Team Motiv8 athletes Neelam Vaid and Kalyani Satija recently completed the insanely difficult Khardung-la Challenge near Leh, a 72km race which is the highest ultra-marathon in the world. Out of the 72km, athletes run approximately 60km at an altitude above 4000 m (14,000ft). Add on almost 2000m of climbing and it becomes a supreme test of physical and mental fitness and toughness.
Motiv8 Coaching founder and coach Atul Godbole caught up with Kalyani Satija to ask her about her training and race experience:
Atul Godbole (AG): Tell us a bit about yourself.
Kalyani Satija (KS): I was born and brought up in Chhindwara ,a small town in Madhya Pradesh, got married to Akash Satija and settled in Nagpur since last 18 years. I am blessed with 2 kids and other family members.
Apart from studies I was always passionate about sports and had achieved Brown Belt in Karate. Running was something which I had never tried or thought to pursue as a sport. Before running, I was a regular gym goer and was more into weight lifting to acquire physical strength.
AG: Tell us a bit about your running background. When did you start? what was your initial experience like?
KS: I started running for fitness in February 2016 but took it seriously from November 2016. As with everyone, initially it was challenging for me to run for even 5 kms but gradually it improved. When i started running regularly I aimed for 21km half marathon which I achieved in February 2017 with a podium. Achieving this target made me more passionate about this sport.
AG: When and why did you join coaching with Team Motiv8?
KS: I always loved reading and in order to gain knowledge about running I started reading lot of articles and books in my quest for more information. I often got my answers on Facebook page of Team Motiv8. So finally, I decided to start with formal coaching and that’s how I am associated with Team Motiv8 since May 2018.
AG: Why did you decide to do the Khardung-la race, which even experienced runners dare not think of attempting?
When I visited Ladakh for my 21K half marathon in 2017, I went to the finish line to cheer for the Khardung-la challenge participants. I got mesmerized and impressed by the sheer determination of the participants. The way the crowd cheered for them and appreciated the efforts of participants I felt that this is something which I had been searching for and that day I decided to participate in this race.
AG: Is there any qualification for this race? If so, how did you qualify for this race?
KS: Participants must have completed 2 full marathons with a timing of sub 5 Hrs or a 70 km Ultra marathon. I did Vadodara International Marathon 2019 and Noida Marathon 2019 both under sub 5 hrs with podiums as my qualification races.
AG: How was the training like? Did you enjoy it? Any particular difficulties?
KS: There was a long base building phase leading to a race specific structured 12 weeks plan with speed, intervals, hills, strength, and lots of mileage. Yes I did enjoyed the training. However, the weather condition during the training was difficult and challenging.
AG: What special training did you do for this race?
I did lots of hill training with lots of mileage and worked on my body strengthening for which I took work out plans by Dr. Kevin Agarwal , and also worked on my endurance and focus. I did not follow any diet plan and took normal home food as after so much rigorous training it was difficult to control the taste buds. I Also followed a proper relaxation and recovery schedule.
AG: How many days before did you go to Leh? And why so early?
KS: I reached 10 days before the race day, for acclimatization to the high altitude conditions (less oxygen) which is very important.
AG: How did you spend your days before the race in Leh?
KS: In the morning hours I used to go for my practice runs and later went to the Shanti Stupa by stairs (560 stairs) and did my stretching there and in afternoon hours I used to wander in the markets for 5/6 km daily. In the evening hours I used to go to the highest points of Leh city like Leh palace, monasteries, and Shanti Stupa .This routine helped me a lot for acclimatization.
AG: How did the race unfold? What were some of the high and low points during the race?
KS: The treacherous 72 km race starts from Khardung village, climbs upto Khardungla top and then descends down to end at Leh city. The elevation gain is +1842 meters and – 2307 meters with temperatures ranging from -2°c to + 27°c and 50% of oxygen levels. These harsh weather conditions makes it important to have proper acclimatization hence I reached 10 days before race day.
On the day before the race, around 10 o clock in the morning we boarded a bus for Khardungla village, the starting point of the race. On reaching Khardungla we were allotted rooms, had lunch and rested for some time. Later around 4.30, a cultural program was arranged followed by a medical check up, wherein I was found fit and fine for the race.
By 7 pm, I had finished my dinner and while lying down on my bed I could recall my entire journey from a beginner runner to a participant in this incredible race which kept me awake and at 1.30am I got up and geared up for my final test of my strength and with the desire to give my best. I had breakfast at 2.15am and lined up for the race start.
The race started at 3 am and I finished the race in 13 hrs 43 min within the cut off time. This is an Insane, Incredible and Amazing race!!! It is difficult and challenging but not impossible. This was my dream run which kept me motivated and focused without getting any negative thought I completed the dream race.
AG: What was it like once you crossed the finish line?
KS: Crossing the finish line was a dream come true which will be cherished by me for my entire life. I could only think of thanking my family and you for all the guidance and motivation for helping me reach this goal of my life. I thank God for gracing me with the strength as I could maintain my self-motivation, discipline and focus which kept me going to achieve this dream run. I could proudly quote that this was an individual journey backed and supported by family which has made me emerge stronger than ever to prepare for the race called life.
KS: Do you plan to do this race again in the future? What are your next goals?
AG: Yes will definitely like to do it again. As for future goals, there are so many races in my mind but I have not yet decided which one.