Training with the Gorkhas

On 8th January 2013 by Rachael


Gurkhas are renowned for their strength and endurance.. So you can imagine how I felt at the thought of running 25kms with 12 of them, high in the mountains of the Himalayas.

Particularly bearing in mind most of them are at least twenty years younger. Oh, and that they wanted to start at 4.30am.

Why so early? Kalimpong is on the border of Sikkhim, not far from Bhutan and the roads can get busy here as people make their way by share jeep (read sardine can) to Nepal,  Bhutan, Tibet or Sikkhim.  Starting early was a necessity, at least to give us the chance to get off the busy roads and up into the mountains.

To say I felt vulnerable waiting on a pitch black road, stray dogs barking is an understatement. This being India, 4.30am meant 5am. But finally, through the dark, I saw the light from the mobile phone of 32-year old Premika as she ran towards me, along with the only female runner in the group, Samikcha Rai, 20.

We made our way to the main high street, still pitch black, small fires in the gutters lending the scene a Mad Max type feel. There were already people up and about, their faces hidden from the cold with scarves wrapped round their faces, taking a walk before work.

the other ten runners were waiting for us, all eager to shake my hand and run with me as we set off, through the darkness, over the rutted, pot-holed road and slowly up. And up.

I’m not sure what elevation we reached, but it was a steady 12kms uphill, past temples and prayer flags, and shadows that would loom out of the darkness, labourers on their way to work or women off to work on the roads, a basket held on their head with a string to make it easier to carry rocks.

Just when I thought I couldn’t bear to go up hill any longer, we reached the top as the sun peeked red behind Khangchendzonga, India’s highest mountain peak, just the outline visible against the hazy sky.

Now it was light it gave me the opportunity to watch this group of untrained runners do their stuff. And they are fantastic runners.

I’m a running coach, and these Gurkhas have fantastic natural style, hips level, feet underneath their hips, mid foot strike, good arm movement. And they are fast.

They kept up a constant stream of chatter, either in Nepali,  or English. Not all of them could speak English but this area has a strong tradition of Jesuit nuns and Scottish priests so many can.

I soon learned to try and engage them in conversation as it meant they didn’t go quite so fast. When they broke into a faster run, they were fluidity in motion.

And they love running. One of them grinned at me as the sun rose over the mountains. ‘We run happy,’ he beamed.

The route wound past steep terraced tea plantations and beautiful looking small houses, painted pink and blue. Everywhere, prayer flags fluttered on long poles. Each   covered with a mantra, and as the wind moves through the flag it is believed that the mantra is released.

I was hoping it was saying I’d make it to the end of the training run.

Finally, we wound back into the town, the honking of the cars replacing the trickle of streams and the sound of the wind through the prayer flags.

We made an interesting sight arriving at the equivalent of the town’s village square, 13 Gurkha runners and a female foreigner.

Forget my usual fare of eggs and toast as a post Sunday recovery run. We finished with puri, puffed bread with beans and a spicy, super sweet milky chai.

It was a fantastic run and amazing experience. My only disappointment? Not to meet their star runner, their marathon runner who completes 42kms in…2hours 16minutes.

I’m looking forward to meeting him, or at least seeing the back of him, in the Mumbai marathon in about two weeks.

I’m running the marathon in memory of my best friend, Holly, who died of cancer two years ago and raising money for Martlet’s Hospice. Donate if you can or share my blog.


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