Bengalureans training for ‘highest marathon in the world’

Ladakh marathon is back after two years, the event will be held from September 7 to 11

Updated - May 10, 2022 06:43 pm IST

Published - May 07, 2022 12:40 pm IST - Bengaluru

A group of Bengalureans are preparing for a marathon in tough conditions in Leh, capital of the Union Territory of Ladakh, India.

A group of Bengalureans are preparing for a marathon in tough conditions in Leh, capital of the Union Territory of Ladakh, India.

There are marathons, and then there is the Ladakh Marathon. Touted by the organisers to be the highest and amongst the toughest marathons comprising two ultra races – the 72-km Khardung La Challenge (5370 m) — the world’s highest ultra marathon — and the 122-km Silk Route Ultra — the ‘epitome of high-altitude running testing the limits of human endurance’.

Back after two years, the marathon will be held from September 7 to 11. Marathon runners in Bengaluru are training hard for the event.

Asif Ahmed, 37, an IT professional, said acclimatising to the climate and altitude is a necessity. He is focusing on training in the hills and is travelling to Ooty and Kodaikanal in Tamil Nadu, and increasing the mileage gradually. “If someone is a seasoned runner or ultra distance runner, six months training is enough,” he said, but added that ‘Ladakh is more difficult because of the altitude, temperature, and harsh weather’.

“We need extra preparation. The mental aspect is very important in ultra-running and the Khardung La Challenge. Mental preparation is the decisive factor between being a finisher or ending up as DNF (did not finish). The main factor is acclimatisation of altitude slowly,” said Asif, who participated in the 2017 Ladakh Marathon and is preparing for this year’s event.

The organisers, on their website, have pointed out that unlike other marathons, the Ladakh Marathon requires participants to arrive in Leh at least a week in advance to acclimatise for race day. “You are running at 3500 m above sea level. So, it is imperative that you get acclimatised to the high altitude,” they add.

Participants must have finished two full marathons under five hours in the past three years, or two ultra marathons over 70 km in the past three years prior to the race day, which is the basic eligibility criteria to participate in the Khardung La Challenge.

Darshan Jain, founder of running group ODUBA, which provides training for beginners and intermediate runners, said approximately 40 participants from Bengaluru are going to participate in this year’s Ladakh marathon. “The marathon date is usually declared one year before so that participants can prepare with several training sessions. Unlike other marathons, Ladakh marathon participants also need to arrive in Ladakh a week in advance to acclimatise for race day, easy run and get used to the weather,” he explained.

Dharmendra Kumar, 43, founder and coach of Protons Sports, Bengaluru, who participated in the Ladakh marathon seven times in a row from 2013 to 2019, is going to participate this year too. He is also coaching people to run ultra marathons. “The main challenge in Ladakh is that the environment is not friendly and unpredictable. For Khardung La marathon, we are up at more than 18,000 feet from the base; it is a hilly and rocky area, also cold. In Bengaluru, there is no similar place to practise. Everything in Ladakh is at a high altitude, oxygen levels are less. We cannot train for weather; the only thing we can train is for mileage,” he said.

Ashwini Bhatt, 36, who is a professional running coach, had participated in the ultra marathon in 2018 and 2019. She said earlier, most people would be scared to participate in the Ladakh marathon.

“I had been to Ladakh before participating in the marathon. Mindset is important. It’s true that running in Ladakh requires 30% more effort than in other cities. Whoever is going there to run, give yourself enough time to adjust with the weather and ensure you are hydrated. As a woman, I never faced any kind of differentiation there. I finished second in the 2019 Khardung La Challenge,” she said.

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