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Race previews Ladakh Marathon & Ultra

07 April 2021, 7am

High-altitude race offers a unique experience

Running on the roof of the world

Ladakh Marathon & Ultra
Wed 8 September 2021

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Ladakh, also fondly known as ‘Little Tibet’, lies in the Northern part of India. Once a key part of the Silk Road trade routes the valley remained isolated from the outside world for centuries - mostly due to the militarily strategic position it occupies on the northern frontier.

Landing at Leh Airport at an altitude of 3256m you can feel the scarcity of oxygen as you breathe in the crisp, thin air. Acclimatisation is necessary in this high-altitude desert valley. Runners need to arrive at least a week ahead of the event.

Following the devastating 2010 flash floods that tore through the region – leaving a trail of death and destruction – the first edition of Ladakh Marathon was held to show that Ladakh was ‘up and running’. Chewang Motup Goba, the founder of Ladakh Marathon, believed that introducing such an event would give young Ladakhis a platform to excel at running. Living at such a high altitude they had the natural potential needed for endurance sport.

The Ladakh Marathon has created job opportunities with a large number of local winners absorbed into the Ladakh Scouts, the ‘Snow Warriors’ who specialise in high-altitude warfare. Ladakhi women now run in the Indian Women’s Elite category and represent the country at international sports arenas, moving a step closer to the dream of nurturing a Ladakhi Olympian.

Since its inception participation has swelled from 1100 to 4980 in 2019 with runners travelling from over 55 countries. Runners are accompanied by family and friends who count down the days to the Marathon by exploring Ladakh’s rich cultural heritage and stunning landscape. As a dream destination for various adventure activities, the annual Tourism Festival – organised a few days before the Marathon – showcases activities like archery, polo contests, food festivals and other cultural programs.

Come race day the running experience is unique. Runners enter a hypnotic tranquillity as they run on roads lined with poplar and willow trees. Centuries-old maroon and white monasteries act like milestones against postcard blue skies. All around the ethereal terrain resembles some fantastical imagery of what life on Mars might look like. Running across bridges over wide rivers, participants are transported across time while appreciating that this panoramic view existed for nomads and tribes centuries ago.

In tune with the need to find ecologically-friendly ways of delivering the event the eighth edition in 2019 eliminated single-use plastic. Runners brought their own hydration packs to refill at the hydration stations and packaged food was replaced by hot fresh food provided through local caterers.

‘The Silk Route Ultra 122km’ will be launched as part of the 2021 edition. The Khardungla and Silk Route Ultra course takes one across the 5370m Khardungla pass while starting at 4237m and 3000m respectively. The Khardungla Challenge is considered a real test of human endurance, and the Silk Route Ultra will test this further.

The organisational logistics are a major challenge at such altitude but the organisers are fully assisted by the administration, army, police and especially the local volunteers who man the aid stations, providing full assistance even during the Ultra races in harsh and freezing conditions. Such is the spirit, of the Marathon and of Ladakh itself, that has made its mark on the map of global Marathons.

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