The 2019 edition of the Ladakh Marathon will feature changes with regard to hydration.
The annual marathon straddles two sub events: a marathon including the half marathon and races of shorter distances; and the Khardung La Challenge, which is an ultramarathon. The event is a full member of the Association of International Marathons and Distance Races (AIMS) since 2015.
Ladakh is an environmentally sensitive destination. Organizers feel that the routine practice at marathons of runners helping themselves to bottled water – which the Ladakh Marathon too followed till now – is not sustainable. So far, they have shipped out discarded bottles. “ This year for the Khardung La Challenge we are definitely not going to provide bottled water along the route,’’ Chewang Motup, owner of Rimo Expeditions, organizers of the Ladakh Marathon, told this blog recently.
According to him, the paradigm of hydration for the full marathon and other shorter distances are being studied with a view to make the event environment friendly. He indicated that runners may be asked to bring their own bottles or hydration gear of choice. Instead of the traditional practice of handing out bottled water at aid stations, race organizers may provide facilities to refill. “ We may be able to give a hint of what to expect by the time registration for the event opens this year. The practical details could take a little longer to work out because the act of refilling must also be as efficient as possible,’’ Motup said. He added that organizers were however already resolved that hydration for Khardung La Challenge should shift from bottled water to refilling.
Motup hopes that runners will understand the larger need for this shift and accommodate any impact on timing the new practice may cause. As it is, thanks to challenges posed by altitude, timing at the Ladakh Marathon is rarely a personal best (PB) for those coming from outside. The event’s USP is opportunity to run a marathon in Ladakh, a high altitude destination characterized by unique landscape. That being so, pausing to refill water in one’s personal bottle should sit well with runners, the organizers reason. Incidentally, their attention is not merely on hydration. There is also the issue of food packaging and wrappers discarded by participants. “ We are looking into that. It too needs to be addressed,’’ Motup said.
The Ladakh Marathon started in 2012. The event’s first edition attracted some 1500 participants. In 2018, the figure was 6000. The event calls itself the world’s highest marathon; between the main marathon and ultramarathon over Khardung La, altitude on the course ranges from 11,500 feet to 17,618 feet. Runners arriving from outside Ladakh are told to reach Leh a week to 10 days before the marathon so that they get properly acclimatized. Ladakh is beyond the main axis of the Himalaya. Although climate change and its associated vagaries in weather have impacted Ladakh too, traditionally the Himalaya cuts off monsoon clouds from the south rendering much of Ladakh a rain-shadow region. The region’s landscape is that of a high altitude cold desert.
Organizing the annual marathon is not an easy job, Motup said. The organizers have to make sure that participants take acclimatization and acclimatization schedules seriously. Many of the materials required for conducting the event have to be brought in from the outside world. In the case of stuff that is discarded after use – packaged water being an example – it has to be trucked out for proper disposal and recycling. These tasks are easily done in big cities which have resident facilities for recycling. Ladakh in comparison is not only environmentally sensitive, its location, distance from the plains and mountainous access can complicate logistics. Further, unlike in the cities, where event-related services are easily outsourced, in Ladakh, the organizers and their team of volunteers have to do the bulk of the work themselves.
(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)