Friday, August 10, 2018

Bengaluru 24hr Stadium Run - the Day i lived a Dream

(Be forewarned: Long post, keep your 6 pack handy)

First the format:
The 24hr runs are just that, you run as much mileage in 24hrs as you can. These runs are usually run around a block or a stadium, with each loop no more than 1 to 1.5kms, usually flat. This craziness is blessed by the International Association of Ultrarunners, there are World Championships, and countries send their elites to win position in the team event.
The Bengaluru 24h stadium run is in its 5th year, it is run in Kanteerava stadium, it’s a 400m track. We were allowed to run on track 2 (36h and 24h were on track 2 and 3, 12h were on track 5 and 6 and relay runners on track 7), to count 410m per lap. What support was available
  • ·       Water station (with water, jaggery, electral and bananas)
  • ·       Food counter – breakfast, lunch and dinner inside oval
  • ·       Resting area (with beds), Medical area (mandatory BP & weight check every 6hrs), baggage counter (runners can access these at any times) and Physiotherapy section – all inside the oval
There is a DJ playing music all along, once every 2hrs the runners laps, distance and ranking are announced. On the top of the hour, every hour, as the runners pass the timing mat, they change direction.

So that’s it! You just keep running in the track designated to your category, till you run out of time or spirit.

I could have had a better week leading up to the race day. I had returned from a week in London the previous week, which has upset my sleeping & eating patterns. I had taken the Friday off from work, but ended up working late into the night. My grand plans of sleeping for most part of Saturday also ended up with just a 2hr post-lunch siesta.

At 5PM on Saturday, 4th Aug, some 30 of us lined up on lane #3, ready to start our adventure and stay on track for 24hrs. We joined the 30+, 36h runners who by now had 11hrs on their feet already!!

Part I (5PM to 9PM)
My plan was to start slow, get slower, finish slowest. I wanted to stay between 9 – 10kmph pace for as long as possible. There was still a couple of hours of daylight left, I took my first food break almost immediately. But the breads and paav on the food counter didn’t appeal to me, I asked for some peanuts to be kept aside for me.

By 7PM, I was done 50 laps (20.5km) languishing at 15th place. The race leaders had taken off, and had 3-4kms on me already. By 9PM, the night chill was setting in, I had my first round of dinner (Bisi Bele Bath BBB & curd rice). I had done 37.5km in 4hours, still 11th in rankings, the leader had 7km over me at this point.
With a very strong field, including the national record holder for the 24h and others with 180+ finishes in the past, I had taken off the baggage of the podium finish, right at the start.
As the daylight faded, I paid a quiet good-bye to the Sun, “see ya tomorrow”.

Training notes:
It’s easy to prepare for the first 4hours, essentially find your comfort pace and do multiple of these over the weekends. On a weekend, if I ran, I ran for no less than 30km / 3 hr runs.
This was the easy part.

Part II (9PM to 3AM)
This phase was crucial, it was important to keep a steady pace, but also manage eating & keeping sleep away. It was chilly night, the winds were strong, but luckily, there were no rains. At 10PM, 11:45 and again at 1AM, I had 3 more BBB and curd rice. 4 dinners, already a Personal Best!

I always felt I had eaten too much after each of these breaks, I had to stave off side stiches each time. From then on, I stayed on a staple diet of Black Coffee!!
My running buddy, NT, had dropped in by midnight. I had moved up to a close 2nd position by 11PM. In 6hrs, I had done about 55km, bang on target. NT stayed on till my 4th dinner, urging me to keep rhythm. I hadn’t started walking too much and was taking it 20mins at a time. My scheduled water break was every 20mins, alternating with water and electral. I was also eating on the top of every hour and taking a portaloo break just after the mandatory direction change.

The plan was to go on this schedule for as long during the night as possible. What I didn’t expect was to be at 76k in 8hours. By 3PM, after 10hrs on my feet, I was done 92kms and I was already on top of my world. I knew I was having a good day and how! In my last 12hr stadium runs, I had managed 93k and 102k. I knew I was on track to break these quite comfortably. 100k PB in 11h:20m – a new Personal Best (PB). I took a 15min physio break after 10hours to celebrate - Saturday night physio party was full on!

So by 5am, in my first 12hrs, I had done 105km, in second place by a thin margin. A 12h PB!

Training notes:
How does one run all night? You train for it, of course. I had run an all-night training run, running a 5k loop from my home, my security serving as a water + snack stop, and peeping into my house every 3hrs for a meal. I had run long after the Saturday night party embers had died and even the high alert security guards had gone off to sleep. I had then gone about the rest of my day as if nothing had happened (more or less). I drew great confidence from this and many other training runs I had done.

Over the last few months, I had put my family, parents, in-laws, cousins through my idiosyncrasies in prep for these runs – Home2Nandi hill runs, runs at noon, Chennai to Mahabs run, and many across town almost round the clock. Thank you all…

Part III (5AM to 11AM) (the next 6 hours)
As the sun came up, I felt a great surge of tear-eyed gratitude for all that was happening to me. I picked up my phone & earpiece and listened to Vishnusahastranamam briefly. But I didn’t get to the end of it, I felt singing along messed up my breathing. So, I paused it, went back to my bag, picked up a cap in stead and got ready to battle the sun.
I still wasn’t taking long walk breaks and running as much as I could, at the easy pace. I was focusing on 2-2 breathing to keep me relaxed, all along. By 7am, I had done 119km, chugging along with about 15kms in 2hours. By 9am, I was still doing 7 – 8kmph (idly chutney breaks included), still in 2nd place, 1 lap behind Amit, who was by then fading away.

When the announcement was made at 9AM, there was a new race leader after 16hours and 135kms (329 laps, mind you).

By 10AM, NT came back to the track and when I went pass, casually enquired about my distance. I could see the disbelief in him when I shouted that I was 141k strong! I was more in shock at these numbers than anyone else.
After 18hours, I was still in lead, with a lead of 8 laps over Pranaya at 2nd and another 7-8 laps over a very strong looking Rajesh at 3rd. I had settled down in a run 2.5 laps + walk 0.5 lap rhythm.

Training notes:
I don’t think you can train for these. The only teacher is the drudgery of the mundane tasks in life. Corollary to Bowerman’s quote “if you can find meaning in this kind of running, chances are, you will be able to find meaning in another absurd pass-time: life”. Go do your chores, the endless pile of laundry, the infinite toys to clean-up, the un-ending tasks at work, day after day, do it - it will come handy one day!

Part IV (11AM to 4PM)
Ok, back to the stadium now – remember, your protagonist is still chipping lap after lap. By now, the sun is coming out of the shadows. My rhythm was now to keep jogging when the sun goes under and walk when it comes out. I was pouring water over my head to keep cool. I was getting loads of support from fellow 24hr runners, 36h champs. NT and Sunil were also constantly egging me on. Still keeping close to 7.5kmph, I had finished 162k in 20hrs, (my first 100miler), 175k in 22hrs at 3PM. I was still keeping the same slender lead over competition. Ok, now let’s cut to the chase, literally.

The last hour!
Shreya, my parents & kids came in by 4, the announcement was made - I was still in lead, 182km done and 8 laps lead. The bare-chested warriors - Pranaya and Rajesh were hunting me down, while I was almost celebrating my first position. In 15mins, Pranaya had lapped me twice and was running strong. NT came alongside and warned me, “if you don’t start running again, you will lose your place”. 45mins to go, 6 laps or so ahead, I went in for a last portaloo break. 

As I stood there, I felt fatigue waves rise from my feet up.
I remembered the golden words Santhosh has told me a few hours before “Forget the podium, it’s not in your hands. But if you have the potential, you have to give it your best”.

I stepped on to the track again and began picking up pace. For the next 40mins or so, I was on a mission. I picked out Pranaya and ran on his tail for a few laps. Then when I was “found”, I overtook him, upped the pace and kept going for 2 -3 more laps to shake him off. Offense was indeed the best defense, I wasn’t going to give away 23hrs of hard work to 1hr of complacency.

Graph showing the last 30km, the deep dips are the breaks, notice the no break last few mins. Garmin graph courtesy - Bobby 

As I increased the pace, I could feel the positive energy from all around me, cheering me as I ran by. I ran the last lap like a man possessed, pushing my chest out, sprinting to the limit of my capacity. In my mental image, I was Prefontane (that I may have looked like a scarecrow on a windy day, is another thing). I had covered 5k in the last 30mins, finishing the last lap at close to 4:20 pace, that’s close to 14kmph!

In all, I had covered 463 laps, 189.83km and was first at the 24h Bengaluru Stadium Run.

The morning after
I was treated like an elite at the finish line – personalized care, stretches, ice packs, near & dear ones showing loads of concern (if I could stand in one piece), etc. I picked up my trophy and made my way out quickly.

The next morning, I had a pain in the butt, literally and it wouldn't go away. However, I was able to limp walk and do the usual home-school-home-school-home-school-home routine on a bike the next day. By day 3, I was 80% alright.

A week on, I like the pain that comes back once-in-a-while, it reminds me of the Day l lived a Dream.