Guest post #5: how was YOUR experience of the Ladakh Marathon?

Today the blog is being hosted by a remarkable young lady called Gayatri Mathur who was part of our group in Leh, who trained quietly and seriously with no fuss, and then – quick drumroll – coolly placed first in the open category.

First, people!

How fantastic is that?

Without any further ado, let’s hear Gayatri’s account of running the half marathon in Leh, 2 weeks ago.  It is very modest and completely downplays her rock-star performance!

“I started my running journey in 2015, but somehow I hadn’t heard of any high altitude runs until last year, when I saw some of my running buddies posting pictures of their run from the very picturesque Leh. Seeing so many of them run and talking to them obviously motivated me to push my limit and sign up for this new challenge this year.

Now in terms of my past preparations for all my half marathons or even the full marathon that I have attempted, I had typically practiced in Delhi and I reached my run destination a few days earlier – say a Friday or a Saturday for a Sunday run. However, Leh with its high altitude & low oxygen levels had to be tackled differently.

After consulting a few of my running buddies who had done this marathon I realized that it’s best to reach a week in advance. Therefore, both my partner and I took time off our work and decided to make this a vacation/running trip. For the training part, I consulted Coach Gagan who gave me a week long workout plan to prepare for the race. As for the travel part, I consulted the event organizers, Rimo Expeditions to help me with a great travel itinerary that allowed me to follow my training plan and travel around Leh.  

We finally reached Leh on September 1st (Day 1) and as per the plan we just rested in our hotel for most part of the day and ventured out in the market for dinner.

Day 2 had a unique workout in store wherein all we had to do was climb 650 steps of Shanti Stupa. Though this workout wasn’t difficult to complete, it definitely left both of us breathless at numerous points. In the latter half of the day we visited places around Leh – Magnetic hill, Pathar sahib, Zanskar and Indus sangam, Alchi and Hall of Fame.

Day 3, had an easy 5K jog as per the plan and I was pretty confident that this was an easy task. I stepped out of my hotel at 5:45am, did a bit of warm up stretching and started my run uphill towards Shanti Stupa from the market area where my hotel was located. To my utter shock I realized I was tired and slightly out of breath at the 2Kms mark with a speed of 7:20/km! This is the slowest that I have ever run and this didn’t seem like a very encouraging start to my Leh training. Anyhow I completed the intended route to Shanti Stupa and back and went ahead with the other exciting part of the day, ie the  travel to Khardungla first followed by a night stay in Nubra. Both places were spectacular but the best part of the day was a sighting of a double full rainbow at Nubra.

Day 4 was an interval run day and as Nubra was pretty flat and slightly lower in altitude vs Leh, I had a slightly better run there. After the workout and the hearty breakfast, we moved towards the exceptionally beautiful Pangong lake. We stayed the night at a camp in Pangong and did some pretty decent night sky photography with a basic DSLR.

Day 5 was an easy 10K run which I did along Pangong with spectacular views and a little bit of rain. Running pace was still hovering around the 7/km mark (yikes!). We headed out to Leh via Changla pass and Thiksey monastery. Our driver was kind enough to show us a bit of the marathon route on our way back and also point out that the last 3.5Km of the run are a complete uphill.

Day 6 was a rest day when I did a bit of strength training exercises and we just roamed around Leh, exploring the city and some great new restaurants

Day 7 was meant for the last run before the marathon – easy 7k run and I attempted the Shanti stupa uphill course again, but without any breaks. We were in for a pleasant surprise around lunchtime when we were walking the main city and noticed the finish line for the Khardungla Challenge right in the middle of the market area. We met up some of our mates and cheered the daring runners completing the insane 72km Khardungla challenge!

Day 8 was a rest day and we did a bit of rolling & stretching and during the day we went out to explore beautiful Leh palace.

Day 9, ie the race day we reached the venue an hour before the race and caught up with all our friends from Delhi. To my surprise the race started off pretty well and I was comfortably averaging less than a 5:30/km speed until I reached the 16.5Km mark. Post the 16.5-17km mark I could see the uphill course of the run and despite so many locals and army men encouraging me to keep running I could see my speed falling. At around the 17.1km mark I finally stopped and for the first time ever walked in a marathon. Post this I did a mix of run and walk with small milestones (next set of buddhist flags, next water station etc.) that I saw on the route. Finally at around the 20.5km mark I met a fellow runner from Bangalore and we both decided we will not stop till the finish line from that point. At the finish line my Garmin showed a time of 2hours 8 minutes and some of the photographers told me I should be within the top 10 women finishers. Though I wasn’t disappointed with my timing, I was irritated that I walked some portions of the run and that should have pushed myself continue running even if it would have been at a slower pace. Post the run I met my husband at the finish line who had finished his 7k ages ago and was keen to find out about my performance. We met some of our friends from other running groups got tonnes of pictures clicked and then went rushed to our hotel to have a quick shower and head out for an interesting modern Ladakhi meal.

While at lunch when I got a call from a friend of mine from the presentation ceremony who informed me that my official timing was little under 2:08 and that I was fourth overall among women and had won a gold medal in the non-Ladakhi women category. Honestly I was very surprised but realized the uphill combined with the altitude might have slowed down many.

Overall I think it was a beautiful trip as both me and my husband enjoyed every bit of the trip, but I think some meticulous hill training especially for the last 3 kilometres combined with enough rest and acclimatization should be the formula to tame this beast for next year! “

Well done, Gayatri & congrats on such a fab performance.

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