Skyrunning in the Indian Himalayas

A “hell race”, this time on its feet

Readers who are not interested in my personal background, but want to read directly via the Skyrun, can simply skip the colorfully colored texts :). I’ve probably made a bit of a go this time…

Me and running

Anyone who knows me knows that I ran quite a lot as a young teenager. Three to four running sessions a week between 5 and 15 km was nothing unusual for me. I took part in smaller races for fun. I always liked the special atmosphere during an organized run, where you can handle exciting tracks with like-minded people, there is a good atmosphere and then the ambition comes out and you give your best. I was able to complete one or the other race with a place on the podium.

Only once had I (unprepared) taken part in a half marathon, and while I was tormenting myself over its last five kilometers, two things became clear to me:

  1. For routes that are longer than 20 km, you should have trained.
  2. Also, during a run that is longer than 15 km, you should probably also eat some liquid and preferably not only water.

So as the reader can learn here, I never really ran professionally, but rather for fun and above all to keep me fit. I think everything around the 10 km is a very good measure. 10 km I can always run with my basic fitness, they are mentally and physically sustainable and with an hour-long run I have fulfilled my sports workload for the day. Anything that goes beyond the 15 kilometers just doesn’t make sense to me on an everyday basis.

Well, so much about my running career that stopped pretty quickly when I moved to the Indian Himalayas six years ago. When I was still living in Delhi, I regularly went jogging in the park, although running laps in a park is not the highest of feelings.

But in the mountains at an altitude of more than 2000 meters, where all the routes either go up or down, I couldn’t even think about running. Instead, I started mountain biking and hiked a lot. Through my work alone, I am on the road almost the whole summer season, be it on bike tours, several days of treks or during an intensive mountain ascent.

I hardly miss the running and find it rather boring and stupid compared to my current activities. Every now and then, when I return to Germany, I still lace up my running shoes to at least run during the German winter.

Registration for the race

So, now some readers may wonder why I write so much about myself, when this article was supposed to be about a Skyrunnung event in India.

Well, i’m going to say:

Exactly one week before the Skyrunning event, which took place last weekend, the friendly Skyrunning organizer contacted me and asked me why I was lazy on the skin in Manali, when I was supposed to be at a mountain bike race?! I muttered a few excuses in front of me. The organizer didn’t really care about my reasons for not participating and he was even happy that I would be on the outskirts and free. so I could finally take part in his skyrunning event, which would take place only 15 km from Manali.

I thought for a moment and remembered this event that he had been talking about six months ago. At that time it was out of the question for me, because firstly I had the mountain bike race on my list and secondly a distance of more than 30 km and over 2000 meters of altitude could not just run out of place, that I had already learned at the half marathon.

Starting training seven days before the race really didn’t make sense. I tried to remember my last run and came to the conclusion that the good three months was back!

But since the organizer is a good friend, he even invited me to the race with all the drums and drums and I was quite lazy at the moment, so that a bit of movement and fresh air in my mountains would do me quite well, I agreed spontaneously. The organizer was happy and just asked me if I would start in the 30 km or 60 km category! Hello!!! I would be happy if I survived the 30 km within the time limit of 6 hours.


But what is a Skyrun?

I, living in my large, but also somehow limited Indian world, did not know.

So I was looking for information on the International Skyrunning Federation website.

Here I learned that a Skrun is a mountain run at an altitude of over 2000 meters, where the ascent is over 30% and the technical climbing level is below II°. Hiking sticks, crampons and hands are likely to be used. There were also different race categories.

My category would probably fall under a “skymarathon” as I would cover over 30 km and 2000 meters of altitude. I didn’t know if it was good or bad for me. In any case, I now had a queasy feeling and was not so sure about the feasibility of the thing without running training. My clear advantages were that I a) knew the route very well because of my treks, b) Adapted to the height (the race started at over 2500 meters and I was already sorry for the participants from the city) and c) that I could hike. Apparently, from a certain steepness you can only do “speedhiking”, i.e. fast hiking and I knew from myself that I could at least do this quite well.

Day before the race

Well, when I rode the 14 km by bike up to the starting point of the event the previous evening and already saw one or the other track marking, I was still in doubt if I would just say “Hello” and then roll back into my comfort zone to Manali. After all, it was exhausting enough on my bike. It wasn’t the best idea to use my leg with cycling the night before, but somehow I had to get to the starting point in the Solang valley.

When I reached the location, I was immediately taken by the great atmosphere that probably always exists when athletes come together who share a common passion. I was surprised that there were over 100 participants, 85 participants for the 30 km alone. The rest were among the madmen who would tackle the 60 km.

Eight women would also compete for the 30 km, not a bad number for such a tough race in India.

When I analyzed the route and route profile, I was immediately enthusiastic about the circuit. I knew almost all sections, although I had never mastered the entire route in one piece before, and certainly not in one day. Part of the route is a popular hike, which I myself have already walked twice this year. It guarantees magnificent views of the highest mountains in the region, including Hanuman Tibba and the Seven Sisters.

I quickly overturned the time I would probably need for the whole route. Provided I would be able to walk the first 15 km (which go uphill but are not very steep) and if everything else goes smoothly, I could be through in an optimistic five hours. Sounds like a lot of time (it is!), but finally it went steeply uphill here and the paths would also be technically demanding.

The next difficulty was the next morning: the race starts at 6.15, so I had to get up 4:20. Five hours before my normal daily rhythm in these currently very quiet days when I didn’t get up before 9 o’clock!

In fact, I slept pretty badly at night, so I certainly didn’t get more than three hours of sleep. Well, I had gotten enough sleep together in the last few days. In addition, I was able to have breakfast at 5 o’clock in the morning and then at 6:15 a.m. I was ready at the start line without really knowing what would happen in the next few hours.

The Skymarathon in the Indian Himalayas

Well, the race (and I) went amazingly well and actually exactly according to plan. The first kilometers, some of which led uphill over a rocky path, downhill over slippery meadow and then again slightly uphill on a quiet road, I was actually able to go through in a slight jogging step. My chest was free, I had enough air, my legs felt light and good.

I tried to walk the first 15 km loose and slow, stopped at the food stations for drinking and kept running. The women were far behind me and the men around me kept running, overtaking me, then switching to a fast gear and I overtook them again. So I always had familiar faces around me.

As the 15 km mark approached and thus the beginning of the trekking route, which would become much steeper, my legs started to get heavy and I was already happy that I could finally change into a fast gear and then no longer had to run. In fact, I overtook many other runners on the steep hiking section to the highest point. Hiking, also steepuphill, that I could, especially since I could otherwise master the same route with heavy loads of up to 25 kg. Now I had no luggage and was able to get uphill quickly. Only before the many smaller and larger river crossings I had some buzz. But this quickly turned out to be unfounded, the water level was now very low in the autumn, so that I could jump effortlessly from stone to stone.

Shortly before the highest point, called Bakkartach, I not only got a little hungry, but some cramps announced in my calves. Measures! Apparently I had done something wrong, even though I had taken a lot of electrolytes, water and cola at the catering stations all the time. If the cramps not only come up short, but also stay, I would have a real problem. At the next catering station I tormented myself with two potatoes. I needed something to eat and potatoes were the only thing I could have right now.

The route went downhill a bit and I was able to start running again. Then came stony climbing passages, in which I used my hands . Even today, two days after the race, I not only have sore muscles in my legs, but also feel my arms from this climbing action!

In addition to the markings of the route, the organizers had also written down a motivational statement at regular intervals. One read: “Run, go or crawl, but never stop.” This sentence became my inner mantra and I adhered to it with an iron will.

It’s good that it’s been steadily downhill now on a pretty nice path over the pastures. My poor legs, which were not used to this physical strain of the long run, hurt and I just threw them forward on the downhill. I was neither particularly fast nor particularly slow. On the one hand, I could not speed up, on the other hand I did not want to overthrow, which would have had fatal consequences. I was still well on schedule. I was even a little faster than originally calculated. One or the other runner overtook me now, but I didn’t care. Even the slightest climb caused me to walk again, otherwise I would get a cramp immediately. When I came back on the road for a short bit (which went downhill), I was able to increase my pace and at the same time went mentally through my body: my feet were hurting, my calves and thighs were threatening to cramp every moment, the groins hurt and there was some pain in the lower back. My upper body was ok and just got a bit stiff. It was just 10 o’clock and I was already on the road for almost 4 hours and soon at the finish. Normally at this time the day would only begin for me! Maybe I could even master the race under 4:30 hours?

No, I couldn’t. Because soon the track left the road and it went steeply downhill on a trail  and then on again and again over small streams and uphill.I just couldn’t keep up the pace. The last 500 meters were announced and I counted imaginary 100 meters and then again 100 meters. Then it was only 300 meters, 200 meters and yes… managed! I couldn’t sprint into the finish line any more), but at least I didn’t tip over straight away, but actually felt pretty good.

But with the best of intentions I wouldn’t have wanted to continue and so I pityed the 60 kilometer runners, who had to do the same track again! What a physical and mental achievement!

The results of the Skyruning Event

Of the 85 participants over the 30 km, only 34 were able to reach the finish within the given time. I was the only woman.

With the 18 participants over the 60 km distance, 6 runners were able to complete the race within 12 hours:

30 km – Men
1st – Deepesh Chettri – 03:11:50
2nd – Kieren Dsouza – 03:20:54
3rd – Govind – 03:21:47

30 km- Women
1st – Sarah Appelt – 04:39:47

60 Km
1st – Ct. Sachin – 09:10:32
2nd – Gaurav Devaiah – 09:10:55
3rd – Hari Om – 10:11:26

After the Skyrun

It was only 11 o’clock in the morning and the day was now quite relaxed and I spent it with the other race participants; as relaxed as it was possible with two aching legs :).

I was quite done, but the good atmosphere, delicious food and a hot shower made things much better, especially since the scenery of the venue in the middle of the mountains was simply unique.

The race was organized by the organizers of the Hellrace series. The Hellrace races are a collection of endurance races in the Indian Himalayan and include mountain bike races, multi-day extreme races, skyrunning, as well as half and marathons.

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