S’porean mother, 47, braves through cold weather & high altitudes to complete 42km Ladakh Marathon

She believed she could, so she did.

Syahindah Ishak | October 15, 2023, 05:13 PM



Running a 42km marathon is no easy feat.

Imagine running that distance at 3,505 to 5,370 metres above sea level with low oxygen levels.

A 47-year-old Indian-origin Singaporean woman did just that, reaching the finish line with slightly over an hour to spare before the race's cut-off time.

On Sep. 10, 2023, Mrudul Iyer completed the full Ladakh Marathon, an annual long-distance running event held in Leh, Ladakh, in the northern part of India.

Image courtesy of Mrudul Iyer.

It was her first international marathon, and her fourth overall, which makes her achievement all the more impressive.

The Ladakh Marathon is unofficially dubbed the "world's highest" marathon.

Majority of the participants are natives who are already acclimatised to the cold weather and high altitudes.

Even then, not all of them are able to complete the marathon.

So how on earth did a Singaporean, whose body is used to running in 30°C heat with 80 per cent humidity, reach the finish line?

Well, Mrudul's journey began long before she even stood on that starting line.

Image courtesy of Mrudul Iyer.

Journey to the starting line

The beginning point

Mrudul isn’t a professional athlete.

With two teenage daughters, she juggles motherhood and her full-time career as a yoga teacher.

Speaking to Mothership, Mrudul said that health and wellness has always been her passion, and she credited her parents for being major influences in her life.

"I used to always see my mom doing some form of exercise as I grew up. So that's where the whole thing started. My father also used to do yoga with me when I was nine or 10 years old."

Mrudul and her parents. Image courtesy of Mrudul Iyer.

Some time between 2007 and 2008, Mrudul picked up running as a way to keep both her body and mind healthy.

It was the perfect activity for the mother of two young daughters. She liked that she could pop out for a quick run around her neighbourhood before coming home to care for kids.

But back then, she only ran 5km to 10km, and occasionally participated in races.

The running, however, eventually took a toll on her body.

Mrudul had to take a break in 2010 due to a knee injury.

She already had stitches around her kneecap from a bad fall when she was young. The years of running only made things worse.

Mrudul visited doctors and physiotherapists, all of whom gave the same advice.

"They all advised me to not run anymore."

Overcoming the first hurdle

Even though running was no longer an option, Mrudul continued her fitness lifestyle.

She took a yoga training course in 2012, where she learnt more about the human body.

"The body can heal itself if it's trained correctly. You just need to know what to work on," she explained.

So through yoga, Mrudul worked on her muscles and built up her strength.

Slowly but surely, she started running again, gradually increasing the distance.

In late-2019, at 43 years old, she decided to try something completely new.

"People say that after you turn 40, you can't really do much… I took that as a challenge."

For the first time in her life, she enrolled in a marathon — the 2019 Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon.

As a newbie, she went into the race with limited knowledge of what she was supposed to do.

She didn’t even have a single packet of energy gel with her, relying solely on water and isotonic drinks at the hydration stations.

And halfway through the marathon, she felt some pain in her knee, although thankfully it was the usual muscle aches one gets after hours of running.

Mrudul crossed the finish line despite all the small setbacks.

"It was an experience I thoroughly enjoyed. The cherry on top was crossing the finish line without a knee pain relapse."

Thus began her marathon journey.

Image courtesy of Mrudul Iyer.

Back on track

Mrudul continued running regularly.

In 2022, she participated in the Standard Chartered Marathon again.

Little did she know, that would be her qualifying race for the 2023 Ladakh Marathon.

There are six races in the Ladakh Marathon, each with varying distances.

Mrudul met the qualifying criteria for the full marathon, having finished the 2022 Standard Chartered Marathon in under six hours.

"I was joyful but also concerned when I found out that I was qualified.

Joyful because all the years of mind-body wellness practices had made me capable of being in the Ladakh Marathon, and concerned because how was I going to take my training to the next level and ensure that I finish the race injury-free?"

Training for a marathon takes months, and Mrudul knew she needed a head start.

In early-2023, she researched training routes within Singapore, mostly uphill, that would help her prepare for the Ladakh Marathon.

"On paper and in my head, my preparation plan was in place," she said.

But as she was about to begin her training, Mrudul received news that her father, who lives in India with her mother, was diagnosed with a life-threatening disease.

Jumping the next few hurdles

Mrudul had to travel between Singapore and India frequently for her father’s surgeries.

This continued even till August, just a few weeks before the Ladakh Marathon.

"There were a lot of moments where I thought of giving up [the Ladakh Marathon], especially after listening to what my parents were going through. Both of them were in India handling things alone."

Her training for the marathon had to take a backseat due to her constant travelling.

"I hadn't had an opportunity to really really train… I also had friends who kept telling me that I would be crazy if I still went to Ladakh," she said.

"This all made me rethink my decision.

As a mother too, I can't help but question… What was the need to do all this? I mean, I could just run a race here in Singapore. Why did I have to take up this challenge?

But this is my passion, and qualifying for such a challenging race was a thing in itself. Not attempting to cross the finish line would feel like an incomplete journey."

So Mrudul remained true to her initial goal and squeezed all the proper training she could in the two months before she flew to Ladakh.

"Luckily, because I had been doing yoga and weight training, and I'd been running constantly, it helped. I didn't have to start from scratch."

Mrudul flew to Ladakh in the first week of September 2023, her daughters' words echoing through her mind.

"Mama, no matter what, come home safe," they told her.

Mrudul and her daughters. Image courtesy of Mrudul Iyer.

Mrudul was almost immediately hit with altitude sickness when she reached her hotel in the city of Leh.

Her room was located on the third floor of the hotel.

"I started climbing the stairs. Very quickly, I felt like my heart was coming out of my chest. I had never felt my heartbeat that strong. My lungs were gasping for air. It felt like climbing 50 floors.

I remember thinking in that moment, 'How am I going to complete the 42 kilometres? What was I thinking?'"

Picking up the pace

If there's anything Mrudul won't do, it's give up.

She thought of her husband and her daughters who had to stay in Singapore due to their respective commitments.

"They had been very supportive of what I wanted to do. A lot of sacrifices have already gone into me coming to [Leh].

Deep down, I also knew that it's all about the mind. Once you train your mind, the body adapts. I knew that I had to stay positive and not give up because if I don't stand at the starting line, there was no way I could complete the race. Somehow, even through all these challenges, the light of positivity was still there."

Mrudul with her husband and daughters. Image courtesy of Mrudul Iyer.

Mrudul had also forked out a lot of money to be at Leh, including paying for her own flights and registration fee.

"If I give up, then everything would have just gone to waste," she admitted.

Mrudul gave herself some time to acclimatise to the new environment.

On her third day in Leh, she ran 5km with her running group and running coach.

While the first 100 meters were difficult, she eventually got the hang of it.

Her final training was a day before the race day.

"I maintained a comfortable pace, slow yet steady. There were many other fellow runners practising their run too, and the whole atmosphere was pleasantly beautiful.

My high for that day was completing 10km comfortably. This was a big confidence booster for me."

Mrudul and her running coach. Image courtesy of Mrudul Iyer.

Journey to the finish line

The Ladakh Marathon started at 6am on Sep. 10, 2023.

Mrudul and her fellow runners reached the starting line at 5:15am, warming up and mentally prepping themselves.

"With the best wishes from my family and friends, I stood at the starting line, said a little prayer, and the race started."

Mrudul's plan was to breathe through her nose, but the lack of oxygen prompted her to breathe through her mouth instead, causing it to feel dry.

As the race lets participants carry their own hydration, Mrudul was sipping water every few steps.

After a while though, she found herself fully immersed in the moment, enjoying the scenery around her as she ran.

"Running through brown and snow-capped Himalayan mountains, I was recording whenever I could," she recalled with a smile on her face.

Gif adapted from video, courtesy of Mrudul Iyer.

Image courtesy of Mrudul Iyer.

Image courtesy of Mrudul Iyer.

She also met many locals along the way, all of whom cheered her on.

Gif adapted from video, courtesy of Mrudul Iyer.

Gif adapted from video, courtesy of Mrudul Iyer.

Gif adapted from video, courtesy of Mrudul Iyer.

Image courtesy of Mrudul Iyer.

Image courtesy of Mrudul Iyer.

Mrudul said that midway through the race, her fellow male runners expressed their surprise to see her running at their pace.

"I was enjoying the run and thinking about how every experience that came my way brought me to where I was.

In that moment, there wasn't any doubt in me that I would cross the finish line."

And she did.

Mrudul crossed the finish line in five hours, 40 minutes, and 8 seconds.

Image courtesy of Mrudul Iyer.

Image courtesy of Mrudul Iyer.

"I teared up as soon as I crossed the finish line. What felt impossible on day one was now complete," said Mrudul.

Her friend, who had participated in the other shorter race, was there to shower her with hugs.

Mrudul with her friend after crossing the finish line. Image courtesy of Mrudul Iyer.

Mrudul also shared the good news with her family over a video call.

"They were all so happy for me, I was very happy. It was truly such an amazing experience — having completed the Ladakh Marathon. I'm just glad that I got to bring the medal back home."

Mrudul's father proudly holding on to her medal. Image courtesy of Mrudul Iyer.

Mrudul with her husband and daughters. Image courtesy of Mrudul Iyer.

"Age is just a number," Mrudul said, adding that everyone "should not put themselves in a box".

"Always find time for yourself, no matter how old you are. Go out. Try something. If you don't start doing, you'll never know."

Image courtesy of Mrudul Iyer.

Top images courtesy of Mrudul Iyer.