Saturday, 3 September 2011

La Ultra The High - To Leh

"You're what???", (add incredulous look) - that was the first reaction I got from people whom I told that I will be going to Leh to crew for an ultra. "We know that you enthusiastic about running marathons, but go all the way to Leh to volunteer for a race, and to take 2 weeks of leave for it - you've gone bonkers".

An office colleague pointed out that a certain co-worker had also taken 2 weeks of leave but that was for his wedding and 
honeymoon, "Well I'm hoping for the same". "You're planning to get married there???" (add another incredulous look), "No, no, just fall in love with the mountains" pat came my reply.

There were a number of reasons for me to go on this trip -

  • Wanted to run a race in a different city in India every month in 2011, this obviously did not pan out during the summer months since there weren't too many races in the country. This was a way to continue that quest atleast for the remaining months of the year.
  • A chance to interact with elite ultrarunners and get a glimpse of their thought process, mental makeup and training regime - this in itself would have been reason enough.
  • Haven't taken a long holiday since Nov 2010, so it was overdue.
  • Leaves, office policy dictates that leaves cannot be accumulated and if not used, will expire, so had to utilize atleast part of my holidays now since getting leaves at the end of year becomes difficult due to holiday season and many other colleagues take time off.
  • Didn't want to just travel and see places but wanted to be a part of something - didn't know what but something.
  • Never been to Leh and wanted to go there for a long-long time (and no, it wasn't because of 3 Idiots the movie but always wanted to travel to Khardung La - "the highest motorable pass in the world" on a Royal Enfield motorcycle).

I had originally planned only to run the marathon and not crew for the race, but since I had to be in Leh atleast a week in advance for acclimatization, decided to take an extra week off and head there for crewing, as the crew had to be there almost 2 weeks in advance of the ultra marathon. 

Had an extensive chat with doc (Dr. Rajat Chauhan - the Race Director), and it consisted of him telling me of all the pitfalls that leh (pun intended) 
ahead, what a thankless job it was and the end result was nothing but a sense of achievement of aiding someone in finishing the race. But he did say that the whole journey was an experience whose lessons would last a lifetime. Did it? We'll know soon enough.

So here I am, all signed up for the marathon and for crewing, my leaves from office approved and my flight tickets booked well in advance since we were told that it was tourist season in Leh and prices would go up as we moved close to August, and a bomb drops - the race organizers might be able to get cheap flight tickets thanks to a potential sponsor.

Why me? It always happens to me, book early and prices drop as the travel date gets closer, wait for prices to drop and it invariably goes up. If we get hold of these tickets, will I have to change my travel dates, will I have extend my leave?
But for some reason the tickets from the potential sponsor didn't pan out and I was back to my original schedule.

Now finally since my schedule was set, I looked up the weather and temperature in Leh to figure out what kind of clothes did I needed to carry. But numbers don't tell you the whole story, do they? So I spoke to Kunal who is a member of the core organizing committee, a mountain guide, stays in Leh, and turns out to be a Puneite to boot and all he mentioned was to carry clothes for all seasons because when you are up there on the mountain passes it could be any season.
He also mentioned to carry a postpaid cellphone connection since prepaid connections were not available locally in J&K due to security reasons and also prepaid connections on roaming would not work.

A side effect of preparing for this race, was that I got a chance to buy quite a bit of running gear (for most of the seasons) which meant a whole bunch of long sleeved running t-shirts which I normally wouldn't need running down here at sea-level and other running clothes and accessories. Folks at home have commented that I now have more running apparel than formals that I wear to work or casuals - inevitable for runners I guess.

During interactions with the Dr. Rajat, core crew members, ultra partcipants and their crew members, realized that Aparna from Pune and Girish from Mumbai were also travelling to Leh for crewing. Whew!!! What a relief, I'm not the only person who takes time off from work to come and crew.

The majority of the pre-race interaction involved around altitude acclamatization and sickness and the kind of precautions one can take to avoid it. And if one does get hit by altitude sickness what kind of medication can one take to recover. And a magic pill named Diamox was bandied about. A lot of differing views exist about Diamox, some say take it as a precaution atleast 24 hours before you hit high altitude and others say don't take it unless you are down with altitude sickness. I'm not too fond of taking pills but having no experience with altitude, I decide to take one about 12 hours before landing in Leh.

Normally, I also read up before taking medication, in terms of side effects etc. but this time for some reason I didn't and missed out on one important side effect - you pee like a horse!!! 
Which I came to know well after landing in Leh by the time I had decided on avoiding Diamox unless it was absolutely essential.

So come July 31st I'm all packed and ready-to-go, co-incidentally me and Aparna are on the same flights till Leh, we take the 10 pm flight from Mumbai to Delhi and a connecting flight from Delhi to Leh at 5:30 am on the Terminal 3 at Delhi Airport.

What a terminal! For anything inside the terminal one has to walk what seems like miles, a precusor of things to come? And why did I have to walk so much - thanks to Diamox. Usually I don't use the toilets in the aircraft during domestic flights which typically aren't more than 2 hours, but this time before even the flight took of for Leh, I was in queue for the loo - I guess I'm not the only one taking Diamox.

Other than the whole walking thing and the loo hunting, the whole journey from Delhi was pretty uneventful.

Next post - Leh & beyond - a preview of the mountains.


  1. Great post Venkat...waiting for the next one..iddhu oru thoddar kathai :-)

  2. Spit it all out in one go, boss - don't put out in sequels ;) USe Diamox liberally if you feel like holding yourself back :)

  3. Nice one Venkat.. Go on with the rest of the story.... And yes, I like the name of ur blog, 'backofthepack', something I can identify with too ;)