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No mountain too high for ultra man

india Updated: Jul 25, 2013 02:22 IST
Robin Bose

While in high school, Alex Kaine saw a future in distance running. But his hopes were cruelly cut short. A spate of injuries led him to look elsewhere. The body wasn’t willing but Alex (36) didn’t quit. It was a quirky mix of good and bad that led the desire to bear fruit two years ago.

His relationship with pessimistic medics went a long way, and another link was added to the chain when he was diagnosed with gout in his left big toe. Surgery happened and along with it came the news that he could never run again. But Alex ignored that. He resumed training and the birth of son, Atreyo, steeled his resolve to prove a point.

Building dreams
“I wanted to set an example for Atreyo to go ahead and chase dreams,” said Alex, fatigue written all over the chiseled face, after winning the arduous 222-km La Ultra — The High on Tuesday.

Hailing from Phoenix, Arizona, the arid conditions, of course the elevation back home is much less, worked to his advantage, but the route to glory wasn’t easy.

Blessed with a lithe physique, Alex’s self esteem took a knock when he repeatedly ran out of breath while climbing the hotel steps to his room on the fourth floor.
Acclimatising in Leh was tough. “I kept running but did not hit K-Top (Khardung La top, the highest point at 17,700 ft) till the seventh day.”

Starting off in near darkness, the full moon did not help — such is the impact of the Karakoram ranges on the topography — but he was quick to leave a mark on the treacherous stretches.

Coming into Leh, he had a staggering lead of over two hours. But soon after symptoms of altitude sickness surfaced.

All alone
A break was essential, Alex swi-tched off for three hours but fell behind. He mustered courage to resume and within 40 minutes regained his slot.

Though weak, sticking to processed baby food — blended blue berries, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, energy bar and gels — helped him stay up but it was loneliness that pained. Thinking of his wife, of Indian origin, and Atreyo, kept him focused.

Winning the Lake Tahoe (in Nevada) elevation race last year helped him qualify for La Ultra. Alex finished in 39 hours and 10 minutes but the timing did not hold — the organisers hadn’t bargained for the early arrival and were yet to set up the finish line in Serthi Village. Eventually, it was revised. (see results box).

“You shouldn’t mention this, it won’t make for good copy,” said Alex. Maybe not, but what will make for good reading, especially for little Atreyo, is that the man chased his dream, and won.