevan, this time on the roof top and cafe owner Gurnam Singh refused payment for the meal as he was so honoured I had come to his cafe. We had our photo taken with him, he was also a runner.

The afternoon was supposed to be souvenir shopping, but there had been a devastating coach crash involving a party of people that had left Leh, many were killed and injured and all the shops shut due to the tragedy. That evening was the presentation, certificates were presented to those that competed in the races earlier that day and then all The High runners each received a cloth certificate, finishers t-shirt and trophy. These were all excellent souvenirs that represented the area and were an honour to received. We all gave a small speech about the event too. This was followed by more food and a bonfire and much photo taking. My breathing really didn’t like the bonfire smoke and we finally retreated around 11:30pm and were in bed by midnight.

I was awake at 4am and packing the final bits by torchlight as the electric was off yet again. The taxis arrived late and with only an hour to go until take off I was beginning to panic as the taxis were still getting loaded with suitcases. I had reason to panic as the chaos at the airport was unbelievable and still can’t believe we managed to catch our flight back to Delhi. The Virgin flight was on time and think for the first time ever I managed to sleep for the first hour of the journey as I was that tired! Back on home soil and our van arrived at the meet and greet service with a smashed wing mirror. We got home around midnight absolutely shattered it was now the equivalent of 5am back in India and 24 hours of travelling. We were both up for 6am and Bill back at work for 7am.

I still look back at this event and really can’t quite believe what happened. I never got the full results and times until I looked at the internet on Tuesday. The full results were Sharon 37 hours 34 minutes, Ray 39 hours 03 minutes, Jason, 45 hours 55 minutes, Lisa, 53 hours 05 minutes, Samantha, 58 hours 15 minutes, Molly, 58 hours 56 minutes. All six finished in the cut off time of 60 hours. It had been an amazing adventure, one that I had looked forward to for so long and still found it hard to believe some of the experiences I went through. At the finish we all made a small speech. Ray claimed he would be back next year to break 30 hours. Ray had never been more that 2-3 hours ahead of me at any stage and yet he thought he was on for sub 30 hours during much of the race. As for me, I just looked around of at the mass of people gathered, all who had helped out in some way during the race either as organisers, medics, crew or supporting, there were just six runners and we were outnumbered ten times over by the amount of helpers who were here to see us succeed. Without them the race wouldn’t have happened and we could not have achieved our goals and dreams. Did I want to come back again next year? Well I must be going soft; I had just endured the toughest race of my life and at that moment in time I didn’t want to go tougher. I had achieved all my goals, there was nothing more to justify. I didn’t want to put my body through this again, I had enough and bid my farewell, someone else can have the glory and pain of winning this next year and good luck to them. I have done my bit and reduced the record by over 11 hours; someone else can now try and break my time.

I was always just ahead of my schedule and really can’t see how I could ever massively improve on this performance. I can’t claim it was an exceptional performance by my standards, just a consistent and strong performance but it wasn’t without problems. My asthma had been far worse than I had ever anticipated; I never expected quite such bad pollution from the vehicles at this height and really thought the air would be relatively clean. I had been very confident before the start. I knew I could cope with the hills and terrain, knew I could cope with the distances involved and any temperature and weather the event might throw at me. My asthma was always going to be the issue on top of the laboured breathing that the lack of oxygen would create. I never quite knew how my stomach would hold up in this event. I thoroughly expected frequent sickness but really got away with this quite lightly and still find it incredible how the body can keep going so well despite very little energy going in. On the scales back home I had lost 3 kilograms by the time I returned (Bill a whopping 5 kilograms but looking much better for it!). Much of this was lost during the race itself.

So back to the start – was this a tough race? You bet it was. Of the many races I have run, I can only equate it to races of a similar distance and yes, of all the extreme environments and running surfaces I have run is I can easily say this is the toughest race I have done and put my body through far more anguish in this race compared to any other. Never before have I finished in such as state and never before had I been so tired, felt so sick, pushed so hard continuously throughout the race and had to deal with such rapid changes in temperature. Never before has 10 kilometres taken me over 3 hours to complete or the last hour of running felt so hard to complete. Never before have I felt so “light-headed” or completely uncaring for anything at the finish. Never before had I needed such medical attention during the race or at the end of the race. So did I say “Never again?” This was the most wonderful challenge I had ever come across. It challenged me in so many more ways than I had ever experienced previously. I had no regrets and wouldn’t have missed it for the world and feel greatly honoured that so many people came to help and support to make this race a success. Would I recommend it to others? Yes! It is the experience of a lifetime – but certainly not for the faint hearted and only for those with a strong sense of achievement and desire to conquer all. It isn’t a race (or it wasn’t supposed to be until the finish) it is an event to experience and overcome your own challenges to reach the finish line. There is no great glory for finishing, as always, just your own satisfaction (and that of my many followers that made me feel so special upon my return). We all got the same trophy, we all accomplished the same goal, we all had the same great feelings of having conquered the biggest challenge of them all. Hopefully this year will pave the way for more challengers to achieve the impossible and overcome the many barriers this race places before you. Challenge them and overcome them and see just what the body is capable of.

I usually try to think of a race that is harder and what is next. May be my time has come to accept that things won’t get harder than this one and will have to run a few more races that are a bit more sedate for pure enjoyment of being in the fresh air. For the next race my selection papers for the Commonwealth Championships (23rd/24th September) are sitting in front of me awaiting the post, representing my country yet again. This challenge will be hard to win, but not as hard as The High was to simply finish. Later on to finish the year is another challenge to the men – the men’s world record for running 7 days on a treadmill – I will have to get some of the photos of The High to put on the walls around me to imagine I am back there to stave off the boredom. So yes, there are more races I would still like to run, but I doubt that any of them will come anywhere near the toughness of The High. I rest complete in the knowledge that I have risen to the challenge of The High and that they can justify this is the toughest race in the world and Badwater and the Marathon des Sables are merely “runs of significance” by comparison. So be brave, and rise to the challenge if you dare! I have warned you.......

Source: La High- The Ultra

Source: Sharon Gayter