Scenic warm-up for the 'Big One', Lesotho marathon poses own challenges

Thu Mar 13, 2014 7:34am EDT
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By Ed Stoddard

KATSE DAM, Lesotho (Reuters) - The gorgeous scenery is a welcome distraction from the aches in your legs as you run along a dirt road twisting through African villages and up hills so steep you can't see the tops.

Welcome to the Highlands Trout Mountain Challenge in the southern African kingdom of Lesotho. Sponsored by and taking its name from a company that exports trout to Japan, it is one of the newest entries in a small but growing global phenomenon of unusual or extreme marathon events.

Other such marathons take intrepid runners to North Korea or Antarctica. Perhaps one of the most challenging marathon of them all is the so-called Spartathlon that covers the 246 km (153 miles) between Athens and Sparta.

The Spartathlon's website makes much of the availability of medical services and hospitals all along the route.

Launched in 2012, the Lesotho run poses its own special challenges. It takes place at around 2,300 m (over 7,000 ft) above sea level which, combined with brutal climbs and a route that snakes mostly along rough dirt roads, means it is not for the fainthearted, or the short of breath.

It also is decidedly off the beaten path - part of the appeal of this kind of marathon tourism - and gives at least a fleeting glimpse of life in the hills of rugged, rural Lesotho.

Along the route, herdsmen on horseback or donkeys navigate treacherous paths as they follow their sure-footed sheep and cattle. Dogs of all sorts and sizes, used for hunting and herding, trail the grazing livestock.

To ward off the chill at these alpine altitudes, many of the horsemen are clad in Lesotho's trademark blankets, their bright colors a striking contrast with the deep green contours of the late summer mountain foliage.   Continued...