BENGALURU:Bengalurean Taher Merchant is the first Indian male to complete the Everest Base Camp Ultra Marathon 2018 in over a decade. The 60 km Ultra Marathon that took place on May 29, is known as the world’s highest ultra-running event, with the trail passing through five high Himalayan passes. Taher completed the run in 19 hours, 15 minutes and 10 seconds.
Taher, a 35-year-old businessman, says it’s been an incredible journey, one that he had been dreaming of. “The feeling is great, but it’s still sinking in. When I returned, my entire family – parents, wife and two daughters – were at the airport to receive me with a banner that read, ‘You did it’. It was an emotional moment,” he says.
Taher took up running five years ago when his wife wanted to run at a stadium near their house to lose weight. “On the third day, I started to realise how running gives me joy. It has become a way of life now for me,” he says. What did he do upon reaching home? “I ate biryani,” he says with a laugh. “I was eating cauliflower and noodles in the mountains every day, I was tired of mountain food,” he says.
He says he could complete the trail by assessing one situation at a time. “Initially, I was thinking only about reaching the start line, as I had never trekked before. Also, I if I had even a simple fall, I could have gotten kicked out of the marathon. So I took it slow and completed the trek from Lukla to the base camp in 11 days,” he adds. The group, with over 200 runners and 20 runners competing the Ultra Marathon, then rested for two days at the base camp before starting the race. Taher recalls how challenging the experience was. “After 11 days of trek, my legs were already tired. The temperature was minus six degrees. I had to stay focused and watch my steps carefully, as one fall could kick me out of the race. I had a target – to complete the race in 10 to 12 hours – but plans don’t always work. In the evenings, it started snowing heavily. There was an option to take a break at a lodge and continue the race with a penalty of four hours. I decided to take it as my health is important. Hence, I completed the race in the 17th spot – the first eight being from Nepal as they are more adapted to such rough conditions – in 19 hours, including the penalty,” he says.
Over the last two years, Taher has run over 12 full marathons in almost every state in India – from Ultra 60 km runs in Ooty to full marathons in Ladakh. “I was looking for more challenging trails after the Ladakh run. That’s how I came across the Everest Base Camp Ultra Marathon. Under the guidance of coach Pramod from Jayanagar Jaguars (JJ), one of the oldest running groups in the city, I began training early this year. I used to wake up and start training around at 4am for six days a week to complete the mileage of 100 km in 10 days. On weekends, I would go for longer runs, about 25 to 30 km. We made a plan for the training and started practicing more seriously in January,” he says, adding that mental and physical strength were the most important part of training, as that kind of terrain – uphill and downhill – is not found in Bengaluru. “I couldn’t have managed this without my family and coach, who directed me. Participating in a run of this magnitude is madness,” he signs off.