From the race in Saudi Arabia (Photo: courtesy Adventure III)

Indian ultra and trail runner, Nupur Singh, finished second among women and seventh overall in the 81-kilometre category of EcoTrail AlUla 2022 held on March 19.

In January 2022, Nupur Singh received an invite from Asia Trail Masters, a series of trail running races in Asia, to participate in EcoTrail AlUla 2022.

For much of 2021 Nupur had been battling a personal crisis; she lost both her parents to COVID-19. “ In January 2022 I was not in a good shape. I was completely off training for most of 2021 because of the situation at home,’’ she said.

The invitation from Asia Trail Masters propelled Nupur to resume her training.

“ I was very excited by the invite to EcoTrail AlUla. I wanted to come back to running,’’ she said. Nupur commenced her training in Manali, where she resides. “ It was snowing there. So, I shifted to Bir, where I trained for one and a half months. Here, the weather was a mix of cold mornings followed by hot afternoons,” she said. She also participated in Tuffman Stadium Run’s 6-hour relay race, opting for an afternoon slot of two hours, primarily to train herself for running in Saudi Arabia’s desert heat.

Nupur travelled to Jeddah from New Delhi and after an overnight stay there, moved on to Al-‘Ula, a city in North West Saudi Arabia, in the Medina Region of the country.

From the race in Saudi Arabia (Photo: courtesy Adventure III)

The 81 km race at EcoTrail AlUla is predominantly a trail course comprising deep sandy stretches for over 10-12 km, followed by rocky canyons with stretches of continuous ups and downs. The wide open desert landscape was interspersed with rock formations, date farms, architectural monuments and the occasional road for transitioning to different areas. The course also winds through Hegra, the archaeological site, marked as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The entire course has an elevation gain of 1200 meters.

“ Here, the mornings and nights are cold while the afternoons are quite hot. The race started at 6:10 AM on March 19, 2022, and the initial terrain was a mix of deep and paved sand. It was chilly and that helped me pick up a good pace. From the beginning, I had decided to run my own race and not push too much early on and to enjoy the course and my comeback. The most enjoyable part of the course for me was the canyon section; technical terrain with mountain views is what I love the most,” she said.

Saudi Arabia’s dress code ensured that women runners wore outfits that covered themselves fully. “ It was beautiful to see so many women taking part in the race and at aid stations,” Nupur said.

Nupur said she felt strong for most part of the race. “ I never felt low at any point. My nutrition and hydration went off quite well. It was a good come-back race for me,” she said. She finished in nine hours, 19 minutes and 25 seconds. It earned her the second position among women and an overall seventh place.

A second place-finish; on the podium with the other winners (Photo: courtesy Adventure III)

Her nutrition consisted of Unived gels, salt tablets, peanut butter, oranges and locally grown dates. For hydration, she had Unived recovery drink mixes and water.

In the 81 km category, there were a total of 67 participants of which 31 runners finished the race.

Nupur got into running in 2014. Soon afterwards she started organising races in the mountains. In November 2019, she participated in the IAU 100 km Asia & Oceania Championships held in Jordan. She ran in the open category and finished in fairly good time behind British athlete, Joasia Zakrzwenski, the winner of the open race.

Following the race in Saudi Arabia, her aim now is to participate in qualifying races for the IAU 100 km World Championship to be held in August 2022 in Berlin, Germany and the IAU Trail Championship scheduled to be held in November 2022.

(The author, Latha Venkatraman, is an independent journalist based in Mumbai.)

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