Running in Leh

And the prodigal son returns to his twisted keyboard.

Seems I have not written anything for ages and now that I am back from THE vacation I had been planning since I was 12, my mind seems to filled with words that need to written down.

Many people asked me, how was it running in Leh, at high altitudes?
Many joked they could barely climb steps let alone walk there. At 11500 feet, Delhi people are bound to suffer altitude symptoms.

I'll cut to the chase straight away. No poetry. No long stories. This post is as simple as running.
One word after the other.

Day 1 : Landing In Leh
Distance Covered : 5 kilometers ( Not running )

The first thing you notice when get to Leh is the landscape, the brown mountains in near sight and the snow clad peaks far away ( this was the scene in July). As you gasp at the beauty and take a deep breath to admire the view, you realize there is - THE LACK OF OXYGEN!

I, for one, was actually left breathless emotionally and literally.

Getting to the hotel I began to normalize a little, and when I say normalize I don't mean that my breath came back completely.

One thing, that did help was sleeping. A 6:45 AM flight meant only 3 hours of night sleep, and my mind was in desperate need for sleep. After waking up, the only place I felt breathless was the stair case lobby. No place else.

I did not want to stay in one place after lunch and keep sleeping, so I urged my mom to join me for a walk.

We walked through the streets of narrow, winding, uphill streets of Leh, interestingly without a breathing problem. That set my running alarm off, but I had to curb my urge to do anything stupid.
No matter how good I felt, altitudes are not meant to be underestimated.

We got lost, and by the time we got back we had walked quite a bit.

As I hit the sack for the day, I was excited.

Time to break in my new Nike Free Flyknit 3.0 in Leh, tomorrow.

Day 2 : Well, that wasn't bad
Distance Covered : 14.5 Kilometers

One great thing about Leh was how polite the stray dogs were. No barking at runners, at all. They didn't even care I was running, unlike Delhi dogs who seem to particularly dislike me ( maybe I run too fast for their liking ).

I started at the Old Road, and the road went downhill through the city with little inclines in the middle.
Not a hitch as I covered the first 3 kilometers at quite a decent pace.

And then the scenery opened up.

We run in a concrete jungle. Every morning, whether in Rohini Sports Complex, or on the roads that I run on, all I see is buildings. Big stupid concrete buildings. And a few trees. And, off course, barking dogs.

Just imagine, you take a turn and you see a huge range right in-front of you. And to your right.

Words can't describe it, you need to experience it. The road just went straight downhill and I was so full of the scenery I wasn't even thinking that my return will be on the same road, uphill.

I crossed the Airport at 4.5 kilometers ( that's how small the city is ), and continued on the famous NH 1-D.
The landscape was engrossing and it was an Army area, so my patriotic self was singing at top volume.

I saluted a really tall Indian Flag and a lot Indian Army Soldiers who happily replied "Jai Hind" .

I crossed the "Hall of Fame" which is an Indian Army memorial.

At 7 kilometers, I realized i'd better turn back. I had no money, no water and non-tired legs which would have taken me to trouble.

After crossing the airport on the return leg, it became all uphill. And when I say uphill, I don't mean flyover uphill. No, not even Barapullah flyover uphill. No, not even Gwal Pahadi ( Gurgaon-Faridabad Road) uphill.
Those things are practically flats.

This road started rising when I was at 9.5 kilometers, kept a steady incline till 12 and then went crazy.

Mukteshwar (7500 feet) seemed a joke. This was going on and on and on. I could practically hear engines of cars screaming for mercy as they climbed up the road.  I felt proud that I was up to the task and at the same time begging for the incline to end.

It ( and me ) stopped at 14 kilometers. My hotel was no where in sight.

It was time to find and run my way back.

Day 3 : The only easy day was yesterday
Distance Covered : 8.5 Kilometers

The touring party with whom I was travelling, decided to go to Pangong Lake.
And I was super-excited!

We left at 6 AM (which was stretched to 7:30 AM, thanks to another bunch of tourists ), with my running gear packed. "I'll run a good amount there", I thought.

The route to Pangong is insane. It has a pass at 17680 foot, called Changla. The route is so ravishing, you cannot close your eyes.

Unfortunately, the route is 162 kilometers long. And the road is broken for the most parts.
It took us 5 hours to get there.

That lake is even more beautiful than you see in the pictures.

And it is located at 14001 feet above the sea level, which by the way is not a good altitude to run in after 5 hours of travel.

Anyways, I changed into my gear, and started running.

And the altitude hit me.

11500 was a piece of cake. 14001 had me in tears,  literally. 4 kilometers in, surrounded by big dark snow-clad mountain I stopped. Out of breath, I recalculated my strategy. I had reach back, alive.
I had gone off road to get a feel of running by the lake and the re-route was an extra 0.5 kilometers.

As I was on my way back, an ITBP jeep passed me. The guys in the jeep seemed surprised to see the crazy guy running by the lake.

Note : On my way back, I decided my next return to Pangong will be on foot. The idea for Pangong 101 (similar to Hardrock 100) was born. More to follow soon.

Day 4 : The vertical kilometer ( and 20.1 more )
Distance Covered : 21.1 kilometers

Kilian Jornet is my favorite ultra runner. He is a mountain gazelle who absolutely relishes the mountains.
He says, "Consider the Mountain to be your friend rather than a challenge".

I disagree.

Mountains are mean. They are unforgiving and have no respect for reputation.

Even if you conquer them, you are instilled with fear.

I took the same route as Day 2, only went further. I decided to make up for the shorter distance run the day before and ran up to a lake, which doubles up as the Ice Hockey Rink in winters.

I remembered my struggles on Day 2, and decided to take the Old Road ( on which my hotel was located, directly instead of going through the main market )

What a decision!

In retrospective, that day made me stronger and more determined. It made a better runner.

At that very moment, it killed me.

That road climbs. Boy, does that road climb.

1.5 kilometers. Non stop. No winding turn to reduce the gradient. Dolomites Vertical Kilometer is the toughest sky-race in the world. Kilian Jornet takes 32 minutes to run that 1 kilometer.

This road was not Dolomites, but it was no less. I stopped twice. Once at 500 meters and then at 1000 meters. Each time cursing the mountain, and seeking the end of the road. The road finally ended at 1500 meters and it had made a man out of me.

I wasn't happy even though I had done a Half Marathon.
The competitive me wanted to beat the mountain.

Day 5 : The Polka Dot Jersey
Distance Run : 14 Kilometers

For those who follow the Tour De France, the guy who rides the best in the mountains is given the Polka Dot Jersey.

The Old Road mountain was my Polka Dot.

I don't like losing. And so I did what I knew.

I took the same road I had been running on and when the climb began, I switched into my zone.

Short rapid strides, forward bent I ran up that 1.5 kilometer road. I laughed at every point I had stopped the day before and at the end, I knew my fear had taken the flight out of town.

PS : I had planned to run at Khardungla (17380 feet, the highest motorable road in the world) that day, but due to inclement weather ( snowfall!!! ), I was unable to do so.
I'll be back.

Day 6 : What doesn't kill you, makes you strongerDistance Covered : 16.1 Kilometers

I spent the last day in Leh, at the Prasar Bharti guest house which is 2 kilometers away from the old road.
This implied I would not climbing my old friend on Day 6.

But it was not an issue. I had another friend to accompany me. Rain!

It doesn't pour in Leh, it drizzles. And it is a persistent drizzle.

Snowfall in the higher peaks had made the environment a lot cooler and rain and blustery winds added to the whole experience.

I went till the "ice-hockey" lake again in the drizzle.

I still climbed the inclines in the middle and the consistently climbing road from the Airport till Prasar Bharti.

I got back cold and wet, but triumphant.

It was a moral victory for me, to maintain a decent mileage in the high altitude and not give in to the demanding mountains.

Postscript :  Back in Delhi, I haven't had much chance to test out my new found powers. Distance seem easier to cover, but the humidity of Delhi can really sap your soul.

Those who want to know how different I feel after getting back : A lot.
Maintain a decent pace for long periods does not feel difficult.
More importantly, killing mental blocks has become a lot easier now.

Lets see, what I can do with this new found power in more conducive weather.

Till then, keep running. :)

Jai Hind.


  1. Dear you made Leh Ladakh live before me. I was always a fan of your running, but your expression amazes me. Keep running and keep writing. Jai Hind.


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