The Himalayas are known for a lot of things, but running surely isn’t one of them. I am an avid trail runner and have run a lot of trails around Bangalore, yet the Himalayas is a different beast altogether.
All my training seemed to come to naught from the moment I landed. The thin air of the altitude made me gasp. I found it incredibly hard to climb the steps of my hotel room and the view from my room only told me how much higher I had to go.
I learnt the hard way that, the more energy I exerted, the more vulnerable I was to nausea, headaches and fatigue. It took me 3 days of doing just about nothing to finally get acclimatized to the high altitude. Even then, the locals told me to start slow and start with short distances.
I began my first run at 14000 feet, at the Trishul landing ground in Ladakh. This is the highest landing ground in the world for paratroopers and is an extensive stretch of trail that has mountains on one side and monasteries on the other.
I started slow, but immediately found it hard to breathe and had a painful stitch on the right of my chest. I learnt that I had to adopt a different style of breathing to what I normally do. I essentially had to find a technique that made me comfortable. I tried just about everything, till I found breathing from both my nose and mouth to be the best solution.
Once I got the breathing right, I found another problem. It was either too cold or too hot. I expected the cold, but the intensity of the high altitude sun took me completely by surprise. My face, the back of my neck and my arms began to burn. I even realized that a passing cloud covering the sun could immediately suck the heat out of the air and make it freezing cold in a moment. It took me a while to get used to the transition and I had to make quick adjustments with my clothing to counter the sun.
Right after that, I had seemingly lesser problems of a tough head wind and loose ground that came my way, but by then, the mountains had taken over my senses. I couldn’t comprehend the joy of running in the middle of these giants. I found it odd that I felt nostalgic of the mountains as I was running in its very presence. I also soon realized that there is no greater motivation than being humbled with every stride you take.
In the end, I had just finished a seemingly short 10 km run, yet it made me aware of the leveler; that is the Himalayas. I realized that you might be an ironman or just a casual runner, but if you ever want to run the Himalayas, start slow; adjust to the elements as they come and find yourself outrunning every sense of doubt at the roof of the world.