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Run The Rann – ultra running on ancient trails in India’s biggest salt desert

January 20, 2015
Sea of Salt. The desert ultra race Run The Rann in Gujarat, India (21, 42, 101 & 161 km) has natural electrolytes provided. But start forgetting your water, not looking where you step, leaving the marked trail and you will end up thirsty as hell, bitten by a snake, stepped on by a 500kg buffalo or shot by the border patrol.

Sea of Salt. The desert ultra race Run The Rann in Gujarat, India (21, 42, 101 & 161 km) has natural electrolytes provided.
But start forgetting your water, not looking where you step, leaving the marked trail and you will end up thirsty as hell, bitten by a snake, stepped on by a 500kg buffalo or shot by the border patrol.

Are you up for a true adventure? Bare in mind, this is not a foot race for the weak at heart. Whether you’re listed for the 21K, the 42K, the 101K or the 161K course you will need to watch where you put your feet, hands and bum. Black Mambas, giant monitor lizards with massive claws and fierce scorpions will undoubtedly spice-up the experience – if the local food hasn’t done the job.

On February 6, the brave runners will embark on a grueling trail run through vast salt marshes, sometimes impossible trails with unforgiving cacti and potentially, hidden quick sand. Runners will be circling the arcane ruins of Dholavira, one of the largest, grandest, most advanced metropolises of the Indus Valley Civilization. Set against the silver-white landscape of one of Earth’s most scenic salt deserts, which is frequented by a plethora of migratory birds, the Great Rann of Kutch, the event kicks off on a gorgeous full moon night.

Saw-scaled viper. One of the species causing most lethal snakebites in the world.

Saw-scaled viper. One of the species causing most lethal snakebites in the world.

The race circumnavigates Kadir Bet, an island in the salt desert Great Rann of Kutch in the Gujarat region in western India, some 30 km to the Pakistan border. This place is too far from the travel loving crowds. An inhospitable terrain with cracked mud lands and thorny shrubs around you will never come across the typical sand dunes and mirages. But the vastness and emptiness of Kachchh attracted race director Gaël Couturier to organize an ultra running event in one of the remotest regions in modern India.

– This is the place where you can spot at least a few of the critically endangered White Backed vultures. The weather here is very tricky with unbelievable rates of evaporation – probably highest in the world. Dehydration will be with you throughout even if you try rehydrating yourselves with plenty of liquids.

"This desert is so tough that even scorpions don't survive." Race Director Gaël Couturier.

“This desert is so tough that even scorpions don’t survive.”  Race Director Gaël Couturier .

Of course, for a typical tourist there is nothing in store at Khadir. However the remains of the ancient (2650 BCE) city of Dholavira, the cradle of Indus Valley Civilisation, attracts some tourism. French outdoor sports editor Couturier, an ultra runner himself, has completed UTMB 4 times and Marathon des Sables 5 times. He liked the idea of an ultra event far away from the outer world.

– The travel from Rapar, the nearest town to Khadir, will teach you what loneliness is. It is almost a straight road – you can see as long as your eyes allow you and you may feel lucky if you see a vehicle or two pass your way. But the people of Kachchh have adapted to their land. When the surroundings becomes dull and gray, the people become colourful.

Run The Rann takes place February 6-9. Distances: 21, 42, 101 and 161 km. www.runtherann.com

Photo credits: Gaël Couturier, Uphill EMG

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