Nupur Singh finds freedom in running in mountains

Nupur Singh finished five half-marathons on five consecutive days, each crossing a high altitude pass. Photo credit: Nupur Singh

She combines her passion for sport and the outdoors to go to places of unimaginable beauty, off the beaten track. Shrouded in modesty, it seems incidental to her that she has reached great heights. “I am an ordinary person who likes to run the trails in the mountains,” Nupur Singh, 30, says.

In the third week of June, she completed five half marathons over successive days at heights of over 4000m on the picturesque Manali-Leh highway. And, at once, the pocket dynamo conquered demons that may have occupied her mind after she had to give up last year, dizzied and having to deal with a headache, on the third day.

“After a fairly comfortable first day, snow brought along a different challenge on the second day. The mind over-ruled the body and ensured that I crossed the finish line that day. Indeed, what I attempted was not purely physical activity and it gave me great joy to be able to finish the five half-marathons, part of The High 5s,” she says.

“These are not regular runs. There is always a possibility that you won’t be able to finish it. Yet, your mind pushes you even when the body is weary. That is attractive,” she says, making an effort not to feel out of place in a bustling coffee shop in Delhi, her home for long before the call of the mountains drew her away in 2015.

For someone who had played basketball in school, sport vanished from her life once she signed up to graduate in architecture from the University of Pune. Her sporadic encounters with sport dwindled further when she took up a job in Delhi. “For six and a half years, I had a regular, sedentary but happy lifestyle,” she says.

A chance bicycle expedition with friends birthed a love for cycling. Photo credit: Nupur Singh

A switch in jobs in the winter of 2013 gave have a month’s break during which she went on a trek alone. “It was a really amazing experience since I had never seen snow,” she says about the new beginnings. “And that made me resolve to go on weeklong treks two or three times a year.”

The following year she bought a cycle and joined a few cycling groups. And when she heard her friends talk of a Manali-Leh bicycle expedition, she decided to give it a try. “There were just a handful of cyclists on the nine-day ride but that was one of the most stunning experiences.

“I loved every bit of it – riding on that highway, nobody in sight, you have to keep pushing yourself so hard. I fell in love with cycling there and knew I could go there any number of times. I was always an outdoor person and am truly happy when I am in the lap of nature,” she says.

After that experience in September, she ran the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon in November 2014. “I hadn’t run even 5km before but trained for a month and finished in two hours. I enjoyed that experience and thought I would do better if I trained myself. Running took over from cycling,” she says.

Of course, a few cycling trips followed. She recalls one to the frozen Pangong Lake in January 2015. She had planned to go on the Chadhar Trek but that got cancelled due to a landslip and flooding in the vicinity. “We had made flight bookings and therefore did a cycling trip to Pangong, instead. It was amazing as well,” she says, recalling that the temperature would dip to -30 degress Celsius.

Nupur continues to push herself to do tougher things. Photo credit: Nupur Singh

“Each time I was pushing myself to do tougher things, I was getting a better experience. And I realised that there is more I can do. I was enjoying it, too. A move to the mountains became imperative after I decided to join Vishwas Sindhu and organise endurance cycling and running events there,” Nupur Singh says.

“We set up base in the para-gliding destination, Bir – mainly to know what is needed in endurance events and to offer them to the competitors. Besides, I had the freedom to do what I want to when I want to and at a location I like. It was the perfect setting, with a peaceful ambience and yet connected with the outside world,” she says.

For Nupur Singh, running is more about the place. “Give me the trails anytime. I enjoy the different landscape that such runs bring along. City runs don’t attract me. Trail running connects me with myself as I focus on and experience happiness. The sound of birds, the sound of footsteps. It is just you and your thoughts,” she says.

When she changes to her running gear, slings a hydration bag on her back – a water bottle and a banana being essential elements in it – and sets off on solo trail runs to remote places around Bir, she finds people welcoming with a smile. “The people of Himachal celebrate what you do,” she says.

In her own way, she has inspired some young ones to take to running, a most healthy way to spend time in an area where drug abuse is prevalent. “Yes, there is satisfaction when some boys and girls feel motivated to join me in some of my runs. I know they are finding direction in their lives,” she says.

For someone whose tryst with the outdoors came as a break from the routine in 2013, she says she now feels complete when she is out in the lap of nature. “I know I can push myself harder. It makes me happy. But I am an ordinary person,” Nupur Singh says, clearly humbled by the enormity of the peaks that greet her.

You will, however, agree that the young woman who traces her roots to a very traditional family in Lalitpur in the Bundelkhand plains, gave up a wonderful, if sedentary, 9-to-5 job to be able to live her dream in the Bir valley, 1500m above sea level, is not quite an ordinary person.

Nupur finds satisfaction when youngsters feel motivated to join her on her runs. Photo credit: Nupur Singh

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