All of us have our La Ultras to overcome, it is not limited to the longest distance alone. That’s why I like saying that La Ultra - The High is Not About Running, It’s About Life.
The very first person I present to you is a guy who I have seen grow as a human being. He’s a lovely chap. I’ll let him tell you his story.
I was introduced to La Ultra - The High by my brother-in-law, Alex Kaine, in 2013 when he ran 222k. I was part of his crew and was blown away by the amazing people I met during the race. Everyone who was part of the race had achieved a lot in their personal lives but they were all so humble and approachable. Alex completed the 222 in less than 40 hours, a record at that time. I remember thinking it would be great if I could join this race again but since the distances offered were 111 and 222k it was always going to be as part of the crew and not a participant.
Fast forward to November 2018, Alex asked me if I would be interested in crewing for him again. This time the distance was 555k. I said yes immediately. I was all set to be part of the fun again. In February 2019 he casually mentioned La Ultra had introduced a 55k category and that I should think about taking part. I had completed my first marathon in August 2018 so 55k didn't seem too bad.
I started my preparations and decided I had to get some elevation training. I signed up for a full marathon in Sangla Valley in April to help build my confidence. The run started at an elevation of around 10,000 feet and the highest point was just over 12,000 feet. I completed the run without too many issues and felt I was in good shape for the challenge at La Ultra.
I knew from my trip in 2013 that acclimatization was going to be key and so I landed in Leh on 12th August. The next few days were spent following advice by the race organizers to get a feel for the place. I walked around the town for the first two days. A few of us went up to Wari La and spent time on the course. Everything was going according to plan. The weather, warm and sunny, turned cold and wet.
I developed an inflammation in my throat which caused sleepless nights, some fever and coughing fits. It snowed on the 17th and 18th at Wari La and in other parts of the course. I was drinking lots of lemon tea, warm water and taking medicines to relieve the inflammation but nothing seemed to work. I spent the night before the run excited and anxious. The excitement came from the time spent with all the amazing runners attempting 55, 111, 222, 333 and 555k. The anxiety from the fact I had spent the last three days trying to get over the issues with my throat with no success.
On the morning of the race I made my way to the La Ultra office to join other runners for our bus ride to Sakti village. We were all excited and cracking jokes. The weather seemed to have eased off for us so we were in good spirits. As I stood at the start line I tried to calm myself and went over my plan to keep a good pace at the start and run my own race.
Everyone started off in a bunch and we were jogging. I quickly figured out I was not going to be able to keep up and started falling back. I decided I would walk at a pace of 10 minutes per kilometer till the first cutoff point. I was the last runner and even though I managed to keep my pace I could see everyone else moving away. There was another runner about 100m in front of me. We managed to keep our walking pace for about 6km which were pretty flat.
By this time I realised my throat was getting worse and I couldn't find any rhythm when I tried to jog as it led to bouts of coughing. It began to dawn on me that I wasn't going to complete the run. I still wanted to make it to the first cutoff within the allotted time so I kept moving along. Dr. Rajat checked up on me a few times and I think he figured out I was in trouble.
At the first cutoff point I signaled I was ready to pull out. One of the volunteers asked me to take a few deep breaths and see if I could continue but I knew it wasn't meant to be. The moment I decided to pull out was one of the hardest things for me as a runner. I had two DNFs before and both were in my pursuit of completing 42k. One had been due to an ITB problem in 2010 and the other due to severe stomach cramps in 2016. Both times my brain told me I had done the right thing but my heart didn't agree. I knew I was doing the right thing but that didn't stop me from feeling hurt. I had done all the right things but I still failed. Failed because I wanted to finish 55k at La Ultra and I had pulled out. Could I have done things differently, maybe.
One thing running has taught me over and over again is never give up. Pulling out of a race, having a DNF is not giving up. Giving up is not taking on a new challenge because you are afraid of failing. Giving up is not pushing yourself and moving out of your comfort zone. It was only after two failures that I succeeded in finishing my first marathon. Sometimes things don't go your way and there isn’t a specific reason. Don't over analyze. I started planning for another attempt at La Ultra next year the moment I got back to my hotel. Will I succeed, I don't know. But it’s better to try and fail than not try at all. The tag line of La Ultra says it all, “Failing is not a crime, lack of effort is”.