Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Endure and the 24hr Delhi Stadium Run

In the days after my coming last at the Asian and Oceanic 24hrChampionship (the bubble burst??), I wanted to give a better end to a good training season I have had this year. I spoke to the race director, for a place at the Delhi 24hr stadium run, although this was only 2 weeks after Taiwan.
Aparna (AC) immediately offered to crew for me, I vowed to not slack on planning. I drew up a pace and nutrition plan, solicited feedback, fine tuned it, and printed it out.

I ended up running 176.8km in the 24hr, braving the Delhi chills.

I also just completed reading Alex Hutchinson’s best seller of 2018 – Endure. The book is a well-researched compilation of the mental aspect of endurance. I was able to relate to a lot of findings in the book and I will try to weave my Delhi Stadium run along with some excerpts from the book (in italics).

Endure has 3 parts - Part I is about “Mind and Muscle”, Part II is on Limits and Part III is about Limit Breakers. I will use the section on Limits and draw a parallel to my own experience during the 24hr stadium run.


There is a lot of talk in Endure about the lack of oxygen at higher altitudes. So when oxygen levels in the brain drop, the outcome is clear. We slow down.
I noticed this right as I was getting out of the Aerobridge at the airport – the Delhi air was as if I was in a smoking zone. The body got used to this quickly and I didn’t specifically feel the effects of pollution till after the run. But the congestion took a full one week, after the run, to get out of my lungs.


In ultra-races, relatively unsexy talents like the ability to scarf down prodigious amounts of calorie-rich food and keep running without throwing up are absolutely crucial. Scientists have traditionally figured that 60 grams an hour (about 250 calories) is the maximum amount you can absorb during exercise – a combination of glucose and fructose will allow you to absorb up to 90 grams.

I saw the pro runners stick to a meticulous fuel and hydration plan at the Asian championship. This time I decided to have my own. I had a nutrition plan consisting of Salt tablets, Electrolyte (135 cal), Water, Gels (110 cal) and Solid food (Banana - 60, Chikki - 230, Granola bar -100 & Date syrup -100) to be had every 2 hours, 750 calories.

My sister had baked the Granola bars with lots of love, dipped in Date syrup, it made delicious snack. AC was an excellent support, handing out my nutrition and water as per schedule – through night and day.

The Delhi 24hr Stadium run started at 7PM. I had taken the 8AM flight and went straight to the JLN stadium. I had chapatis for lunch and more chapatis in the evening. I had tried to get some sleep (in vain) in the breezy tents set up by the track. A sports event in the adjacent stadium with announcements over the mic did not help.

But thanks to AC and the nutrition plan, I never once felt food to be an issue. Despite the Gels I was having, I was able to stomach it, didn’t feel the need to throw up (like I had in Taiwan).


Voluntary dehydration” is the physiologic lag or deficit that results when sensations of thirst are not strong enough to bring about complete replacement of water loss, as in rapid sweating. In these cases, adequate fluids may have been ingested to satisfy the thirst response, but not sufficient to restore normal fluid balance (Greenleaf and Sargent, 1965). Fluid loss of as little as 2% of body weight increases fatigue and impairs physical performance (Lamb, 2002). It is common for athletes to lose between 2 to 4 kg of sweat during a game (Buskirk, 1977).

Though it’s effect on cognitive ability is largely unexplored, the few studies to date suggest that moderate dehydration, losses as low as 2% of body weight, can impair performance on vigilance attention, short-term memory, perceptual discrimination, arithmetic ability, visio-motor tracking, and psychomotor skills.

During prolonged exercise, you will use fat and you will use carbohydrate.  The chemical reactions involved in burning fat and carbohydrate produce two key by-products: carbon dioxide, which you breathe out, and water – which actually adds to the amount of fluid available in your body. Even more significant, your body stores carbohydrate in your muscles in a form that locks away about 3 grams of water for every gram of carbohydrate. This water isn’t available to contribute to essential cellular processes until you start unlocking the carbohydrate stores, so your body sees it as “new” water when it’s released during exercise.
Dehydration is linked to overheating, since it reduced the volume of blood available to shunt hear to your skin, and in extreme cases might even compromise your ability to sweat.

The importance of any underlying physiological signal depends in part on how your brain receives and interprets it. Swallowing small mouthfuls of water – too small to make any difference to overall hydration levels – boost exercise performance compared to rinsing the same amount of water in the mouth and then spitting it out.

The primary message is that, like oxygen, heat and fuel, the loss if fluids first makes itself felt via the brain. Thirst, not dehydration, increase your sense of perceived effort and in turn causes you to slow down. Eventually, the physiological consequences of dehydration assert themselves, increasing the strain on your cardiovascular system and pushing your core temperature up as the volume of blood in your arteries decreases.

Not that you shouldn’t drink when you have the chance, but that you shouldn’t obsess about it when you don’t. “It’s one less psychological crutch to hold you back from top performance.”


It is not so much the heat (or cold) but the perception of the heat that matters.

And it was coooold, easily in the single digits. I was under 4 layers at the coldest part of the night – thermals, skins, tee shirt and a sweatshirt. After about 8AM when the sun finally began to come out of all that smog, I pulled off a cameo act, changing my tee shirt on the go! The cold would come back again to haunt us in the final hours of the run. By this time, I was reduced to walking, hands inside my pockets for most.

Muscle (pacing)

Again, improving from the Asian Championship, I had very precise hourly plan for pacing. The target was to hit 206km in 24hrs – 23 laps per hour (lph) for the first 7hours, 22 lph for the next 7 and 20 for the last 10hours.

After 7 hours, at 63.6k, I was only 2 laps off target. I managed only 17 laps in the 8th hour, and 20 in the 9th, fiddling around for a distracting phone and bluetooth (to listen to some devotion) at 4 in the morning. The next couple of hours were good, but by the time I hit 7AM, I was 10 laps off target, 4 kms behind.

“Only”, you would say, but if you have gathered anything from the previous 2 pages of reading, you get a sense of the mind games. When the results came over the loudspeaker, Prannaya was at 116k, well ahead of anyone else. They weren’t announcing the position, so I had no idea how good / bad my 104km was.

I let the deficit slip another 15 laps in the next 2 hours, 14hours 121k I had mustered. Somewhere by now (can’t remember exactly) I went in for a 10min power nap, I was so groggy, I was swaying on the track and needed a short nap. I slept for 9mins under the watchful eyes of AC and Meena who were exchanging meaningful glances when I announced my of-plan sleep idea.

It’s all hazy from here on. For no specific reason, I was finding it difficult to keep lapping. AC was doing a fab job, forcing me to stay on my nutrition and hydration plan. She even had her family join in during the night to support.

With 10hours to go, I needed 80k to hit 200, but from 14 to 18hours, I had only added 26km, 146k in 18hours. Sometime after 16hours, I was told I was in 2nd place, “surprise, surprise”.  It gave me a fresh purpose to aim for. At half my age, Kannan was very close behind. I managed to keep a steady cadence and was trying to hit 20 lph.
pic credit: AC At 2:30PM, I stopped, sat down and had lunch. Prannaya joined me, he was well on track to hit 200km+.

I never went in for a physio stretch, but was doing the Morton stretch ( quite often.

I managed to stay ahead in second place till about 22hours and then gave up. The second place didn’t seem worth deliberate & audacious lane violation and this was the final nail.

Regardless, I was trying to keep happy throughout the 24 hours and my objective was to finish well. As far as the targets are concerned, I lost my focus between 14 and 20 hours. AC in her feedback rightly mentions the need to work on the mental aspect. Fatigue can, indeed, be central (brain fatigue) or peripheral (muscle fatigue).

Alex Hutchinson rightly says The end point of any performance is never an absolute fixed point but rather is when the sum of all negative factors such as fatigue and muscle pain are felt more strongly than the positive factors of motivation and will power.


It is reported that pain can be strangely satisfying to the highly motivated athlete. Getting fitter doesn’t magically increase your pain tolerance, how you get fit matters: you have to suffer – pain in training leads to greater tourniquet tolerance, and greater tourniquet tolerance predicts better race performance. It also seems you can get faster by simply training yourself to better tolerate or block out pain.
All pleasure is alike, as Leo Tolstoy might have put it, but each pain hurts in its own unique way.

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