In the concluding part, Deepa Bhat talks to Deepthi Velkur about how she prepared for the big day.
Continuing the conversation with Deepa Bhat, the first Indian woman to complete the Everest Ultra Marathon.
Acclimatization to such high altitudes is key – how did you prepare yourself for this?
The trek was well planned out, with enough rest days for us to acclimatize to the harsh weather conditions and have some short training runs too to get a feel of how the actual run would be like. In the mountains, the rule is ‘Climb High and Sleep Low’. Hydrate well, sleep better, believe in yourself and altitudes will embrace you.
What type of running gear would you suggest is appropriate to run in such high altitudes?
Layering helps in altitudes. I use a hydration vest and carry my water (3 liters and energy bars, salt tablets). I train the same way too, to minimize the surprises on race day.
Personal safety must be a top priority while running any high altitude terrain. What steps did you take to ensure your safety?
As for this race, until the 23k mark was a familiar route which is the one that we trekked up. Post that we had a Nepali guide who runs along with us to ensure we are on track. I carried along medical supplies, like band-aid and spray, a rain cover, a survival blanket and a night lamp. Taking the soft shell (jacket) was a completely last minute decision and did me good as it kept me safe through the night. In Ultra-running, one cannot calculate everything as there are new learning always.
Not only does physical fitness matter but one needs to be mentally geared up to take on this grueling challenge. How did you prepare yourself?
No matter how hard you train you body, mental training is just as important. If your mind isn’t prepared for what lies ahead, your body won’t be either. During one of my early Ultra running days, my body began experiencing wave after wave of fatigue, my mind quickly followed. Once I fell into this hole, it was tough for me to get back. A minute feels like an hour, a kilometer felt like a ten. I am thankful that I learned how to tackle that early on.
Someone once said I am not ‘Focused and doing too many things.’ Maybe, but I am determined. Confidence and determination have taken me far in life, especially when I am out on the trails. When my body is on the verge of shutting down during a challenging race, my mind is the only thing that keeps me going. ‘Get better than what you were yesterday’ is my only motivation, be it work, home or on trails.
Completing this race at 1:00 am in the darkness of the night has taught me a lot, which I am going to carry with me till the end.
What was the role of your guide and how did he motivate you to stay on track during the entire course?
My guide through this trek was a 17-year-old Nepali guide, reminded me so much of my son Dhruv as both are of the same age. He could speak only Nepali and I couldn’t speak a word of the language. It was going to be one hell of an experience I thought, once he joined me at the 23k mark.
I stuck close to him, watching where he was placing his feet and did exactly that. Sometimes it is best to follow your guide when you are 11hrs into the race and way too tired to even think. Since these guides traverse these paths so often and familiar with the course as well. A couple of coffees and noodle soup at night is all we had but that was the energy booster that got us across the finish line.
My guide was a very quiet and simple lad untouched by technology having a cheerful face and a constant smile who kept motivating me that I could and I must reach the finish line.
Did having a running buddy help you get through this challenging race? What were the most crucial plans Taher and you put in place?
Each one runs their own race. Each of us looks at the race, strategize very differently but all with the same goal – reaching the Finish Line!
The day before the race must have been one of the toughest moments of your life – please tell us what went through your mind?
Sleeping at the base camp is a privilege, that a regular trekker cannot enjoy. They just visit the EBC, take pictures, soak in and return to Gorakshep. Running the Extreme Ultramarathon gives you the opportunity of staying two nights right at the end of the notorious Kumbhu glacier at the end of the icefall.
The morning of 28th May, a day before the race is something that gives me shivers even today. Woke up early to feel the chill air, brushed my teeth with warm water (I always keep a bottle of hot water in my sleeping bag every night) and suddenly started feeling super cold. Rushed into the tent to pull out a warmy to put into my gloves. Minutes later, outside my tent, all I could see was darkness, everything around me had turned black. Before I knew, I was unconscious. Although I could hear everyone around me calling for help, trying to talk to me but was in no state to respond. My oxygen levels dropped to 37 and pressure was low as well. ‘Will I be airlifted, does my marathon end here?’ the only thoughts that ran through my mind. I had suffered from hypothermia.
Thanks to my teammates, emergency care doctors I was back on my feet and by 9:30 am geared up for the mock race in a saree. 30 countries 150 runners, the atmosphere was surreal. One needs to be there to experience the celebration.
What would you take away post this achievement and would you encourage other runners to take on this challenge?
There is a lot that this race has taught me, some good life lessons, that no book, blog or just about anything could have. That’s a secret, I want to keep… shhhh!
To another runner, ‘Run a trail to discover yourself’.
What tips do you have for other extreme marathon runners?
Read my blog and come with me for a run 😉
- Put your finger on a race – tell yourself, why do you want to do it and how determined are you to take on the challenge.
- Work religiously on the training plan – there are no shortcuts. What you put in is what you get.
- Keep your family involved as running an ultra is a family event. You will be spending so much time outside of your home that without them it is not possible.
- Stay positive – If not for you, no one can run the race for you.
What did you look forward to the most at the finish line?
We don’t conquer the mountains, no one can. Yes, it does humble you as a person of how small and insignificant you are as the finish line is just the beginning…
“You must go on adventures to know where you truly belong!” , says Deepa.