Woodland UltraHalf: The World’s Highest Race
Setting International Benchmarks in India
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This October, 2019 a group of 100 hand picked runners will run the world’s highest race (on foot). Starting from Kibber village in the fabled Spiti Valley of Himachal Pradesh (India), runners will climb up to the summit of Mt. Kanamo at approximately 19,600 feet (5,939 m above MSL), and return to the starting point, to finish the race.
Although a 21 km course (roughly the distance ran in a half marathon), runners will take about 7-10 hours to finish the race, due to the steep elevation gain and high altitude. It is for this reason the race is called the Ultra Half. A half marathon with the DNA of an ultra.
How Did The Race Happen?
A core group of athletes associated with 4Play has been embracing the ultralight movement since long. However, the movement was spearheaded among them when Pranav Rawat, along with Shekhar Singh and Bharat Bhushan, made the first independent crossing of the Western Himalayas. 950 kms, through 27+ high altitude, passes in 40 days. Linking the entire section of Indian Western Himalayas through one long trail. It is then, the idea took a firm seat within the community. And they started looking for ways to popularise it among a broader audience which has now started venturing into the outdoors in the country.
The earliest attempts in this direction can be traced back to 2015, when race director Sukrit Gupta ran the entire stretch of Pindari glacier trek in the Kumaon Himalayas, self-supported 80 Kms in 30 hours. While Pranav Rawat was exploring new trails and treks in East Himachal, independently since 2010. However, the race started taking shape when both Pranav Rawat and Abhijeet Singh made speed ascents on Mt. Kanamo (on separate occasions), to train for their upcoming projects. While Pranav Rawat took 7 hours and 50 minutes to complete the course, Abhijeet who went second bettered this time to 6 hours 20 minutes. Observing the developments at the 4Play Hoffice, Sukrit conceptualised the idea of Ultra Half. In consultation with a seasoned ultra trail runner Kieren D’Souza, the idea was refined over the course of a year. Notably, Kieren is also the Race Designer.
The race finally, can be the prime mover that really drives the idea home for the ultralight movement; among a bustling community of outdoor enthusiasts in India.
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Why Ultralight and Why 21 Kms?
The core idea of the ultralight movement is to be in the outdoors, with the bare essentials that one may need. Keeping the lightest weight on the back, so as to be able to explore the maximum terrain in minimum possible time. What this brings to the individual is less reliance on others, and savings in terms of expenses made on a project.
Given the explosion of the outdoor ‘industry’ in India, there has been a boom of commercial setups that curate outdoor experiences. While the economics of it is promising, commercial expeditioneering is definitely leaving a huge footprint on the environment. This could be minimised if people become more aware of the dynamics of their excursion into natural spaces. Even if everyone does not take up ultra light backpacking, acquainting themselves with the principles of it can make outdoor consumption more conscious.
It is for this reason that the highest ultra marathon is a 21 KM race. To make it accessible and appealing to a large set of athletes. And make them comfortable and confident with the doctrines of the fast and light philosophy. For instance, an agency lead trek to Mt. Kanamo takes anywhere between 6-9 days; whereas, at the Ultra Half the entire course of the trail will be completed in about 10 hours. Had this been made into a full blown ultramarathon distance, limiting it to a few ultra athletes, the movement would’ve again got restricted to a very small niche.
Who is this race for?
“Runners, Mountaineers and Trekkers.”
The Ultra Half is not just for runners. At the world’s highest race, the endeavor is to provide a common platform, a common proving ground to three communities that have a significant impact on the outdoors – runners, trekkers and mountaineers. While the members of each community have different skill sets, the common denominator is endurance. A key skill in any outdoor terrain, and for which the participants at the Ultra Half will be tested.
Sustainability at the world’s highest half marathon
As with any event of the scale, waste management is a mammoth task. However, this has been given special thought with reference to the Ultra Half. The race collaborates with a reputed organisation in the sphere of sustainability to plan out how waste generation can be reduced to a bare minimum. Secondly, the collection of all waste at the end of the event. And lastly, the proper disposal of all collected waste. Which includes segregation and recycling.
Keeping the above tenets as core, participants will be able to notice the absence of PET water bottles at the event. Runners will be required to run semi supported, with hydration packs which can be refilled at each aid station along the way. This is also in sync with the ultralight philosophy of minimal carbon footprint with each outdoor excursion.
Accelerating the community in India
Will the Ultra Half be the toughest half marathon? Well, every race is tough in a sense of how much the athlete pushes himself/herself at the event. The Ultra Half has been conceptualised not in competition with, but as a supplement to the nascent community of ultra and trail races in the country. There is a growing community of distinct running events dotting the country; from Malnad Ultra in the South, to Run The Rann in Gujrat, The Chambal Challenge in Kota, to the Himalayan Crossing and LaUltra in the high Himalayas. All of these running events are unanimously trying to showcase the India out of the cities, as well as introduce runners to the discipline of trail running and adventure running. It is in this spectrum, that the Ultra Half fills the gap for an initiator. A race that captivates the attention of one and all, and even establishes some easily recognisable and obvious benchmarks in the international circuit by creating a half marathon world record.
Team (Design, Safety, and Documentation)
The world’s highest race brings together the best of the best to create a truly world class racing experience. The team is the core of the Ultra Half.
The race is directed by Sukrit Gupta, a co-founder and Vision Lead at 4Play. With a thorough experience in executing complex events as the Screwed Up Festival – India’s first frozen waterfall climbing festival, and producing many high wire acts at 4Play, Sukrit brings plentiful of insight and experience to the table for extreme sports event production.
Race Designer Kieren D’Souza is a renowned ultrarunner, who has represented the country several times at the Trail World Championships and elite running events as UTMB, Eiger Ultra, Spartathlon and the like.
Risk and Safety
The risk and safety at the event is managed by Pranav Rawat. One of India’s leading outdoor personalities, Pranav recently became the first (with 2 others) person to traverse the 950 kms of Western Himalayas, independently in 40 days. He is also a UIAA (United International Alpine Association) certified Himalayan Alpine Guide and a Wilderness First Responder.
A cricketer and sports person himself, Vaibhav Garg officiates as the race nutritionist. Vaibhav’s repertoire of work includes advisory to the SFL (Super Fight League) and IPL (Indian Premier League).
Film direction at the Ultra Half is taken care of by Prashant Bhatt. Currently, India’s leading adventure filmmaker, Prashant’s breadth of work ranges from BASE jumping films to Big wall rock climbing. A grand prize winner at the IMF Film Festival, Prashant brings sharp storytelling to the world of adventure films.
Overseeing the shutterbugs at the race, is India’s leading adventure photographer – Abhijeet Singh. Showcasing at the KIFF (Kathmandu International Film Festival) and with works published in magazines as Alpinist and Gripped, Abhijeet is creatively drawing the world’s attention to India and his lens.
The race manager at the Ultra Half, is the key entity in the team. Capably officiated by Shantanu Negi, the race is in good hands. A digital marketing professional, Shantanu is reshaping the rules of how the digital audience engages with the outdoors. He is the backbone of digital interaction at 4Play, and brings his deep experiential insight to the race’s management.
The Ultra Half boasts of working with a select group of brands and organisations that are leaders in their space. And have readily extended their support to bring to life, our vision.
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