It would seem that the distance of an ultra is no longer enough for some athletes, so how difficult can it get?
When talking about Badwater, Dean Karnazes said "there's a certain temperature that bread begins to toast, this is not a good temperature to run in". I feel like I'm cooking when it's only 30 degrees celsius ,let alone the 50+ that athletes experience at Badwater! Athletes must run along the painted white lines on the road or face the rather irritating problem of melted shoes.
Then there's Barklay Marathons where participants that stop before the finish are not known as 'Did Not Finish' but as 'Refused To Continue!! The super steep ascents, tricky course and man-eating plants are just some of the reasons why it's now known as 'The trail that eats its young'.
Now let's talk cold, your freezer at home is probably around -10 to keep those peas and ice cream (hopefully not mixed) frozen. In the Yukon Arctic Ultra participants can expect temperatures in excess of -40. Can't imagine how cold this is? Diesel and Mercury freeze at this temperature and water freezes spontaneously. With a distance of 340miles this is not only one of the coldest ultra marathons in the world, but an incredibly long one!
Among the other conditions to make a runner suffer is humidity, and where do you find insane levels of humidity? No, not the office, the Jungle. The Jungle Marathon is 200km of heat, humidity, rivers, snakes and spiders through Amazonia. We're not just talking about finishing, we're talking about surviving.
These bring me neatly onto the topic for this post. La Ultra is the highest ultra marathon in the world, the 222km course has an average altitude of 14,850ft and highest of 17,700ft. This race takes your breath away literally and metaphorically, with oxygen less than 33% every step is a test. With the whole course over the Himalayas, views are truly spectacular and totally unforgettable.
This summer I'm honoured to be able to crew and pace for Mark Hines, a British ultra runner who has a true hunger for the impossible. We've talked about the Yukon Arctic Ultra and Jungle marathon, both of which he has done, in fact the YAU he did twice as conditions the first time were 'too good'. Also a Marathon Des Sables vet. his experience of ultra running in extreme environments is substantial. What aids Mark in his bid to complete some of the most challenging races there are is his incredible knowledge of exercise physiology. I think almost every ultra and marathon runner has a basic understanding, but to know more ensures you can use your body as efficiently as possible. Let's face it, efficiency is the name of the game.
The race route from just outside Khardung to Tanglang can be walked in five days, but you better be a whole lot quicker for La Ultra as the cut off time is 60 hours! To complete it in the cut off you must maintain an average speed faster than 26 mins/mile (16 mins/km), I know you're thinking that's super slow, may I draw your attention back to the graph above, yeah not so slow now eh!
|Photo from www.thehigh.in|
Breathing isn't the only issue that comes with altitude, with big changes comes big variations in temperature, althetes can expect +40 to -6 Degrees celsius. So pack your backs with shorts, no... wait... a jacket... actually... both! I'm sure you've all heard of altitude sickness at one time or another, more formally known as 'acute mountain sickness' (AMS), it can first be noticed at 8,000ft. With a whole heap of primary symptoms which can be as minor as a headache or drowsiness to the very serious pulmonary or cerebral oedema. Although there are not many proven methods of preventing, fortunately there are effective treatments, as long as they are prompt.
Since La Ultra first started in 2010 the fastest recorded course time is 37hours 34mins 37seconds, achieved by Sharon Gayter (UK), giving an average speed of just over 15mins/mile. Sharon's list of achievement is stunning to say the least, amongst them is the World Record for running from Land's End to Jonh O'Groats (the furthest South to furthest North in the UK), a distance of 837miles in the time of 12 days, 16 hours!
Find out more by visiting www.thehigh.in and don't forget to check out Mark's site www.markhines.org!
Part two of La Ultra posts... coming soon! Don't forget you can subscribe to Everywhere Without Delay by email by using the subscription box on the top right.
La Ultra - Failing is not a crime; lack of effort is.