Runversation: The Mont Blanc at your feet
India’s Ambassador to the Republic of Tunisia Prashant Pise is one of a handful of Indians who have successfully completed the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc regarded as one of the most difficult foot races in the world.
Mont Blanc or the “White Mountain” is a symbol of human endeavour: known as one of the most deadly mountains in the world, its scale and difficulty has fascinated adventurers throughout history. Now, imagine having it as a backdrop for a race, throughout a race. You run in the shadow of Mont Blanc, you reach 10 summits, you cross rivers, glaciers and you run in three countries. Yes, three countries! Now, that’s a long run. This course itself has to be one of the most breathtaking settings for a race in the world.
The Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (also known as UTMB) is a trail-running event full of superlatives! A single-stage mountain ultra-marathon where participants run approximately 170 km with a total elevation gain of over 10,000 metres. Committing oneself to running around the Mont Blanc is above all to experience an internal adventure, a unique experience where each participant will have to draw from their strengths and push their mental and physical limits in order to cross the finishing line.
Prashant Pise is India’s Ambassador to the Republic of Tunisia. The life of a diplomat is a continuous blitz of meetings and travel. But behind those black-tie meetings, he lives another life — of an endurance runner. He is one of a handful of Indians who have successfully completed the UTMB.
On his passion for endurance running and completing the UTMB, he says: “The UTMB is to ultra runners what the Lord’s cricket ground is to cricket. The aura, the tough selection criteria, unpredictable weather, awe-inspiring peaks and gravity-defying descents make a heady combination that brings out the best in any runner. At 170 km long and 10,000 metres of cumulative elevation, over two nights in an alpine environment, it tests every runner’s grit, perseverance and mental strength.”
The UTMB is an extraordinary trip at the heart of the massif and an alpine décor which is unique in the world. To the non-runner, it seems a bit unlikely that people should do this sort of thing.
But for many runners, the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc has iconic status, appearing on countless bucket lists. If Ironman triathlons became the “what’s next?” after the marathon in modern society, this call of the wild — namely running freakishly long races through ungodly mountain ranges — appears to be what comes after that for those who like to challenge their physical, mental and emotional limits. A bureaucrat’s life is usually about chauffeur-driven cars with beacons, a host of support staff in attendance, a big bungalow and an office spacious enough to live in. Who wouldn’t want to have all that? Well, Prashant Pise wanted something more. Like taking time out for training and participating in gruelling races. And it seems to have been worth it.
“I went through my highest highs and lowest lows but ultimately came through as a transformed person when I crossed the finish line,” Prashant says. “The joy of representing India was incredible as there are just a handful of Indian ultra runners at the international level and just a couple of them at the UTMB, which is rightly described as the Mecca of ultra-running. I feel fortunate that I could finish this legendary race twice.
“In many ways, it was a journey of self-realisation; knowing my potential as a person, of what I could achieve if I was determined to endure pain and hardship. No amount of money will buy the sense of achievement and satisfaction you experience when you cross the finish line,” he recalls.
That’s what the ultra is: start at the beginning, keep going to the end and then stop. And be very proud of yourself.
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