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Dallas Runner Tackles Himalayan 100 Race
by Patrick Johns

To hear the audio of this NPR presentation, click <here>

DALLAS, TX (2006-01-06)

Patrick Johns, Dallas motivational speaker: In the early 1900's, the Aga Kahn, who ruled much of India, gave an order. He said build me a trail. He had heard of a place where it was possible to see "four giants" and he wanted a way to get there, a way to see for himself. The giants are four of the tallest peaks in the world. Mt. Everest, Lotse, Makalu and Kantchanjunga. Much of The Himalayan 100 race is run on the Kahn's old trail, which serves as the border between India and Nepal.

For the last 15 years this race and this trail have attracted some of the world's most elite endurance runners. As an athlete and motivational speaker, I first came here in 2000 to understand the core values of this highly motivated group. I discovered what I call the Five C's: Leaving your comfort zone, commitment, connection, common sense, and compassion. This year I want to validate the inspirational talk I've built around these Five C's.

(Music) I'm in Manybangjang, a small hamlet village in the West Bengal Region of India, and the locals have come out to serenade us and tie prayers scarves around our necks. I know we're going to need all the prayers we can get as 70 competitors, the biggest group ever, gathers at the starting line on this cold October morning.

Stage One is 24 miles, an 8,000 foot climb up to 13,000 feet, the highest altitude of the race. On the cobble trail with me are two great buddies from the US - Hank Bashore, an investment broker and Chairman of the Board of the American Red Cross of Dallas, and Aaron Labarge, a brilliant physicist from San Diego. Our own little team of three, adding to the head count of a dozen Americans. We've also convinced Nan Irick, a journalist from Virginia, to at least run on day one since it'll make for a better story. Nan is generally on board with my five core values, but isn't sure if compassion plays a part in such a competitive environment. She'll soon find out. About five miles into the race, Hank Bashore gets into trouble. He urges us to go on:

Johns: We're just a bit concerned. Because our friend Hank he was sick last night, he had to fall back, he stopped early on. I hope he's okay.

Johns: We later learn that when Nan Irick starts to feel the altitude, cold and dehydration, it's Hank who stays with her and gets her to the finish line--two hours after we cross it.

Every time I do this race I can't believe how hard it is. Funny how our minds forget the pain. It must be a survival mechanism, part of the human condition.

Aaron and I have made a pact to stay together for the entire 100 miles, if possible. This first day it was a bonus to have him by my side. Misery loves company.

Johns and Aaron Labarge: We've got about 1K left, and we're feeling a bit wobbly. Wobbly would be the best? Yeah, definitely wobbly. Friends at the finish line: Hey, here they are. Whoohoo. Way to go guys, we've been waiting, what took you so long?

Sounds of a rooster, crowing

Johns: It's day three, the Mount Everest Challenge Marathon. Waking up early comes easily, because sleep did not- in a cold, heatless hut at 13,000 feet, crowded in with 20 other coughing, gagging, and wheezing runners.

Snoring

Johns: This year as a gift for my hut mates, I brought a round of ear plugs for everyone, and it did seem to help.

Snoring continues

Johns: Time to grab my camera for the first glimpse of Everest and the other three giants.

Runner from the U.K. Name's David. And where are you from? The U.K.

Johns: I'm standing with one of the lead runners, David Butron, with my coffee in hand.

David Butron, runner: At the moment it's 5:20 in the morning and we can see four of the five highest peaks in the world. The skies are completely clear, and sun is just breaking. How about those clouds? They look like some mad Beatles cover album, don't they?

C.S. Pandey, Race Director: Ok, ready, set, go.

Johns: We start the nearly 30 mile run at 13,000 feet and then descend into the jungle. The waterfalls, and insects are in sharp contrast to the cold and barren rocky trail up high. We're running down a muddy creek and lose 5,000 vertical feet of altitude, slogging the last 10 miles through slop, just trying not to fall. The previous day's run had been a 20-mile out and back course. Hank pushed himself and made up for some of the time he lost on the first day:

Johns: Good job, looking good.

Johns: We pass through a few villages and, as they do every year, all the kids leave their classrooms to come watch. We exchange greetings.

Johns and school children: Namaste.

Johns: Namaste is a Hindi word which carries great significance, and we hear it a lot! It's a special way to wish "good things" to others.

Johns and Labarge: We're just finishing the last six-tenths of a mile of the marathon day. How ya feeling? I feel like my bones are going to fall out of my skin. Good to be over? Yes, soon.

Music

Johns: Perspective at this point is all out of whack. There have been a lot of injuries, everything from convulsions to broken bones, but at the end of a 13-mile sprint on the fourth day, all of us seek refreshment at a cultural night put on by the local villagers and musicians. The people here are sheltered from the world, but are eager to show us theirs.

Johns: We've just been joined by our third compadre, Hank. How are you doin'? Hank Bashore, H100 participant: Doing fine, looking forward to the last day. Actually am, kinda weird, looking forward to 17 miles of torture. Yeah, Aaron referred to it as a "death march." Johns: Half of the 17 miles will be straight down, and every stride we take will be punished by the course's "evil twin" on the other side of the valley. It is steep with a capital "S" and a place where we could easily lose focus and fall. Hank, Aaron and I just want to get this over with and walk to the starting line together. Race start on day five. Ready, set go.

Johns: Hank runs on ahead of us; he continues to make excellent time. Overall, he's several hours ahead of us by now. But we take more pictures.

We pass a man from Hong Kong who, like me, is trying to finish the course for the fourth time. Unfortunately he doesn't make it. Five miles from the finish line he falls and dislocates his shoulder and has to complete the race in a jeep.

After 28 hours and some minutes on the course, the race is finally over. I feel used up. But Aaron and I fulfill our goal of running the entire hundred miles together. He and Hank are exhausted, but elated:

Labarge: It was a spiritual experience for me. It brought me closer to the people that live here in India and also to nature. And to myself. Bashore: This has been the most incredible experience. This is the hardest thing I've ever done.

Johns: In four years of running this race, I'm always amazed at how similar participants' reactions are. But this story isn't about running 100 miles high up in the Himalayan Mountains. It's about how people change when they choose to do difficult things. Leaving your comfort zone and connecting compassionately with others is powerful and carries over into all aspects of our lives. No doubt that's why I keep coming back. I like to witness that. I guess that's how I change.

Contact KERA's News and Public Affairs staff about this piece

For more information about the Himalayan 100 Race

Copyright 2006, KERA