Gasping for breath and clad in trekking boots, more than 150 local and foreign runners took part yesterday in the world’s highest marathon in the snow-covered foothills of Mount Everest.
The annual Tenzing-Hillary Everest Marathon, which began in 2003, is meant to mark the anniversary of the first summit of the peak by Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary on May 29, 1953.
Runners kicked off the race at 7am local time, with the trail taking them from Everest base camp at a height of 5,364m (17,598ft) to the finishing line about 2,000m below in the town of Namche Bazaar.
About 130 foreign runners, including from Britain, US, China and Australia, joined another 30 from Nepal.
Local soldier Bed Bahadur Sunuwar took first place, completing the 42km run in four hours and 10 seconds.
“The route is very challenging but amazing too. I feel proud to be the winner,” the 29-year-old said.
The air at base camp contains only half as much oxygen as at sea level, leaving many runners gasping for breath on even the slightest incline along the narrow, rocky mountain paths.
“It is a difficult and exciting to race at this altitude. My muscles will hurt once the adrenaline wears off,” said Poland’s Robert Celinski, 43, taking part in his fourth race.
“The Nepali runners are very good. But next year, I hope to win,” he said.
Organisers hailed the large number of participants as a further sign of the recovery of Nepal’s mountaineering industry after two years of tragedy on the 8,848m (29,029ft) peak.
“The earthquake dampened the race last year, but we have seen a significant increase in the number of participants this year,” said organiser Bikram Pandey.
Only 55 took part last year and it was postponed until October after a massive earthquake hit the Himalayan nation in April, killing nearly 9,000 people and triggering a deadly avalanche on Everest base camp.
An avalanche on Everest in 2014 also claimed the lives of 16 Nepali guides and forced a shutdown of the mountain.
But hundreds of mountaineers have reached the summit in recent weeks, as this year’s spring climbing season drew to a close.
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