Nepali Times
Mountain marathon man


When you've run from the Adriatic Sea to the Mediterranean, striding through eight Alpine nations, climbing and descending a total of 77,600 m in 36 days, an ultra-marathon from Lhasa to Kathmandu sounds rather tame.

But Vincent Scheidegger didn't account for the headwind that gathered force just after lunch day in and day out during his 24-day marathon of marathons between the capitals. "More than once I said to myself "this can't be, this wind can't blow in my face all the time. Sometimes I thought I would go crazy," the Swiss man told us Wednesday, a day after he legged the last of his 1,114 km at Swoyambunath.
"I'm so tired today. Every day during the run I had to be motivated to get up in the morning and go but now the pressure's off. Plus it's so hot here. But overall, I feel good, I feel positive," added the 33-year-old in the office of Base Camp Trekking & Expeditions, which provided the support vehicle to carry his supplies and smoothed the way for Chinese authorities to grant permission for the quest.
Scheidegger imagined the run during his honeymoon in 2000, when he and his wife travelled by vehicle between the cities. "I told myself 'I'll come again one day and take the time to see the sights close up and to be able to smell the smells'." In 2002, he returned to Nepal to take part in the Himal Race, from Annapurna base camp to Everest base camp (1,100 km in 23 days). "It was good to have it organised but I knew that it would be better to do it alone," says the smiling man with intense eyes.

Besides the wind, Scheidegger was also troubled by the high altitude (which averaged 4,000-4,200 m and included six passes above 5,000 m) fluctuating temperatures (-9C at Everest base camp and 35C at Dolalghat) and the discomfort of sleeping in a tent for 20 nights.

Each morning he would load the shelter into the supply vehicle, which would drive off and lead him alone to log an average of 46 km. "What I wanted to do was run one marathon a day, that was my athletic objective." Another motivation was the chance "to live at the same rhythm as the local people".

Sometimes that meant sharing his lunch with herders, at other times Scheidegger strained to explain his quest to them. "They just couldn't relate. They said 'you can drive, why are you doing this'?"

How does the carpenter by trade and father of eight-month-old Mattia compare Lhasa-Kathmandu to his previous eight extra-long distance feats? "For me it was really the limit, for all those different reasons."

But the run was far from a trial of pain, Scheidegger says. On his handwritten list of beautiful sights along the route, which basically followed the Friendship Highway, are Khompa La and Yamdrok Lake, Everest base camp (a detour) and Nyalam, where the vegetation seemed to sprout before his eyes as he descended from the dry Tibetan Plateau, "like the growth of a flower filmed with time-lapse photography. And suddenly, after 24 days with wind blowing in my face, I could hear the birds."

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)