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.

Guest post #4: how was YOUR experience of the Ladakh Marathon?

Gotta love a guest post that starts with “Any idiot can run but you need a special kind of idiot to run a marathon” which is what this one did 😛

Today another of my ASICS Running Club mates, R K Bahuguna, takes over as our guest blogger, sharing his thoughts on the Ladakh marathon.
RkB has an interesting, almost philosophical take on his experience, and makes some good, insightful points.
“Listening to the heroic tales from runners who had conquered the Ladakh marathon last year, I was excited for the challenge.
The stories of acclimatization needed for 4-5 days, low oxygen levels in dry-arid climate, direct sunlight & UV piercing your eyes & body at 11000+ feet around barren picturesque mountains, invite you to conquer this highest marathon in world as certified by AIMS.
A video of the Ladakh run was posted in our ASICS group and huge interest was generated with 30+ people registering for the Ladakh half marathon. My excitement led to booking of air tickets to Leh on 13/03/18, 6 months before the event.
(Editor: Well done, you!)
ASICS running group friends reached Leh for acclimatization from 01/09/18 onwards to 06/09/18 for the race scheduled on 09/09/18. What better way to acclimatize than visiting various places of interest around Leh like Leh Palace, Leh market, Hall of Fame of Indian Army, Patthar Sahib Gurudwara, Sangam of Indus & Zanskar rivers, rafting in chilling Zanskar river, monuments & places of worship, school of Sonam Wangchuk etc.
Daily morning training uphill run of 4-5 kms to Shanti stupa was exposing us to the forthcoming challenge.
(Editor: It sure did 😛 )
A road trip of approx 170 kms on 07/09 through the difficult uphill terrain via Changla Pass (A passage/road connecting two valley ranges) at 17500 feet, took 12 of us to Pangong Tso (14000’). The lake is 160 kms long and 500m to 5000m in width at various points.
A night camping at the lake side in Swiss cottages in chilly, windy weather was another experience. We were better acclimatized but tired after the arduous journey, when we reached Leh on 8th evening.
 After enough of sight-seeing & good acclimatization, now it was time for official running in the festive environment.
(Editor: Aha!  Finally we get down to the serious business of running :P)
We confidently took to the start line at 6.30 am and ran along the Leh-Manali highway with approx. 1500 runners for the half marathon.
My strategy was to pace up on down slopes, as up gradients shall stall.
Hydration was important as we were frequently feeling dryness in mouth and lack of oxygen to match the running pace.
The down slopes were easy to traverse once I got the hydration sorted and I managed the up slopes of Saboo village.The route goes down hill for about 5-6 kms and reaches again Leh-Manali highway & U turn starts at 11.5 kms. I was gasping for oxygen even on down/flat  tracks, a unique experience. We passed through the home of His Highness Dalai Lama at approx 14kms and then the gradual uphill started. The last 4 kms are steep and I had to run-jog-walk in the stretch after gathering oxygen & hydration.
Ladakh region is strategically important as it shares sensitive borders with Pakistan on west and Tibet/China in east, and so there is a good presence of Indian Army. I was elated seeing Army personnel lined up on either side of route and cheering we runners. I responded with ‘Salute to Indian army’ & could sail through the uphill sections charged up and reached finish line at 2.25.46 hrs, in a better than expected time of 30 mins over my PB.
Leh marathon attracts people from all parts of country and overseas, & has unique clientele. Every runner wants to prove his/her endurance by conquering the Ladakh Marathon, and experience life in these difficult terrains with remote places.
When I shared my 21 kms run with the local caretaker at my guest house, he explained that it is routine for them to walk continuously for 160-200 kms with their animals for grazing.
With every daily necessity being transported from Srinagar or Delhi & no local produce, the cost of living is very high. They look forward to tourism for any income whatsoever, & that too for 6 months, as there is hardly any activity in winter times & people migrate to habitable places.
Although I feel that this Ladakh run is abnormal, is too killing and that logistics are difficult, it is done for once and all, but…the running bug likes challenges, so who knows…you might just land up again for the 2nd time in Leh, like our friend Neeraj…
RkB – what a nice account of your whole experience, and I love the way you have cleverly left yourself an opening, possibly running in Leh another time, just like Neeraj did, running it this year for the second time 🙂
Basically, RkB, as I said to Neeraj, it’s a case of “never say never again”!!

Guest post #3: how was YOUR experience of the Ladakh Marathon?

Today’s Ladakh Marathon story is from a relatively new member of our ASICS Running Club, the irrepressible Anyuta Dhir.

We Q&A-ed with Anyuta a couple of weeks ago, and that blog post was every bit as exuberant as this one is 🙂

Anyuta’s telling of her experience of last Sunday’s race is SO typical of the lady in question – brimming with enthusiasm and happiness.  Such enthusiasm, in fact, that she ran more than she was supposed to, doing a 10k instead of a 7k!!

Love it!

And so, with no further ado, let’s hand the blog over to Ms Dhir:

9th September 2018 was an Extraordinary day for Ordinary Me…

I RAN MY FIRST MARATHON EVER, THAT TOO IN THE WORLD’S HIGHEST and amongst the toughest Terrains, The Ladakh Marathon. It claims to be the highest marathon in the world, held at a height of 11,500 to 17,618 feet.

While my team mates ran for 21Km and 42 KM, I had registered for a meagre 7KM ‘Run for fun’, being a new runner only about 5 months old into my new found passion. Although I had been training for it in my group with the most experienced runners, I had still found myself saying to one of my group mates just a few days before the run..a huff n puff…n tizzy dizzy…and I shall…and I will…walk or run…and I Will. With these words I wasn’t even sure if I would finish the 7 KM race in the first place…
As I started my 7km FUN RUN on the Race day, I felt the ease with which I could easily complete the 7KM, which I did eventually within a respectable 58 mins.

I saw the crowd taking a U TURN 3.5 KMs into the race track. That’s when I was reminded of a conversation which I had with an experienced runner from my group having taken me under his wing, with a promise to make me worthy of a half marathon.

I remembered him telling me, Anyuta if you see yourself run easy to reach your 7KM target…. GO ON to PUSH YOURSELF FURTHER , DO NOT FEAR…and that’s when I decided to run and complete a 10 KM on the 42 KM track as my run extended beyond the turning point of the 7KM track.

I also was energized by the following words, that I’d shared with the group in response to my associates thoughts on having an ill effect due to bad weather conditions if at all on the race day;

And also thought to myself….isn’t this also about LIFE on a day to day basis….

Life will bring obstacles and difficulties;
They do not come to stop you.
They come to strengthen you and help you progress with more experience.
Keep advancing as One day is not the same as another.
Have a wonderful RuN weather in RAIN or SUN…

With these thoughts I knew I had it in me and I PROUDLY COMPLETED a NEWLY SELF STYLED RACE CATEGORY of 10 KM. 🙂

Anyuta, my dear, congrats for such a good performance, at altitude and also for such a happy outlook.

But let me say one thing if I may.

You said earlier, and I quote – “I had registered for a meagre 7KM ‘Run for fun'”.  7km is not meagre, especially at altitude, and for a new runner like yourself.

Do not belittle your achievements.

My first run was a 6km run and I am still super proud of it 🙂

I use that very first 6km as my benchmark for current timings, and whenever I am 6km from the finish line of a race, I KNOW I can do it, because 6km is my lucky distance.

So, no more talk of “meagre”, please!

You ran brilliantly and we are all proud of you!

And there is a new world record!

Just watch Eliud Kipchoge’s spectacular finish, a short while ago, at the Berlin Marathon.
He’s smiling, he’s happy, he looks as though he could run for ever!
What. A. Man
Talk about inspiring 🙂

Eliud Kipchoge Marathon World Record – Finish of the BMW BERLIN-MARATHON 2018

Eliud Kipchoges finish with a new world record, that will be remembered for decades.The greatest marathon runner of all times. #berlin42 #worldrecord

Posted by BERLIN-MARATHON on Sunday, 16 September 2018

Guest post #2: How was YOUR experience of the Ladakh Marathon?

This time last week we hadn’t even run the Ladakh Marathon.
We were all carbo-loading like crazy and turning in early, the night before the big race!
Fast forward a week, and we’re all back home – be it Delhi for most of us, or London for my sister and brother-in-law after their first ever 7k!!
Life goes on, with back to work, and running group meetings and yet…and yet…the memories of last week linger on.
Cue this guest post from one of the stalwarts of my ASICS Running Club, Harvinder Singh, aka Harry.
“When I landed in Leh Ladakh-The land of high passes – my eyes were only on that 21.2 kms and what time I could get over, it but after seeing such picturesque sights such as crystal clear skies, Pangong to die for, Magnetic hill, rafting at Zanskar, snow at Changla pass, that 21kms went up to the heavens but when THE DAY arrived, I had no clue where I will end up (without any practice run here).
As I started my run, even before completing my 1st km I thought I would be dead and buried by the end.
My throat was bone dry and I was looking left, right and centre for some hydration.
But somehow I crawled to the first hydration point.
The other thing to watch out for was the U-turn which I kept looking for, which came after 13kms strangely.
I couldn’t speed up from 6.20 to 6.10 with controlled HR
Then at the climax came Mount Everest to climb… tried to have a go but had to settle for a walk
(Ed: Mount Everest is right, my friend.  That final slope was a killer!)
One huge thing I missed out on was my sleep… couldn’t sleep for more than 2hrs on an average for 5 days.
Even though I managed to got over the line with an average timing of 2.27 I had learned the hard fought lesson for the future.
Lessons learned :
#have 2-3 small distance runs prior to the big day
#grab enough sleep as much as you can
#have enough fuel in the tank so as to say
#carry ur own hydration from the beginning
#have some close friends whom you can rely on at ur bad times
#arrive at least a week prior to acclimatise
#But the most important lesson learnt is, as Coach says, ‘MIND OVER BODY’ and finally, a ‘NEVER SAY DIE’ attitude which my idiot friends have in abundance!!
And here is the man himself, looking in super good form!
Shabash, my friend!  Thank you for such a frank post, from the heart 🙂
#keeprunning #keepinspiring

Why do you run? “To be fit with a fun factor”

Today we are Q&A-ing with Rachna Agrawal, one of the talented young women in my ASICS Running Club.

Rachna, you see, is not only a consistently good runner, she is also a fabulous yogini, often leading our post-training stretching sessions.

Like so:

You remember the format of this Q & A by now?

5 simple questions, that’s all

So, let’s hear why Rachna runs, shall we?

Q. Why do you run?

A. Running over a period of time has become a major part of my life.  It started with a desire to be fit with a fun factor.  I’m a social freak and like to make friends.

Though I have been into yoga for quite sometime, the only factor that I didn’t find in it was the fun factor.  Being with friends and chatting with them at 5 o’clock in the morning – that kind of fun!

Q. When did you start running?

A. I started running about 3 years ago, when I ran alone, and just before events.  I really started formally 2 years ago.

Q. Morning/evening runner?

A. I’m strictly a morning runner.  (Actually, I have never run in the evening…)

Q. With/without music?

A. I initially started to run with music, but since I have joined the running group, I love the rhythmic sound of my friends’ feet matching with mine…their illogical but interesting chats…this fills me with energy & I start my days actually happy.

Q. Running goal?

A. I want to grow old with it, and register with my grandchildren for ADHM (Ed: the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon)

Now, how lovely are Rachna’s answers?

“...illogical but interesting chats...” and my absolute fave “ I want to grow old with it, and register with my grandchildren for ADHM.”  Rachna, those are such lovely words!

#keeprunning #keepinspiring 🙂

Guest post: How was YOUR experience of running in Ladakh?

The other day, I shared with you some of my own feelings about the Ladakh Marathon.

I decided I’d also ask some of my running mates who were in Ladakh with me last week, to share their personal experiences of running in the country’s highest marathon.  Although I get the feeling we all enjoyed ourselves enormously, I’m sure everyone has his/her own particular, personal take on this amazing event.

Over the next few days, therefore, I’ll be sharing the different viewpoints of my friends.

To kick off this series of guest posts, I’m starting with Neeraj Rawat, who returned this year to run the Ladakh Half marathon for the 2nd time.

Clearly this is a man who wasn’t psychologically defeated last year by the challenge of running at such a high altitude 😛

(FYI, the race takes place in Leh, which has an average altitude of 3500m).

Let’s hear Neeraj’s thoughts on his second time of running the half marathon in Ladakh:

“Ladakh the land of high passes : to run in this terrain is a serious business.

I participated twice in 21km, and both times, just 3km before finish line, when the steep incline begins, I tell myself that this is impossible and I will not come again.  But this time at least I was mentally prepared! At the starting point itself I told myself that I will not walk or stop till the finish line.

In my practice sessions as well, I ran from my guest house to Shanti Stupa which was 3.6km away and totally inclined. I didn’t stop and was therefore quite confident for the race.

(Editor: I can vouch for this.  I saw Neeraj zooming up the steep slope to Shanti Stupa one morning, after I’d walked up it, huffing & puffing :P)

Like so:

Moreover this year I was more concerned about the people from ASICS Running Group who were dependent on me because I came here last year as well.

I must confess that running is easier than managing people.😰

This year my timing was 2hrs officially (1:59 as per my TomTom😛) as compared to 2:13hrs last year.

(Editor: fantastic timings!)

Some learnings which I am eager to share:

#Reach few days early and keep moving around

#Go to high altitude places like Pangong to acclimatise well

#High liquid intakes

#Practice on inclines and strengthening are a must

#Water bottle in your hand from the starting point itself

#Make your mind up to do your best

Hope my experience would be beneficial for the runners who want to go for next year😊.”

And here is the man himself with his medal, looking super relaxed.

Will there be a 3rd time, Neeraj?

Thanks SO much my friend, and one of my memories of this race was you greeting me at the finish line, and laughing as you told me, “Last year, after that final steep 3km incline I said “Never again”.  This year after the final steep 3km incline, I said “Never again, again!”

So, I repeat the question?  3rd time…?

Or is it a case of never say never again? 😛

Running in India’s highest half marathon

Yesterday, high up in the Indian Himalayas, the Ladakh Marathon took place.

Leh, the capital of Ladakh, is at 3,500 metres altitude so the whole focus of this race (well for me, at least) was all about acclimatising for the reduced oxygen levels.

I’d originally signed up to run a full marathon in Leh, but wiser counsel prevailed, so I switched to the half.

Best decision ever.

Instead of being stressed at the lack of miles I was not putting in, in Delhi’s hot and rainy and humid summer, I relaxed & enjoyed the whole experience.  But, since I’d already booked flights on the basis I was running a full, I still went up to Leh early, as originally planned, and had nearly a fortnight in one of my most favourite places ever.

So I suppose I was reasonably well acclimatised, even though I still huffed and puffed alarmingly.  But no headaches, no nausea, no discomfort – just breathlessness frst thing in the morning, when I’d set out to run to Shanti Stupa with a lovely young runner, Shipra Yadav, who was staying in the same hotel.  Every morning, those first few hundred metres were worrying, but after a while, I guess the body woke up and adapted.

I’d been told by other people who’ve run in Ladakh, to expect a timing of about 30 minutes over and above one’s “usual” timing.

So, realistically, I set myself a target of 2:45 and made it in 2:44, so was super pleased.

The route for the half marathon was lovely, with amazing scenery, but the home straight was a killer.  A 3.5km incline (upwards!!) and I am not ashamed to say that I walked almost the entire stretch.  Along with every other runner in my sightline, I hasten to add.

Basically, up until the 17/17.5km mark I felt I was actually doing quite well.  I got a terrible stitch, but managed to work it out by taking deep breaths, and I think it was 2 hours as I passed the 18km mark, and I admit to feeling pretty pleased with myself.

Then came The Slope, and my time got slower and slower, and (for the first time in the race) I actually stopped for a spilt second, and bent over, feeling drained.

I guess I was only a couple of hundred metres from the finish line when hubby dearest snapped this:

At least I’m still smiling, and I swear I hadn’t seen him or my sister Jane, both of them looking out for me.  To smile when you are so bushed says something.  Not quite sure what, but definitely something!

The whole race was most definitely a unique experience.

To run with snow-capped mountains as a backdrop is pretty special.

To run through Choglamsar – where His Holiness the Dalai Lama has his summer home – and see a crowd of red-robed monks cheering and filming us on their mobiles – well, that is beyond special!

I truly enjoyed the race, largely because there was no self-imposed time pressure.  All I wanted to do was to finish the race.  Truly.  To finish it in good shape, having enjoyed it.

And that is exactly what happened.

I crossed the finish line with one of the young men in my ASICS Running Club, Minesh Leekha.  I think we were holding hands at one point – let’s see when the race photos are out 🙂

Great fun.

Great experience.

Super happy.

#runninggoals achieved.

Tell us about your favourite running T shirt

I recently read an article on the Runner’s World website about favourite race Ts:

“Some race t-shirts end up as dusters, but a few are cherished keepsakes, taking you back to a run that, for whatever reason, you will never forget.”

The article then went on to share stories of favourite Ts and some of the stories linked to them were truly moving.

I know that I certainly have some running T shirts that are very special, whereas there are others that I have happily given away, with no regrets whatsoever (no names, no pack drill 😛 ).

So I thought I’d ask my running friends to share with us their fave T, and tell us a little about why it’s their favourite.

Does the T shirt bring back memories of a particular race?

Or does the T represent a cause or a charity dear to their heart?

To kick off this new section in the blog, I asked my running and training companion, marathoner Ripu Daman, which is his favourite running T.

Here’s his story.

The Super Sikh Run ‘green’ singlet is my absolute favourite for many reasons.

Super Sikh Run is extremely close to my heart. Having been inducted into the family so smoothly, wearing multiple hats over the year, and then to become the face of the run, and seeing my posters on the route on race day was a high that I hadn’t experienced before. And all in the same singlet!

The original SSR T is a bright orange colour, but with this limited edition green singlet, we add another focus i.e. environment.

Just look at that singlet and its beautiful message ‘One Race Human Race’ on the back:

My first full marathon was a momentous day and guess which singlet I wore me that day. The day meant so much. We endured so much together  🙂
One thing that Ripu said makes total sense : the message on the T shirt, which is one of the mantras of the Super Sikh Run – “one race human race”.
In these troubled times in which we live, I couldn’t agree more.
Thanks Ripu, and #keeprunning and #keepinspiring

T-6 to India’s highest marathon

Gosh, what a day it’s been, the last day before the Ladakh Marathon tomorrow morning.

Woke up this morning to pouring rain and chilly weather.

All day, I’ve been swathed in 2 fleeces, and streaming away with a cold that has come out of nowhere. Sneezing, non-stop blowing my nose, 2 visits to the market to buy even more Kleenex – jeepers, not what one needs a few hours from the starter’s gun.

Writing this at 18.15, it’s chilly, but at least it’s stopped raining.  The only silver lining is that the surrounding peaks are now covered in a dusting of snow, and we even had a brief rainbow this evening.

Bib is pinned on my race T.

We’re going for an early carbo-loading pasta dinner, we being – oh yes!  You dont know the big news!

My sister Jane and brother-in-law Michael flew over from London to spend this week up here in Ladakh.  And, having never taken part in a race before, (they both claim they have never even run before) they have signed up for the 7k!

Super proud of them!

So, wish us luck, please.  All of us.

And wish us clement weather.

Ladakh, land of high passes, can you please keep your rain and snow and cold winds on hold for one more day at least…?

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