Saturday, March 16, 2019

Tuffman 24hr Run - Apna time Aayega

First, and from the bottom of my heart, I would like to express my gratitude (and if you have been here before, you know it’s a long post)
To Vishal for getting me past the line, that separates average and good
To Peter for being my extra hands and legs at the support station. I hardly needed to raise my eyebrows to get pampered.
To Hema, Pranaya, Aparna, Sunil, the Sunchasers team and all others on the course, who sent those good vibes, lap after lap.
To my family, for all their sacrifices, to support this mad man.

Early Jan this year, I began to train again for a likely trail race by the end of March. I was hoping mostly to keep my (now steadily increasing) weight in check. Then I got to hear that Tuffman was organizing a 24hr category in addition to their usual 12hr run. The stadium run in Chandigarh, promised a good weather. I confirmed that this was AFI certified and would be a qualifier for the upcoming World Championships. It was game on!

I had about 60 days to train and bring down my weight by a few kilos. I decided to keep a modest mileage, closer to 100k a week, peaking at about 120. I also stuck to intermittent fasting – early dinners & late breakfast. I started runching (runch = run before lunch) to squeeze in my workouts, to balance my work & family commitments. Everything was looking up till about 2 weeks before the event, then things changed.
It started with a bout of cold & congestion, 3 days off. Then with 10 days to go, Neha had a fall from a swing and need to spend 2 days in the hospital. I have been reading Travis’ book on Ultra Mindset and tried to replace the negative story with a positive one. The sleepless night in the hospital was good training to be on your feet through the night? Thank fully, both of these events were not as serious as they started out to be and things fell back to routine in the last week.

I had a target in mind – 200k in 24hrs.
I was also mentally strong and wanted to push through the bad patches during the race. There is a decisive moment in any exemplary race or performance where one has to take the leap of faith, to transcend beyond the physical. I wanted to learn to push myself when the question was asked of me. Little did I know, that the decisive moment would come 48hours before the race!

I had had an ACL surgery a long time back (more here) and then ruptured it again in a bike accident a few years back (more here - this is nice). I have learnt to live with it. On Thursday, 2 days before race day, I was biking home from lunch, failed to notice a road blockage, fell clumsily, twisted my bad knee. My old friend, the ligament pain was back. I sat by the road, in pain, and cried as I cursed my luck. In a moment I went from being 100% fit to 50%. I was only able to bend my knee through 60 degrees, no complete flexion or extension was possible. From my previous experience, I knew this be ok, but will take a week.

But I decided to take a chance, came home and packed, limping and depressed. My wife was upset I hadn’t told her sooner, was worried that I still wanted to go. At the airport check-in, I was asked if I needed wheel chair support.

Unlike Delhi stadium run, this time, I had planned to be at the venue a full day in advance. The organizers were kind enough to book a hotel near the stadium, I settled in. The race day morning, I was feeling ok, but still not walking right. There was no pain, but there was swelling. I hobbled to the stadium in the morning to collect my bib. I continued to keep my routine and be prepared. I put on my race kit in the evening, the compression tights held the knee and gave it some support. I was ok as I walked to the stadium, with my nutrition supplies and gear. I soaked into the excitement of the start of the race, as if this was only thing I would get off it.

Arun Bhardwaj, a seasoned ultra runner, the face of Tuffman, told me that morning, “Keep faith, Miracles happen”.

At the start, 6PM, I started jogging at the pace I was used to, as I warmed up, I felt I could keep it up. I upped the pace to my target pace. From then, there was no looking back, no knee injury to worry about. My son Navneet’s “Run Appa” wishes were echoing loud.

The weather was good through the night, and never got too cold. I had multiple change of clothes on this one and used the full wardrobe that I had carried. Although it took time to get to the loo, the big breaks (one at 4am, other at 7am) helped me get lighter, “halka karna”. It was a test of endurance to survive the music – the DJ had 5 hindi, English & Punjabi songs each and kept playing them in loops and at high volume. Thankfully, the music was off between 11PM and 6AM, I was able to concentrate better.

I completed 100k in 9:55 hours, by 4am, the best I have ever done for a 100k. I had kept the cadence of gels for nutrition and black coffee to stave off sleep. The 200 / 24hr is such a stiff target (did I say “stiff”?), that there was no room to relax, if I had started to walk from this point, I would have got only 80km, 20k short of target.

I had to keep running and of course my legs were in no shape to walk, but run, I could.
You have to convert negative narrative into positive ones. For me, the injury had done two things – it forced me to think of the now and not get ahead of myself, and two, since I could run better than walk, I was forced to keep jogging, even it was only a at a slow pace.

In 16hrs of running, I had completed about 150k, I was now comfortably in 2nd place. Binay was leading the race by over 5k and I knew I couldn’t catch up. At 10am, I began to feel good about myself. I took a break to have a parantha (bad idea, couldn’t gulp it down) and change from tights to shorts (10mins break and joints cooled down).

Peter had been my guardian angel – handing out my gels, keeping my coffee ready, drying out my sweaty clothes. He was Godsend and I can’t thank him enough. Remember, it is not only about doing it, but how you do it. The smile and poise adds positive energy and every single emotion amplifies in that setting (positive or negative).

So when the negative discordant note slipped in, between 2 – 4pm, it amplified. When I got back to the track, what was hidden under my leggings so far, was exposed. My injured knee was swollen up, in all glory, for all to see. We got a big slab of ice and rubbed the knee and the calf, as I sat down trying to eat my parantha. The next thing I knew, my calf turned as stiff as a tree trunk.

It was also feeling much higher than 32 degrees now. I got up from the chair, I could barely walk. My calf simply wouldn’t allow me to take a step more. I limped, and so did my positivity that had held me for so long. I had done 170k and had 5hrs to go and I was down to walking at 2-3kms per hour, precisely what I had done at Delhi. I was ready to quit, not being able to walk was a good reason to do so. What’s the point in hobbling to finish at 185k. Of course, I would never do another 24hr run.

Then He sent me Vishal. Vishal was my teammate at Asian Championship, a gem who routinely sacrifices his own race to pace others at the finish. He came alongside, walked with me for a couple of laps (we had plenty of time). He urged to me to try to run, “Na”, get some massage, ”Na”, get in a pain killer, “Nahi yaar”, try some relief spray, “teek hai”. It immediately relaxed the muscle. I was able to run-walk the next lap. Now Vishal was showing faith in me, which I had just lost myself. He motioned me to follow him. For the next 50 laps, all I saw was those slender legs ahead of me. I just looked down at the shoes and imagined them to be mine. I was afraid I would trip him, we were pace lining so close. We went lap after lap, stopping only for brief water or gel breaks. I was the lagam ka ghoda. I could do this all day!

After completing only 10k in 2hrs (19th & 20th), we needed a good hour or two to make up lost ground. The 21st hour, we put in 24 laps, do the math, 9.6km!! I was back on track and so was my positive energy, my calf and all else. The sun was getting down now, good conditions to run.

The last 2 hours is to be done with no pacing, I was told. Vishal took my leave, but left me behind a target. He said, if I managed another 7k in 42mins, between 4:40 and 5:22pm, I would be very comfortable in the end. That is 17laps, both my Garmin watches had run out and there was no clock on display either. But I wasn’t stopping for 17 laps. I counted down, held my running form, kept going for the next 42mins without stopping. When I got to 5:15pm, I had 12laps to go, to get that 200!

I slowed down drastically in the last 15mins, fighting an urge to stop and puke. I kept moving and eventually finished 497 laps. At 407m a lap (lane 2), I got past 202km, still in 2nd place.

I was feeling too woozy for any celebrations, the swelling in the legs (the flight back didn’t help) took 3 full days to subside. But you know what, there was neither pain nor swelling in my bad knee. When applied with a balm of family love and friends support, Running Heals!