Tough love: a dirty affair

TrailRunMag 19.12.2012

I know what it feels like to be an abused partner.

I have been beaten up, physically, mentally and emotionally.

Running down off the trail up to Manaslu Base Camp checkpoint. I did not run up trail. I crawled. I got to the checkpoint. I cried. But I did run down. Happy days in mindbending, leg punishing places.

Running down off the trail up to Manaslu Base Camp checkpoint. Happy days in mindbending, leg punishing places.

Bruised and broken to an inch of my life. My being was stripped back to an empty shell. I have been brutalised by that which I cannot help but devote myself to, despite knowing that binds me to a beating every so often.

It’s a blind love, I know. Or is it?

Or are my eyes wide open to the pit of despair I willingly throw myself into?

The muse I speak of is the mountain trail, one that gets a kick from doling out day upon day upon day of punishment.

The Himalayan mountains have become, in particular, my latest love, one that lured me in with promises of a dirty caressing, but then smacked me around to the point of smashing my spirit to oblivion, to a point where a simple forward step of a foot or two seemed an almighty impossibility in itself.

To me, hurting yourself in the bosom of the wildest nature you can find on the planet represents some kind of cathartic process. That and it makes me laugh at inappropriate moments.

There you are on a trail, in air that is less than half of what your lungs usually greedily suck up under burden. Your reserves that usually power legs forward are beyond empty, drained by the ten minute vomiting session at five AM in the morning; drained by days of diarrhea; belittled by a caloric intake barely two thirds of what any nutritionist would advise when running for seven days straight at altitude.

But in that moment, when you’re staring at spew-splattered rock an inch from your face, crumpled on the earth, the strangest thing happens: you smile. You laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. At your helplessness, your weakness, and even revel in the fact that you’re

Headed to a high checkpoint under the watchful eye of Manaslu, world's eight highest mountain, on the Manaslu Trail Race.

Headed to a high checkpoint under the watchful eye of Manaslu, world’s eighth highest mountain, on the inaugural Manaslu Trail Race.

sitting in your own vomit. Because you know it doesn’t matter. All you can see in the dark morning is a massive mountain range sharply silhouetted by a starry sky. Someone stops – a runner who happens to be a doctor – and hands you some anti-nausea pills. You smell something other than the caustic waft of last night’s partly digested garlic soup – it’s a donkey passing wind. The moment gets more ridiculous.

You get up. You run.

Okay, that’s a lie. You walk. Or trudge.

You stop a lot.

But you keep going.

Hours later, at the ice-bathed 5100m high pass, you break out a small bottle of Scotch handed to you by a fellow competitor who was being flown out on a chopper from the last overnight camp, exhausted. In a solemn moment, he requested that you raise his Scottish flag and have a nip of Isle of Mull whisky on his behalf. You do (legitimate as your grandfather was Scottish) and figure the alcohol may kill whatever is ravaging your stomach and bowels. Nip. Arrrgggggggh. This one’s for you Mikey. Sorry you couldn’t be here, but I honoured the promise, mate. You would have liked it up here.

What? He’s an hour behind, but he’ll make the pass? Didn’t take the evac chopper? Oh. Right. Give him this then…and you pass the flag and (reluctantly) the scotch so he can fulfill his own celebratory plans.

And you trudge on down the flip side.

Halfway down the pass you figure out that the scotch didn’t kill whatever alien is gestating inside you, so you find a rock and squirt like a rabid fire hose.

Funny thing is, the day’s running hasn’t even begun. This is a non-competitive 16km trek, the Race Director of the inaugural Manaslu Trail Race deeming the pass too dangerous to run (altitude issues) “and besides, I want everyone to stop and admire the view – if they were running, they wouldn’t do that.”

So, nine hours of trudging later (yes, my average pace was 1.8km/h – Kilian, I’m on your heels buddy) and you reach the ‘start’ line for the stage’s 20km final dash.

Thing is, once you start running down the valley some of the world’s highest mountains flashing at you through stands of forest giants, you start to feel good. You zone in on the technical terrain. You land feet precisely. You’re having fun. It’s as though with all that vomit and liquid lunch expelled, you also expunged a dead man walking and regenerated into a revived man running.

This is the miracle of the trail.

You’ve gone through hell. There is scientifically zero energy in your cells. Barely hours ago your mind was a babbling mess.

Yet here you are burning that trail up.

Why? How?

Ah the Ying Yang that is the magic of multi day trail running.

Your slightly enlightened (physically as well as mentally) trail runner, Chris Ord

IMAGES COURTESY Debbie Brupbacher and Richard Ball /

Trail Run Mag Ed.07

Trail Run Mag Ed.07


NOTE: This is the Australian Editor’s Letter from the just released latest edition of Trail Run Mag (Ed07), available as a FREE download HERE.

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