The author, Harshveer Singh Saluja, 24, is one of India’s youngest ultra runners. He struggled with cross country runs back in school, but now looks forward to enjoy himself at ultra marathons. He has run the Ultra India Race in 2014, Bhatti Lakes Ultra in 2012 and was selected as a youth ambassador for the impossible2Possible youth expedition, a 270k ultra marathon through India’s Thar Desert in 2011. He did is first half marathon in 2008 and never had imagined that he would be negotiating lofty mountains or sand dunes. Here’s his review of the Zendurance Ladakh 100KM, which he ran in July 2014.
Even if you are an atheist, you would thank the Gods when you arrive in Ladakh. You would thank the Gods for a place that mesmerizes you with its beauty. To start off with, the blue sky and the stars at night are enough to soak your soul. Let’s not even get to the landscapes, the mountains and the glacial streams. After Delhi, Ladakh was nothing less than heaven.
I was at Leh for my next race: Zendurance 100km. I got there a week before the race to acclimatize to the high altitude. The race route was between 18,380ft and 10,800ft. To train for this race, I ran 750km over 105 days along with strength training and cross training. I have never trained so much for any race. Yet I always felt that this race would beat and defeat me. It did beat and defeat me and how!
I left my homestay on 20th at midnight to pick up my crew members, Jatin and Gaurav and Stanzin (videographer) to head to the assembly point. The support vehicles were then loaded up oxygen cylinders, food, water and relevant gear at the assembly point. We were then ferried to the start point, which was 5km short of Khardungla top (18,380ft). The drive cutting through the darkness to the world’s highest motorable road was was loaded with anxious energy. It started snowing during the drive up and I didn’t know if what I was feeling was trepidition or excitement. The race started at 3:05 am and the three runners started the walk up to K-top. I was advised to do a short prayer before the start of the race. So I did.
The snowfall didn’t make things easy at all. I wasn’t prepared for this condition. But I remembered carrying my emergency blanket. 10 minutes after start I pulled out the blanket that ensured my jacket not getting wet and kept me decently warm in the 2 degree celcius weather condition. The headlamps and the supports vehicles did a great job of lighting up the snow covered road. I had never experienced such conditions and considered myself fortunate to be walking on the road leading to K-top in the darkness accompanied by snowfall. The feeling in retrospect was nothing less than being a superhero.
After hitting K-top, the snowfall increased but we marched on. We walked the first 14km in snow and closer to South Pullu (16,000 ft) we found clear roads and started trotting. Once the snowfall reduced, it was time for rainfall to greet us. 25km into the run, I finally got rid of my emergency blanket as it wasn’t raining and managed to trot downhill towards Shanti Stupa.
If your running mate is Shshank Pundir, you are blessed. If your crew comprises Gaurav, Jatin, Nitin, Ashish, Sankalp, Parul and Migma, you are truly blessed. These people are constantly there to help, motivate you till you either drop dead or reach the finish line. These guys love running and reinforce the passion and energy in you time and again.
The race went on well, and the sun came up. I got rid of my heavy jacket at 45km and got into lighter clothes for the rest of the run. The altitude was almost 11,000ft and the remainder of the race was to be done on the route of two villages Spituk and Shey. At nearly 47kms I felt that my stomach was bloating up and whatever liquid or solid I consumed wasn’t being processed by my system. I still kept running thinking that I would feel alright in a while. At about the, 50km mark I started to feel extremely uneasy. My stomach was bloated; I couldn’t take deep breaths and felt dizzy. I continued to walk. I took breaks very often and sipped small amounts of water at frequent intervals. I also realized that the last time I urinated was at 38km.
Apart from moving forward, my next mission was to urinate as quickly as possible. Surprisingly, the race organisers did not have a doctor on call. Sankalp was called to figure out what the course of action for me should be. He then made a phonecall to a neurosurgeon in Gurgaon and explained my situation. The best plan for me was to drink coffee as it’s a natural diuretic. This was a tough period in the race for me. The thought of giving up passed my mind several times. But I told myself it was too early to decide. My crew members told me not to lose confidence and just focus on moving forward.
My awesome crew managed to get me black coffee in the middle of nowhere and I sat in the car to sip it. Time was running out and I did realize that finishing the 100km in the given cut-off time of 17 hours would be a difficult task. After coffee, I was given a very motivating talk by Sankalp along with acupressure that would help settle my stomach. He assured me that my kidneys would not take a hit if I chose to continue running. I could finally breathe normally. Jatin joined me on the road and prepared me mentally for the long road ahead. We walked till the 60km mark. This was the longest and also the most dramatic 12km of the race.
The reason my stomach was bloating up was because I was de-hydrated and my body wanted to store the little water it had. I was continuously sipping water from the beginning of the race, but maybe not enough. Since it was snowing and raining, I didn’t accurately gauge my body’s requirement well and therefore landed in that situation.
Finally, I felt better and Jatin and I started jogging towards our next check-point. I was the happiest when I urinated at 63km mark and relieved myself at the 65km mark. Mentally I was getting back in the race and even my body felt energised again. I started feeling better and running faster. At 73km I was at full throttle for the next 10km. I was so focused that I don’t remember much of what happened in that period. What I remember is this: I was grunting with every single breath, so much so that I had a very dry throat by the end of the run. Jatin said he couldn’t keep up the pace with me so he got on the bike with the other folks. I kept shouting at the top of my voice to keep motivating myself. My crew kept cheering on and gave me more strength.
I have never dug so deep in my life to find energy and strength to move forward. The focus and determination kicked in that took me so far that I could feel it in my core that I would finish the race in 17 hours. Everytime I was dying out I would shout at the top of my voice to find more strength. And my eyes would fill up. I don’t think I have felt like this way ever before. If I did every race like this, I would be unstoppable. Maybe to find this high point I had to go through a low.
I reached the last checkpoint. I still had 17 kms to finish in 3 hours. I felt happy to be back in the race again. But I felt exhaustion seeping through my bones. I was completely drained. I realized that I hadn’t urinated after 65km and my stomach was bloating again. My shins were hurting and every step was painful. Jatin pushed me to run and I tried several times. After a few kilometers of running and walking, I gave up. I couldn’t push myself more and started to lose my breath. We decided to keep walking and reach the finish line.
If it wasn’t for Jatin I wouldn’t have walked the last 10km. I was whining like a cranky child and kept telling him that I wanted to get in to the car and be driven to the finish line. He wouldn’t entertain the thought for a second and made sure that I kept walking at whatever speed. I was blessed to have him by my side. We kept marching on and I kept the whining on. In my mind, I was already a champion for having done the 90km. I couldn’t care anymore. The support vehicle was literally calling out to me.
The snow, rain, sun and my stomach bloating wasn’t enough to make this race epic. There was so much more! Here is the highlight – Jatin called the rest of the crew to join me for the last 6km. 40 mins remained on the clock before cut off. With the crew came a fresh dose of energy. 6 Angels arrived riding 3 Bullet Enfields. They took turns to hold my hands and pull me forward. They made me jog holding my hands and took turns to ferry me. Later they put my hand on their shoulders and made me run faster as the time was running out. My shins were hurting even more but looking at what these guys were doing for me, I couldn’t voice any excuses. My eyes welled up over and over again feeling their determination to make me accomplish this. This was truly the most humbling experience of my life.
The race did beat and defeat me. Gaurav, Parul, Nitin, Ashish and Sankalp if you guys didn’t do what you did in the last 6km, I wouldn’t have ever finished. I don’t know how I could ever thank you enough.
I was dropped 20m before the finish line with 5 mins remaining on the clock. We sprinted to the finish line together. I was carried on their shoulders while I was unabashedly crying. Every single person hugged me tight and congratulated me. I couldn’t believe I finished a 100km race. If all this wasn’t epic, then what is!!!!!
Event website: http://www.zendurance.co.in/