Unedited version of my column Run&Bee in Hindustan Times
Week 62: Do we really know the human limits?
10 years ago I was told that running non-stop 222 kms in the Himalayas, crossing high mountain passes, was impossible. They all were well meaning friends, experts from the army, medical field including sports medicine, business and sports. All their advice made logical sense. Even standing at those high mountain passes over 17,700 feet makes us breathless and dizzy, leave alone attempting to cross those passes.
Sometimes when experts say that something is impossible, you need to be like that little child who is thrown up high in the air. The thought of you not being caught on your way down is not even entertained by your mind. You live in that moment, laughing to your hearts delight. Of course who ever is throwing you up needs to have the experience and confidence of catching you on your way down. If both you and the person throwing you are going to listen too much to the nay-sayers, that leap of faith would never take place.
High altitude is a great leveller. If you don’t follow the basics and don’t respect those big mountains enough, they can literally take your breath away. Add to that extreme weather conditions where temperatures can vary from minus 10C to 40C in matter of hours, snow blizzard to sand storm, rain to extremely hot sun.
A decade ago, I had three participants standing at the start line, somewhere in between Khardung Village and Nubra Valley in Ladakh, for some odd reason, trusting me with their lives. Maybe they didn’t understand the consequences if things had gone wrong.
Even more interestingly, I had 17 other people from all around India and even a gentleman who hitchhiked on to a ship to India because he wanted to be part of what he believed to be history in the making, because he loved the idea of being part of something that was supposedly impossible.
One runner, Mark Cockbain, did cross the finish line, but it was the effort of almost a hundred people in making the impossible possible. The other two, Molly Sheridan and William Andrews, made an amazing effort.
They came along later to get to the finish line too. But it all started with having the guts to first get to the start line, with the belief that they could get to the finish line too.
This year, on the occasion of the 10th edition, which we called edition-X, we introduced 555kms to test what the human limits were capable of. As luck would have it, it rained for 40 kms and snowed for 60 kms. It was cold, minus 15C felt like minus 25 courtesy the wind chill. It was hot, 30C felt like 40C. These temperature variations also happened within 12 hour period. Hypothermia and sun-burn happening at the same time. Then there were the usual suspects, incline, altitude and lack of oxygen. Fatigue and sleep deprivation is a given where in all over 5 and half days, participants would have slept less than 6 hours.
No one would have guessed at the end of day one and two that any of the 555kms participants would get to the finish line as they made cut-offs just by a whisker. Muscle and joint pains is a given in such a crazy race, but then to carry on is what makes these ordinary humans do extra-ordinary deeds.
It was phenomenal to witness not one but three of them get to finish line of 555 kms in the cut-off time of 132 hours. This wasn’t meant to be a race against anyone else, but a race against your own self where one needed to dig in real deep and discover their true selves when all possible layers had peeled off.
Jason Reardon from Australia and Matthew Maday from US got the task done in 120 hrs 19 min and 123 hrs 35 min respectively. Our own Ashish Kasodekar became the first and only Indian to cross the line in 126 hours 18 min. None of this would have been possible, if their crew teams, not only during the race but in their lives, had not played their part.
Then there were those were running 55 kms in exactly the same conditions. These were novice runners who had only done a marathon or two before. It was amazing to see them march on and face the harsh conditions with a smile on.
We all have our La Ultra - The High to tackle and it’s not about the longest. It’s about taking those baby steps, even when it is extremely difficult. Just keep moving forward.
Here is the print version: