A Run for the Indian Army
"It Took 6 Days and 8 Hours to Cover 470 kms."
Sufiya Sufi, Indian ultrarunner and holder of three Guinness Book of World Records, recently took up a six-day long run, as a tribute to the Indian Army, for the occasion of Kargil Diwas on July 26.
"Till now I have made three Guinness Book of World Records. Kashmir to Kanyakumari in 2019, and then the Golden Quadrilateral (highway network connecting Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai) and then Manali to Leh. These were all records that challenge the human limit," she said.
According to Sufi, her desire to undertake this feat was born from the previous challenge runs she completed.
"I have felt, wherever I went for these runs, to the corners of India - the army there helped me a lot and I got a lot of support from them. And I learned a lot from them too!" she said.
She expounded further, "What generally happens is that we hear things, or watch things on TV, and those have a certain impact. And yet when you see the same things with your own eyes and experience them, that has a totally different impact. And somewhere, I really felt for their lifestyle - the way they live, and maintain discipline, and support and serve the people. And I thought that I will make one run, which will be solely for the Indian Army. Not for any achievement or record, but as a tribute run."
Kargil Diwas to her felt like an appropriate opportunity to make this tribute. However, other than being a feat that no human had attempted before, there were other serious challenges to running this trail as well.
"And so I planned to run from the Siachen base camp to the Kargil War Memorial - this whole patch has not been covered in a run by anyone before. So I did not know which routes to take. But they say that when you have the emotion, all these worries about difficulties fade away. I too was very excited for this run, as it was going to be a tribute to the army."
"I started on July 17, from the Siachen Base Camp, and completed it on July 23 at the Kargil War Memorial. It took six days and eight hours, and the distance was 470 kms."
According to Sufi, despite her training and experience in running on difficult and hilly terrain, she faced challenges that she was not expecting. "There were definitely many physical challenges. The run I undertook from Manali to Leh in 2021 had kind of prepared me for this run. So I knew what impact running on roads at high altitudes will have on my body - where the oxygen is low and the pressure of the wind so high. You have to put in 100 percent of your efforts."
"But when I started this run, I felt that this was even tougher than my run last year. Because this was a completely dry patch. When we travelled towards Leh and Nubra valley, there was still some greenery to be seen there. But by and large this patch was very dry. And I was not expecting that much heat, we were carrying jackets because we thought it would be freezing! But I had so many heat strokes and so much dehydration."
The roads on the trail are not ideal for travelling on foot, "People were amazed to see me running - they said 'we can't even manage a car ride on these roads, how are you running?'"
Not only were the heat and altitude taking their toll on her, she also mentioned that the day she started the challenge was the day she began menstruating.
"I started my menstrual cycle the day I started my run. That was a bit of a challenge. I am used to running when on my period, I have done it before, but it does tire you out sooner than usual. But when you've undertaken a task you are just focused on completing it. So these things have to be ignored sometimes."
"I covered almost 91 kms on the very first day."
Sufi recalls how every day was a matter of overcoming her physical exhaustion with sheer force of will.
"The second day was so challenging for me. My body was getting dehydrated again and again because of the heat… And the body temperature keeps fluctuating with your speed. You know what the second day of periods can be like."
"There was just one thing going in my mind - this is just a matter of a few days for me, but for our bravehearts, our soldiers, this is their daily routine. I had started the run with this very mindset - that when our soldiers go out for a mission - they go with a do or die attitude. So I wanted to give my 100 percent, I figured whatever happens, I will deal with later."
Though the run lasted for six days, Sufi began physically preparing for the challenge a couple of weeks prior.
"We went to Leh 15 days in advance so that I could acclimatise. We went to Khardungla and acclimatised a little, so that when I encountered high passes or high altitudes, my body could react accordingly and properly."
She said that training in such locations that India provides is far more beneficial for sportspersons such as herself, because "when you go out of your limit to challenge your body in any way, that is when you know what the capacity of your body really is. The advantage is that when you train in these places, and then go back to the planes - performing with those oxygen levels will feel like butter."
"The whole run, from the first day to the last, was challenging, everyday was a new experience." Every day had a different specialty," said Sufi. Maintaining that her motivation to complete this run came from the intention behind it.
And the Kargil Diwas was the best opportunity for that.