Thursday, September 29, 2011

Bliss and Blisters.

KTM came, KTM went, blog posted. Come Wednesday, the BlackBerry buzzed early in the morning. There it was - the email confirming my participation at Brazil 135. There was no turning back now. Training, and real, proper, hardcore training for BR-135 had to be kick-started; those meticulously planned runs (which incidentally were never run) had to be actually run. There was no scope anymore to postpone runs on frivolous excuses like 'there are no horses for me to pace with' or 'only 55 crew as against the planned 56' or 'no ambulance in case of an emergency' or '27 cars are too little to carry all the supplies needed for the run' or whatever else I could think of to put the run off to another day. What was left was a practical, doable, training run of 150k which had to be done. The route was unplanned. Unknown. I broached the topic with Aparna Choudhari post KTM and she readily agreed. The run was on. For the next weekend. The only thing known was that the run would be in/around Pune. And we left. Aparna for Pune; I for Ahmedabad.

A couple of emails exchanged and one phone call on Wednesday to check on the whole plan - route, water, car, nutrition, food, medication, and other knickknacks like weighing scale, sterilized safety pins for puncturing the blisters, etc. etc.- and we were ready to go. I planned to reach Pune on Friday evening / Saturday morning. The run was planned from Saturday evening onwards.

But in between KTM and the Pune run, a few developments took place which call for a little digression.

After a few people told me that they found my blog 'inspirational', I started to hallucinate that they probably found me to be inspirational as well and so decided to live a life that would be becoming of a person who was an inspiration to others. In about ten minutes, I realized that there had been a massive error of judgment; before twelve minutes were up, I recalled what I had heard in college, at that time as a joke. "I prayed to God and asked for a bike. But I realized that God doesn't work that way, so I stole a bike and asked for forgiveness." And I was back to living life the way I do. Make my mistakes, confess, ask for forgiveness and get on to the 150k run.

1. Kavitha Kanaparthi: When I asked her if she would crew for me at BR-135, she readily agreed. And in course of our discussions, gave me a lot of tips on the do's and don'ts of running an ultra. Anyone who knows me well enough, knows me to be a cynical *&%@#$&.  Kavitha did not know me at all, so she kept telling me to cross-train, to meditate, to do yoga etc. which was logical, but which I wasn't doing simply because I did not want to. She also gave me some outlandish suggestions like 'practice getting bored'. What??!! Practice getting bored??!! Thankfully, the communication was over email and phone so Kavitha did not see my smirk. Nor could she read my mind which was screaming, "Oh yeah, yeah, yeah!!! I'm new here and you're a veteran, so go on, take my case!" The only reason I followed whatever she told me was because she had prior experience of crewing and was probably speaking from experience. I had no doubt that she was taking my case, but she had experience and...

2. Piyush Shah: He kept telling me how I should incorporate walking into my runs. How running and walking were two different ball games and how I needed to be proficient in both if I was looking to complete BR-135 within my time targets. Piyush kept insisting that running 35-40-50-60k was one thing; any distance beyond that would necessarily need a walk-run strategy. Okay, Piyush had successfully done 100k at Sundown Singapore and he probably knew what he was talking about. I might have agreed with what he was saying but fact is, he did not give me a choice. Since he is my running buddy everyday except when I/we are running at events, walking was automatically incorporated into the runs.

3. My Lies: A few of my friends read a lot about running and are thus extremely sound in terms of theoretical knowledge about the sport. (I too read a lot but my mindset is to read and question. Friends of mine read and imbibe, so their theoretical knowledge is far greater than mine.) They were asking me quite a few pertinent questions with regard to my preparations for the 150k. Two questions were being repeatedly asked of me. "What was the last long distance that you ran (in order to prepare for the 150k)? And when (how many weeks back) was this?" The truthful answer to this - that I had not gone upwards of a 45k in the last three and odd months and that my longest run had been a 65k - would not have cut any ice. It would have, on the contrary, invited comments which would have demotivated me. So I chose to lie my way through the questions. To the question of the longest distance I had done, the answer varied from person to person and rose with each passing day, starting at 85k and peaking at 125k. I have a feeling that had I answered these questions with something like, "Craziness and a little determination carries one along way and I have an abundance of both so..." it wouldn't have gone down too well.

That I covered the distance, and did it in pretty good time is an appropriate answer to all those excuses of 'I haven't done this kind of a distance before' or 'my marathon timing really sucks right now and...' or 'I'm planning to increase my running in small increments' or whatever else one can think up. For all of this, I would ideally like to write what is on my mind, but that would make this unprintable.

One just needs to remember that a little bit of craziness and a little bit of determination will always help one cover great distances.

Sermonizing over, now let's cut to the 150k run.

When Aparna and I met on Saturday Morning in Pune, we knew that support in terms of non-running crew who would accompany us was not working out. We tried to get others, but to no avail. Fortunately, Bhupendrasing Rajput was going to be joining us somewhere soon after we started and the three of us instead of two was a relief. It was weighing on Aparna's mind that the details of the run had been put up on the internet, making it more difficult for us to abort and quietly slink away if things did not work out. This was precisely the idea behind publicizing the run, but it also did build up the pressure to perform. Both, Aparna and I were so full of nervous energy and nervous tension that we wanted to start the run right there and then.

After discussing the strategy for the run over a cup of coffee, we did some shopping that was left and proceeded home for rest. Meeting at 6:30 p.m., we picked up bananas, oranges and water and off we were to Balewadi Stadium, the start point.

After weighing ourselves, and deciding that a weight loss of over 3 kgs every 8 hours would be a cause of concern as would be weight gain, we set off. As we started, Aparna really had to reign me in tight to stop me from going too fast. The 15 minutes of running at a pace of 7:30 per km and walking for 5 minutes was what we were doing. However, we were regularly going above the stipulated pace as it seemed too slow. at about the 21k mark, Bhupendrasing joined us as we were descending down to Pirangut after Chandni Chowk.

With fresh legs, Bhupendrasing was surging forward and Aparna was keeping the pace as close to 7:30 per km as possible. At the 42k mark, we had exceeded the set pace and had reached with more than thirty minutes to spare. We continued ahead and at about the 48k mark, we were at the base of Temghar Dam. From there on it was a relentless climb of 8k. A climb so steep, if we stopped, we risked falling backwards.

Cursing ourselves for not having chartered out an easier route, cursing the hill for being so steep, so high and so long, cursing the night for not showing us everything but one hairpin bend at a time, cursing everything we could think of, we continued to plod upwards. The only thing that had any semblance to speed or pace were the swear words exiting our mouths. our run wasn't a run anymore. It wasn't a walk. A slow crawl would describe it best. As we reached Lavasa and saw the lights below, we did not see anything.

All we could feel was a massively cold wind blowing which threatened to chill us down to our bones. We ran to the car, rolled up the windows and decided that a 15 minute power nap would do us a lot of good. It did. As we started going down from Lavasa to Temghar Dam at 2:30 am, the chill seemed to have intensified. We decided to run down. By now, we were lagging behind our planned time of 90k in 12 hours, which would have meant that 60% of the route had been covered in the first 12 hours. Running down would give us two advantages; (i) we would start to feel less cold as our bodies heated up and (ii) we would make up for lost time, however little that contribution might add up to in the final analysis. In 45 minutes, we were down at Temghar Dam, having covered the entire 8k. There we checked our weight. All normal, we could continue without the slightest problem.

from there on till the start of Mutha Ghat, was a walk-run with the 15 minute run getting more and more difficult for me. There is a twist here; a discovery about myself which I am not putting down here. The technical details would make this boring; instead those details are best left for my team to discuss and build a strategy around.

My shoes were giving me blisters; I changed them and the new pair posed newer problems. However, I continued to push ahead till the start of Mutha Ghat from where we walked uphill. We ran downhill again and walked up all the way to Chandni Chowk. About two kilometers before Chandni Chowk, Aparna declared that she was stopping at Chandni Chowk, the 92k mark. She was too bored to continue, she said. Also, we were more than two hours and thirty minutes behind schedule.

As Bhupendrasing and I bid adieu to Aparna at Chandni Chowk, we tried to run. The sensation was very funny. As the foot hit the ground, it caused the top layer of the skin to vibrate sending a burning sensation throughout the body. I stopped running. So did Bhupendrasing. Unknown to each other, we were both trying to come to terms with the loss of a team mate, trying to reason out Aparna's quitting at Chandni Chowk.

Our walk was really slow. A crawl would be faster. A motorman, who probably did not like the idea of us walking along the highway, his personal fiefdom, chose to cut me off. Taken by surprise, I darted to the left, twisting my ankle on the shoulder of the road. As I got into the car to apply some spray, I noticed two blisters had burst and there was blood in the shoe. I did what I thought was the best thing to do in the given situation. I forgot I had even noticed anything that I mentioned, wore the shoe again and got out of the car, to begin walking. the slow pace continued, till both Bupendrasing and I, totally bored started to pick up pace. Both of us were very bored, there was nothing to converse about but I was at peace with myself. Kavitha's advice of 'learning to get bored' was paying off handsomely here. We continued the brisk walk after Warje onto Malvadi and Khadakvasla and from there on till the base of Sinhgad. In that fuzzy, muddled and confused state of mind, I assumed that was the last leg of the run. As I thought I finished, the distance said 134k. That was another 16k to go!!

There was no sense of disappointment, there was no anger, there was no fear there was absolutely nothing. All that was there was the mind saying that the 16k had to be completed. And the brisk walk turned into a slow jog, moving ahead into a slightly fast jog and onto a slow run. I have no idea where the energy for it came from. But this continued, run some, walk a little, run again. at about 6:45 pm, about 23:30 hours from the start, there I was, 150k under my belt.

But there was still some left. Bhupendrasing asked the driver to drive another 1km, and marked out the spot where I had finished. He continued to run, going up to the car, coming back to the spot that he had marked. He did another 6km. At 135k, he was satisfied and we decided to call it a day.

My Details:
Distance covered: 150k
Time taken: 23:30 hours (approximate)
Weight lost: 5.5kgs

Ultimately, 150k is just a number. With a little bit of craziness and a little bit of determination, it can be conquered. Let it not appear daunting. And dare it does, remember this blog.


  1. Nicely written.. I could feel your pain and determination. Best of luck for Brazil!!

  2. Hey, its good to read your blog. Wish you the best for Brazil.