Imagine running 111 kilometres through the high altitude desert of Ladakh where the temperatures can drop as low as minus 10 degrees Celsius. But Saachi Soni is game for the challenge. The 22-year-old from Jaipur has signed up to run the gruelling La Ultra race in August, taking on the best endurance runners from around the world.
Saachi is no stranger to high altitudes. In fact, this PG student at Indian institute of Mass communication has climbed Mount McKinley, the highest peak in North America, and Europe’s tallest Mount Elbrus. She also made an attempt to scale Mount Everest in 2013.
Despite being from Rajasthan, Saachi has nurtured a unique relationship with the mountains for the past 15 years. “I started exploring them when I was just seven. As a kid, I would spend summer vacations not at my grandmother’s house but in the lap of the Himalayas. The interest in mountaineering grew after taking some foundation and advanced courses from the Mountaineering institutes under Ministry of Defense,” says Saachi. After honing her skill on peaks in Himachal and Uttarakhand, Saachi scaled Mount Everest in 2013, the ultimate challenge and accomplishment for any mountaineer. She’s since taken the Indian flag to Mount McKinley, the highest peak in America’s Alaska, and Europe’s tallest Mount Elbrus.
A total of 20 people from nine countries, including 10 from India, are going to participate in the La Ultra race this year. Saachi is the only female participant from India and the second Indian woman contestant since its inception in 2010. Aparna Choudhary competed in the 222-km version in 2013, but failed to finish.
Dr Rajat Chauhan, the man behind the race, “says: Ïf you want to live safe, you might as well wear a helmet and wait it out until death claims you. Call me crazy. But if you are not running or living on the edge, you’re wasting space.”
“So many people approach me for the race, but few are picked up. The race is not a half-marathon in Delhi where anyone can walk in. Only those who maintain a level of fitness and endurance can survive. I look for this instinct in every runner and I think Saachi has this and she deserves to be there at La Ultra,” adds Dr Rajat.
Saachi says her love for nature and exploration keeps her high. “I have been working out hard for several years with a regimen that includes jogging, running, cycling, gyming, swimming and a session of peaceful Yoga. The consistency with the physical workouts allows me to expand my limits and have the courage of reaching mountain peaks,” she says, adding that while climbing the Alaska rages, she was carrying a 60-kg weight when she herself weighed just 55 kg. “My physical endurance will help me do well in the race as people normally struggle with breathing problems. I think this is going to be the biggest challenge as we will be running for 24 hours in a place where Army asks people not to stay for more than 30 minutes. It will also be a real test of my endurance and skills,” says Saachi.
La Ultra-The High
The seventh edition of La Ultra is scheduled to begin on August 11 this year. There will be three race categories — 111 km, 222 km and 333 km. All three race categories will be flagged off simultaneously from Diskit village in Nubra valley.
La Ultra – The High is an ultra marathon like no other, especially because of the temperature variations on the way. Temperatures can fluctuate from 40 degree Celsius hot to minus 12 degree Celsius cold in just six hours. Runners will be touching altitudes of 17,500 feet three times in the 333 km category, twice in 222 km and once in the 111 Km category. No wonder very few take up the challenge and only 30 have finished in the past six years.