Sky is the limit

Tania Roy
Tuesday, 3 September 2019

Pune-based ultra marathoner Ashish Kasodekar completed the 555k La Ultra —  The High in Ladakh recently. Here’s more about his inspirational journey

From 15k to 555k in five years is a phenomenal journey. Pune-based ultra marathoner Ashish Kasodekar has accomplished this feat. He completed 555k in 126:18:00. “I always believe in doing different things,” says Kasodekar, continuing, “I started with a 15k run in 2014, and now in August 2019 I have completed the 555k La Ultra — The High in Ladakh.” Talking about the “cruelest marathon in the world”, he says, “At such high altitude, the air is thin and has only 50 per cent oxygen, so it is difficult to breathe. Temperatures can vary from minus 10°C to 40°C. The runner has to reach an altitude of 17,500 ft five times in the race. There are 14 cut-offs. And of course, the distance is huge.” 

However, Kasodekar had the required level of fitness because he has always been interested in sports. Playing basketball from his school days, he says, “My first love will always be basketball. I am also into cycling.” He did his first 42k at Ladakh Marathon in 2015, followed by the Khardung La Challenge (72 km) in 2016. In 2016 and 2017, he took part in the Comrades, an ultra marathon of approximately 89k, in South Africa. “2016 Comrades was an emotional journey for me as I couldn’t complete the race within the cut-off time. But I learnt from my failure. I changed my dp to ‘Keep calm, 365 days to go’, which I kept till next year’s Comrades. In 2017, I finished the race 40 minutes prior to cut-off,” he says and smiles.    

The 555k was organised for the first time this year. Having completed 10 years, the La Ultra organised its X edition — 555k this time round, which had five participants and Kasodekar was the only Indian to finish the race. The other two finishers were from the USA and Australia. “La Ultra has different categories, including the 111k, 222k, 333k. I took part in 111k in 2017 after which I was inspired to do 333k, and now 555k. Ultra marathons are more of a mind game,” says Kasodekar, who decided to take part in the 555k four months prior to the race and his positive mindset took him to the finish line. 

“Running on fresh snow is not tough but it becomes hard and slippery when vehicles pass through it. That said, you can’t push yourself in Ladakh because the air is thin. The cut-off at North Pullu comes at 4 am. It was snowing heavily then. There were DNF’s (Did Not Finish) because of fatigue and bad weather. However, when one of the race organisers asked me how I was doing, I said: ‘Awesome’. If you have a positive approach, things do get easy,” he says.        

Kasodekar prefers training solo. “I practised 100k runs, starting from Pune at 8 pm and reaching Panchgani next day at 10.30/ 11am. I also did my training runs at Sinhagad with temperatures hovering around 35-40 °C to withstand any kind of variations. You also need to overcome sleep, so I would run 40 km during the day, then go out for a walk at 11.30 pm and come back at 2 am to sleep for fours. But of course, I would take power naps and that helped a lot,” he says.      

The 555k is a personalised event, which makes it a good experience for runners. “Comrades has 25,000 runners whereas the 555k had five. At the La Ultra, the volunteers know you by name. All along, they cheered for me,” says Kasodekar who believes that ‘no human is limited’. “Initially, I would wonder how people run such long distances. But if an individual sets his mind on something, s/he can do anything. For me, running is a passion and running in the Himalayas— under the blue sky, white clouds and amidst pristine nature — is like meditation,” he adds.   

And he has done it all by himself; he does not have a coach. “More than a coach, you need to understand your body. Every body is different, so you need to analyse and know your capabilities. For that, you need to spend time with yourself,” he rightly points out. 

A major part of the training involves clean food. Kasodekar’s nutrition consists of traditional protein-based meals. “I think homemade Maharashtrian food is very nutritious. Along with it, I also had chicken and mutton soup and eggs too,” he says. During the 555k, he also had sattu. “I had sattu (in the liquid form) for the first time. It is very nutritious. My dietitian Swati Chandrashekhar had suggested it,” he says. 

For the 555k, the crew is allowed to assist the runner after the first 87 km. “Arvind Bijwe was my crew chief and the rest of the members included Venkatesh Kashlikar, Sushil Dhende, Amit Kasodekar, Hari Dammalapati and Swarupa Bhadsavli. The race is also expensive, so I had to go for crowdfunding but when people put in money, you have a lot of pressure,” says Kasodekar.   

Now that he’s just back from La Ultra, races are not immediately on his mind. But he is gearing up for Simple Steps, a running event he has been organising for 2-to 15-year-olds for the past few years. “This year, we are organising it at Savitribai Phule Pune University on November 10. At Simple Steps, 2-to 4-year-olds run for 100m, 4-to 6-year-olds run for 1.5 km, 6-to 9-year-olds run for 3 km, 9-to 12-year-olds run for 5 km, and 12-to 15-year-olds run for 7 km. It’s a fun event but we also give the participants bibs with integrated timing tags,” he informs.

Of late, running has picked up big time in Pune. However, Kasodekar says that it will take a long time to have a running culture. “The number of runners is increasing but to have a running culture, you need people on the road to cheer them,” says Kasodekar who runs a travel agency, Edge Over Holidays, and is soon starting marathon tourism.

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