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Khardungla Challenge - 72Km of Altitude Running - Ladakh Marathon

Updated: Jan 2

The best of #fabulousforty - The year I turned 40. I exactly knew when I had laid my eyes on the Kardungla Challenge (KC), the 8th of September 2013! It was the very day that I was amongst the top three non Ladakhi women to finish a 10k race at Leh. Those were the days when 10K was the largest distance I had run and seeing the runners sprinting down from the K-Top completing the 72k, was making them nothing less than God to me.

Years passed and running distances got comfortable, 10-21-42k and even 50K seemed do-able. Cycling, swimming, yoga and strength training became an integral part of me and I found myself comfortable with being on feet for 6-8 hours. My endurance and stamina was getting better.

All this while, my focus from the KC, part of the Ladakh Marathon, had never shifted. Earlier this year, I knew the time had come… time to turn this dream into a reality. Spoke to many brave hearts who had attempted or completed the challenge, read through race reports and realized this Prince Charming needs my undivided attention!

Early April 2017, started training relentlessly, keeping the average weekly mileage anywhere between 60-65k. I peaked, many a times at 110k. Those weeks were so mentally draining, that all I did was Run-Recover-Repeat. Reading and understanding recovery foods helped. Giving up gluten helped. Diet changed to increase protein intake. Chia, spirulina, oats and various millets formed a major part of my diet. Fish played a major role along with fruits and my plate started looking colorful by the day. My only external supplement was Unived Pea Protein and RRun During and Recovery.

With my running buddies - Suhas and Taher

Javadhu Ultra 75k was such a morale booster, just a month before the big day. But what happened next was two whole weeks of a fully blown up “Planters Fasciitis”. Many rounds of painful massage at Peak Performance and Terra band exercises with TRX training to strengthen all those weak and fatigued muscles followed. Taher and Suhas stood by me, listening to my sob stories, aches and pains. Thanks guys for believing in me.

Vinay my High-Altitude-Trekker Buddy volunteered to be my crew. We decided to make the most of the travel and signed up for the Stok Kangri expedition. For me again, this was a part of my training, to gain gradual assent and get comfortable at 17,000 ft. Taher was attempting a full marathon. Many of my run buddies had signed up for half and full marathon, including Dharma and Vijay. Last week of August was filled with excitement, shopping and packing.

Mom>> my ultimate support system, arrived in Bangalore in time and everything seemed perfect.

We arrived in Leh by the morning flight on 30th August and the next two days we did long walks in and around the market and climbed The Shanti Stupa many times too. Leh offers an array of diverse cuisines, all the way from Israeli to Italian and the Buddhist food being the best. For me it was Momo, Thupka and Thentuks three times a day, ha ha.

On 1st September, we met up with the rest of the group who were attempting to summit the Stok. At 20,500 ft, this becomes the highest that any armature can attempt. The next five days were the most beautiful days of the trip. Trekking from Stok Village to Changma and then Mankorama and finally reaching the base camp. Gaining a steady altitude of 11,800 to 16,500 ft . At base camp the days were cold and nights unbearable. The interesting part was, we got to meet with other trekkers who were also getting to the start line of the KC on 9th Sep. Never ending gup-shups, chai and Maggie at the basecamps!! There is always something about the mountains, they have so much to offer, it’s up to each one, what and how much you want to observe.

These lovely posters are at many places in the city of Leh

What a view... Lehed!

Highest point in Leh with Vinay

Stok Kangri Base Camp

Back in Leh, at Rimo expedition it seemed like a carnival of runners from various parts of India and different parts of the world too. On 8th Morning, we runners were taken in busses to Kardundgh Village, the start point. This journey took 6 hours, giving us a few stops at South Pulu, KTop, North Pulu, all these being the cut off points, on the race day. I was lucky to share a home stay with Rakesh, Col Schimer and Nakul. All three being inspiration in their own way. Nakul and Col were comfort factors, I had met them at Base Camp at Stok and exchanged notes.

The night of 8th Sep, I would never forget, I had a terrible stomach, discomfort in breathing and did not sleep a wink. I was restless and couldn’t equate if it was physical pain or anxiety. For my bad luck my monthly cycles decide to show up before schedule. At the start line on 9th Morning as I walked to the start line, in 7 layers of clothes, gloves and headlamp at 3 am, I knew this would be a tough one and going to be beyond my training and mental strength…

The KC is a 72K race, with four cut offs at K Top , 11am/ 8hrs, South Pulu – 1:30pm/10.5 hrs, Mendak Mor – 3pm/12 hrs and final finish in 14 hrs.

It was not until 5:30 am that I had reached North Pulu and there was some sunlight, but turning off the headlamp was a challenge, the temperature had dropped to 3 degrees if not lower. The hot black tea at the aid station really helped. The real race is between North Pulu and K top, the gradient is constant and unforgiving. Will I make it, wont I make it… kept the mind busy. Many a times, it was just ‘give up’, many a times, ‘this is your day… your moment’. My back and hips were hurting like crazy, but breathing was just normal>> I wasn’t gasping at any point. Thanks to Yoga and Stok 😊

It was exactly 9:30am, 6 hours 30 minutes into the race, I was on the top, 18,500 ft!! The “high” on the highest Ultra Marathon, all my fears had vanished, my body was re-energized and I was geared for the full marathon all the way to Leh. There was this sudden confidence, some power given by the Divine…

KTop - Top of the world :)

Flying down, just 12k to go

Stopped a few seconds at the small Mandir at KTop, grabbed a cup of hot garlic soup and sprinted down. Did the next 20K in about 2 hours and making it well ahead of all the cut off. It was around 2:45pm that I spotted Bhavana and Brijesh waiting for me at The Shanti Stupa and the next 5k was magical. The feeling was quite similar to that of coming back home to your family… Loads of cheering at the finish line, was nothing less than a celebrity welcome!!

Completed the beautiful KC in 12 hours 31 minutes 45 seconds…the journey had just began…A journey of positivity and grit that every dream will turn into a reality…

This is a highly recommended race for any runner who loves the mountains and respects endurance over speed. The organizers, Rimo Expedition has put its heart and soul into it. From the neat registration to the finisher medals, everything had been dealt with equal importance. One can never believe that this highest motorable route was blocked for the runners for 12 hours giving us the exclusivity. Rigo, the race director must have done over 100 rounds of the route, checking and talking to each runner, checking on their wellbeing. The med stations was exceptionally well handled, including the air lift of the unconscious runner. The pre-race dinner, the local variety entertainment program was unique and highly appreciated. Thank you Motup, for making this experience memorable.

  • A big thank you to everyone whose been a part of this journey, the JJ family, Coach Pramod, Running buddies and my beautiful family. Love you all for standing by me through the madness and for the future too ;)

A positive attitude can really make dreams come true - it did for me ~ David Bailey


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