Major’s fate was to fall in with a group of runners who take on more than five marathons in less than a week, usually in the most inhospitable climates the globe has to offer.
The latest race was a seven-day, 131-mile run through the foothills of the Annapurna range in Nepal, hosted by international race organizer Racing the Planet, from Nov. 20 to 26. The race brought Major to the southern edge of the Himalayas, west of Nepal’s capital of Kathmandu.
“The roads were crazy. There were masses of people and various sorts of vehicles and buffalo and chickens and everything everywhere in no orderly fashion,” he said. “That took a couple days to get used to, to navigate what in my mind was chaos. After a few days in the country you get used to it.”
The course traversed the mountains at 6,000 feet with competitors running at the base of a range where mountains rise up to 20,000 feet and higher.
“Up until that point I didn’t really get my head around how enormous this range was. That was really an eye opener for me,” Major said. “We’re running through nearly tropical terrain and vegetation, and in the distance, not that far, you’re looking at snow covered peaks.”
Major finished 54th in a field 169 runners — trimmed down from the 200 that originally began the race — to cross the finish line near the city of Pokhara.
Major ran the six stages -- including four stages of nearly 25 miles each, a fifth stage of nearly 50 miles, and after a day of rest, a final nine-mile stage -- in 41 hours, 2 minutes and 30 seconds. Race organizers adjusted distances along the way because of elevation gains and losses of about 5,000 feet on each section, so that it turned out to be about 131 miles total.
It included a run of nearly nine hours on the first stage, a day when Major and other runners were burdened with a virus that forced some, including his running partner Nicholas Wickes, to withdraw.
Increasing the challenges
The 36-year-old engineer with the Tracy Fire Department got into running during his early 20s as a way to remain in shape. He’s been a regular participant in local 5K and 10K races and big events like Bay to Breakers in San Francisco, in addition to some bicycle races.
He elevated his degree of toughness after meeting Wickes who founded Good For Kids Foundation of San Francisco. The two men’s wives attended graduate school together, and the both discovered their mutual passion for long-distance foot races through their spouses’ relationship.
“He told me all these stories of the Racing the Planet races and other multi-day events and distance runs,” Major said. “He had all these great stories about the places he had traveled and the people he had met. To top it all off, I really believe strongly in Good for Kids as an organization and their mission.”
The nonprofit organization helps urban children get into the arts and sports activities that have been cut from their middle schools.
It’s the charity that Team Good For Kids supports at each event its runners enter. In addition to paying his own travel expenses and entrance fees, Major raised about $750, and will match that with his own money.
Racing the Planet encourages its participants to run in the name of charity.
“It’s interesting to see what other people are doing philanthropically, throughout the world, Major said. “You come back feeling like you could do more, you need to do more, that you have the capacity to do more, once you hear all of these people and what they’re doing.”
Training and Competition
Major said the real work involved with an event like this was the months of training leading up to the race. By the time he got to the starting line he was eager to take in the scenery and the culture of Nepal’s countryside.
“What Racing the Planet did really well was set the course up so that we were running through some pretty rugged terrain, and in and out of villages, some that have been there for centuries,” Major said.
He also got to meet the people of Nepal. Many in Kathmandu speak English, and he learned that cab drivers are good tour guides. His only verbal communication with folks on the course was the country’s greeting of “Namaste,” which he said to everyone he could.
“Everyone I met was gracious and seemed genuinely happy to see us going through,” he said. “There was a lot of communication visually with people cheering us on.”
One of the surprises was the discovery of a country where there is little in the way of government services or infrastructure.
Among the bare essentials that he carried, he included a camera and returned with photos he took in Kathmandu and along the course, including Buddhist monuments, the Annapurna Range, the ancient stone staircases, river crossings, and locals who were glad to meet the runners from around the world.
“I think I took over 200-something pictures and I should have taken 200 more.”
The other bonus is the chance to become inspired by Racing the Planet’s international community of athletes. The group that Major shared a tent with included two women who have scaled the “Seven Summits,” the highest mountains on each of the continents.
“It renewed my interest in hiking and climbing mountains, so some friends and I are planning to climb Shasta, which I’ve done before,” Major said. “Our plan is to climb Rainier in Washington, and that’s in preparation for climbing Denali (in Alaska) in 2013.”
Racing the Planet’s multi-day events typically cover 150 miles. Every year the Four Deserts series will bring runners to the Atacama in Chile, the Gobi in China, the Sahara in Egypt, and Trinity Peninsula in Antarctica, considered the driest, windiest, hottest and coldest deserts on Earth.
The series includes a “roving” event each year. Major’s introduction to Racing the Planet was the group’s Australia run in 2010, where Team Good For Kids runner Mia Farley was first in the women’s division. He also ran in the Gore-Tex Trans-Rockies race though Colorado in August, 2011, and the Nepal race, Racing the Planet’s 2011 roving event, was his third multi-day event.