WRITTEN BY Anant Srivastava | 10th May 2017
“The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.” – John Bingham
The Great Himalayan Running Festival was truly a journey of a lifetime – running 14 km every day for 5 days, through some of the highest mountain passes in the world along the Manali – Leh highway. For a “non-athlete” like myself, and someone, as I found out 10 days before the event, highly deficient in B12 & D3, the only reason to sign up was to experience the beautiful unknown… What I had long hoped would be a road trip, would now be a running & camping adventure.
After 3 days of acclimatization, which included a beautiful trek to Beas Kund and a camp out at Marhi, we began the event about 6 kms before Rohtang pass (13,000 ft). Along this 1st run, race director Vishwas Sindhu’s guidance and support was invaluable and to my surprise, after nearly 2 hours, we completed the 14 k and still had enough gas in the tank to do 20 push-ups and a near 1 minute plank hold.
The long drive to our next stopover Jispa was also my first experience of high altitude mountain sickness, although at the time, I managed to convince myself that it was mere tiredness coupled with a migraine caused by lack of sleep – it wasn’t. The thing about the Himalayas is – they can humble you and stretch your physical and emotional being in ways that you can only experience but cannot describe.
The next day was what many were calling the most difficult day on the circuit – the climb from Zing Zing bar to Barlacha La (16k ft) and beyond. After 9 kms of steep incline, passing through the magnificent Suraj Taal and the Barlacha La itself, this was the first time I felt my body giving way… but with a will to simply finish, I completed the last 5 kms, which was followed by the most painfully effective stretching session with the great ‘baba’ Rohit Kalyana.However, my second bout of the sickness was really sickening – the feeling when your body cannot move and your head wants to explode – this is what the second day of 14 k through 16k ft had done… However, a surprisingly effective remedy, Pranayam, cleared the head in a matter of minutes… Thankfully, the head did clear and when we reached our next station, I needed that clear head to soak in the beauty of the mountains that surrounded our camp on all sides at Sarchu.
With a wind that brought the temperatures in the night to a sub-zero and almost took our tents away, we woke up the next morning ready to commence what was to be the most difficult day of the 5-day event – the only all-incline day through the 21 Gata loops ending right at Nakeela pass (15, 500 ft). In completing this particular circuit, I faced the only time in the 3 days when, after the 9000 ft mark, I, along with my breathless lungs and sore muscles, had truly given up… That’s when the effort needs to exceed your 100% and fortunately, I found that extra bit in me. I crossed the finish line with a sprint that set free my inhibitions and weaknesses to reach Nakeela in what was the most fulfilling feeling I had possibly ever experienced.
When we reached down to our next station at Pang with a camp set on the river bed itself, the wind came to the fore once again as it took away the camp kitchen and signaled for us to find an alternate shelter for the night (Roti – Kapda – Makaan really does mean something in these parts)… The only option now was a highway stopover with a twin dorm style setup – a dream in the scenario we were in.
However, by this time the altitude sickness had taken its toll, not only on me but on my wife Alankrita (who to her credit, stuck along with me in these challenging conditions) and the other brilliant volunteers. Some of these volunteers had to then descend to Leh to get proper medical attention.
Having now completed three of the toughest routes on the circuit, I knew I had nothing left to prove to myself anymore and we thus descended to Leh the next morning in what was one of the most enthralling drives through More Plains and Tanglang La, among other gorgeous hamlets. We closed the event in Leh and I close my post here with a sincere vote of thanks to Vishwas Sindhu and the amazing Nupur Singh and all others who came along as fellow runners – you guys are an inspiration. Many thanks also go to the volunteers and medical support personnel.
The journey was one that will stay with Alankrita and me for a lifetime and is one of the few things I am extremely proud to have participated in. Not because it was the first event of its kind, not because I ran the distances that I did for 3 consecutive days, but because I did something that I always thought was beyond me. Here’s hoping for many more stories… and conquering many more self-inflicted limitations!
Written by: Anant Srivastava
Great Himalayan Running Festival June 2016
The first edition of the Great Himalayan Running Festival saw athletes battling inhospitable conditions of the Manali-Leh highway to run 5 marathons on 5 consecutive days. Watch these brave runners as they attempt to overcome their mind and the environment to complete their daily distances.