Crash Course In Ultra Running

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I am not one of those guys who plan a lot. In fact a lot of who I am today isn’t a bit according to the plan. Life has been a string of chance encounters and impulsive decisions. Be it quitting a sizeable business after a quick chat with a stranger at a filling station or, riding solo 4000 kilometers across the Himalayas on a beaten up bike. Why? well… because I can. That being said, impulsive decisions haven’t meant half-hearted efforts or giving up easily. Rather, decisions have (almost) always been pursued to perfection like heartfelt grief, with the chaste of honest prayers.

Running a 76 kilometer ultramarathon in the Himalayan foothills was one of ‘those decisions’. Made at a chai shop over steaming momos and a chance sighting of a poster with a call to action for the Garhwal Runs.

I haven’t been much of a runner in all these years. In fact, I try to substitute running with skipping, as I really don’t like running empty distances much. However, the Garhwal Run was a qualifier to the LaUltra which I am really psyched about due to the difficulties it poses in addition to ultra running. It is a 111 km long race, run at an average mean sea level of 14000ft, in temperatures below freezing – justifiably known as the cruelest ultra on the planet.

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Barely Running! Still going strong. 

50 days prior to the event, I started training. A 5km run uphill made for a good start. In less than a week I graduated to running my first 10kms uphill under an hour. Since there wasn’t much time to train, I had to push myself to run a distance of over 21kms under 2 hours within the first 10 days of training. I never knew that this much endurance was already within me! Running a half marathon became a habit and I sustained it for almost the entire training period, coupling with a rest day or two each week. A fortnight prior to the race, I even ran a 30k and marathon distance on consecutive days. This was just to instill some self confidence.

I was a bit nervous before the race, though. This was due to two reasons. First, I had lost almost 7 kgs in training so I wasn’t feeling very strong. Second, I was going through a rough patch emotionally – if you’ve run distance, you’d know how the unoccupied mind can mess with your motivation and emotions. However, there I was at the start line, 6am in the morning on 14th of February – ready to take on the world.

The first 10kms drifted while I chatted with my running buddy Praveen. Then the road began to climb up and Praveen glided out of sight. It was ‘straight uphill’ from there both, physically and emotionally, as thoughts started filling my head and blood pumped into the calves. I endured for the next 15kms and halted for my first snack break at the 25kms mark reached in under 3 hours. I vowed not to halt before completing the marathon distance. But stop I did, when I caught up with Praveen again and decided on a quick five minute laze on the roadside.

The marathon distance was covered in five hours. The next 10kms were straight downhill, and here lied the crux of the race. At the 51kms mark, we lost all the altitude gained in the last 6 hours of running. However, I being the overconfident hare decided to nap for half an hour. This turned out to be a huge blunder. The body cooled down and all the muscles stiffened. In a matter of minutes my entire self was writhing with pain. It took a great deal of effort to get back on the road again. The next 5 hours and the last 25kms were some of the most torcherous moments of my life. I ran a bit, walked a bit more and crawled to the end – finishing second last, in 11 hours and 42 minutes.

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Salt settled on my skin. The ethereal pain sublimated into the cosmos. And all was good, again.   

There was no glory at the finish line, only the luxury of time to attend to our injuries. What might remain once this body has healed, is that faint feeling of satisfaction of having made it to the end. And the knowledge of qualifying for the LaUltra. Finally!

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