When you are young and face a challenge that seems unsurmountable, gathering your wits, resources and youthful strength of mind and body to overcome the obstacle seems natural. Does it remain the same when you are a sexagenarian, a woman and a single mother running the worlds highest ultramarathon, the Khardung La Challenge? Pushpa Keya Bhatt, the Mumbai-based 66-year-old ultramarathon runner and entrepreneur on Her Circles glorious list of Luminaries, proves that it certainly can. In 2019, when she was 63 years old, Bhatt attempted the Khardung La Challenge, which is set across 72 kilometres at a height of 17,852 feet above sea level. She finished the race but missed the cut-off by four minutes. In 2022, she took up the challenge again. This time, she surmounted every obstacle to finish this tough marathon, proving that neither age nor gender can ever stop you if you are determined to do your best, consistently. This is her story.Born and raised in Mumbai, Bhatts life took a sharp turn at a time when most people only start to get comfortable. She became a single mother when she was 40, and her daughter Keya was three years old. When youre 40, youre not exactly in your prime, health-wise, she says. She admits that she had a corporate job and a lifestyle that did not focus on her own health. The fact that she now had to take charge of her little family spurred her to care for her health better. Around the time she made this decision, her workplace got a corporate sponsorship to run seven kilometres at a marathon. That was the first time she ran a marathon.She retired around the age of 50 and decided to turn entrepreneur. She learned cycling at 60 and became a nutrition and lifestyle coach at 65. I have worked all my adult life. I was working from the time I was 17 years old. I had done more than 30 years of corporate work, and I felt this was a good time to do something different. So, I invested in my own venture. I decided to spend more time with my daughter, she says, while adding thats not all she did. I was looking for a challenge, and running was it. It fitted. She started with the Mumbai Marathon in 2003. In 2004, she did a half marathonand then continued to travel and run marathons across the world. I didnt have a schedule. I didnt have a group or a coach. I just continued. Slowly, over 10 years, she developed the confidence and stamina to do a full marathon. But there were pitfalls. My body wasnt ready for the move from half marathon to a full marathon, and I started getting injured. I decided to work on myself, got a physio and by 2018, I had moved away from the injury pattern. I enrolled with Daniel Vaz for an online customised training plan. It was after this that she did her Ladakh marathon. She has travelled to 23 countries and run in each, and ran marathons in New York and Berlin. Overall, she has run 11 marathons, 11 ultramarathons (including the Khardung La challenge twice) and other running events.The Khardung La Mammoth She Faced TwiceHer first attempt at Khardung La didnt go well for a number of reasons, Bhatt recounts. The first time around, I was doing quite well, but my watch died at 47 kilometres. And that didnt bode well, because I couldnt tell at what speed I was walking or running, she explains. This run is in such a remote terrain that there are no milestones or anything saying youve finished this much. There are only three or four cut-offs, and its only when you reach those that you know that youve finished a segment. That was a big challenge. I also had a backache, Id lost my water bottleall of that added to it. I was 400 metres away when they closed the time. I finished the challenge, but I overshot it by four minutes.But this was not the end for her. During 2020, she and other runners registered again for the Khardung La challenge, but it was cancelled due to COVID. When they announced the 2022 challenge, Bhatt says she was a little worried. The first time I did it, I was 63 years old. I was now 66, I had also contracted the COVID-19 Delta virus, and had to be hospitalised due to pneumonia in June 2021. All that was playing on my mind. She got the clearances she needed from doctors and started her practice runs. What also helped this time around was that she had a bigger community of runners to talk to. I knew that this was something I had left unfinished, and I had to finish it. Thats why I came back to it for the second time, she says.This time, the watch was not a problem because Id gone to buy the most expensive watch I could after the last time, she says with a laugh. Though I knew age wasnt on my side and COVID had posed a challenge, I went to Chandigarh first and went to Leh by road. This took us four days, and I ran about 80 kilometres of the way. So my acclimatisation was on point. This is not to say that the challenges were fewer this time around. A part of the challenge includes running in the dark on unpaved roads, and Bhatts eyesight isnt that good. I had not expected this, and I lost a lot of time, she reminisces. I kept comparing the last times data with this times, mentally. My mind was juggling these things and I realised I was lagging behind. I knew things were not going well.She explains that the last time around, she had taken a moment to eat a sandwich and some soup. This time, she skipped all of that and just kept going. I was so focused. I knew I had to just turn this around. By the time I crossed 40 kilometres, I was doing very well. When I reached the last cut-off, I had 22 minutes in my kitty. This gave me more confidence. I knew I had a fair chance. But most importantly, this time she had her daughter, son-in-law and a whole group of supporters with her for the last five kilometres. Crossing that finish line felt great! It was something I had never ever visualised doing. I knew I was doing the challenge and I wanted to cross the finish line, but it was very surreal when it actually happened. It took some time to sink in, she says.Preparing For The Toughest RunsRuns like Khardung La are very difficult and unforgiving. The terrain is tough and we can never replicate those unique conditions. But what we can do are long runs, endurance runs and hill runs. This is all we can do. And nutritionally, we have to eat clean and protein-rich foods. I cannot eat flours, sugar and I have to take in a lot of dietary fibre and protein. And of course, the sleep, rest and recovery cycle plays a very big role. Yoga has also helped me a lot, she explains.But the best preparation of all was the mental support she constantly received from her daughter. Shes my anchor. She always has my back. And theres that role reversal, so she thinks shes my mother also, Bhatt says with joy and pride singing clearly through her voice. She worries about me. She knows how hard I work to maintain my fitness levels. We have this very frank, open relationship. And I dont think this run would have been possible without the kind of family support I got from her, and her in-laws too. They were there during the most anxious moments.Bhatt feels the organic and supportive relationship she and her daughter share is partly a result of the choices she made as a woman and an adult. Calling it a tough and spectacular journey, she says that she was fiercely independent and stood up for herself at every turnfeatures that her daughter also picked up. More importantly, she drives the importance of self-care at home. If you are not okay, its never going to work out. You have to be your own priority, she says. Break conditioning norms, is one of the things I keep telling myself. We women are so conditioned to take the back seat. You think youre entitled to a very easy existence once you turn 60, and I dont think thats how life really turns out. I believe the older you grow the stronger you have to become, mentally and physically. You need to keep challenging yourself, you need to keep learning. Travel solo, meet new people, stay economically independent, and keep doing interesting things.