On the way out of Leh, passing picturesque Ganglas village.
The marathon itself is certainly the world's highest and arguably the toughest at an altitude of 3524m, while the Khardung-la Challenge can no doubt be the toughest high altitude race ever. An elite endurance race for anyone wishing to push their limits at oxygen deprived altitudes in beautiful landscapes, its not surprising that it only attracts a handful of runners (for the moment!), around 30.
The Challenge begins at a deathly 3am from Khardung village on the Nubra Valley side of the pass (4267m) and climbs, although steadily over 32km to the top of the Khardung-la pass at 5600m. We met the runners as they came staggering down the 40km descent to 3600m in Leh and were bowled over by their determination, inexperience and friendliness.
I was completely bowled over to literally ride into Sonam Dorjay an 18 year old I met at Secmol School where I taught for a few days. The seeming unpreparedness didn't stop anyone from trying. There was something about these guys that reminded me of the Tarahumara running Mexicans, from the famous book 'Born to Run'.
Cat and I take 5 for a quick photo.
Cycling Khardung-La Pass (5602m), Ladakh, India - On Youtube
Our winners getting the best of both. The climb took me 4hr 19min and the rewards are sweet, views of the Nubra Valley and the Karakorum range and Indus valley and the Zanskar range. Worth the schlep, I'd say.
So who won the real challenge? The first 3 places were not surprisingly taken by 3 locals, all from the Ladakh Scouts: 1st Rigzin Nurboo (6hrs55 more than 1hr faster than last year); Tsering Gyatso (6hrs 59) and 3rd Stanzin Wangail (8hrs 52). What is also noteworthy is that all three guys are under 25 years. There was only one foreigner who entered and dropped out early in the race.
For those interested in the marathon results the men's winner, Shabir Hussain came in 3hrs 25 and the winning woman Tsetsan Dolker 4hrs54. Two German women took a tie 3rd place in the marathon and were the first foreigners in. Race organiser Tsewang Motup said "the ultra marathon is known to few people but I hope in the coming years this marathon will become famous worldwide. As Ladakh is such a unique destination we hope this event will boost tourism too." Besides this, he pointed out the importance that this event has in creating a sense of community and will become an annual event that is part of the Ladakh Festival. See www.ladakhmarathon.com