Sub-zero temperatures, altitudes peaking at 18,000 feet, 72 kilometres, these are not phrases usually associated with a marathon. Those are generally held in more sedate environs. But these are very fitting descriptions of the gruelling Khardungla Ultra-Marathon Challenge in Ladakh.
Aditya Sahu, runner, fundraiser and Isha Vidhya wellwisher, tells us the story of his 72-km run at the Challenge – why running for Isha Vidhya to educate rural India matters so much to him, and the actual experience of his sky-high marathon.
I have been a runner for some time now. Running for Isha Vidhya started about 4 years ago. Initially, I was very hesitant about raising donations. I even skipped participating in one edition of the Mumbai Marathon because I could not imagine asking for donations! Now though, my running is always linked with fundraising for Isha Vidhya – everything else is to support that. I want to make people realise the magic that is happening at Isha Vidhya.
After missing the 2011 marathon, I participated in the 2012 edition with a charity bib. [A charity bib gives runners who signed up without affiliating with any fundraising organization, the option to raise money for some pre-selected charities.] That was my initiation into fundraising.
Since then, the running distance and donation frequency have steadily increased. I have reached a stage where mind and body are no longer barriers. I just ask for donations from whomsoever I want, at any time. Even at home, me and my family – especially my parents – mostly talk about Isha Vidhya and what we can do for it.
My Journey to the Ultra-Marathon
In the Mumbai Marathon 2015, I was struggling with an injury in the last 5 kilometres. I met another runner during this final stage and we helped each other complete the run. At the finish line, he said, “Let's do the Ladakh Marathon.” My heart lies in the Himalayas. I didn't know much about Ladakh but I took it seriously and started preparing – practising, booking hotels, flight tickets etc. By now, my friend had disappeared but I decided to go ahead.
I kept running.
72 kilometres in rarefied air is challenging. I prepared scientifically for the event, reading a lot on the subject of running. Being an Isha meditator, I would regularly practice yoga asanas, Surya Kriya and Shambhavi, along with hill runs, speed work, endurance runs and weight training. I ran several long distance runs – a midnight 6-hr run in Thane, a 54-km run from Pune to Lavasa (7 hrs), and a 66-km long Mumbai Ultra (12 hrs).
Before the Ladakh Ultra, I went on a 4-day trek to Stok Kangri peak in the Himalayas. Conditions were severe – sub-zero temperatures, barren mountains, low oxygen levels. At 19,000 feet, I almost passed out. I had 2 choices. Either keep moving to the 20,000-feet summit point, or return to base camp. I decided to return as I felt I could not survive any longer with frostbite and motion sickness. I was happy with what I had achieved in 4 days, especially when I saw the Isha Vidhya banner held high up at the summit.
The Khardungla Challenge started 2 days later. This too was extremely tough. We started at 3am from Khardung village when the temperature was -3 degrees centigrade! The 32-km run to Khardung top was an uphill run.
On reaching the top, I held the Isha Vidhya banner with an army personnel. It was the greatest feeling! The remaining part was a down run but I could just walk-jog because of exhaustion. Lack of proper food or water arrangements along the way meant that I had to manage fluid intake very judiciously. During my entire run, images of Isha Vidhya students were running through my mind. With these beautiful images I completed the run in 15 hours 26 minutes.
It's been such a humbling experience for me. I've learnt a lot of things and I'm sure I have become a better human being in the process. I will use all of this experience when I start my next campaign. In 2016, I will run the Ultimate Human Race in South Africa, the 87-km Comrades Marathon! Fundraising for Isha Vidhya will once again be the center of it all.
One last bit: I have been lucky to have the complete support of my family. No one at home asks about my dentistry career! They support my commitment for Isha Vidhya in every way.