Greetings after a long break! Unfortunately, I had no access to phone and internet for 3 continuous days and could not update this blog in realtime. But as someone said, better late than never.
My last report was on August 16 and the race had just gotten underway. At this point, the runners had been flagged off from the Start Point in the Nubra valley and all personal crew volunteers, including me, had left for Leh to get some rest. Remember, the Core Crew supports the runners in the first 78 kms in order to keep the personal crew fresh. It is a 5 hour journey by road from the Nubra Valley to Leh. This became a 6 hour+ journey because the checkpost at North Pullu refused to let us go through because “we had no permission”. After one hour of coaxing and persuading, he finally let us through and we got to sleep around 2 am. We were instructed to wake up and be ready for a 5 am departure. So, looking back, this was not much of a rest and we were really not refreshed. Nevertheless, the excitement and adrenaline allowed us to get ready on time. We had been briefed to meet the runners at South Pullu, the 78 K mark and take over from the core crew.
I cannot describe the mix of emotions as we headed to South Pullu. From my last year’s experience, I knew that some runners would probably have already dropped out or would have been pulled out by the medics. My runner last year had been pulled off at this stage itself. So it was a couple of anxious hours for me before I got the message that Chris Yeo, my runner, was still in the race and had met the cut-off at North Pullu (45 kms, 9 hours). At the same time, it was disappointing to hear that Ankush, Duniya, Sukrit and Kieron had left the race.
Penben, the Chinese runner in the 222 event, showed up around 8:30 am at South Pullu as I waited for Chris. He was still looking very cheerful and strong. Somewhere around this time, I also got information that Chris was still in and going slowly but was in good shape. Chris showed up at South Pullu around 9:45 am (as I recall) and was in good spirit. Our personal crew car included the driver (Tenzing), a local Ladakhi crew (Lavang) and myself. We had organised the personal crew car for Chris as best as we could.
In the back, we had four cardboard boxes to organise Chris’s stuff. One had all the fuel (liquid and solid food), one his electronics (HR monitor, music, headlamp etc; the third had first aid and emergency medical kit and the fourth his clothes.
Chris’s feeling plan was quite simple. He had decided to mostly consume liquid fuel to provide the calories and replace the water, salts and other nutrients in the body. His major fuel was Tailwind which we used in a proportion of 6 scoops for 1.5 litres of water. This he sipped regularly and was his primary fuel. He also had some pills to replace the salts, sodium etc. He had progressed all night on this and had briefed us that he was going to eat very little solid food, if any. Even this, he would only eat at lower altitudes to ensure that his stomach did not get messed up.
South Pullu to Leh was about 20 kms, all downhill and Chris made good time. We had a mandatory check at Goba guest house where Chris reached around noon as I recall. His mandatory medical check went fine and we managed to get a small physio session from Michael. After this, Chris slept for an hour and we were off again.
Our next milestone was ensuring that we reached the 111 Km mark inside 24 hours. This was fairly easy since Chris was running ahead of schedule. We crossed the 111Km mark around 3:45 pm, over 4 hours ahead of the cutoff. From the 111 Km mark, there is a fairly straight and flat stretch of 38 kms to Karu. We expected this stretch to be easy but it was NOT! We encountered some serious winds and this kicked up massive amounts of dust. There was nowhere to hide and we must have inhaled and consumed a serious amount of dust despite being covered up fully. Chris ploughed on until about 6 pm and then fatigue and drowsiness set in. I offered to keep him company which he accepted and we plugged on for about 3.5 hours to reach Karu around 10 pm.
Lavang had a friend who owned a dhaba here and we made a solid meal for Chris. This was one of the packaged meals that he had brought with him. The crew also got dinner here and we decided to push further on as Chris had revived quite a bit. I however, continued to keep him company and we plugged through the night to Serthi, another 10 kms away. There was a camp setup here for the runners as far as we knew, but we discovered that it was another 4-5 kms away. Chris was exhausted and I sensed that it was counterproductive to go further. We staked at this point and took Chris in the car to the camp (each of the cars were given a stake as a marker. This stake is useful to mark the spot at which the runner left the course. The runner, of course, is expected to continue from this point). We reached the camp (a guest house) and managed to find a bed for Chris. The crew (including me) found some space on the floor and huddled up to get about 1.5 hours sleep. I woke Chris up in 1.5 hours and we took another 15-20 minutes to get him ready. We also had decent toilets here.
At 3 am, we drove Chris back to the stake and he continued from there. The next big milestone was to get him over Wari La, a pass that is reputed to cause worries!