Saturday, August 25

My Highest Altitude Full Marathon - La Ultra The High 2012

Running a full marathon at 4,0000MASL? This is going to be so much fun.

Was all I thought of when I find out that aside from the ultra distance of 222km which I am going to be part of as a support crew, a shorter distance races of full marathon, 21km, and 10km will also be organized. After having an approval from my sponsoring ultra runner and even receive an encouragement from him for me to join the shorter race, I thought to myself, I will definitely join, be part of this event. And to maximize the opportunity, why not the longest available for us,  the full marathon. It was such an ambitious thought, easier said than done.
I leave the country really  excited having in mind that I will be up for an adventure of a life time. Aside from the fact that I will see the Indian Himalayas for the very first time, having the chance to run this high really excites me too. But I really did not know exactly what I wish for. As we reach Leh and having tasted the effects of high altitude at 3,400MASL every thing is just a challenge. Each one of us has to adjust to the altitude, make sure our body will adopt to the elevation that most of us are not used to. On the training runs that the ultra runners organized which I joined, I put so much effort just to be able to cope with their pace.  
The day comes when we have to decide which of the distance we have to join. Most of the ultra runners will be running the half marathon, my friend whom I know will be running with me in the full marathon decided to do the half marathon, now there is only one of the crew whom I know will be running with me on the same distance. At first I was hesitant of really doing the full marathon, I got concerened, will I really recover fully five days after the race and be of full use for the ultra race, I come to this event for that very purpose and not for the full martathon. But my friend encouraged me to go for it. Despite that concern I decided to go for the full mary.  Majority of the runners on this race are the ultra runners, the crew and the organizing staffs, there are only very few who come all the way to Leh just for this event. And one of them is Malcom Green,  a runner from UK whom I run with on the King of the Mountain race in Mt. Ugo, Kapaya, Nueva Vizcaya last May 2012. It's a very unlikely circumtance but not impossible, indeed it's him.
Come race day, wearing my orange Philsky uniform, I stand proud at the starting line just like the Shanti Stupa that perched on one of the hill in Leh withstanding  the heat, the cold and snow at 4,200 meters. It's a great sunny day. With a starting line beside the Shanti Stupa, this is going to be an out and back 21km loop with two loops for the  full marathon. There are 4 of us whom I now will be running the full marathon and the other one is Molly Sheridan, I may not be as fast as she is but at least I know I have another female running with me on the same distance. There is alwasy this part of me that is so insecure with male physical strength. Despite doing the full marathon in mind, I know I can always stop at the first loop and still get a medal finishing such.
After the blessing from the Lama, at around 6:14 in the morning, all the runners are released. Coming from the hill, the view of the valley where the only green part of this brown barren mountainous region is the community and the town center of Leh. The view is stunningly beautiful. We followed the road going down, an easy part of the race, down.....down...down we all go until we reached the street that leads to the main street of the town. This starts the flat part of the course. It passes by the local comminuty and the commercial area with locals and tourists alike. Most of them cheered for us. Well, ofcourse aside from the people and vehicles are also the cows and yaks that roam the streets of this place. It was just and easy pace for me. As we approach back to the side of the Stupa then turn left leading to the military posts, it is still a descend part, though the sun is already up, the heat is still manageable. On my way to the turn around point, most of the runners especially the ultra runners are already on their way back. I am just taking my time with extra care making sure that I will not be side swiped by incoming passing vehicles.
Upon the turn around point is also the start of the slow ascend course of this race until the finish line. I always love an uphill part of the course, I have difficulty doing it but I approach such part with fun despite the struggle of moving forward, and I can say I am good at it.  But on this race, I can feel the thinning of the air as I move forward. My lungs is just screaming for air as I negotiated to go further, thank goodness to the magnificent view of the Indian Himalays mountains ranges, what a big bonus seeing such gigantic mountain ranges despite my struggle.

Some of the runners pass by me, until I can hear the Danish ultra runner Micheal coaching my friend Jules how to approach the uphill. It seems like effective, they are doing well. I wanted to join them but I just concentrate on my own struggling pace. Until they pass by me and many more runners there after. On my way back two of the runners that I know doing the fill marathon is already on their way down doing the second loop. Fortunately I arrive the finish line despite my pace at 2 hours 37 minutes, not that bad. The race officials got my time but did not hand me a medal.

After few congratulations I look for the other crew Allan whom I know will be doing a full marathon as well. Unfortunately he is not in shape to do the second loop anymore, because indeed the first round is already a challenge.  With me left alone to do the second loop among the many runners around, honestly I was really hesitant of doing it now. With what I've been through the first loop, it was just too easy to think of settling for what I have just did, the 21km, I can always ask for a finisher's medal anyway. I am confused and undecided what to do.  Doing the second loop will give me at most 4 more hours to be back  the  line. I don't want the organizer and my friend to be left at the finish line waiting that long for me. But I thought I come to this race not to do a 21km race but a full marathon. I don't want to regret after thinking I haven't even given myself a chance to do it when the opportunity is just right infront of me. Without much thinking I turn around and speed my way down without turning back. This is it, I will do the second loop. I still have Molly behind me who will do the same distance anyway.

Down the road, I met Molly with Bill pacing with her. You are doing the second loop, right? I asked. But she replied she is already done for the day. Oh no, that left me now alone doing the second loop of this race. Oh well, I can always proceed to the main street of Leh then go back to the side of Shanti Stupa then back to the finish line. I am still into the hype of running anyway. But the Race Director changed that thought when he asked me if I think I  still can do it, do I still have the energy and strenght to do it. I know I have, I am just too worried I might finish that long, they might be waiting for me that long at the finish line. Oh, don't think about that, a vehicle will be dedicated to support you all the way, was his reply. Oh no, now I do not have any excuse anymore not to finish this race. Which means there is no point of turning back anymore but instead get focused and move forward on a more focused and faster face.

The street has become more busy now, more tourists and locals on the streets and vehicles too. They are just amazed seeing me running along the side of the busy street alone. Most of them wished me luck which is just too nice to hear. Upon reaching the foothill of the Shanti Stupa, I met other runners who did the 21km on their way back to the hotel and here I am still finishing a second loop of it. The two full marathon runners are already on their way back, Malcom and Sato. I still struggle all my way down up to the turn around point. Indeed I have one dedicated support vehicle who take care of my immediate needs on this race like water and food and a military vehicle as my escort that waited for me at each turn and intersection.

Upon reaching the turn around point the two cars  are already waiting for me. They are ready with what ever I need, fluid or solid food.But really my bladder is just too full now that I need to pee. On a highway with fast moving vehicles with military camps on both side there is no way I can find a proper toilet where I can attend to my immediate need at that very moment. What came to my mind was pee beside the car facing the side away from the busy road that is parked right next to the military patrol with military peronnels inside. I asked permission for this might be a tabboo on their culture and they said yes. Ok, with out hesitation I did it. What a relief after which I apologize to the military personnel. As I move forward so is the heat of the sun adding difficulty to my struggle but thank god to my ever support vehicle, they never leave me all the way. Every now and then they stop and check on what I need. Really all I want is to just finish this craziness and this ambitious feat.

It's just tormenting seeing the Shanti Stupa on my way back, I know too well where the finish line is but I just have to push a little harder under the scorching heat of the sun to reach there. Upon reaching the foothill of this magnificent landmark, I give myself a little breather, the slope is getting steeper but this will just be a little few more kiloeter and I will be already there. Udaya, a fellow crew who just arrived a day before this race walked with me and attended to my need. So sweet of him. That gives me a little boost of energy to push more and face the steep ascend with light heart as my mind got divided by his presence. As I see the arch as entrance to the stupa even still a little below the hill, I was already victorious. I know I will finish this. I just have to push a little harder now.

As I cross the main entrance, I was just smiling, happy and glad. I was met by the organizers, the Race Director Rajat and my friend who patiently waited for me. I cross the finish line at 5 hours 46 minutes. What a glorious day. I am really glad I decided to push for a full marathon. It may sound crazy, ambitious, stubborn, yet my endurance brought me this far. It's amazing how my body just follow my adveturous spirit. I was the very last runner, the 4th of the full marathoneer, the only female.

Truly, my spirit soar high at La Ultra The High. I thank the mountain gods for looking after me.


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