John Percy – Last Man Standing

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John Percy – Last Man Standing

Endurance running brings many challenges and multi-day adventures bring many variables. The process of running day-after-day can push even the most trained and experienced runner to his or her limits. However, for many runners, a race challenge often combines many things – adventure, the unknown, an opportunity to experience a new place, make new friends and yes, a holiday!

Take any race, any race in the world and you will have someone who comes first and someone who comes last. It’s such an awful phrase; last! It sounds insulting, as though that person has failed… but let’s look at the positives. A journey has a start and an end, how one completes that journey is often down to personal motivations, passions and in the scenario of covering distance in a fast time; genetics!

In my most recent adventure, the Everest Trail Race in Nepal, I enjoyed the trails every day with the runners as they climbed, descended and endured the tough and technical trails that this region of the Himalayas has to offer.

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Pasang Llama (Nepal) won the race ahead of Miguel Capo Soler (Spain) and Casey Morgan (UK) with a dominant performance, he completed the six-day journey from Jiri to Tyangboche and back to Lukla in 22-hours, 04-minutes and 22-seconds. His shortest day was 2-hours 50-minutes and the longest day 4-hours 50-minutes.

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Now contrast this to John Percy from the UK. His shortest day was 7-hours 32-minutes and his longest day 14-hours 59-minutes. John, like it or not, became a hero of the Everest Trail Race in 2016. He inspired everyone with his relentless enthusiasm, grit and tenacity to push on, no matter how tough it got or how bad he felt.

Regardless of the time, the distance is the same. A mile is a mile, and every mile matters!”

This quote is relevant in every race, day-in, day-out, all over the world. We often focus and concentrate on the front of the race but often it’s the back of the race where a true story and the real drama happens. I caught up with John Percy to ask about his Nepalese experience.
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“I’ve done this. I’ve done that. I’ve achieved something that so many haven’t, I may not be the fastest, but I never will be the fastest. I’m not built to the be the fastest, and I’m certainly no Casey Morgan that’s for certain. I’m probably three times the size of him. But what I would say is that I’ve got a dogged spirit and a strong will. I say to myself, ‘Never, ever give up!’ and I don’t give up. Ever.”

Ian: John, ETR, what an experience, huh?

John: The most amazing experience I’ve ever encountered.

Ian: Well, I was just thinking about how I was going to talk to you about your race, and I have decided that I’m going call you the strongest man in the race because you were holding everybody else up above you.

John: Yes. I was certainly holding the wooden spoon at the back but it wasn’t through lack of spirit. Yes, I was the last person nearly every day but it certainly didn’t deter me from finishing.

Ian: Yes. One of the things that amazes me, and one of the things I love about a multi-stage race is the contrast. You have Pasang Llama finishing in three hours. You have you, finishing in 15 hours, and that’s just one day. I’ve often thought, the guys and girls at the front they have real natural gift. There’s a reason why they do what they do – they are good at it! Then, once you start to drift further and further, further back in the field, I always think to myself, “What is it? What is it that makes somebody put themselves on the line? Maybe they put themselves through hell to tick a box, to achieve something?” Do you feel that’s where you’re at, and there’s no disrespect in me saying that?

Casey Morgan who placed 3rd said he had the utmost respect for people like you John, who go out and struggle, and fight every day for a finish.

What is it that motivates you?

John: [sighs] Well, I’m a great believer that yet you only got one life, and you’ve got to live it the best you can, and when I do pop my clogs in the end of my life, at least I can go in and say, “I’ve done this. I’ve done that. I’ve achieved something that so many haven’t, I may not be the fastest, but I never will be the fastest. I’m not built to the be the fastest, and I’m certainly not Casey Morgan that’s for certain. I’m probably three times the size of him. But what I would say is that I’ve got a dogged spirit and a strong will. I say to myself, ‘Never, ever give up!’ and I don’t give up. Ever.”

Ian: That was completely on show here every day at the race. Coming into the race, you have commented on Facebook that you’re a little bit nervous and a little bit worried about the race. What worried you before coming out here?

John: I was a little bit worried about pushing my body to the limited at altitude. I’ve been at altitude a few times over the last few years at varying degrees of success and failure. I was a little bit worried about how my body would cope. Obviously, it is a tough race and there is a lot of climbing, a lot of technical descending. I can power through that. I don’t mind that. I didn’t particularly like the technical sections, not really tough on the legs, just tough on my feet and the whole body really.

Ian: Casey said that the descent on day three, which was your longest day, you were out there for 15-hours to get to the finish line. He said, “that’s one of the most technical and persistent descents that he’s ever been on.” What was your thought process on that descent because at that point, you’ve been out there a long time? You’re looking at your watch and your thinking, ” Am I going to get timed out?” There’s all sorts of processes going on within your own mind. What is that experience like for you?

John: Time wise, yes, you’ve always got that worry of being timed out and things like that. Really, as an individual, I just put it in the back of my mind. I’m the type of person who could basically get up first thing in the morning, and march for the next 50-hours and it wouldn’t make a big difference to me. Endurance-wise like that, it doesn’t affect me. But those downhill sections did take a toll on my human spirit. You get to a lot of dark places in these type of events but that day I would say was my darkest hour…

Ian: Of course, I understand that! Once you get to the bottom of the descents, you then had to climb all the way up to the monastery at Kharikhola, it’s already dark and that is tough. At the Everest Trail Race, they try and avoid people being out on the course in the dark because it can be a dangerous place, and the darkness brings its own darkness. It makes it difficult because the trails are technical, and twisty, and rocky, and gnarly. How did you find that climb up to Kharikhola when you had already been out on the course for 12+ hours.

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John: Yes. I think the only good part about that, on the way up was that I knew the end was in sight which was a good feeling. I knew it wasn’t far away. It was a case of just power through. You know, just get through it. Finish it. We’re nearly there now. The end’s in sight. I could see the lights. I could hear people’s voices. It did lift my spirits, the last climb. When you think about it that last climb could destroy the human spirit but for me, it actually raised my spirit a little bit, you know?

Ian: Yes. You weren’t taken out of the race (missing the cut-off), which I think was a really, really good decision. I think always, the rules are in place to give some order and some control in a race. I think, rules are there to be broken sometimes, and effectively what you were given in the race was a second life but in that second life, you seem to have been revived a little bit, I don’t know whether it’s your body adapting to the altitude, maybe you were just getting into a rhythm, but after that, it seemed as though you got into a time zone and was able to then function within the time zones of the race.

What happened? Do you think that maybe that running over the terrain just became that little bit easier which meant you could cover ground quicker?

John: Again, you know, I can only thank the whole team for letting me continue in the race after that punishing hard day where I was out of the time limits. Time limits are there for a good reason. I’ve got to say on that long day, it was the technical descents in the dark which were very, very scary. In addition, I did take quite a big fall on day-2 which did impact on me for day 3. But after that day, I don’t know… something inside says, “Right. You’ve been at your lowest point now. Everything now has got to be a bonus. Just give it everything you can!”

I was quite lucky every day that my body seemed to adapt a little bit better, but I think I just passed that point of being at my lowest ebb, and then I just started to feel a lot better in myself and that lifted my spirits.

Ian: As you get past Kharikhola, you start to get into the more populated trails of Nepal, because you’re on the main schlep into base camp and the scenery changes, the whole atmosphere of the race changes. What has the Nepalese experience been like for you?

John: The Nepalese experience has been awe inspiring. It really makes you wake up and take a long look at yourself, you ask questions about me, as an individual, living in a westernized society, and everything that we’ve got as individuals, as opposed to how the Nepalese people live. I feel now, as if I’m a very lucky individual. You know, how I live my life compared to the very happy folk of Nepal. I mean, they’re just such lovely people. A smile. A handshake, no animosity, everybody was incredible. They see you as an individual.

Ian: You know what’s really interesting, I have spoken to many about Nepal and the Everest Trail Race, and each person has said that the people, not the mountains are the most important thing.

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John: No, you’re right. It’s the people that make this race so special, and everybody that is involved with the race passing through the whole Nepalese countryside, and through the population and everything. It’s certainly for me, been the most enjoyable thing I have ever done. I’ve done a lot in my life, and seen a lot in my life, but this is probably going to be one of the highlights of my life.

ETR: When you get to Tyangboche on day five, you get that finish line, and for me it’s one of the best finish lines in the world. What’s it like seeing Ama Dablam, Everest, Lothse, Nuptse?

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John: You can’t believe you’re there. I’ve been in mountains all my life. I’ve climbed all over the UK and quite a bit of the Alps. I’ve always wanted to see Everest. I’ve seen it so many times, as you can imagine in movies, looked at it in books etc.… To actually stand in front of it, at the most famous monastery in the world, no doubt about it, it’s just truly awe inspiring.

ETR: Final day, basically, a nice little parade lap home. You weren’t last. [laughs]

John: No, I wasn’t!

ETR: You saved a big effort for the last day?

John: Yes. I really pushed myself and I thought to myself, I had a little cheeky glint in my eye. When I got to the three-and-a-half km to go, I thought, “Sorry, Eusebio. Every man for himself now and I went for it.”

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Ian: Race done, experience completed. Everybody has a new and personal experience, they are all so different, but your experience is maybe more rewarding? But I think what’s also quite important is your experience has affected everybody else’s experience because they’ve been able to see how you struggled, battled and succeeded. I think it makes people look at themselves and think, “Well, next time I race I’m not going to pull out when the going gets tough,” they will say to themselves, “John stuck at it at ETR and managed to survive and get through.”

You’ve been to some dark places in this race!

What’s the outcome now, you’re sitting here in the sun next to a pool? It can feel like a distant memory, when a runner finishes a tough race, they often say, “I’m never doing that again.” Then within 12-hours that say, “It wasn’t that bad, was it?”

Was it not that bad?

John: Yes, it was bad. That will not change in my head. Yes, it was hard, yes it was tough. Pain will go away. Leg pain, arm pain, whatever I have got, pain will go away. But the memories will never go away of this race. I will never forget it and I’ll always say, “Never ever, say never.”

Ian: Final question for you. There’ll be people listening to this thinking, “You know what? ETR sounds like a brutal race, I want to go next year or the year after. What advice would you give, Casey for example said that the most important things coming into this race, is not necessarily being a runner but being a great hiker and a great walker. Of course, Casey ran quite a great deal too. What advice would you give to people?

John: A mixture of both. I did a lot of hill work before I came to this race. You need a mixture of both endurance, speed and human endeavor. You need to be on your A-game to complete this race.

Ian: Where do you go from here? What’s next? Is there another race or is there another experience? Are you now tempted by Everest having gotten so close to it?

John: No. I’ve enjoyed seeing Everest but I’m not an individual who would dare to climb Everest. It’s never been my goal. I’ve climbed Kilimanjaro, Mont Blanc, K2 and quite a few of the big peaks in North Africa, Africa and Europe. But next from here? I have got something in my head that I really wanted to do. Whether I do it or not remains to be seen. There’s something there that I still want to do. It’s just like I said before, when I do leave this mortal coil, I want to say, “Well, I did this, this and this and this”

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John with Eusebio – they became great friends on the trails

READ AND VIEW IMAGES FROM THE 2016 EVERST TRAIL RACE HERE

Everest Trail Race 2016 #ETR2016 – Stage 5 Results and Summary

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Everest Trail Race – Race Day 5 Phakding to Tyangboche

Last night we stayed in a lodge and it was another very cold night. We were in a valley, so, once the sun disappeared, temperatures plummeted. Everyone was cold, despite being inside.

Stage 5 of the race is the one we have all been waiting for. The arrival at Tyangboche provides one of the greatest vistas available with Everest taking center stage.

The first 5km rolled along pretty easy with Pasang and Alejandra leading the way. On entering the Sagramantha National Park route markings would no longer exist and participants would need to use the route book. In principal this sounded a little more complicated than it actually was. The route was very straightforward and at any points where an error could be made, an ETR staff member would be present to ensure the correct path was taken.

After crossing the famous Hillary Bridge the main ascent to Namche Bazaar would start. At CP1 Pasang was once again forging an unassailable lead, not only on the stage but the overall classification. He is well ahead of the rest of the racers. Miguel Capo Soler and Casey Morgan followed the Nepalese runner but he was too strong finishing well ahead of the Compressport duo. On the final tough ascent to the finish, Miguel pulled away from Casey opening a short time gap.

Alejandra once again showed her dominance not only in the ladie’s field but the overall classification. She took another stage win and overall victory is not in doubt. Jennifer Hill ran another consistent day but could not match the ladies’ race leaders pace and once again Sarah Davies finished 3rd lady and almost certainly secured the final podium place.

Irrespective of the efforts of all the runners and ETR staff, the main hero of the day is Nepal. The sky remained clear and pure blue to show the beauty of the region and the stunning Himalayas. Tyangboche is an incredible place with a series of small lodges and shops serving essentials. It has a monastery and of course it’s a hub for those trekking or moving higher up into the mountain ranges or going to base camp.

This evening we are all treated to a night in a lodge! Of course we have no heating, but at 4000m we all expect -10 temperatures. However, I do think a few ‘beverages’ may be consumed with just one day remaining and the finish at Lukla.

Stage results: *Times to follow

  1. Pasang Lama 3:13:27
  2. Miguel Capo Soler 3:25:04
  3. Casey Morgan 3:27:27
  1. Andreja Sterle Podobnik 4:16:15
  2. Jennifer Hill 4:40:06
  3. Sarah Davies 5:44:37

General Classification: *Ranking to follow

  1. Pasang Lama 18:43:21
  2. Miguel Capo Soler 19:32:18
  3. Casey Morgan 19:43:16
  1. Andrej Sterle Podobonik 26:04:14
  2. Jennifer Hill 27:12:58
  3. Sarah Davies 34:07:11

Everest Trail Race 2016 #ETR2016 Race Preview

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Set against one of the most iconic and awe-inspiring backdrops on the planet, the Everest Trail Race is one of the world’s toughest high-altitude ultra-marathons. I had the pleasure to attend the 2013 and 2014 and I am pleased to say for 2016, I am going back… 

IMAGE GALLERIES from 2014 HERE

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The FACES of NEPAL HERE

Nepal, the Himalayas, the Nepalese people and the amazing trails that lead to the stunning vistas of Everest, Tawache, Ama Dablam, Nuptse, Lohtse and Thamserku from the amazing Tengboche (Thyangboche) Monastery are some of the most memorable moments I have ever had.

On my first visit, I was told Nepal would change me and it did. It’s a cacophony of sound, visuals and emotion.

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From the noisy and frenetic streets of Kathmandu to the isolation of camping under the stars at the monastery at Kharikhola, Nepal and its people cemented itself within my heart and I know that participants of the 2016 ETR are in for a very special experience.

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Winding through the remote Solukhumbu region of the Himalayas in Nepal, the ETR takes place over six punishing days and covers a distance of 160-km with over 25,000m of vertical gain.

Terrain is mixed and the daily distances are, on paper, relatively short. Don’t be fooled though. Altitude and technical trails make the ETR a very specific challenge. Daily altitude gain starts 3,000 meters up to 5,950. It’s a breathtaking route that starts in Jiri and follows an incredible route that would eventually lead to the base camp of Everest.

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Runners will trace the footsteps of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, the first man to reach the summit of Everest, along with Hillary, who was born in the Tengboche area in a village called Thani.

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Participants will experience breath-taking views of not only one, but also several of the world’s tallest mountains: Everest, Lothse, Ama Dablam, Tamseku, Kangtega, Makalu and Kanchenjunga. On the fifth day, arriving at Tenggboche the Himalayan backdrop is magnificent providing a wonderful boost before returning to Lukla via Namche Bazaar.

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A self-sufficient race, participants must carry all they need with the exception of food for meals and a tent. Breakfast and dinner is provided and all the runners sleep in 2-man tents.

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Temperatures vary greatly from warm sunny days to icy cold nights. Remember, the runners carry everything they need, so, shorts and T-shirts for the day and a down jacket, multiple layers and a very warm sleeping bag for the night. As with most multi-day races, a change of clothes is a luxury and a shower almost non-existent.

The route is only accessible by foot or helicopter, so, the challenge is equally tough for the race team.

The Everest Trail Race is without doubt the journey and experience of a lifetime.

LOGO ETR

“You reach the highest point of the day and you are breathing hard, short shallow breaths. You think you must stop, that you can’t go on, but then you settle into a sustainable rhythm. Your body is adapting to the workload, to the altitude and with that realisation you feel a rush of empowerment that motivates you to run right past the foot of Everest.”

Schedule:

6th November – Travel to Kathmandu

7th November – Kathmandu

8th November – Sight-seeing in Kathmandu

9th November – Transfer to Jiri

Race dates 10th – 15th November.

  • Day 1 10th – 22 km (+ 3800 m ascent)
  • Day 2 11th – 24 km (+ 5300 m ascent)
  • Day 3 12th – 37 km (+ 6600 m ascent)
  • Day 4 13th – 28 km (+ 4500 m ascent)
  • Day 5 14th – 20 km (+ 3200 m ascent)
  • Day 6 15th – 30 km (+ 5200 m ascent)

16th November – Return to Kathmandu

17th November – Relaxing day in Kathmandu

18th November – Return home

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The actual routes and formats change every year. The Race Director, Jordi Abad and his team spend over a month meticulously planning routes that are made public before the event starts.

Competitors camp overnight in two-man tents provided by the ETR. The tents are transported stage-by-stage and await the runners at the end of each day. Meals are provided each night in a large food tent. It provides a wonderful and most memorable sound each evening as the sound of weary laughter echoes around camp.

Race Route (to be confirmed)

Day 1 – Departing Jiri at 0900 runners will cover two major peaks, Mali at just over 2400m and Deurali Pass (2700m).

Day 2 – Leaving Bhandar, non-stop climbing follows a short 4km descent; firstly, to Gompa (Golla) at 3010m, a small downhill section follows of 2km and then a climb to Pikey Peak at 4068m. It’s a tough-tough day and the sting in the tail comes at the very end with a very short and steep ascent to Jase Bhajyang.

Day 3Jase Bhanjyang to Kharikhola

Stage 3 is all about running downhill, however, the finish is brutal ascent to Kharikhola at 2100m. Leaving Jase Bhanjyang runners have a short ascent of 2km to 3800m and then an 8km descent to Jumbesi, CP1. A 6km climb to just over 3000m is then followed with a 4km descent to Lharpa and CP2. Another 3km climb to 3000m and then a brutal leg-sapping drop from 3000m to 1500m in 10km before the final sting in the tail, a 3km climb to the finish.

Day 4Kharikhola to Llegada

Departing the monastery, a small descent awaits the runners of just 4km before a long tough climb to Kari La (CP1) at 2900m. From here the course goes up and down all around 2700/2800m for approximately 10km before a very steep descent to CP2 at Surke (2200m). A continual climb to CP3 at Cheplung continues to the arrival at Phakding/ Llegaga. 

Day 5 – Phakding to Llegada

Leaving Phakding at 2600m runners will only gain 200m in the first 8km. CP1 Namche Bazar is at 10km  (3400m).  Phunki Tenga at 17.5km (3300m) now will offer the runners the most spectacular views of Everest and the other 8000m peaks. This sight will spur them on for the kick in the tail; the 2km climb from 3300m to 3700m and the finish at Tengboche.

Day 6 – Thyangboche to Lukla

The final stage of the ETR re-traces much of the same ground of Day-5 but (obviously) in the opposite direction. The main difference comes after Phakding when the trail splits and participants go left climbing to the finish in Lukla.

Ones to watch.

The ETR is very much a race about an experience and a journey, however, a race will take place and as in previous years, this will be very competitive at the front.

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From the UK, Casey Morgan will be one of the main contenders for overall victory. In 2016 he has raced consistently well in tough and mountainous races all over the world. The big question will come with his ability to handle high altitude.

Miguel Capo Soler placed 17th at the 2014 Marathon des Sables but his best result came in 2013 when he placed 3rd along with 10th at Lavaredo Ultra Trail.

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Roger Vinas has had an incredible 2016 racing the Skyrunner World Series – the technical trails and altitude of Nepal should not be a problem for this talented runner.

Ismael Dris placed 18th at the 2015 Marathon des Sables, 2nd at the 2013 The Coastal Challenge and has raced Everest Trail Race on one previous occasion.

Sarah Davies from the UK placed 2nd lady in the 2016 Spine Challenger and also won the Malvern Hills Ultra. Adapting to the cold shouldn’t be a problem, the altitude will be a question mark.

Argentina will be represented by Paula Haimovich, Vanesa Levi and Daniela Alderete.

Full entry list HERE.

The 2016 edition of the race has a main sponsor – The Elements Pure Coconut Water. Other official sponsors are Compressport, 225ers, ways gps and Burq.

Official Race Website – HERE

UK entries – HERE