It was back in 2019 when my friend and I were discussing about this event, Solang Sky Ultra, that happens in a beautiful valley near Manali, The Solang Valley. Since we had already done 50k and 60k races so Solang Sky Ultra 60k seemed perfect to challenge ourselves. But then due to some unavoidable circumstances we could not participate in 2019 edition and then in 2020 Covid happened. Post that, even my training dropped gradually.
Fast forward to July 2021, I was planning my vacation and this thought struck me that why not go to Manali and enjoy the 30k category instead of 60k. Hence I registered for this event.
TRAINING FOR THE EVENT
Although I had planned to “enjoy” the event, but even for that you need strength in your body. So, I had to do some sort of race specific training. Till August end I sticked to my 10k training. In September month I shifted my training more towards strengthening the body and gaining easy miles. In the name of uphill training, I only had one long flyover and my ankle weights.
Hiking and steep downhill are not the only two challenging things about Solang Sky Ultra. The third and probably more important aspect is the altitude. For a guy who have spent almost all his adult life living at an altitude of 250-300 m, it looked like a bigger challenge. To cope with this, I tried two things. One, long very easy runs (as suggested by my friends and also by well renowned coach Eric Orton). Second, Yoga. I practiced sectional breathing and Yogic Breathing (not as much as I should’ve, but yes, I did practice it regularly).
To acclimatise, I planned to reach Manali one week before the event. Along with acclimatizing, I went for one easy run with a fellow runner (now a good friend) Mr. Rajat. Then I went to an easy trekking area, Jogini Falls with my wife (I’m a family man afterall, have to devote time to family too) and a friend, whom we fondly call Tyagi Ji.
It worked as a good warmup for my next training hike to Mt Patalsu. It is a 7.5km long trek with an elevation gain of almost 1800 m with highest point sitting at an altitude of 4200 m. I did it with another fellow runner, now a very good friend, from Netherlands, Ms Cocky. Who is, BTW, 56 years old.
This was probably the best decision that we both took. The experience that we gained here, helped us a lot during the event. My last recovery run was with Anshul, who was participating in his maiden trail running event. By the end of my “training” I decided to not just enjoy the run but to give my 100% and push till the very end. I even set a target of sub 5 hours(After discussing with our Guru ji, Yogi. I did not talk to Jagdish this time :p. Why? To know the whole story, read my Lake Marathon review). I was ready to take on the Solang Sky Ultra.
On the race day, I reached the venue one hour before the starting time(Thanks to Tyagi ji and Ashish who gave me ride in his car). It was cold, slightly windy and dark. I spent an hour waiting for the race to begin and planning my hydration plan.
Slowly, other runners started to gather and the race feeling started to kick in. Before we knew it, it was already 6:30. We all were at the start line, our race director announced that we’ll have to wait for 10 more minutes as there were few arrangements to be done. Finally after 9 min and 50 seconds the count down started and we were on our way.
I started with a slow jog to get into the rhythm and as it happens in every event, I got panicked and started breathing heavily. But based on my experience I knew that this too shall pass. Finally after 2km I was totally into the race, feeling the rhythm.
Our first climb was towards the Anjani Mahadev Mandir, we covered that quickly and enjoyed the downhill running on our way back. From the 4th km, a gradual uphill started with the route going on and off the tar road. The lead pack had already disappeared and the chasing group started to scatter too. I accompanied one runner for some time but he took lead after a while. Guys behind me were not too far behind either. I was trying my best to increase the gap from them and somehow I was keeping the guy ahead of me in sight too. I could manage to do this until I reached the Dhundi Bridge.
THE "MANDATORY" MISS:
The guy ahead of me had already crossed the bridge and I could see one more runner ahead of him. This gave me confidence and I could feel that I was closing the gap. Before I could go behind them, I saw two markers towards the trail which looked like a short cut for crossing the Beas River. I thought to myself that those guys must have missed the mark. So I continued towards the trail, thinking that this is my chance to close the gap or even overtake them.
I would have run 100m then a group of workers warned me that the route is closed and bridge is the only way to cross the river. I was shocked, the thought that I had missed the route at a very crucial point was killing. But I did not listen to them and continued, thinking that I might cross the river some or the other way. I even went down to river, tried to jump to few stones, got wet till my knees, but had no choice but to come back and run towards the bridge. I was feeling stupid and super irritated with myself. To add to it, I could see that the group behind me has already crossed the bridge and some 10 runners had overtaken me. I was pissed to the core, beating my hands in irritation. But I did not have too much time to waste, so I continued running while being pissed.
I had lost 10 crucial minutes in this stupidity. The guys who overtook me had taken a big lead on me. Now I had to chase them down. There was no other way. So I started climbing as fast as I could. One step after the other, and I kept telling to myself, “they will slow down and I will not”, “I will catch them at the top of the hill”. Finally they did slow down and I did not. I started overtaking them one by one.
By the time we reached the boulder section I had overtaken all but two. We three started playing pakdam pakdaai and eventually, while coming out of the boulder section I overtook them.
From here, I slowed down a bit and reached Beas Kund. Now I had the most talked about climb of the entire race, the Lady Leg, in front of me. I filled my water bottles, grabbed few dates and started climbing. I looked behind and one runner had magically appeared. He was quick on the uphill but I was confident that I will get him while going down. We both reached the top and it was time to dance.
I’ve always felt that running downhill is an art. It keeps you engaged and on your toes. One wrong step, one loose stone and the game is over.
Anyways, I started rolling down, heard a group of trekkers cheering. I greeted and ran past them, reached another aid station, crossed the river, greeted another group of trekkers and continued running in hope that I’ll catch one more runner. Thanks to the superb marking, I didn’t have to stop and search for the arrows. Those arrows led me to the base of Beas kund and to the same bridge that I had missed.
THE FINISH AND THE SURPRISE:
Now it was only tar road. I could not see anyone ahead or behind me. But I still had to push myself to finish before 5 hours. I continued my run with occasional walk. When it was only 2.5 km to go, I gazed at my watch, it gave me only 10min to complete the distance. I started running like crazy, the last one km(almost) was trail. I treid to pierce through the small rocks and dodge ditches to reach the finish line before time.
Just before 300m I asked for time and volunteers told me it was 11:33….I was like..arree saaalaa, miss ho gaya. I had missed my target, but I kept pushing till I crossed the finish line at 11:33:xx. The race was finally over I was happy to finish the Solang Sky Ultra in good time. I sat down, had some water, ate a little and started introspection.
While I was sitting, I heard my wife’s voice, which was strange because we had decide that she won’t be coming this time. But there she was making my video, I was surprised and happy. Those 4 mins were not bothering me anymore. She had made my day.
We went to eat something and I started telling her my race story. All of a sudden I realised…the race had started little late so I had actually finished under 5 hours. It gave me even more satisfaction. I finally finished in 4:53:50 at 7th position.