Day 3 of the race is upon us. I remember thinking how lucky we were just to be still going on Day 3. After all, this meant that we had a chance to get to the Finish Line of the La Ultra 333.
Chris restarted his race about 1.5 kms out of Miru (around 262 km mark) just after 3 am. This meant that we had another 71 odd kms to go. Of course, we still had to contend with the Tanglang La, a pass that has a history for bringing runners down to their knees. Our first objective was to get Chris to Rumptse (277 km) under the 62 hour cut-off. This was the last cut-off in the race before the finish line. Chris made it here somewhere between 6-7 am on the 19th after a strong and steady effort from Miru. The morning was bright and sunny and it looked like we were going to have a good weather day.
His mandatory medical check at Rumptse went fine and he was cleared for the final leg and left Rumptse just after 7 am. Within a few kms, the long climb to Tanglang La started. I remember chatting with Chris and taking a picture at the bottom of Tanglang La, still 24 kms to the top.
Chris was doing his own calculations and insisted that we only had 15 kms to the top and that the signboard was wrong! I gently told him to stay focused and not worry about the distance. Within 3-4 kms from the bottom, I again offered to provide him with company and he gladly accepted. So, from that point on, Chris and I goaded each other one km to the next and kept it simple. We just wanted to cover a km in 11-12 minutes. Tanglang La is a ‘silent killer’! After 4-5 long switchbacks, there is a long (seemingly) unending stretch to the top. At this point, it was still pretty cold even though there was bright sunshine. Despite down jackets and gloves, we both shivered whenever the strong breeze set in. About 4 kms from the top, we had a pleasant surprise when a van full of other runners and volunteers swooped on us to cheer us up. Chris and I both got a good massage and looking back, I think this really lifted our spirits and we made a determined climb to the top of Tanglang La. Tanglang La was truly different from Wari La. The air felt dry and somehow we both struggled to breathe well despite best efforts. At the top of Tanglang La, there were a couple of photographers waiting for Chris. He also offered a quick prayer at the top and then set his mind to the 24 km descent to the finish line.
I think both Chris and I were now feeling good about his chances to finish. Even so, I kept cautioning him to take it easy because we have had a runner go down in this descent to the Finish Line in 2014. I suggested to him to take it easy and do a fast walk down to 15,000 feet before trying to run again. As I recall, he did just that. About 10-11 kms from the finish, he was feeling pretty good about finishing and now wanted to finish under 70 hours.
He changed into a fresh set of clothes and got into a rhythm of walking some 200 yards and running another 200. As we approached the finish line, the road got bad and there were a lot of old trucks spewing diesel fumes and kicking up dust. Chris got a tad irritated by this and the fact that the finish line was actually not in sight. I had to convince him that I knew where the finish line was, because I have seen it last year. This was the only stage of the race where Chris cursed a few times, mostly because of the trouble the pollution was causing him. Finally, around 5:15 pm, we could sight the finish line in the middle of Nubra Valley. Chris, Lavang, Tenzing and me crossed the Finish line together with our arms raised as a team. We had done it!
I don’t really remember what happened for the next 15-20 minutes. There was a lot of whooping and backslapping and just a sense of accomplishment and relief. Chris had completed what was likely his toughest run ever. From last year’s experience, it was astonishing to us that 4 runners had completed the La Ultra 333, clearly a testament to what human spirit can accomplish.
We waited around for a few more hours because news came in that Mark Woolley was coming in. Unfortunately, Mark missed the cut-off by some 54 minutes, but he did finish, much to our joy! Around 9 pm, we made the journey back to Leh recounting some of the moments that we had shared over the last 3 days. Unfortunately, Chris had an early a.m flight out of Leh and we didn’t really get a chance to celebrate. As I type up this report and look back on those 3 days, I can safely say that it an experience and a bond that Team Chris will remember for life.