New Delhi: Under Armour Athlete Sufiya Khan, a world record setter for long-distance runs has now become the first female runner in the world to complete the run from Manali to Leh. Sufiya started her ultra-marathon ‘Himalayan Ultra Run Expedition’ on September 25, 2021, at 7.34 a.m. She concluded her run on October 1, 2021, covering a distance of 480 km in 156 hours, amid the difficult terrains and ruthless climatic conditions, reaching up to 5328 m altitude and gaining 8200 m elevation throughout the expedition. The temperature dipped between 0 to -5 degrees and oxygen plummeted by 60 per cent on mountain passes.
In 2018 Sufiya quit her airline job and started running as a means to relax and de-stress. She took part in multiple marathons and races. In the year 2018, she broke a national record by running the Golden Triangle — 720 km — in 16 days. In 2019, she made the record for the fastest time by a female runner in the “Kashmir to Kanyakumari” category and in April 2021 she became the fastest female to run along “The Indian Golden Quadrilateral Road”. She currently holds multiple world records and continues to explore what her body is capable of. She credits a big part of her success to wearing the correct gear provided by the sports brand. She believes it has not only enhanced her performance but also safeguarded her from injuries along the way.
For the run, themed ‘Push Your Limits’ both, Sufiya and Under Armour aimed to encourage athletes to push their limits, move out of their comfort zone and take up challenging tasks in their fitness journey. From everyday athletes to the world’s best, the brand has been committed to equipping focused performers to strive and push their limits. After supporting Sufiya to power through her recording-breaking Kashmir to Kanyakumari run and Indian Golden Quadrilateral Run, the brand continued to contribute to Sufiya’s constant pursuit to move beyond the ordinary and push her limits with her recently concluded Manali to Leh run.
Commenting on her impressive feat, Sufiya Khan said, “I trained myself in the mountains and lived there for 15 days to acclimatize myself to the extremely cold weather and low oxygen levels. Along with physical fitness, I focused on my mental fitness, which plays an important role when it comes to a run that is set to push one’s limits. Under Armour has been a huge support in my journey throughout, and has helped me prepare for this run whether through its gear or encouragement. I am sure with this achievement both, Under Armour and I would be able to encourage more athletes to push their boundaries and unlock their potential.”
The Himalayas are tough terrain, and the route from Manali to Leh requires acclimatization, how did you manage this feat?
A: No training is enough to be ready to run on this route. It was not just a run but was also about survival. I acclimatized myself there for almost 15 days before the run. Apart from that, I focused on strength exercises during my training days to tackle the high mountains and never-ending incline roads. Yoga and Pranayama helped me make my lungs stronger. I had a very good support team with me taking care of my needs during this run.
How does it feel to be the first female runner to complete the Ultramarathon?
A: It feels great to be the first female to attempt such a feat. I was a little nervous before the run because it was my first time running on such terrain. Moreover, I heard stories from locals and Army Personnel about this route when I was acclimatizing there, that due to high altitude and lack of oxygen, many people lost their lives even when they were travelling by vehicles. However, I prepared myself mentally for this grueling expedition. When I was at the finish line, I was surprised that I survived and happy that I am the first female to complete this run.
The most gruelling stretch, the most beautiful stretch and the best view?
A: The grueling stretch was after Sarchu, The Gateway of Ladakh Valley. After entering Ladakh from Himachal Pradesh, there was no road for almost 10 km. It was all dust and heavy pollution due to trucks, road construction machines and I had to run through that stretch. There was no other way to cross that part. It was at a high altitude, so due to less oxygen, I was unable to wear a mask. Post this stretch, the Ghata Loops (21 hairpin band roads) started. I experienced real hell that day.
The most beautiful stretch was after Rumtse village towards Leh. Purple and red Mountain structures and the Indus River made for a stunning view. It was my last day when I was running through that stretch.
The best view was from Tanglang La pass. On one side it was Moore Plains, Debring and big show mountains and on the other side, it was Purple Mountain structures of Upshi and the stunning Ladakh Valley.
You are a two-time Guinness World Record holder, are you glad that brands like Under Armour are recognizing lesser-known athletes like yourself and giving you a platform to get a little closer to your dreams?
A: I am associated with Under Armour for almost two years now and it’s been an honour. I draw a great deal of inspiration from their philosophy. The brand’s core values resonate with my own and push me to give in my very best. I believe together we can push the limits of human potential and further encourage and motivate every budding athlete to push their boundaries and step out of their comfort zones
Its world-class gear and apparel helped me to improve my performance in my game.
Five major passes or 60 per cent oxygen levels, which is harder?
A: I will say 60 per cent oxygen level is harder. With a low oxygen level, it is very hard to even walk on plains. Because you can easily train yourself for high elevation, but it is hard to train for running in low oxygen areas. I acclimatized myself very well before the run but still faced challenges. I fainted twice due to low oxygen levels. There was a time when my body oxygen level dropped to 59 per cent and I fainted. I was running and suddenly was lying on road. But my support team helped me recover quickly and start the run again.
How big a role does mental fitness play in preparing for something like this?
A: It was all a mental game to complete such a task. High passes, bad roads, low oxygen levels and harsh weather challenges you every single mile from starting to end. If you are mentally not ready to face such things, then you cannot even survive for one day. The human body is designed to survive in extreme conditions, so all we have to do is train our minds. If your mind gives up, then your body will not even drag for a step. I was mentally strong for those gruelling conditions, so my body kept moving ahead. However, physical fitness is equally important to prevent injuries.
What’s next on the cards?
A: There are many projects in line in the coming future which I will reveal soon, but my biggest project is “Running around the world”. I want to circumnavigate the world by run and I am preparing myself for it.