As a school boy, he was very weak. He used to fall prey to malaria every year. He was lean and had a very fragile body. Having been host to a parotid tumour which required four surgeries, the boy was the very definition of human fragility. Those who watched him in those early years would have baulked at the very thought of the title ‘ultramarathon runner’ someday adorning his name.
Now, he’s 43 years old and after having successfully attempted the greatest run in Indian history, Arun Bhardwaj has set a new target. The only Indian ultramarathon runner completed a run from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, a length spanning more than 4000 km, within 61 days, one more than his target.
Arun came upon the idea to undertake this run after reading a sign put up by one of his friends. The sign read ‘From Kargil to Kanyakumari, India is one.’
Having stormed through all topographical scenarios possible, Arun ran for one purpose: to unite India. To him, India was a country that had come nowhere close to fulfilling its potential; it was a country going through its worst phase since independence; it was a country that was home to some of the most unwanted elements. And yet, Arun also knew that India was a country that firmly believed in one word: hope.
Arun started his Kargil to Kanyakumari run, dubbed ‘K2K’, on 1 October 2012, and promptly ran into all kinds of weather as he kept moving forward. He consumed nearly 12 litres of water a day, and to aid him in his magnificent run, he had a 10-member team for support. Recognised for his virtually infinite stamina, Arun made it through some of the country’s highest mountains such as Taglang La (17,480 ft), Lachulung La (16,600 ft), Baralacha La (16,050 ft) and Rohtang La (13,050 ft) where the temperatures are always at sub-zero levels. The health problems that come with this kind of challenge were far too inferior a topic for his mind to process. His skin blackened due to the cold and yet he pushed on, hoping to inspire as many people as possible.
“I had some difficulties at the high altitudes due to the terrain and the lack of oxygen. I would start panting after 10 km. Yet I maintained a target of 50 km per day,” Arun said, as though that were the simplest of tasks.
“This is basically an inspirational run across the country for Indians. Hopefully it will inspire every citizen and send the message that there are no limits,” Arun would go on tell TOI.
On the inspiration behind his run, Arun said, “I started running when I was 30, after my daughter Zola was born. I wanted to inspire her. No one in my family has ever played any sport.”
“There is nothing much to it; (I) just wanted to prove that Indians can also do such high endurance activities. It is the faith that you have in yourself. If you believe in yourself you can do anything and anyone can do what I have done.“
With similar words of wisdom, the UP-born Delhi resident spoke to children across the way. He gave speeches on the toning of the body, on the diet that’s needed to be fit, and on how to develop and encourage that inner mental strength that counts the most when it comes to attempting challenges such as these.
Facing challenges and overcoming them is something Arun is used to, though. In 2009, he took part in the George Archer 6 day race, a gruelling 567 km run in South Africa that has stumped many a runners. If earning international recognition for his feats in South Africa wasn’t enough, Arun, in December of 2010, ran 186.4 km in 24 hours in Kolkata, and in the process shattered his previous best of 177 km in 24 hours. His exploits in South Africa earned him an invite to the Badwater Ultramarathon held in Death Valley, California, an ultramarathon widely regarded as the “toughest organised race in the world”. True to form, Arun participated and finished the race on his first attempt – a monumental feat considering the difficulty level associated with the race. All in a day’s work for this Delhite.
He kept his head held up throughout his run and refused to be stopped by any group or individuals along the way. If anyone wished to interview Arun during the run, the interviewer was asked to run alongside him and ask away. Throughout his run across the country, Arun attracted like-minded individuals; many would run alongside him for some distance, but few could ever imagine completing the mammoth task that Arun had set for himself.
Arun’s employers, the Planning Commission, have supported him throughout his runs. They frequently give him time off to train and travel without a whiff of a complaint. And that’s just as well, because standing in the way of a man who wants to inspire people across a diabetic-infested country would be viewed as a crime by man.
The importance Arun has given to his body, his mental temperament and his overall development for this challenge is testament to the cliché that for humans, the sky is truly the only limit. After all, none of us are defined by our limitations; we are defined by our potential.
On November 30th 2012, Arun reached his destination, Kanyakumari. It was his 61st day of continuous running and he ended his journey with his family meeting waiting to welcome him at the last stop. Arun took a dip in the waters and immediately immersed himself in prayer, surely thanking his faith and the faithful for giving him the energy he needed.
As he celebrated his feat, he had no intentions of ending his passion, and has now promised to take on two further runs.
“My next mission will be to run from Arunachal Pradesh to Gujarat, followed by traversing the Golden Quadrilateral,” says Arun.
From one run that has ‘nothing much to it‘ to two others that will continue to inspire people throughout, Arun Bhardwaj isn’t going to stop until he realises his one true dream: to unite the country.
“The theme of my marathons is ‘One India,’” concludes Arun, and you can’t help but be awed by his passion.
(All videos obtained from Arun Bhardwaj’s official YouTube channel, which can be viewed here).