Walking on water is the age-old miracle story, but India’s first Pangong Tso Lake marathon is about to make 75 athletes run on frozen water. An adventure sports foundation in Ladakh is organising a four-day half marathon of 21 km on the frozen Pangong Tso Lake at a height of 13,862 feet on 20 February.
By organising this marathon, Adventure Sports Foundation of Ladakh (ASFL) wants to bring more awareness on the impact of climate change in the Himalayan glaciers. The other goal of this marathon that will start from Lukung and end at Maan village is a Guinness World Record for becoming such an event held at highest altitude.
“If you are really an environment enthusiast or adventure lover, this trip is for you,” ASFL founder Chamba Tsetan said in a YouTube video where he talks about the rapidly melting Himalayan glaciers. ASFL is collaborating with the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council-Leh, the Tourism Department and the Leh district administration to host the marathon.
Of the 75 participants, 50 are from outside Ladakh, including four international athletes. Some of the local athletes participating have represented the region at marathons in other cities.
“I am a resident of Ladakh, I will not have much trouble running, but if someone comes from the lower parts, then they will need at least 10-15 days to adjust to the weather and altitude,” said Chhimet Namgyal, who has been running for seven-eight years.
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A marathon task organising
A big part of participating in the frozen lake marathon at Pangong Tso, other than acclimatisation, is the grueling preparation involved, said 29-year-old Garvit Pareek from Goa who is already in Ladakh getting used to the altitude.
“I live in Goa at sea level, and now I’m here at such a high altitude. Moreover, I am a vegetarian. That doesn’t make things easy,” said Garvit.
So how do you prepare for this marathon?
Garvit is putting his faith in beetroots and nuts. Namgyal (49), who is from Leh, runs 10-12 km five times a week.
“There are many frozen lakes in my region. I go there for practice. I fell one or two times,” he said.
Namgyal has been taking part in marathons across India for the last seven years. He’s run in three marathons in Ladakh, but his most recent one was in Mumbai last year. Ladakh though is a different ballgame.
He shares some advice for novices. Don’t sprint on a frozen lake, he warns.
“If there’s snow, it will be easy to run because you will have a better grip,” he added.
Thirty-three-year old Padma Tundup from Leh found out about the Pangong Tso Lake marathon on social media. He has participated in a half marathon at Umiling ja, world’s highest motorable pass at over 19,000 ft.
Healthcare planning is the biggest part of the organiser’s preparation for the marathon because of the rough weather. It’s also the first time that many marathon runners will be running at such a height. Ambulances, medical teams and hot water points at every five kilometers have to be on standby.
But the participants will also be taking precautions against cold, slippery bases and extreme wind.
“You have to protect yourself from the cold. It’s going to be minus 20 degrees. I am going to wear thin 3-4 layers,” said Namgyal. He will remove a layer as he gets hot. “I am expecting to complete this marathon in two hours.” According to the organisers, the average time to complete the 21km-run is 3 to 3.5 hours.
Shoes are the biggest cause of concern and preparation, and are formidably expensive. “We will be needing different kinds of shoes,” Namgyal added. But he also has a jugaad (temporary fix) to this.
“If one doesn’t have the right shoes or can’t afford one, you can also attach spikes and screws to normal running shoes.”
Chamba, the organiser, had other problems on his mind. He is taking only 75 participants, and not thousands like he would for other marathons.
“The thickness of the ice on Pangong Tso lake where people will be running is somewhere between 14-16 inches. With this much thickness, the ice sheet can hold up even a pickup truck easily. So it’s absolutely safe for participants,” said Chamba.
But as a precaution, participants will be allowed to run only in batches of 10 and not all at once, he added. There will also be 5 energy stations with protein bars and water at multiple locations where athletes can stop and get supplies.
“People are coming from all over the world, including France, the UK, US and all over India. Everyone has come four days before the marathon to acclimatise,” said Chamba.
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‘The last Run’
The marathon is part of the administration and tourism department’s bid to promote sustainable winter tourism in the border areas of eastern Ladakh.
“Being close to LAC, our focus has been on accelerating development in villages along the border. Pangong marathon is one such initiative to generate livelihood opportunities for border residents which is also one of the objectives of our Vibrant Village Programme,” said Shrikant Balahsaheb Suse, DM of Leh.
He hopes the marathon will spread the message of “carbon neutral Ladakh” and the environmental and ecological responsibilities of all “stakeholders through sports.”
Frozen lake marathons are a popular sport across the world. Norway, for instance, hosts a popular ‘Icebug Frozen Lake Marathon’, which is also 21km long.
“We are calling this marathon ‘The Last Run’. Social activists have been raising the issue of climate change for long, but the power of sports is far higher,” Chamba said.
(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)