Crash Course In Ultra Running

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I am not one of those guys who plan a lot. In fact a lot of who I am today isn’t a bit according to the plan. Life has been a string of chance encounters and impulsive decisions. Be it quitting a sizeable business after a quick chat with a stranger at a filling station or, riding solo 4000 kilometers across the Himalayas on a beaten up bike. Why? well… because I can. That being said, impulsive decisions haven’t meant half-hearted efforts or giving up easily. Rather, decisions have (almost) always been pursued to perfection like heartfelt grief, with the chaste of honest prayers.

Running a 76 kilometer ultramarathon in the Himalayan foothills was one of ‘those decisions’. Made at a chai shop over steaming momos and a chance sighting of a poster with a call to action for the Garhwal Runs.

I haven’t been much of a runner in all these years. In fact, I try to substitute running with skipping, as I really don’t like running empty distances much. However, the Garhwal Run was a qualifier to the LaUltra which I am really psyched about due to the difficulties it poses in addition to ultra running. It is a 111 km long race, run at an average mean sea level of 14000ft, in temperatures below freezing – justifiably known as the cruelest ultra on the planet.

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Barely Running! Still going strong. 

50 days prior to the event, I started training. A 5km run uphill made for a good start. In less than a week I graduated to running my first 10kms uphill under an hour. Since there wasn’t much time to train, I had to push myself to run a distance of over 21kms under 2 hours within the first 10 days of training. I never knew that this much endurance was already within me! Running a half marathon became a habit and I sustained it for almost the entire training period, coupling with a rest day or two each week. A fortnight prior to the race, I even ran a 30k and marathon distance on consecutive days. This was just to instill some self confidence.

I was a bit nervous before the race, though. This was due to two reasons. First, I had lost almost 7 kgs in training so I wasn’t feeling very strong. Second, I was going through a rough patch emotionally – if you’ve run distance, you’d know how the unoccupied mind can mess with your motivation and emotions. However, there I was at the start line, 6am in the morning on 14th of February – ready to take on the world.

The first 10kms drifted while I chatted with my running buddy Praveen. Then the road began to climb up and Praveen glided out of sight. It was ‘straight uphill’ from there both, physically and emotionally, as thoughts started filling my head and blood pumped into the calves. I endured for the next 15kms and halted for my first snack break at the 25kms mark reached in under 3 hours. I vowed not to halt before completing the marathon distance. But stop I did, when I caught up with Praveen again and decided on a quick five minute laze on the roadside.

The marathon distance was covered in five hours. The next 10kms were straight downhill, and here lied the crux of the race. At the 51kms mark, we lost all the altitude gained in the last 6 hours of running. However, I being the overconfident hare decided to nap for half an hour. This turned out to be a huge blunder. The body cooled down and all the muscles stiffened. In a matter of minutes my entire self was writhing with pain. It took a great deal of effort to get back on the road again. The next 5 hours and the last 25kms were some of the most torcherous moments of my life. I ran a bit, walked a bit more and crawled to the end – finishing second last, in 11 hours and 42 minutes.

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Salt settled on my skin. The ethereal pain sublimated into the cosmos. And all was good, again.   

There was no glory at the finish line, only the luxury of time to attend to our injuries. What might remain once this body has healed, is that faint feeling of satisfaction of having made it to the end. And the knowledge of qualifying for the LaUltra. Finally!


Nag Tibba Revisited


Such a tease this modest peak nestled in the Garhwal Himalayas, has become that it almost feels like what Everest was to Mallory.

My second trip to this trekking route was scheduled as part of a rock climbing training regimen I am following these days. Since it is a steep 8kms climb to the peak from Pantwari village, I found the trek route beneficial in the form of a work out focusing on calves, thighs and feet; to be included in the climbing break that I take at the end of three and a half weeks of training at the wall.

My companion this time was Abhijeet Singh, a Delhi based fashion, wedding and travel photographer, whom I met at IMF, Delhi.

Check out details of my last trip to the Nag Tibba trekking route:

We reached Pantwari at noon on 26th February, on Abhijeet’s dutiful standard 350. After stocking some provisions from the only tea shop this village has, we embarked on the climb.

Having done the trek before, I was in the guiding role this time and ‘thought’ that we’d be able to reach the summit camp faster than last time, given a strong partner in Abhijeet – compared to my novice friends last time.

We managed to keep pace until the first water hole despite the oppressive heat and dehydration. However, over confident about our strength and direction sense, we follied into finding shortcuts thus losing track of the main trail in no time. For hours we wandered on the leeward side of the hill however fortunately, progressing in the right direction and landing at the last water hole on this trek (just where the last human settlement on the route is located).

After a brief rest at the water hole, we started on the main trail, just to be lost five minutes later in the chase of another ‘shortcut’, AGAIN.


(Clicked before we got lost in the woods)

Tired, hungry and beaten down we wound up in a thicket of deciduous forest on a slippery Himalayan hill side. Racing against time and the oddity of the terrain, we were falling at each step. The sun was hastily going down and we had to make good use of the 30 minutes of the sunshine still left. Left without options, we decided to climb to the top and find the ridge line and a camping space. To our amazement, 50 metres of climb yielded the trail to us and we were able to find the forest rest house near the nag Jhandi, just in time.

Hurriedly we laid out our bags in a corner and rushed out to look for water, making use of whatever sunlight that was left. Minutes later I found myself buried in 5 feet of snow and some good sense prevailed that we abandon the search and build fire. We are thankful to the shepherds who frequent the area and had stocked the rest house with ample firewood for us to survive the night.

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The amber of the dried woods melted the snow into water, and I prepared some hot soup to rejuvenate the wearied trekker in us. With our stomachs full, we dozed off in a matter of minutes.


(Melting snow to make water)

A loud thunder sent chills down the spine of the roof and I woke up startled. Blinded in the pitch dark, I struggled to find a torch. It thundered even louder and someone banged the door. I was too afraid to sneak out of my bag and decided to cover my face like an ostrich and prayed that the apparition (if there were one) leaves us alone.


(powder! and more)

I finally woke up at 6 am in the morning, to find the room bathed in a bright white gleam. To my amazement, I found another 2 feet of snow piled up on the backlog we countered the night before; and it was snowing still. The apparition must have been a snow fairy 😛


(collecting snow for breakfast)

Lacking technical equipment, especially the absence of snow rackets, made it impossible to climb the 2kms to the peak due to the deep powder – which was still falling from the heavens.


(Preparing Breakfast)

Post breakfast we decided to head down; the peak being elusive once again.

Another time! May be.


Check out Abhijeet’s work:

How to Reach:

-Nearest Railway Station: Dehradun

-Nearest Air Port: Dehradun

-Cab to Pantwari can be hired from Dehradun Railway station/ Mussoorie, Picture palace.

-Buses to Pantwari can be boarded from Dehradun Railway Station/ Mussoorie, Picture palace.

Equipment for a 2 day trek:

–        Light attire: T-Shirts, trousers, shoes, cap, sunglasses and socks; thermals and fleece for winters.

–        Tent (We used a 3.4 kg Quechua 2 men dome tent, for 3 people).

Check Out Tents in UK on:

–        Sleeping Bag (I use a Quechua poly fill, that works upto -5 degree Celsius).

–        Iso Propane Butane Cylinder and cooking stove.

–        Dry ration and liquids.

–        Kiwi bag for waste disposal.

–        Pocket knife, torch, camera, spare batteries, lighters, candle and matchsticks.

–        A comfortable trekking bag (50L-65L).

–        Trekking pole (optional).

–        Crampons/snow rackets in the snow season (optional).