Running on Top of the World

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Dr Rajat Chauhan, who conceived and conducted the High, takes us through the ‘La Ultra – The High’ and talks about the challenges in putting together and conducting a race that everyone said was impossible to do.
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Running on top of the world: La Ultra – The High – 222 km in 60 hrs With the advent of the Everest Marathon from Everest Base Camp to Namche Bazaar which started a few years back the concept of marathon running in the Himalaya started to become popular. And now with the La Ultra taking shape in Ladakh the bar is clearly being pushed further with the advent of “Ultra” runs coming to the Himalaya. For most a marathon, i.e. 42.195 km, is a very long distance, but some venture out to run even longer. These runners are called ultramarathoners. Ultra-marathon could range from 50 km to literally any distance, even running around the globe. Some of these ultra-runners look for extreme places or conditions, like in desert, mountains, heat, cold, etc. They are always up for the toughest events out there. And then there is ‘La Ultra – The High’, covering a total distance of 222 km (137.64 miles) in Ladakh, probably the toughest ultra-marathon in the world, but most definitely, the most dangerous. In his talk, Dr Rajat Chauhan, who conceived and conducted the High, takes us through the ‘La Ultra – The High’ and talks about the challenges in putting together and conducting a race that everyone said was impossible to do.

The 222-km High course involves a run up to Khardung La (18,380 ft), arguably the highest motor-able mountain pass in the world, down to Leh, and then up again to Tanglang La (17,583 ft), finishing at Morey Plains, with a cumulative vertical ascent of 10,193 ft (3107 m) and cumulative vertical descent of 8873 ft (2704 m). At 14,765 ft (4500 m), the High’s average altitude, the partial pressure of oxygen is less than 40 per cent than at sea level. A board on top of Khardung La cautions tourists not to spend more than 15 minutes at the top, as the oxygen content of the air is less than 33 per cent of what it is at sea level. If too much time is spent, there is a high chance of suffering from High Altitude Sickness, which can ‘literally take your breath away’.

Dr Rajat Chauhan is an ultra-marathon runner and in his spare time, a SportsExercise and Musculo-Skeletal Physician. He is the founder of the Back 2 Fitness chain of clinics that focus on getting people back to fitness and helping them perform physical activities at their optimum levels. He believes India has the largest unfit workforce and it is high time we changed that if we are to keep up with China and other close competitors. Previously, he headed and helped set up the Sports Medicine department for Manipal Hospital, Bangalore. He has been medical director for several marathons and ultra-marathons. He is also the founder of Runners’ High, a running institute that helps people, from couch potatoes to marathon runners, to go to the next level. He considers the Himalaya as his second home, as he has spent more than a decade in these mountains. First, in a boarding school in Mussoorie (Wynberg Allen), where he fell in love with running some 26 years ago, and then in a medical school in Pokhara, Nepal, where he could see Machhapuchhre (Fish-tail), along with the Annapurna range, from his room’s window for over 5 years.