Thursday, December 06, 2018

IAU Asian and Oceanic 24h Championship 2018 - A Report

As the dust settles down on the greatest event in my running career, some thoughts on the week that went by. I have split this up into sections to make it easier for you to read - Pre-run, Organizing, the race, My race, Post run, Lessons and Sponsors.


We had put together a full team – 6 men and 6 women. Upon insistence of our team manager, Sunil C, almost all of us had reached Taipei on Wednesday, a good 2 days in advance. Also, we had a team physio, Dr. Sitaraman with us. The team spent large parts of the extra day in scouting for restaurants. I had carried my own rice cooker and prepared most of my meals in my room. We had a team meeting at the gym in the hotel, mostly still debating Ultra-running 101, than fine tuning strategy – Nutrition was perched on top of that list (more on this in the “lessons” section).

The excitement started building up as the other teams arrived at the hotel on Friday – the breakfast area of the hotel looked like a mini athletic village. Nadeem Khan, president of the International Association of Ultrarunners (IAU) was stopping by at all team tables, and so was Dan Lawson, the legendary Brit runner. By this time, our own Godfather of Indian Ultra, Nagraj Adiga was with us and helped settle some nerves.

The bus arrived to pick us up at 11AM and to take us to the event venue. On the schedule for Friday, was Registration, technical meeting and opening ceremony from 1PM to 4PM, followed by welcome dinner at the hotel at 5:30. We spent a lot of time ambling around the track, lots of pictures, then scouting for food at the University food court and listening to seemingly endless introductions & speeches (translated into Chinese or English) at the opening ceremony. 

Marching in India colors under the Indian flag to the opening ceremony was truly the highlight and a very proud moment.

Musical notes on the Zheng, lucky charms invited us at dinner, followed by long speeches and longer lines for dinner. I loaded myself with rice and porridge as we headed out to sort out our nutrition. A sub-group went shopping to pick up common food stuff – breads, peanut butter, bananas, oranges, chips, coke and sprite.

Another group made a clinic of the room that I was sharing with Doc – taping and foam rolling. I hit the bed early, pushing out my prep till the next day. I woke up at 5am, made a pound of peanut butter sandwiches, soaked my feet in Epsom for a while, cooked a puliogere breakfast, got ready by 6:45, to board the bus to the stadium.

Some 30mins before the start, there was yet another opening ceremony, bi-lingual endless intros and some more short speeches. With the Ex-President of China flagging off, this was very important for the organizers. Our timing chips were given and we were getting ready, the sun beating down at us at the start line.

The race (Overall)

There was an elite field in the Open category – Ivan Lopez (who has run 273 this year), Dan Lawson (elite Brit ultra runner), current Swedish record holder Johan (look up Big Backyard ultra). In the international category, Ishikawa from Japan was the favorite to win. All the stars were keeping very steady pace in the inner loop right from when the guns went off (about 1 dozen of them). It was brutally hot, only part of the track had some shade. The timing tents (there were volunteers manually counting off each loop of the top 40 runners) and the support tents (one per country) were on one side of the track. The port-a-loos were on the other side. There was a medical tent at a far end as well. There was one common support station with water, nuts and coke. But none of these were used more than the water sponges, runners generously poured the cold water overhead to fight the 29 deg heat.

I got to see a lot of action, some of the highlights:

  • ·       The Spaniard Ivan keeping steady pace, same form, right to the end, including during his running leak breaks
  • ·       The Japanese planning, right down to shirt change (without stopping – he handed out his shirt at the start of the support area and received the change at the end, bibs pinned and all)
  • ·       Some very senior members (in their 50s, 60s??) in the Aussie team – I have hope.
  • ·       The super-brisk walking sexagenarian Monglian who was putting us runners behind comfortably
  • ·       The ups and downs of the Ultra – there were gory scenes at the medical tents, bodies stiffened up, BP, sugar levels going down, heart rates shooting up, etc. etc. But more importantly, how they all managed to get back on track
  • ·       A note on our own Ullas Narayana – what a delight it was to see him go by. Not once did he make it to the tent, not once. I didn’t see him amble around even once, his only walk was to the port-a-loos I guess. He took all morning to get into rhythm, but when he got it, he kept going, cranking it up lap after lap. I want to freeze that image and get there someday. What an inspiration!
Our women did reasonably well too, Hema came in 12th overall with a gritty 172k in 24hrs.

Our Men’s team did exceptionally well. On the back of a great individual performance by Ullas (250k), aided by determined personal best efforts by Sunil and Meena, Indian team managed to go past the Mongolian & the host team to cling the Bronze. Ullas himself beat a strong field, clawing his way from the back to pull off a spectacular show, with the individual Bronze.
These were the first medals in an international Ultra event for India ever!!


The tent was a busy place for the 30mins after the finish, runners were lying around, support crew was packing up. We all somehow managed to get to the awards arena. There was a dance show, a musical, more introductions and more speeches (in Chinese and English again).

It was a great feeling to get on stage to receive the team Bronze medal and bought tears when the flag went up as the national anthems were played. I was very sad and very happy at the same time, I was on the team that made history!


“Jiayou”, “Jiayou” (sounds like Jaa yow) – the student volunteers from the Soochow University were urging you to “Keep fighting” every lap. Whenever a runner passed the timing tents, they erupted with Jaiyous.

The organizing was spotless. Each team was assigned three student volunteers. Ours (Hank, Amber and Joan) were with us right from when we landed at Taipei, till we boarded the flight back. Each one of them stretched beyond their responsibility to ensure we were comfortable.

Every detail was meticulously planned, it helps that Soochow University has been organizing this for 18 years now. It is a Gold Label venue for the 24h race and kept up to its reputation.

The International Association of Ultrarunners (IAU) had a large presence at the event, the President Nadeem Khan and Robert Boyce were on the track at all times. There is talk to bring some of these events to India and I can’t be happier for Indian Ultrarunning.

My Race

Ok, what happened to Manoj Bhat??
Early onset of cramps, my nemesis. I was running well. I had done about 40k in the first 4hours. Between 4 and 8 hours, I had taken a few physio breaks. My Garmin showed 74k in 8hours (the official count was 71k or so). But by the time the sun went down behind the hills, I had started to walk about 20m every loop to keep the cramps at bay. It worked ok, I was able to keep moving, but my pace had come down to about 7.5k per hour. I could only get to a 100k in 12hours, off target by about 10km.

There were pains that came and went – first the left feet, then the left knee. But the one that started hurting my walk, was a pain in the right arch of the feet. I was forced to lift my right feet off the ground and place it down for every step of a walk. I got to 125k in 16hours, but even a 50k seemed impossible in the next 8hours. I became obvious that I wouldn’t be able to get a PB or contribute to the team in anyway. My best contribution was to keep out of harm’s way, to allow for the support team to focus on the other who would matter.

And, I did. I kept to a self-sustained walking mode for a few more laps. Then decided to call it off altogether. After about 18hours, I took my timing chip off, walked away to the awards area for a restroom break, then found a cold bench, stretched my legs and took a nap.

In my meek defense, I got back on the sidelines to do my bit with the statistics towards the end – adding up the laps and passing on the info the team to help it stay ahead. Then to Ullas as he approached his 250k milestone. And that is how I ended my race. It comes very close to being my worst personal performance ever.


The most important one is planning nutrition. One needs to have a detailed nutrition plan with schedule for intake of salt tablets, Gels, solid food, water and electrolytes – down to each hour. The support team has to be sensitized to this plan.

Everything on the plan needs to have been tried in training, including solid food. (I had a slice of peanut butter sandwich which didn’t go down well. I had to eventually induce vomiting to get it out.)

As for the team, in order to organize the support better, AFI must mandate a certain specific brand of salt tablets & electrolyte drink. As for solid food, runners must be able to pick from a set of 3-5 options only. Gels can be personalized, but my suspicion is that it will still vary between 2-3 top brands. 
This way the support team may be able to be more pro-active with support, than being reactive. In fact, they may be even able to stave off injuries, because they will be able to gauge the situation better.

Personally, I am guilty of having started on salt tablets too late which may have hastened the incoming of cramps. Ullas pointed out that my choice of compression pants, may have trapped the heat in. I wasn’t detailed enough on my nutrition plan – peanuts alone will not do.

My big takeaways – 100mile weeks in training is possible (with loads of help from family, of course). And thanks to the inspiring performances, 220km in 24h does seem human.

My family stood steadfast during my training and have been my pillars of strength. My sister baked some great Nutribars and shipped it for my race. To all of you and my well-wishing friends, I owe better.

Support team matters - Sunil, Sachin, Narayan uncle and Doc were steadfast in their support. I wish I was more organized and helped you help me better. Thank you for your selfless support!!


Concerted efforts from Peter made it possible for AFI to be affiliated with IAU and made it possible to send Indian teams to these events. They have created the platform for us to make use of. Thank You.

A big shout out to our sponsors NEB Sports, IDBI Federal and Adidas India. Of all the team that were there, ours was the most sponsored. The insistence of the sponsors to send a full team (with lax qualifying criteria) to gain the experience, shows their commitment. The outcome would have been so different if it we weren’t accompanied by the team Doctor. Many thanks for all this.

Ultrarunning is the fastest growing sport and India is a hotbed of talent. I do hope that the sponsors continue to support the sport to help India get on to the world stage.