La Ultra (La being the local word for mountain pass) / The High is the highest altitude ultra-marathon race in the world. It covers 138 miles (222-km) through the Himalayas, with a cut-off time of 60 hours, and includes the highest motorable mountain pass in the world. In the local Ladakh language, 'Rab' means god (which might explain some of the curious looks Mark got whilst mooching about town dressed head-to-toe in Rab kit!)
Entry to the race is via invitation from the race organiser, and this year there were 11 athletes who took part, each with their own support crews and support vehicles. Of the 11, 9 made it to the finish. Two scratched due to ill-health - one with stomach problems and the other with suspected HAPE (High-Altitude Pulmonary Edema).
The race begins at just below 4000 metres and climbs over a marathon distance to Khardung La - the highest motorable pass in the world - at around 5200 m. From Khardung La the route descends towards Leh at 3300 m over another marathon, before continuing over level ground through Karo and Upshi. Bad weather forced a diversion to the normal route, as despite high temperatures for the racers the second pass (Tanglang La) had had roads blocked due to heavy rains. The route diverted back from Upshi to Karo, before heading up an alternative pass to Warrila (just over 5000m), and finished during the descent, at 222km from the start.
Mark Hines teamed up with Justin (Jup) Brown, a Kiwi who had recently run the lengths of New Zealand and Japan. Both finished comfortably and in style, Mark having been delayed due to a lack of acclimatisation before the race, and both taking it easy at times to avoid the heat. Both enjoyed running together from the top of Warrila to the finish, pausing initially to recover from the effects of altitude, but soon able to gather themselves and run continuously. This was a particular relief as they had had to retreat from their nighttime ascent of Warrila due to a growing hail storm, strong winds and lightning, returning some hours later when conditions were safer and finishing the climb. Both those racers and their support crews worked well together, and far from being a triumph over adversity, the race became a genuinely enjoyable journey through stunning landscapes and with great friends.
Two female competitors had had to dig deep to battle through the pain of their blisters, and others had suffered with stomach problems (Delhi Belly) and other afflictions. One Danish competitor had even been hit by a motorbike during the first night section, after which he had been relegated to walk the remaining triple-marathon due to knee problems from the hit.[gallery link="file"]