It was Christmas day.
Not far from Mumbai’s CST railway terminus, traders selling woollen garments did brisk business. They have a temperamental December to thank. According to newspapers, on December 23, 2015, Mumbai recorded its second lowest temperature since December 1949; 11.6 degrees Celsius. The faint chill saw residents bring out their shawls and jackets.
“ Early mornings and evenings in Mumbai are now pleasant to run,’’ Skalzang Lhundup said. We were in a nearby apartment, where a team of young runners from Ladakh, in the city to train and get ready for the 2016 Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon (SCMM), stayed. Skalzang was their manager. The whole team comprised seven civilian runners and 11 personnel of the Indian Army’s Ladakh Scouts regiment. The army runners were camped in Pune, where the military has its facilities, including training facilities for athletes. They were expected in Mumbai by early January.
On December 6th, when the civilian component of the team left Leh for Delhi en route to the marathons of the plains, Ladakh’s winter temperature was already sub-zero, nudging minus ten at its lows. Peak winter was yet to come. Following the September 2015 edition of the annual Ladakh Marathon, the civilians in the team – the 18 member contingent includes category toppers from the Ladakh Marathon and the Khardung La Challenge ultra marathon held alongside it – hadn’t had much time to train for SCMM or any other events in the plains. Two things intervened. First, winter break was approaching with school exams ahead of that. Some of the young runners still tackling their twelfth standard can’t overlook exams. Second, as winter took hold, training outdoors became a challenge. While the army runners have their own training regimen, from among the civilians, only the very determined may have managed to squeeze in a few practice runs outdoors, Skalzang said.
Every year since the 2013 Ladakh Marathon, its organizer Rimo Expeditions, has brought the winners of each edition to Mumbai to attempt the SCMM. The Mumbai marathon is India’s biggest and the richest in terms of prize money. On the previous two occasions, the team stayed at Bandra in suburban Mumbai. “ Our current location near CST is more practical,’’ Skalzang said. Early morning, the team walks to Nariman Point in South Mumbai, where the NCPA end of Marine Drive’s promenade is a popular assembling point for runners. In Mumbai the Ladakh team trains with Savio D’Souza, who is among the city’s well known coaches. He was in Leh earlier this year to train promising local runners ahead of the last Ladakh Marathon. Typically Ladakh’s team of runners travels to Mumbai, participates in the SCMM and returns to Ladakh. The 2015 trip is the first time the team has travelled out from Ladakh for what may hopefully be a brief season of running a few marathons in the plains; not just SCMM. If all goes well, they plan to be running in the plains, warm compared to Ladakh, till end-February, Skalzang said.
The team has already finished competing at its first event of the season.
On December 6th, the group had flown from Leh to Delhi and proceeded immediately by train to Mumbai and then onward to Goa for the annual Goa River Marathon (GRM). Arriving from high altitude to a sea level-location with not much training done to boot, they spent a couple of days running on Goa’s beaches. The heat and humidity of a December by the sea, was tough to cope with. “ Especially the humidity,’’ Skalzang said. On December 13, four days after they reached Goa, the race took place. The Ladakhi runners ended up with six podium finishes. The podium finishers in their respective categories were Jigmet Dolma (women full marathon / open / age: 18 plus, second, 3:59:02), Tsetan Dolkar (women full marathon / open / age: 18 plus, third, 4:05:42), Sonam Chuskit (women full marathon / Indian participant category / age: 18 plus, first, 5:01:10), Stanzin Norbu (men full marathon / Indian participant category / age: 18 plus, second, 3:12:20 ), Tsering Dolkar (women half marathon / Indian participant category / age: 18 plus, second, 1:52:15) and Diskit Dolma (women half marathon / Indian participant category / age: 18 plus, third, 1:52:17). Stanzin Norbu is from Ladakh Scouts.
Skalzang said the youngsters in the team had instructions not to ignore their studies; a couple of them had exams to give on return to Leh. Amid training for the SCMM, the morning and evening practice runs and managing their temporary accommodation in the apartment (it is self supported life; the youngsters cook their food themselves), they find time for studies. They hailed from villages, near and far from Leh; villages like Igoo, Lamayuru, Saspol, Nether in Changthang, Lingshed, Pishu in Zanskar and Tamachik. A bigger event with many more participants, the competition at SCMM will be tougher than at GRM. Both Jigmet Dolma and Tsetan Dolkar said that they have slowly got used to Mumbai’s weather. According to Skalzang, Savio is exploring other events the runners can be at after SCMM, before they return home to Ladakh.
(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai. Runners’ timings at the 2015 Goa River Marathon have been taken from the event’s official website. For more on the Ladakh Marathon and Ladakh’s running team please see, https://shyamgopan.wordpress.com/2015/08/07/ladakhs-running-team/)