| Participants of the Great Tibetan Marathon negotiate the rugged Ladakh terrain in Leh on Saturday. In all 250 took part in the race which began at Hemis Gompa and ended at Spituk. (PTI)
Leh: Young Indian runners cashed in on home advantage to upstage their foreign rivals in possibly the world’s toughest marathon in the rugged landscape of Ladakh here on Sunday.
Indian Sonam Angdus, 21, and compatriot Ishey Lhamo, 20, emerged as winners in the men’s and women’s sections, respectively, in the inaugural Great Tibetan marathon run on the outskirts of Leh bordering Tibet.
Runners from Denmark, Norway, Spain, Australia, New Zealand and India competed for top honours in the 42 km event in a test of endurance and stamina.
With no prize money on offer, the event is not designed to attract top runners but those who regard running as a lifestyle.
Besides the marathon, half-marathon, 10 km and 5 km competitions were also held.
Danish runner Gunnar Ebbesen, who had also participated in the Great Wall marathon in China, highlighted the runners’ difficulties. “There are 3,560 steps on the Great Wall that you have to cover and that’s very hard,” said Ebbesen, at 73 the oldest competitor in the fray.
“But the difficulty here is the thin air and that’s why my wife and I chose to run the half-marathon. We were cautious as we’ll be running the Berlin Marathon next month.”
Australian Mari-Mar Walton said this marathon was tougher than that in China.
“I don’t mind steps, so I found the Great Wall easier,” the 35-year-old said. “This was very tough because of the altitude. Breathing was a problem. But it was an extraordinary experience because the landscape was fantastic.”
Danish runner Peter Fredberg said ahead of the race that the marathon was going to be the toughest ever run because of the high altitude.
“The start is at 3,800 m above sea level and the finish is just 400 m lower. In between, the route goes uphill as well as downhill over very rough terrain,” said Fredberg, a sports writer and veteran of 90 marathons.
The marathon had a picturesque send-off from the courtyard of Hemis monastery where two monks blew into goths — the huge tubular horns used in Buddhist ceremonies — to signal the start. “We want to make the local culture part of the event,” said race director Michael Andersen of Planet of Endurance, a Danish company that organised the event with Mountain Adventures of India.
The route, from the ancient Hemis monastery to the Spituk monastery, took the runners over sand, stones and swampy ground. India’s Phuntchok Dorjee and Sonam Spalden claimed top prizes in the men’s and women’s half-marathon, respectively.
Henrik Jorgsen of Denmark won the men’s 10 km event and New Zealander Martin Kay the men’s 5 km race.