Sunday, November 03, 2019

A 100 Miler that was not to be, but so what

Sat 02 Nov 2019.

It's almost a month now since my maiden attempt at running (walking, crawling) a 100 miles (161 km). But alas, it wasn't meant to be. For me though, it was never about just the day, the race, the event; not just sour grapes, I really don't mind. I cherished the experiences I had - the training runs with my running buddies and group/community leading up to the event and the 27-odd physically and emotionally draining hours I was out there on a tough trail at the event.

Here, I'd like to shed some light on and document two things - the amazing training that gave me confidence in even attempting what for me was a pretty audacious goal, and two, the event day(s) itself. Along the way, the wonderful people who enabled these fantastic 7 months for me is really the key thing.

Our base training went from March through May 2019 - 3 months of 2, 3 and 4 hour runs (LSRs on Saturdays). Running with our community Runner's High, and within that, our JLBR (for the uninitiated, the Jobless Long Boring Runners :-)) buddy group, was just great.

A freak injury to my left knee tendon occurs when stretching one evening; Dr. Ranga quickly equips me to deal with it. 
The really long training runs began after that from June to Sept this year. There were so many learning's along this journey; for example, a key one for me - I found that the initial 6 to 8 hour training runs were really difficult, especially when running alone and at night! For example, in the first week of July I had a 6 hour evening/night run. I started in Cubbon Park at 6 pm.. was actually quite depressing - our beautiful Cubbon Park looks really different after daylight; mostly, some random people lurking around corners and bushes with questionable intentions had me nervous at times :-). I jogged back towards my home via Ulsoor Lake at 8pm.. Dilshad and the (wonderful!) kids were waiting for me with curd rice et al which I gobbled up and then continued running in the smaller lanes around my locality. My kids even cycled along with me for an hour or so, and then I shoo-ed them off home to sleep. It then felt a lot harder and around 11:20pm I just quit the run, with 40 min still to go.

In mid July I had an 8 hour evening/night run; it happened to coincide with the Stadium 24 hour run that Sharath - so successfully! - completed. I ran on the inner roads within the Kanteerava Stadium premises (with, I suppose, the security just assuming am another idiot doing some absurd warm-up or something). Dilshad spent an hour or two with me that evening, which helped a lot. After 10 pm the place got kinda deserted, and I found myself mentally distracted and not enjoying the run and the process... I did somehow force myself to complete that 8 hours, and wearily drove back home well after 2 am. By then, I had mentally quit the whole thing, rationalizing to myself this isn't for you buddy, you've done enough! The next morning, a long winded message to my coach Santhosh attempted to communicate this to him. That evening he called me and we chatted for a few minutes; I don't know what magic spells he concocted and dispelled through our GSM network, but he guided me back onto the path! I was willing to try again. I feel that's perhaps the huge takeaway from doing these things - one can go from 'no way!' to 'yes, I shall do it' with the support our families and running community provides.

With Ambuj and Sudhir
So, around rolls 3rd Aug and, ably accompanied by the JLBR gang (Sharath kindly started at 4 am with me that day), I take on a 10 hour run at Pipeline Road. Of course it got tough at times, but hey, I think I had turned a corner - it felt pretty great overall!

As Dilshad can attest to, there were low points; after the rest of the gang left at around 11 am, I continued and Dilshad came in with some food at 12 pm.. When I saw her I felt like this was too much and did some drama. But then I ate, felt better and everything kind of reset; the remaining few hours passed without incident.

Pipeline Road
A week hence and an 8 hour for me at night at IIMB followed - good company from the gang kept things going (relatively) well. Mani accompanied me the last 2-3 hours, pushing me to maintain pace!

The peak weekend in late August was quite a thing: 12 hours at Decathlon, Sarjapur followed by 6 hours the following day. Santhosh and Krishan paced me the first 4 hours that Sat.. I recall Santhosh saying you have a full day of work, go to it! with a smile.
Krishan, Santhosh and me

With all the support, I did indeed, covering close to 80 km that day. Mani came in - after flying in just that morning ! - and ran with me for 6 hours... we had a lot of fun.
K and Mani
RH art at Cubbon Park
A huge boost was my Dad and boys coming to Decathlon at 2 pm (i was running until 4). The next morning, a funny incident: Dilshad accompanied for about half of my 6 hr ... after she finished, at about 9 in Cubbon Park, we decided to have some idli's as the mobile canteen near Press Club. It seemed, at least to me in my mentally fragile state by then, that the person serving was ignoring me and only serving others; after a bit, I actually started yelling at them! Later, rested and embarrassed, I wondered what had hit me; the fatigue is my excuse.

Nandi Hills
A 6 hour at Nandi Hills on 14 Sept pretty much wrapped up the season; what a fantastic run! With nearly all the gang there, I really enjoyed it.

Nandi Hills

The Eco Ultra, Sat 05 and Sun 06 Oct 2019

Hectic preparations - with Vinay, Shiva, Nanda and Dilshad being the core support team (how spoiled I am!) are going on... The day before the run Vasudha kindly meets me and drops off Mani's icebox (nope, no beer), etc. Race day dawns; the venue is Machohalli (!) Forest, a forest area just off Magadi Road, a little outside Bangalore.

Dilshad and I arrive by 0530 and we kick off just after 0600. It has rained heavily the previous night and the 4k loop is all trail, with about 160 feet of elevation. To my mind, it felt like the Auroville trail, only harder. I do enjoy trails so I was happily off, though I did register that, man, it's not really an easygoing trail!
It got really hot that morning; around 5 hours into the run and I had a bit of a headache, unusual for me... curd rice and other food and drink helped!

The trail was pretty slushy too, so getting a rhythm going was hard to do, if not impossible. Still, it was enjoyable running out there... legs were still fresh enough!
Just before the start

By around noon though, about 7 hours (and about 43 km) in, I started getting some pain behind my left knee. Unfortunately, it got progressively worse and really hampered me much later.

Sudarshan turned up to cheer me on; was really nice to see him, thanks mate.

Dilshad ran a few laps with me!

Santhosh had organized batches of our JLBR folks to pace me at different points in the run (he himself, along with Nanda and others were on a Himalayan trek)! First in, at 1.30 pm, Ravish and (VC!) Sudhir arrive and we run together. After close to 8 hours alone it's a big relief to have them run along with me. We chat, joke, laugh and the time and miles fly by? No, they do not 'fly' by, they gently pass by :-)

Vinay, me, Ravish and Sudhir
50 km took close to 8.5 hours to cover... by another 3k (and 9 hrs from the start) my watch battery died out and I just stopped tracking the run, couldn't really be bothered. 

After the heat of the morning ominous storm clouds build up and sure enough, around 2.30pm for an hour or so, torrential rains give us respite from the heat. It did help; of course, everything's a trade-off right: the trail was now filled with huge puddles of muddy water, slush and even made us wade through the water several times. I recall my socks and shoes being completely soaked, then drying in the heat after the rains and then the whole process would repeat in a couple of kilometers. Fun, huh 😑 :-)

Slushy trail
The only way out is through
By evening I was feeling the fatigue... my race 'captain' Vinay, wanted me to speed up and run another 4k lap before the course route changed at 6pm (until 6 am on Sun); so, in an astonishingly fast 32 min or so (eye-roll) I covered it with Sudhir's able guidance. That earned me a stretch from the physio and some food!

 This was a really good phase for me - the guys kept me engaged and I could still run.

Necessity is the mother... myself and Sudhir! Pic credit: Ravish!
I looked forward to my parents along with my kids and FIL coming in to cheer me up! They took longer than expected, what with Bangalore's (in)famous Sat evening traffic, right. Nevertheless, they got there and I was really glad to see all of them!
Sheroy with me

Vinay, Dilshad, , Sudhir

Darkness helped me realize how tired I was really... :-) still, good company kept me in good spirits and we pushed on. The trail was now a 750 m out and back (thus 1.5k 'loop'), the terrain was more even. No lighting, so we used our headlamps or torches. Actually, this was something nice about the event - no lighting, no music, no hoopla, no artifice - just us and nature.

Chandra and Krishan relieved Ravish and Sudhir by 8.30 pm. By now I was getting really slow and the pain in my leg had intensified... so am sure I wasn't great company to them. Dilshad and the rest of the family had left by then but my speedy bro Darius was there for the night!

Running with them again lifted my spirits; we joked around, ran and walked the night. Krishan, Chandra and Darius pushed me to run more (with Vinay pushing them!) but I couldn't manage too well... we even got Mani on concall from Europe and he cheered me up around 1 am! Seriously, these guys are just too good! I did keep eating and drinking water/electrolytes but it got harder to digest of course. I got a much needed 1 hour break between 3 and 4 am, I lied down a bit, couldn't really sleep. But it helped... (at this point I had hit around 98 km).

The amount of support I had was not just fantastic, it actually felt embarrassing at times! Other runners just stared in shock and envy... :-)

By 4.30am, I was on the move again, now with Ramya and Ambuj towing me along! They did a seriously great job nudging, goading, pleading and pushing me along, Ramya being the more verbose one! It helped, it all really helped... Reaching the 100k mark while still dark was a nice thing. Another thing I had really looked forward to - running through a whole day 24 hours (something I haven't done before) and seeing the dawn of a new day, I cherish that moment! I asked Ramya to take a pic of the rising sun, here it is:

Rising sun 2nd day; pic credit: Ramya

With Ramya
With Vinay and the others pushing me, I somehow managed to (mostly) keep at it, although very slowly, for a few more hours...

With Ambuj

Vinay tries! Benji ties!
I cries (and sit, eat :-p)
By around 8 am, the pain in my left leg felt a bit too much; Vinay did his level best to have me pick up the pace and run, but... I just couldn't move very well..

Dilshad was back at the venue, and when I, in a mentally fragile state, rounded the corner and saw her at the start point, I just lost it. As Santhosh has correctly pointed out, ultra running strips you of your ego completely and one is left in an emotionally vulnerable state. It's a high nonetheless and something I feel privileged to have experienced.

With Dilshad, physically and
emotionally spent
(Y'know, even while I write this, am keenly aware that my friends are right now running the tough and beautiful Malnad Ultra; that's Sharath, Ravi, Sudhir, Ravish, Ambuj, Ramya, Kavitha, Nanda, Benji!, and Chandra, Mani, Santhosh, Krishan polished off a 7 hour traipse at Byalkere early this morn. Wow, what privileged company, am so thankful).

By 8.30 am on Sunday the next pacer set were ready - Ravi and Benji! but sadly, I wasn't. Dilshad somehow convinced me to go out again (wives, seriously :), so after a nice hot pongal (the food was good!), Ravi, Benji, Dilshad and I started out again. Alas, it wasn't to be: I did plenty of drama, lied down on the ground after a really slooooow kilometre, and then just refused to budge after a bit more. Dilshad patiently suggested several options, one of which was that I can rest for a while and then go a bit further (the cut-off was 5 pm) not bothering to finish the full distance; in hindsight, I should have; but that's just it - in hindsight. At the time, I gave up... covering something over 112 km in something over 27 hours. Still, I met two sub goals - running over a 100 km and running for over 24 hours.

 I still feel bad that I let down my amazing support crew, pacing / JLBR buddies, family and well-wishers (the ASHA donors!); they kindly brush this off and say it's fine. My Coach says don't get caught up in the distance/time trap, you did well; I choose to believe him :-)

The only way out is through
The only way out is through
The only way out is through
As one of my running buddies has quite correctly said: ultra running can be a selfish business. Saying "Thanks" to all those who helped me so much doesn't quite convey the half of it; nevertheless, a BIG THANKS!! Especially to my loving family to allow me the space to do this. I wish I can continue to live this amazing life doing these awesome journeys.