Nupur Singh discovers that high in the mountains is where she found her calling. Deepthi Velkur speaks to the Hell Race co-founder and a runner.
Nupur Singh, co-founder and creative director of the endurance race series – “The Hell Race” certainly found her calling high up in the Himalayas. Hailing from Madanpur (on the border between UP and MP), Nupur has quite a story to tell. She may have earned a name for herself at the national air rifle championships and state-level basketball but in her heart, she believes she was always destined to do something in the outdoors.
She found her inspiration in 2013 when on an adventure trip to the Himalayas, she realized that being one with nature and making a career out if it was something that she wanted to do. In 2016, leaving behind her career as an architect in Delhi, Nupur together with Vishwas Sindhu and Rohit Kalyana started “The Hell Race” endurance series.
I had the chance to talk with Nupur on her fascinating story. Read on and be enthralled.
FM: From being an architect by profession to being the co-founder of the endurance series -The Hell Race? How and when did the switch happen?
Nupur: Being outdoors has always been close to my heart and after a decade of a regular city life, I somehow found the way back to my roots. My most favorite pastime during my childhood was hiking alongside my grandfather in the fields, listening to his stories about the dacoits of Chambal and how he escaped the attacks by the goons or hunting for leopards and wild boars. The bullock cart rides, swimming in natural water bodies, jungle hikes to hunt for monkeys and pigeons, being chased by the bulls are just a few adventures I got to experience as a kid. Being out in the wild came naturally to me. Maybe that was the reason I was a good sportsperson during my school days. I represented at National and state level in various sports including Rifle shooting, tennis ball cricket, basketball and swimming a few times.
Unfortunately, after school, I lost touch with sports and the outdoors completely and went on to do my graduation in Architecture (Pune) and worked for 3 years in Delhi as an Architect with almost no physical activity. Almost a decade later, in 2013 I happened to see a google ad about a Himalayan Trek and ended up doing my first trek. It was that trip that made me realize how much I loved the outdoors. Over the next 3 years, the passion was reborn, and my sole focus was to work and save to be able to travel – be it a trek up the mountains, a Rajasthan cycling tour or a beach trip. Eventually, the decision to make it a lifestyle became clear.
Vishwas Sindhu, the Devil behind the concept -The Hell Race, was my partner in crime for around 2 years before we decided to setup this series. The idea and concept of The Hell Race was born during one of our cycling trips together from Manali to Leh back in 2014.
Finally, in February 2016 he convinced me to quit and we started this unforgettable journey of The Hell Race along with Rohit Kalyana, who deserves the devil’s crown himself. It hasn’t been easy riding at all. We have gone through a myriad of emotions – frustration, exhilaration, fights but the sheer will of the team has pulled us through so far. And the journey has only begun…
Nupur: The idea was to build races that would challenge the current race scenario in India. Trail running and mountain biking is an evolved sport worldwide. In India however, we still have mountain biking events happening on roads and trail running events on jeep tracks or roads. Apart from setting a negative impression of the sport it also puts Indian runners at a disadvantage. To represent India at a global level we had to have events and trails of international standards, where athletes get a chance to test their skills and train for them accordingly.
A few good races exist currently but to grow as a mature community we need many more. Obviously, the whole idea didn’t come up in a day. Every race we organized brought new challenges and exposed us to harsh realities. All of that made us experienced and mature as race organizers. With nearly 3 years gone, it’s now a series of endurance races in mountain biking, trail running, ultra-running and marathons.
This concept is our attempt to bring adventure enthusiasts and athletes from across the globe together. We are determined to build world-class endurance races in India. The name ‘The Hell Race’ comes from the expression ‘What the Hell’. The race standards and the trails that we have set truly live up to the name. But to train for it every day, to be able to come out of your comfort zone, to achieve something beyond your limit (both physically and mentally) is where the true nature of Hell comes. It’s still a work-in-progress as we continue to add various factors and trails to make your life ‘Hell’.
FM: What are the various events held by the Hell Race team? How do you attract runners?
- The Border (Jaisalmer to Longewala): 22nd – 24th December 2018
- Bir Billing Half Marathon (Bir): 21st April 2019
- Hell Ultra (Manali to Leh): 15th – 23rd June 2019
- The High 5’s (Manali to Leh): 15th – 23rd June 2019
- Hell Race Trail Series (HRTS):
- SRT Ultra Marathon (Pune): 9th Dec 2018
- The Deccan Ultra (Sahyadri hills): Feb 2019
- The Coffee Trails (Coorg): Mar 2019
- The Buddha Trails (Darjeeling): May 2019
- Aravalli’s Endurance Trail Run (Gurgaon): Aug 2019
- Solang SkyUltra (HRTS Finale): 6th October 2019
In terms of strategy, we keep it simple – we build challenging trails that have killer climbs and unforgiving conditions but as a runner, you are rewarded with breathtaking scenery all around. We are a small team and depend on our runners to be our promoters.
FM: Of all the events you organize, which do you feel is the most challenging?
Nupur: Each event that we have is challenging in its own right. Considering all races, the Hell Ultra is the toughest race – a 480KM ultra run from Manali to Leh (the world’s highest road). Running at an average altitude of higher than 4000m with temperatures dipping to -10 and oxygen levels dropping 50%, completing this beautiful but tricky course in 120 hours is a super-human effort.
FM: Organizing 17 races is no simple task? What challenges did you face?
Nupur: The biggest challenge is nature itself and the Himalayas can be brutal on you. Managing everything from finding trails to cleaning up post-race, managing feed stations to rescue in emergencies is not a major task but the unpredictability of weather is simply beyond our control. In almost every race, the weather conditions made sure to give us the taste of Hell we claim to give to our runners.
One such experience was the recently concluded Solang SkyUltra – a week before the race, the entire Manali valley was drowning. We had collapsed bridges, roads washed away including segments of our course, sparse connectivity, and food supply blocked. It became a nightmare for us to manage through it all. But in the end, overcoming these challenges, working along a motivated team and the inspiring runners who refused to give up no matter what is what makes it worthwhile and amazing.
FM: The High 5 which is a back to back 5-day half marathon event from Manali to Leh saw you participate in the race last year. What was it like to organize and at the same time run such a tough race?
Nupur: I have been on the Manali-Leh highway many times, the challenges and the beauty of the course never cease to amaze me. Organizing 2 races (The High 5 and the Hell Ultra) in parallel is a challenging task and requires a lot of coordination. Luckily, my amazing team supported by the volunteers and their collective teamwork gave me the opportunity to run as well. This is where my theory of ‘Living by Example’ came back to bite me like hell.
No matter how much you train or how good you are, the highway will be a blow to your ego. When I finished the 5 back to back half marathons in 2017 during my 2nd attempt, I realized that I’m not eligible to call myself a runner but a walker. It’s no joke as each day you run a half marathon and crosses one of the high altitude passes and the average altitude is above 4000m. The weather keeps changing by the minute, the oxygen levels make sure you drop every 50m, and at the end of the day, you know you have to do it all over again the next day. And with a small team, I can’t get away with not being involved in managing things too. In short, it had Hell written all over it but I would love to do it again and again.
FM: What are the most important factors to bear in mind when running in such high altitudes?
Nupur: Any high-altitude race should never be taken lightly. It is advisable to follow a training schedule to develop your core strength, breathing, long hours of workout, nutrition that suits your body and most importantly – recovery. Acclimatization just before the event is another key factor, spend a few days at an altitude of 3000 – 4000m and get yourself acclimatized. Be prepared for the extreme conditions as I have seen the humblest of souls burn out with anger and frustration. To cope with the pressure and tiredness each day is not something one can train for but only be prepared for. It goes without saying that you must avoid alcohol and smoking.
FM: Not being an experienced endurance sports-person, what inspires you to run such challenging races?
Nupur: As I said earlier, I’m barely a runner or a mountain biker or even a trekker for that matter. I only try to do things differently, things that challenge me and try to set up my own standards to live by. While setting up The Hell Race series and working along Rohit Kalyana, a certified mountaineer, I got the opportunity to develop my skills and experience the Himalayas in a whole new way. My love for these endurance sports has grown exponentially, and I will continue to explore my strengths. My toughest race so far was the 1st edition of the high 5’s race. It was my 1st encounter running at high altitudes and organizing at the same time. For an amateur like myself, the overall conditions were just brutal.
FM: How do you see the company growing in the near future?
Nupur: We have come a long way since the inception of The Hell Race series. Each year we introduce new concepts and races to keep the challenge growing. From the mighty Himalayas to the endless beaches, the brutal Thar Desert to the dense jungles, India is a land of diverse terrain. We try to expose our athletes to these extreme and challenging conditions through our races. The Hell Race Trail Series is our latest attempt to move forward. It right now comprises of 5 races in various parts of the country with Solang SkyUltra being the finale. We are also trying to standardize trail running in India in the coming years.
FM: Do you see yourself participating in more races or the focus will only be on organizing events?
Nupur: Yes, I do wish to participate in races in the future as well as organize them. Both will go hand in hand. But to be able to do it, I need to get out and train every day. That is still to happen, but at least I have the mountains as my backyard.