British Gurkhas run night and day across Central Nepal mountain range for Gurkha Welfare Trust

Earlier this year, the British Gurkha Ultra Marathon Polkara team ran over 150 kilometers across the Annapurna Circuit, a mountain range in Central Nepal as a fundraising initiative for the Gurkha Welfare Trust. This was in memory of two soldiers killed in Afghanistan in 2012 — Lieutenant Edward Drummond-Baxter and Lance Corporal Siddhanta Kunwar. Find out more about the appeal.

It was an extreme challenge requiring months of training and preparation. At some points, the team was running at altitudes of up to 5400 metres which meant drastically reduced oxygen levels, often with half the oxygen present at sea level. All donations raised will be used to rebuild a secondary school, Shree Saraswoti, based in the Priti area of Eastern Nepal.

James Devall from the Brigade of Gurkhas talks about how the team accomplished the challenge and how they stayed motivated…

They may have completed the challenge but you can still donate here.

Tell us about the Ultra Marathon.

The challenge we set for ourselves was to run a best-effort 154 kilometre segment of the Annapurna Circuit from Bagarchapp to Dana, via the Thorong-La Pass which is amongst the world’s highest mountain ranges. The idea was not to stop, taking head torches so that we could still progress at night.

Gurkha Welfare Trust fundraising Annapurna Circuit

Bikram, James and Will

There were three of us running, Will, Bikram and myself, all serving members of the Brigade of Gurkhas and who are currently working inside Nepal. There were also drivers and support staff who helped by giving up their time and energy. People are very generous with their own time when it comes to supporting a worthy cause. Of course, we also received generous donations from Nepal and the UK which spurred us on and gave us encouragement.

How did you know Ed and Siddhanta?

We served alongside one another in the Brigade, lived together in the UK and deployed together to Afghanistan.

Why did you focus on the Annapurna Circuit?

Screenshot 2017-08-12 16.20.27

Annapurna Circuit range

We are all serving in Nepal, and like Ed and Siddhanta we have a connection to the country and a desire to support its future. Trail running is developing as a popular support here because of the natural beauty of the country and the opportunity to run amidst beautiful but very challenging surroundings. We enjoy fitness and the challenge of preparing and training for physically arduous events. Whilst seeing the rural countryside of Nepal, it’s possible to see the effects of the 2015 earthquake and the need for fundraising support to help support education in this country.

How did you prepare?

We ran 4 or 5 times a week. At weekends we would run 40-50 kilometres over hilly terrain to try and get extra miles in our legs and test our equipment. We arranged for vehicles to meet us at various points on our route so that we could receive fresh supplies and we attended lectures about altitude sickness and nutrition to ensure that we would be set up for success. Prior to the run, we did an acclimatisation exercise to ensure that we would not unduly suffer from any sudden changes in altitude.

Anything you weren’t looking forward to?

We knew that the hardest part would be the climb up to the top of the Thorong-La Pass. We would be climbing roughly 3000m, which is difficult at the speeds we were intending. However, the reward of reaching the top was also the most hotly anticipated part of the journey.

Any moments when you wanted to turn back? What did you do to stay motivated?

A couple of us felt unwell on the journey upward, probably due to something we’d eaten or a bug we’d picked up. This made the climb more arduous and progress became slow. On the far side of the high-pass one of our party was not able to hold down any solid food, which made the last 80km more challenging. But with adequate salt sachets and plenty of water we had enough energy to keep going. We certainly had to encourage each other along. With no-one but ourselves monitoring our progress or marking our finish, it would have been tempting to curtail the distance or take longer rests, but we wanted to do something worthy of the money that had been generously donated and ensure that we were doing right by Ed and Siddhanta’s cause.

Brightly-painted broken-down truck at the village of Melemchi in the Helambu region of central Nepal


‘Jingly truck’ in Nepal

How did you celebrate the end of the challenge?

At the end of the challenge we hitched a lift with a passing ‘jingly-truck’ to get us down to a local town for our return to camp via taxi. Once back in Pokhara we had a steak and a long sleep. It took quite a long time for us to recover, but we felt proud of what we’d done.

Words of advice for anyone else thinking of doing this challenge in the future?

We definitely benefited from the acclimatisation preparation and training we’d done. I think that ensuring some flexibility in timings is key, as unexpected illness adds extra hours to the journey. Taking an emergency tent at the bottom of the bag also proved useful as we were able to pitch it for a couple of hours and rest when the snowy weather closed in.

Any final words?

School with SMC Teachers and Students

Schools and communities in Nepal are being rebuilt after 2015

Nepal is a beautiful place and the people are very friendly. Witnessing the children heading to school along our running route became an encouraging sight on its own. The children here are eager to learn and they have ambitions for their futures. I would certainly encourage anyone to support causes such as this that support Nepal’s development.

 

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