Preeti Maske, who recently set a record for cycling from Leh to Manali in 55 hours and 13 minutes, recalls her unforgettable experience and how it’s never too late to discover your passion.
Preeti Maske, a resident of Pune, took up cycling at the age of 40, after she developed a series of health problems — anaemia, hormonal imbalance, and PCOS. Thanks to these, she always felt like she lacked energy, she recalls. “Whether it was my office work or at home, I lacked the stamina. I would feel tired. I couldn’t sleep well at night.”
But undeterred by these roadblocks, the 45-year-old has proven that it’s never too late to change. This year, she set a record as the first woman to cycle solo from Leh to Manali in 55 hours and 13 minutes. According to the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) and Maske herself, she has achieved a Guinness World Record for the 430 km distance.
Sharing a video of Maske, BRO said that “55 hours & 13 minutes is all she needed to cycle from Leh to Manali, approximately 430 km. The ultra-cycling effort in high altitude terrain, with reduced oxygen availability, speaks volumes of her tenacity and determination. World Ultra Cycling Record successfully attempted.”
Fit at 40
“I was a National-level hockey and basketball player when I was in school, but I stopped playing sports as I grew up,” Maske recalls.
“When I had children, I enrolled them in sports in school, and in 2017, participated in a running race for parents at my son’s school. The coach then told me about an Enduro obstacle race, which involves cycling, swimming, and running. I asked him, ‘Do you think I will be able to take part?’ He replied in the affirmative. I didn’t have much practice, but I came second. After this, I continued cycling and running.”
She says that eventually, her health started improving. “My mind was diverted and I was feeling positive. My body started improving. I used to feel breathless even walking from the hall to the kitchen. As I started feeling good, I learnt about long rides and started participating in them,” says Maske.
Even though she had competed in several rides before this, the Leh to Manali one was still a challenge, due to the weather conditions. She says she faced many roadblocks due to snowfall, headwinds, and low oxygen levels.
“There are six passes on this route. I had practised riding up a particular route and it had taken me two hours. During the actual ride, it took me more than six hours due to strong headwinds. There was heavy snowfall in Baralacha La (4900 m) and we had to take a break at 1 AM. I had 15 people with me, including nine BRO members, who helped me a lot. We had three oxygen cylinders and I had to use them in places like Baralacha La,”Maske recalls.
“In Baralacha La, BRO members and my other crew noticed a car parked at 1 AM. There was a man inside who was extremely low on oxygen. They saved him with the cylinders we had. That was an unforgettable experience, and increased my respect for BRO,” adds Maske.
She says that without the BRO and her six crew members, she couldn’t have achieved this feat. She breaks into a smile as she remembers the moment she finished the ride.
She has started new businesses too, including a cycle manufacturing company and an adventure company. She has partners and manages her time in between her cycling expeditions to do office work. It’s all about smart work, she says.
Besides setting the record from Leh to Manali, Maske has run four Full Marathons, 30 Half Marathons, and two Ultras. She achieved a group world record for fastest completion of cycling a distance of 3,773 km from Kashmir to Kanyakumari in 17 days, 17 hours in December 2019.
She also cycled the Golden Quadrilateral 6,000 km in 24 days and achieved a record in March 2021. She has cycled from Nashik to Amritsar, earning the Super Randonneur title and says she is the only female cyclist to have completed the 1,600 km route.
“For many women like me, once we have children, our focus is on work and home. We have to do everything at both places. But it’s important to carve a path for myself. When I started cycling, I used to cook early in the morning before leaving. I started at 40, when most people are at their mid-life crisis. There is no right or wrong age to start anything,” she adds.
Maske now wants to do a Leh-Manali run, cycle from East to West (Arunachal Pradesh to Gujarat) 4,000 km, and plans to cycle from India to Singapore in January.