by Patrick Johns
To hear the audio of this NPR presentation,
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
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
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
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.
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.
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,
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
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,
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
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
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.
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