The Yading Skyrun might sound gruelling, with its high altitude and tough terrain. But there are at least four reasons you should make the trip to western Sichuan to face the 32-kilometre course.
Or, if you are feeling particularly brave, embark on the 53km ultra that takes place the same day.
Even flying to the start line is an experience. You will land in Daocheng, which, at 4,411 metres altitude, is the highest airport in the world. As soon as you step off the flight, you are short of breath but there are staff on hand with oxygen bottles.
But you descend to the start line at 3,000m in Shangri-La. Amid many unique aspects to the race, here are four reasons you should make the trip:
4. Incredible mountains
The course is shadowed by mammoth peaks. Although technically a different range, the tail end of the Himalayas jut into Sichuan. You will be in a state of awe as Chenresig rears about you at 6,032m. In the distance, the distinctive shape of Chana Dorje looms at 5,958m.
If you are brave enough to embark on the ultra, the track takes you between the famous mountains and by Milk Lake in the basin between them all. But even if you are sticking to the 32km, make sure you head up to the Milk Lake area in the days before. It can serve to acclimatise your body, but you won’t be disappointed by the views.
3. Pine covered valleys
Before you reach the grand vista, you will run 18km through a deep valley. The path hugs a river and criss-crosses the water on small log bridges. The smell of pine is rich, and the sound of water is constant. It is all soft single track, as you wind-up towards the mountains.
2. Tibetan culture
Sichuan borders Tibet, so the local culture is heavily influenced by its neighbour. The most obvious sign of the nearby Kingdom is the prayer flags. One of the checkpoints is nestled in a glorious pile of the flags, whipping in the wind. What’s more, the locals enthusiastically man the checkpoints and you’ll see a donkey or two delivering goods for the runners.
1. The challenge
Much of the course is over 4,000m. The lack of air makes moving at speed hard. You will have to shuffle up the slopes and any attempt to move faster will send your heart rate through the roof and result in an enforced rest. Make sure you arrive a few days early so you can head up high and let your body acclimatise. But once you are over the final 4,700m pass, don’t expect an easy ride. The final 7km descent is technical and rough. You have to keep your wits about you as you fly towards the finish, but once you get there, you’ll be left with a lifetime of memories.