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The Conqueror of the Everest -Part 2

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.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Deepthi Velkur is a former sprinter who is trying her hand at various sports today. A tennis fanatic, who believes that sleep should never be compromised.

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The Conqueror of the Everest – Part 1

In a two-part series, Deepthi Velkur connects with the Indian Woman who completed the Everest Marathon, Deepa Bhat.

Not so long ago, the start line for an ultra-marathon was only headed by the elite runners. When we speak of it today, there are hundreds of regular runners flocking to take part in a variety of endurance race challenges much beyond the 42k distance. They want to push their boundaries and achieve a dream that was reserved for the elite athletes in the yesteryear’s. Today, Bengaluru’s Deepa Bhat is one such aspiring Indian woman.

Deepa Bhat, is a 41 year old Ultrarunner, Triathlete, Scuba Diver, High altitude trekker, Creative chef, and a mother of two teenage boys. Building a career in the e-learning space, Deepa is also a running coach at the Cult Fitness centre, Bengaluru.

Running gives her the much cherished ‘Me time’, a feeling of bliss and helps keep her focused to achieve her goals year after year. Meticulously planning to balance all aspects of her life-family, career, and fitness have helped her strive and become one of the top runners in the country. This year she became the first Indian woman to have completed the world’s highest running event-The Everest Ultra marathon along with Taher Merchant. Having completed the 72k Kardungla challenge together last year, they decided to take on the challenge of participating in next high altitude race- The Everest Marathon.

We speak to her to find out more about how she conquered her dream of running The Everest Ultra -Marathon.

To conquer Mt. Everest is a dream for most people, to conquer it running is beyond our wildest dreams. What pushed you to take on this challenge(The Everest Ultra Marathon) and what was it like to be on top of the world?

I feel I have a strong connection with the mountains. Something about working hard towards accomplishing a goal and being in the wilderness, surrounded by breathtaking nature just appeals to me. I felt it for the first time when I was just 20 years old, my first High altitude climb to Sar Pass Trek in Himachal Pradesh. The force only got stronger from there on. Having completed the 72k Kardungla Challenge in Ladakh last year and being a podium finisher there, achieving the next high altitude run -The Everest Ultra Marathon became my goal. With sub-zero temperatures and snow in the evening, made it hard but went through the night without a break to finish the circuit in 19hours 50mins and 40sec.

What other Ultra races have you run in the past where you have made it to the podium?

A few of the ultra races that I have run and achieved a podium finish include:

  • 2nd runner-up at Khardungla challenge-72k
  • Winner at stadium run, Bangalore-86km
  • Winner at Jawadhu hills ultra-marathon-75km
  • 1st runner-up at the Half Iron Man-1.9k swim, 90k cycle and 21k run
  • 2nd runner-up at the Spirit of Wipro challenge-10k
  • 1st runner-up at the IDBI spice coast-42.2k

What were your goals before the start of the race and how thrilled were you on achieving them?

Unlike other ultras, where one drives to the start line with fresh legs, I had to trek for 11 days from Lukla (2860m) to the Everest Base camp(5364m). That meant 4-6 hours of walking on any given day over various terrains, including steep hills, high suspension bridges, and rocky paths. The trail is as tough and challenging as they come. Despite the trek being so tiring and difficult, my mission was bigger than just reaching the EBC. My mantra was to take one day at a time because overthinking can dilute the joy. The Everest Extreme Ultra Marathon wasn’t just another adventure race. Honestly, the magnitude of the achievement has sunk in only after all the love I received once I was back home.

What inhibitions or roadblocks did you face within yourself and from people back home before starting out on this adventure?

There were no roadblocks that i faced from anyone. Though I must agree, it involved a lot of planning, working from home and of course, I had to figure out the finances too. At times, people around me had more confidence in me than I had in myself and I’m truly blessed for that. Whenever I prepare for a race, be it a 10k or an Ultra, I do not have an iota of a doubt if I should or shouldn’t take part in the race. I do my research, train well, and prepare both mind and body for the big day. On the race day, I never forget to thank God for bringing me to the start line. During the race, I listen to my body (never push beyond what I can), because races will come and go, but I am precious.

Please tell us more about the Ultra Marathon?

Sir Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay Sherpa summited the Everest on May 29, 1953. A competition is held every year on the same day and this started from the year 2013 to commemorate the event. The Extreme Ultra-Everest marathon is considered the world’s highest running event, which also includes half and full marathons. The Extreme Ultra starts at EBC and goes through five Himalayan passes.

There were around 200 runners and high altitude trekkers from 30 different countries across the world. I chose to run the 60k of ultra-running bliss. The undulating terrain, the rarefied air, cold winds, the moraines, steep inclines just make this race all the more challenging. The day temperatures were -1degrees while the night seemed like -30degrees. A mock race is organized a day before the actual race to check if the entire path is clear for runners.

In the next part we will learn about how Deepa equipped herself to run this challenging course. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Deepthi Velkur is a former sprinter who is trying her hand at various sports today. A tennis fanatic, who believes that sleep should never be compromised.

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Indians Racing down the Everest

When Deepa Bhatt and Taher Merchant raced across the finish line at the recently concluded Everest Marathon, little did they know that they would be declared the first Indian’s the complete the grueling course. The extreme ultraton race begins at the Everest base camp and runners have the race down to the bottom while passing 5 Himalayan passes through the course.

Finishing the race course in more than 19 hours the duo set a record of sorts by becoming the first Indian’s the finish the course. The two had met earlier at the Khardungla Challenge (one of the highest motorable passes in the Ladakh region). The training schedules were intense and the two runners had dedicated quite a few hours to conditioning their bodies, building stamina, focusing on nutrition and reaching optimal weight levels.

The first task was trekking up to the Everest Base Camp which is a 11 day trek. The trek helped them acclimatize to the conditions of the high altitude that helped them prepare for the actual race. The race is grueling to say the least and runners are provided rest areas along the course. Deepa has trekked down through the night with the help of her guide while Taher chose to rest and finish his race in the morning when he felt his energy was flagging.

But overall the task is a stupendous achievement and these two extreme runners are already planning their next run.

*This article is collated from several new reports*

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