Mark Woolley on his way to completing the 333km category of La Ultra The High, 2016 edition (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Come 2019, La Ultra The High, the well-known ultramarathon at altitude in Ladakh, will feature 555 kilometers to be run in five and a half days as the longest race in its repertoire. At the lower end of the scale, it will debut that year, a 55 kilometer race.

The new distances are in addition to the existing ones. Previously the longest race at the event was 333 kilometers and the shortest, 111 kilometers with a 222 kilometer-category in between. Starting in Lakzung, a village in Nubra Valley, the ultramarathon’s route includes the high mountain passes of Khardung La (17,700 feet), Wari La and Tanglang La. Asked if there were races elsewhere packing altitude, multiple mountain passes, variations in weather conditions and now distance in excess of 500 kilometers as La Ultra The High does, Dr Rajat Chauhan, event founder and race director said, “ We were already in a league of our own at 333 kilometers.’’

The 555 kilometer-run has generated excitement. “ I would love to try 555. Not sure if I will be able to make it there in 2019 but it is on my radar,’’ Grant Maughan, who was joint winner with Jovica Spajic in the 333 kilometer-race at La Ultra The High in 2016, said when contacted.

There is no change in acclimatization schedule or medical protocols for 555 kilometers, which – like the 333, will be run in a single stage. The same acclimatization schedule and protocols as applied to 333 kilometers continue for this as well. In the case of 55 kilometers, those enrolling and accepted will require to reach Ladakh at least five days prior to the event. “ We are encouraging them to arrive earlier still if they can afford to,’’ Dr Chauhan said. The 55 kilometer-race will begin at 1.5 kilometers ahead of the old finish line of the 222-run (Serthi Circle), go up to Wari La and have its finish line at the same point as the current 222 does. The 555 will start with everyone else at Lakzung, proceed the whole length of the 333-run’s course and then retrace the route back to Leh to finish at the current finish line of the 111 kilometer-run at Shanti Stupa.

As per the official website of the race, its sister event Garhwal Runs, which is qualifier for the 111 kilometer-discipline at La Ultra The High, will have a 33 kilometer race to serve as qualifier for the new 55 kilometer-run. For 555 kilometers, a prospective candidate should have run either 222 kilometers or 333 kilometers previously at La Ultra The High. Other cases wherein candidates have run such distances under conditions relevant to the Ladakh event will be looked into. But that will be “ consideration,’’ not accompanied by assured acceptance.

La Ultra The High commenced in 2010 as a 222 kilometer-race. Over a period of time, it added runs spanning 333 kilometers and 111 kilometers as well. Alongside Garhwal Runs was also brought in as a qualifier event for La Ultra. Initially dominated by foreign runners, in the last few years, the number of Indian participants at the event has been rising. According to the race website, in 2018, there were three Indian finishers and one just over cut-off time, in the 333 kilometer-category. The decision to add a 555 kilometer-race comes on the back of these developments. Not to mention – the 2019 edition will mark a decade of holding the race.

In an article published on this blog in July 2015, Dr Chauhan had indicated that there are proposals for a 555 kilometer-category (the article can be accessed on this link: Notwithstanding the challenge it offers and the appeal it poses to devotees of the ultramarathon, the event is yet to find a major sponsor.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)

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