Friday, September 13, 2019

The Bull Run 2019

For a few years now, a fellow hasher and friend, Rajesh has been investing a lot of effort in putting together a good trail run for all us Bangalore runners in our own backyard. The Nandi hills climb by road itself is very popular with runners and bikers, but the trails are seldom taken.

Ever since I failed to qualify for the world championships, my running calendar is open. The Bull Run had to be moved from its original date in August, to this new date. I am on a high mileage diet anyways and decided to give it a shot.
Life has been good in general – looking forward for a 5X change in workload career-wise, but keeping the weekly mileage high as long as I can. I don’t think I’m improving much, but feeling a lot more confident about the runs. The week leading up to the run was no different, I had already put in 100+ kms last week and was not really “rested”.

The pre-race announcements were precise, 6:40AM start from a government school hostel. We were forewarned that the water stops / support would be sporadic and a hydration pack was recommended. I decided not to carry anything but 2 gels on me.

I reached the hostel (a.k.a the start line) by 6am and picked up my bib #5001. Rajesh gave us the briefing peppered with his usual dose of humor. I assumed that the route would be well marked, so skipped the minor (?) details. I knew we would get back to the hostel by 30k and would have to climb the hill by steps by 39k or so. The run started some 15mins late, it was cold and windy. Luckily, the 50k, 25k, and 8k runners started together. Otherwise, the drone camera would reveal the sparsely crowd of four 50k runners!!

The route started off with a run up to a nearby temple on top of a hillock – Lakshmi Narasimha swamy (LNS) betta and then you get back to the hostel in about 8k or so.

Ganesh (#5002) was the runner up last year, was looking to better his 6hour finish from last year. He took off in earnest behind the 25k leader. But he was looking for some company till about 30k, he didn’t want to get lost like last year. I caught up with him by 3k, my first impressions told me that I should settle for the second place here. Ganesh was faster at shorter distances. But when you do 200k runs, you are mentally better prepared for the grind.

The overnight rains had erased a few marking in places, we had to guess the right route a few times. We ran in sight of each other till about 25k. When we got off the trail to road, Ganesh led me on the wrong direction, with almost no marking, I assumed that it was right. Thankfully, the detour was equidistant from the start point. Except for some traffic, it didn’t make any change to either the elevation gain / loss or to the distance.

It got us past Nandi cross, I took a short break to down a gel here and made up a lot of distance in the next few kms over Ganesh.

I was doing consistent splits – close to 5min/km average and had covered 35k in 3:02. I finally got back to course by 30k and by this time was getting mad that no one in the water stations seemed to know the route. At 31k or so, when I had set myself to get to the hostel (a.k.a start line) again, there was a clear arrow on the road that got us to set off course for another 5k or so. I reluctantly followed this. It was a good trail section which wound up all the way to the LNS betta. Since this section was taken multiple times by most categories, it was difficult to make sense of the single / double arrows. The volunteers were also too confused to help and when you get this half-baked responses, you don’t want to trust them anyways.

Nevertheless, my Garmin held me in good stead, and I was able to do my own math to get back to the hostel with 38kms done. The Garmin FR 935 has a great feature, that it allows you to change settings during the activity, I was able to turn off auto scroll, HRM widget on the go, to save battery. I was low batt to start with, somehow thought it would last the distance (and it did!!).

When I got back to the hostel, I saw Ganesh already there and not going any further. He had ended up missing the detour to the temple and had decided to quit. I looked quickly for chikkis in vain, and carried on towards the climb that was coming up.

The less popular climb of Nandi hills is on steps, that take you up 400m or so of vertical gain in about 1.6km – brutal and quad smashing when it comes after about 40k. I started off in earnest and took 1 or 2 short pauses on the climb, but was doing it at about 20mins/km!!

I was done with the climb in about 4hours and was confident of a sub-5 finish, last 9k or so in an hour. But again, there were no markings on top of the hill to guide me back, lost sometime in asking around. I wanted to be sure that I try my best to keep to the route, even if it means I would have to do more mileage.

I started the descent on the road, but now the quads started to act up. I started to cramp, first on my calf, then my quads, but I refused to stop and stretch. I tried deep breathing, to relax and run through the cramps. It helped, and the cramps settled down somewhat in the next 3-4kms to the “C” point. From the C point, I was back on trail for the next 5km or so. It was fun to see the body extend itself during this section. I was somewhat slower but still in sight of 50k in 5hours. But given my course changes, the possibility of me having to go longer was a given.

Pics courtesy: Sportstatsindia

I kept to a decent pace and still managed to read a 49.5 in 5hrs and then ran the extra 1.5k to finish in a time on 5:10:xx

My previous best for a 50k with 2200m of climb was way back in the Golden Gate Ultra at SFO in 5:28, so this would have to be my personal best. Also, with the ultra-champ Sampath having clocked a 5:14 in the same course last year, this was also a course record!!

Rajesh quickly verified my timing and handed out the beautiful winner’s trophy and finishers medal. I grabbed a quick breakfast, mixed a protein shake and rode back home on my ‘bull’et, keeping a close tab on the speed-o-meter – didn’t want to be fined for over-speeding!!