Friday, November 28, 2008

Bangalore Ultra 08 – Is the running getting dirty?

*Legs, after the run Photos courtesy - Anita & Manjula
The Bangalore Ultra 08 happened on the 16th Nov. And for a second time, I ran a distance of 75kms finishing strong in 11:04:20. I was exhilarated at the finish – the finish was so much like the kinds that I had been dreaming about for the last few days.
I was left with some 26mins to finish the last 3.5kms to be able to come in under 11hours. I realized I could only do this if I ran most of the distance that was left, still trying not to think of a possible crampy finish. I ran the flat stretches, walked the only uphill and kept a steady slow pace till I saw the 1km mark. I walked a bit trying to muster strength to take me to the finish line. As I entered ONV, I stepped up the pace and sprinted to the finish. I was exhilarated.

And that is where the similarity ends between the Ultra this year and the Ultra last year. And before I get into the worry-beads let us talk some mundane matters.

Although I had trained much better this year, (including my own kanakpura marathon and a 50k at GKVK), it was not the best pre-marathon preparation. My cousin’s wedding on Friday ensured that I was kept on my feet all day and a college gang reunion of sorts on Saturday left no room for the resting rituals.

The Ultra long day
3:30am: Mom heated up some milk, while I frantically search for my heart rate monitor, in vain. Dharam offered to pick me up at 4 and I join Bhasker, Rajesh & D in trying not to get lost on our way to Our Native Village (ONV). We reached there with a good hour to go for the 6:30 start. Paid a quick visit to the ‘Asha tent’ just outside ONV – the tent was well stocked (all down to puliogere rice!) to support Santhosh who was on his way to complete a 24h run. Read his run report here and come back if you think what I did, still matters.

6:00am: My Super-nephews wish me luck
Extra dose of Vaseline – check
3 Gels on person, 3 more in the bag – check
15 Endurolytes in 3 packs – check
Water bottle – check
1 pack of sunscreen – check
All other stuff in the bag, stuffed and zipped up – check

Tring tring – damn, what timing. I cursed under my breath as I rummaged through my stuff for the darn phone. Damn, does it have to be in the pocket my jeans and does it have to be first thing that I put into the bag!
Its my sis, and I say “Hello”. At 6 in the morning and totally out of the blue, a very sweet sleepy voice replies; “Hi Manoj, All the best”. It is my champion nephew, Rishabh. He's only 6yrs old, but he already knows a thing or two about competition – last week he had won a Gold and Silver (and with that a Championship Shield half his size!) at the Karnataka State Roller Skating Competitions. Aryan, the younger brat also added his wishes to mama! When I was down, out and alone in the 5th lap, their wishes flashed in my mind and I ran with them, for them for awhile. I owe a lot to those brats!

6:29am: Lap 1, 12.5kms in 1:30:34h
I was still greeting many of the familiar faces in the 50k, 75k & above category in the semi-darkness and before I knew it, the race had started. I had set a personal target to finish each loop of 12.5k in 1:30hours, reaching the 75k in 9hrs. The plan was to walk the uphill and run the flat and the downhill sections at a steady pace.
I was tempted to begin to walk as soon as I was out of the resort, the path was an incline, technically. Athreya and Nischal were ahead right from the start and I made no effort to keep pace. Rajesh (of the Jaago re fame) had decided to stick with me since we were targeting similar lap times. We had reached the half way mark on time and finished the loop bang on target. Sabine was at the finish line, her usual shrilly scream egging us on.

8:00am: Lap 2, 12.5kms in 1:32:45h
I had started my regular intake of gels and endurolytes – alternating between the two every 5kms or so. Pretty uneventful lap this one, just that the distance was covered in about target time.

9:33am: Lap 3, 12.5kms in 1:36:18h
Loop 3&4 were the crucial ones; for me because I seem to have a cramp threshold around 30k, for Rajesh because we were approaching his max distance limit and it was important the weather remained as overcast as the early hours had been. There was still a possibility of the sun coming out with a vengeance.
We were accompanied by Anita Bhargava on this loop. Her partners from the previous loops having ditched her, she was looking for some slow runners to keep her company. She kept our mind off the running during that loop. She was strong, despite her nagging hamstring injury she went on to finish her 50k.
We had passed a struggling Nischal and a very upset Dharam. But Prats had taken off, she was on her way to the podium finish – 50k in 6:07h, way to go!!
With 3kms to go to finishing this one, we caught up with Santhosh. By this time, he had done nearly 17hrs of running. It is difficult to describe such tranquil. I passed him many times during the 11hrs, never once did I see the calm leave his face. It was as if he was above all pain and suffering, above anguish and agony. I don’t know about Godship, but am sure this came very close.
Santanu had gathered a mini army around him and we all ran together for a few kms. By the time we finished the third loop, Rajesh and I had built a slack of 10mins.

11:09am: Lap 4, 12.5kms in 1:58:32h
By the start of this lap, my big-toe nail had begun to throb, but I had settled well into a good rhythm of run-walk; perfect because the uphills were well spaced to give me long running stretches and well-timed walking breaks. I was with Jugy when we passed the 42k mark somewhere near waterstop3. Some 5:20h for a marathon distance, but with 33k still to go, 42.2k was just another milestone – it came and went. Rajesh was a minute behind me when he finished his 50k in 6:38hrs.

1:09pm: Lap 5, 12.5kms in 2:14:32h
I took a good 10min break before starting out again on the by-now lonely trail. I needed to put on my knee support and at the baggage counter, Shantanu was godsend. He helped me take off my shoes to put on the knee supports and helped them back on. Taking off shoes has the potential to jeopardize the rest of the run, you could pull anything. Thanks mate!
This was the slowest loop, intentionally so, if I may add. If I could get done with this, I knew there would be no looking back. And with more than 5hrs left, I had begun to feel more relaxed and lazy.
On the first walking break, I passed Nischal walking back on her 4th loop. She had a swollen foot, serious injury was suspected. She was heart-broken and understandably so, she had trained hard for this day.
At the U-turn, there was one man who was about a km behind me - Sunil. I have run with Sunil for a couple of years now mostly at the Bangalore Hash. Some girt that man has! Despite being nearly twice my age, he maintained pace with me right through till the very end.

3:22pm: Last Lap, 12.5kms in 2:11:39h
I briefly ran with Santhosh and Doc on this lap, but they were way too fast for me. Santhosh was into his 21st hour and he looked very strong! I turned around at the 6.25k mark, and met Sunil exactly where I had seen him on the previous loop – he was making the same pace as me! It was after the 4k waterstop that I got my nth wind. I looked at my watch with 3.5kms to go. I had 26mins to make it under 11hours. Only one way to make that possible – run most of the distance. Luckily the return leg has just one uphill, I could do it if I ran the flats and the downhills. I ignored the last water stop and ran a short way uphill (I had never done this in any of the loops so far). I took a walking break at the 1k to go mark, I needed to finish strong.

5:34pm: The Finish
I am proud of my finish. I picked up pace after the last water stop and kept it till I reached the entrance to ONV. As I turned in, into the resort I steadily stepped up pace and sprinted (well, almost) to the finish line. I have never finished any race that strong (SCMM 08 comes close thou)
A minute later I looked at my watch, I still had a minute to go to 5:30. I thought I ran it under 11hours and was delighted.
The official results had mysteriously added 4mins :(

Time to wash some dirty legs:
About why Ultra ’08 was a small step backwards
(some of this may be ‘doc’tored, rx with a handful of salt)

* Lack of enthu build up on the RFL site. Even during the last week, there was hardly any excitement on the site. A far cry from the training, diet, pacing discussions of last year.

* Running legends missing in action – Madhu was down with flu for a long time throwing suspicion on his participation. We missed Sabine’s shrieks on the trail, Doc was not running with RFL (&RFLers??). Meghana & Suds were absent. The whole volunteering ecosystem of last year was missing, where we had volunteers just pacing some runners in the last laps; how cool was that!!

* Manipal’s angels were missed a lot. Images of those volunteers in the 12th hour still cheering me as I passed the 3rd water stop near Kuteeram last year are once I still cherish. This year, the medics were not prepared for the runners to last that long.

* The results show that despite an increase in the no. of participants, the no. of runners who finished 50k+ distances – is it still the race “for the runners by the runners.”

But it certainly didn’t leave a bitter after-taste, thanks to:
Santhosh – who showed us that there are no limits
Team Asha – how to win a race without taking a single step
Sunil – who showed us what resilience is
DK – (finished 37.5k at his seventy, not seventeen!!!) who showed me how long one can run
Jugy – who showed us what a good trail can be
A large part of RFL who still make the best footrace in this part of the globe!!!
Links copied shamelessly from Anita’s site
~ Anita’s view thru a lens

~ Santhosh’s 156 km effort and his work for Team Asha - Must read!

~ Vikram Chadaga - Must see the Video!
Ps: Did I forget to mention I came in fourth in my category :)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Ultra Tense

Two weeks before the Ultra, on the last long training run, at GKVK with Dharam and co., my half-size-too-tight shoes finally decided to bring the curtains down. I had to pop a pain killer to ease the numbing pain in my toe. My toe nails will stay colored for a long time to come. Eleventh hour change to running shoes?

That Friday, I woke up from sleep, trying to loosen a stiff calf, ramming the heel against the floor. I had a cramp. I looked at my mobile for time – it was 530. Damn, I must have been running in my sleep all night. I must not have had enough water – or was it the cold?

No. 9 on the To-Do list before an Ultra says “Be Positive”. Over the last week, things had been a mixed bag at work, and I have been returning to an empty home. I have now moved out of my parents’ home to sharing a 2bhk with Doc, closer to work.

Doc had not been keeping well. He had to pull out of his 24-hour run plan. Madhu, who brought the whole ultra running to Bangalore, was down with flu, Meghana had to pull out, Sabine was not running. No. 9 was not happening.

But, with one week to go, I would silently clench my fist, with more prayer than conviction, “I can, I will”.

Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams.
- Paulo Coelho