Scott Loughney, a 48-year-old ultrarunner from Camas, recently accomplished the ultimate high-altitude running feat, completing a 400-mile round-trip trail run from Kathmandu, Nepal, to Mount Everest Base Camp and then back again.
Loughney, along with South Dakota resident Ryan Wagner and Nepal resident Upendra Sunuwar, left the capital city Nov. 11 and finished their epic round-trip journey in 9 days, 23 hours and 21 minutes, establishing a world record for the historic route known as the Everest Mail Run. The team also broke one-way record from Kathmandu to Everest Base Camp with a time of 5 days, 10 hours and 46 minutes.
Sherpas once used the route to carry letters, bearing the news of the successes or failures of climbers’ expeditions, back to Kathmandu. Few people have attempted the 200-mile one-way trek in one go, and no one had ever been known to complete the 400-mile round-trip journey until Loughney and his team completed the feat Nov. 16.
“I feel like our planning was really, really great, because we didn’t have any issues along the way,” said Loughney, who works as a financial planner in Vancouver. “All the unknowns were kind of planned away.”
Using technology to beat high altitudes
Typically climbers and high-altitude athletes need about two weeks to acclimate to Nepal’s high country, but Loughney figured out how to plan all of that adjustment time away. He used an altitude training room at Portland’s Evolution Healthcare and Fitness, where he ran for many hours on a treadmill at simulated altitudes between 9,000 and 17,000 feet. He also used a special mask to simulate high altitudes on his treadmill at home, and even slept inside a high-tech tent that simulates an altitude of 13,000 feet for more than five months.
“I would go to Evolution and run for five hours at a time at 15,000 feet, and you just kind of check out in your mind and plan things and focus on taking that one step at a time rather than (focus on) the monotony of the treadmill,” Loughney said.
Immersion of culture on one-of-a-kind journey
After 18 months of training and preparation, Loughney’s journey began in the mystical mountain metropolis of Kathmandu. The first 100 miles of the Everest Mail Run route is a combination of poorly-marked roads and trails, so having a Nepali runner on the adventure was a huge bonus.
“Sometimes we were running on peoples’ private property, on their rice patties and literally through their barns and houses,” Loughney said. “In the United States people would be yelling, ‘Get off my property,’ but over there people would just embrace us.”
Unlike western ultrarunners, Nepali athletes eat only whole foods. When the team members needed food, Nepali residents invited the runners to their homes.
During the second 100 miles of the journey, the roads disappear and the legendary high-country trekking begins. One night, after a full day of running on steep rocky trails, the team members found themselves on an 11,000-foot pass, with a single shack sitting at the summit. Hungry and tired, they knocked on the door, and a former Nepali soldier invited them inside to spend the night.
“He’s a single Buddhist man who did chants and prayed for us, and then he literally got drunk as he was cooking us food,” Loughney said. “He was just the funniest guy. He was dancing for us. He was like our entertainment, too.”
The runners went through countless villages, where people are not used to seeing westerners.
“We would see packs of 50 kids looking at us wondering what we were doing,” Loughney said.
In the high country, the warm Nepali culture transitioned into crowds of westerners who were trekking to climb or witness the tallest mountain in the world.
“It’s very pretty up there, but much less like Nepal if you know what I mean,” Loughney said.
Always ready to run
Loughney has been dreaming of running in the Mount Everest region since growing up in Pullman, Washington where many famous Kenyan runners trained in the early 1990s. He’s certainly no stranger to long distance running adventures, though.
In 2016, Loughney and Yassine Diboun set a new record time for the Oregon section of the Pacific Crest Trail, running 453 miles in eight days, 12 hours and five minutes. A few months later, Loughney placed fourth in the Grand to Grand Ultra, an international seven-day self-supported race in southern Utah.
He’s also competed in the Bigfoot 100K, a long-distance race on Mount St. Helens for the past two years, finishing second in 2019. And before taking up ultrarunning, Loughney was an Ironman triathlete.
This year Loughney plans to race in several events, but at this point he has no big adventures planned.
“I’m going to be staying home with my wife and kids a bit more this year, I think,” he said. “My wife married into this and is super supportive, but there’s always a bit of a negotiation at home about what the next adventure will look like.”