No sooner had I reached home on Monday than I rechecked the certificate, admired the medal once again, saw the pictures posted by Kavitha and had a chat with Gaurav... Now I know for sure it wasn't hallucinations and I officially am a Finisher ay GR Bhati Lakes and a member of the 100 mile club.
Before I embark on the narrative that led to this, I shall quote two separate incidents which would add a different dimension to the story.
I had read my friend, Amit Sheth's account of how, when leaving for what would be their first successful run at Comrades in 2010, his wife Neepa encountered the sole of her shoe falling off. 'Oh yeah!!' the cynic in me had smirked, 'Spice it up. Romanticize it. It'll add up to the magic of the ending. And if the ending is on an unpleasant note, this'll be the reason.'
The second incident took place a little after I got invited for Brazil 135 in June, 2011. I told a few of my ultramarathoner friends whose advice I had been taking to graduate from Marathons to Ultras, that I planned to do a couple of 100 milers before BR-135. "Be careful," one and all advised. "You'll need to prepare." 'Oh really?! I had thought I would step out do do a short and easy 5k but impulsively decide that the weather looked perfect for a 100-miler so I would end up runing 100 miles instead of a short and easy 5k.' "But you misunderstand," they had all said, "Preparing to run is the easy part. Being prepared to deal with other people is what is really, really difficult." And no doubt, this did not make any sense whatsoever, so I went about preparing to run. Other preparations, I did not understand, so I did not deem them necessary.
As I began packing to leave for Delhi on Thursday, 20th October, I packed my shoes, the pair I used regularly. But then, one would find it difficult to run 100 miles in just one pair of shoes, so the other, semi-retired pair of shoes needed to be packed as well. As I got that pair out, the sole looked a little different than what I remembered it to be. I seemed to be definitely crooked. Holding and twisting it a little would get it straight, I thought. As I grabbed the sole and applied a little pressure to it, the sole came off. (Neepa, now I am wiser.) As my jaw dropped to the floor, the sole too slipped from my hand and joined my jaw. I now had just one pair of shoes for a 100 mile run. Not acceptable. The second pair was unusable by any yardstick.
A few franctic calls to my runner friends resulted in their laughing their heads off. The situation might have been humourous, but at that time I did not see anything even remotely funny about it.
Finally Kavitha came to my rescue and suggested that I buy the same brand, same model and same size of shoes that I was currently using so as to make the breaking in easier. That the same model, same size shoes of Nike fit me differently speaks volumes of their quality as they claim it to be. (But that is another matter - let me not digress.)
Shoes bought, I wore them almost continuously for two days so as to break them in for whatever it was worth. And there I was, ready for the run, by Friday evening. Friday in Delhi was spent in doing nothing in particular and in the evening, after collecting the runner's kit, Piyush and I were in the room when it was suggested that a beer to soothe our nerves might be a good idea. I'd like you all to know that for me, beer is never the answer to anything. Beer is the question and yes is the answer!
A beer and huge helpings of butter chicken later, Piyush and I were in bed at about 8:15pm. It remained unsaid but only Piyush crewing me for the entire time was making me jittery. Pushing all negative thoughts away, I drifted off to sleep. I was woken up at 12:30am. Piyush tends to get very nervous before a race and since he couldn't sleep, he woke me up as well. I protested and tried going back to sleep but it was an exercise in futility. Finally at 1:00am, I started to get ready. That done, we left for Surajkund at 3:00am, picking up Bhupendrasing Rajput along the way.
As I reached the start line at Kant Enclave, I was pleasantly surprised to see a proper paved road. I instantly knew that Gaurav had taken all of us for a ride by posting pictures of a dusty, rocky, muddy trail that seemed, for want of a better word, horrendous. Running 100 miles on a paved road was going to be a smooth (pun intended) affair.
For the next hour and a half or so, the seven of us 100 miler participants, Aparna, Raj, Milind, Aditya, Gaurav, Bhupendrasing and I cracked jokes which were devoid of both, intelligence and humor. Nervousness manifests itself in many forms and this was one of them.
Sometime during this, Tanvir, my teammate who was going to be crewing for a very short while since he had prior plans to go out of town, told me that he wanted to pace me right at the start.
As we started, Aparna, Aditya, Bhupendrasing and Gaurav took off. I followed, with Tanvir pacing me and Milind and Raj just behind us. Tanvir and I were doing an easy pace, chatting as we went along. Tanvir was telling me how it might be a good strategy to walk the ups and run the downs when we suddenly heard Milind scream, 'Kya hai yeh?' ('What the F$@# is this?') The paved road had ended. Loose metal was lying on what was supposed to be a road. Forget running, even walking on it was fraught with dangers. Fortunately this patch was for just about a hundred meters or so. Unfortunately, it got worse thereafter. The trail began. The rocky, muddy, trail snaked up and snaked down upto about 6k.It was somewhere here that we saw a fabulous sunrise. Tanvir, Milind, Raj and I got ourselves photographed against this. The photograph, 'captured in Tanvir's and Raj's mobile phone, remains captive. Once it is released, maybe I would post it. Then it got worse. Did it say "Then it got worse" earlier? That was not the place for it. Then it got worse, here onwards. The thorny bushes had benefitted from the abundant rainfall and had overgrown the trail. We delicately moved the bushes aside and moved forward taking care to ensure that the thorns did not hurt us. Only to face another thorny bush, only to repeat the same action. After doing this a third time, we decided it would be better to run through the thorns and take whatever happens in our stride. And that is what we did for the next about a kilometer and a half. Then it got worse. No, really. This is the point where the "Then it got worse." belongs. The trail from here on turned in to a sand track with rocks, a few shallow gorges and even denser thorny bushes. This trail continued till the 10k mark, albeit with lesser sand. As the thorns cut through our skin, we continued running. Finally crossing a shallow gorge and passing between two boulders, we reached the 10k mark. Water, some energy drink and a lemonade later, off we were again. And then it got worse. No, really. I really, really mean it. The statement belongs here. It really got worse from here onwards. 10k was the turnaround point and we needed to traverse all that terrain back to the start line. About 2 - 2.5k from the turnaround point, some 7-8 of us including 30 milers and 50 milers, briefly got lost. Every trail looked the same and every path seemed like we had come from there. Fortunately the correct way was found and we were off again. For the record, the mistake was on our part, we had not seen the sign properly.
At this point, I told Tanvir that I wanted to go faster than what he was pacing me me for. Amit, my friend from Ahmedabad who was running his first ultra, had joined us by then. His pace was more in line with what I was looking for. Both of us, keeping a steady pace, ran from there till the start line.
At the start line, a quick change of shoes (since I had a new pair, the breaking them in was happening over smaller distances), something to munch and off we were towards the 10k mark. Amit was doing a much higher pace than what I had planned. Even though this was not in the original scheme of things, I decided to keep pace with Amit as it would help me cover more miles while still fresh.
Reaching the 10k mark and turning around, we continued running. A couple of kilometers later, I felt a burning sensation under my t-shirt. I lifted my tee to check and sure enough, the tape which worked as a nipple guard had fallen off. The one on the right was intact. Even though it looked quite vulgar, I tried running with my tee pinched away from my chest, but the thorny bushes, sand track, rocks, etc. would have none of it. Amit and I shifted over to walking/running. We had a hearty laugh about how kinky it would sound to a non-runner if he was told that I covered my nipples with medicated tape without having an injury, that the tape had to specifically be round, made of cloth and had to fit to size.
As we were taking this conversation further - on the repurcussions that such a conversation with a non-runner would have on our social lives, we heard some runner running quite heavily behind us. I looked back and to my horror, it was a bull who seemed to have taken umbrage at our dirty little conversation and was charging for us. The way Amit and I took off at this point, I can assure you we could have taught Usain Bolt a thing or two about sprinting, we could have taught Patrick Makau a thing or two about running a sub-2:00:00 marathon. And I swear I'm being modest. Fortunately for us, the bull decided he'd had enough of scaring us and took a turn while we continued going straight. Amit did mention that till now it was dogs who did not like the competition posed by me and maybe it now time to expand the list and include bulls in it. Something gives me the feeling that this is not the last I have heard of this.
returning back to the Aid Station at the Start/Finish line, I ate some more in line with what Kavitha had recommended and set off again towards the 10k Aid Station. At the 4k mark, Amit turned around and headed back to the Finish line to complete his 30 miler. I continued ahead. As I picked up pace to complete as many miles as I could before it got dark, I suddenly felt queasy and there was this urge to throw up. Eating and running do not go together for me. (I had run 150k a couple of weeks ago on all of 3 bananas and litle else.) My body was now protesting being fed. The third loop was completed with a lot of walking, some attempts at running and hope that the nausea would subside. Thankfully, it did. At the end of the third loop, I was placed exactly in the middle. Bhupendrasing, Aparna and Raj, in that order were ahead of me. Gaurav, Milind and Aditya were trailing.
At this point, Piyush began pacing me. The loop was also shortened to 10k owing to safety concerns. Fresh legs and a fresh pacer helped immensely. At the end of the first loop, I was in second place and gaining on the lead with every loop. After a comfortable 10k lead had been established between the second and third places, I wanted to slow down a bit; let my body relax and rejuvenate.
It was here that the clash between the interests of the runner and the pacer's ambitions took place. And led to the repurcussions that something like this would have. And something that I, as the runner and the participant in the race would have to bear.
I was not paying attention to my intake since i was confident that my team was looking after that. When I began cramping massively between the 110 and 120k marks, I realized that I had not consumed ANY salt during the last 60k. Also, being pushed to move ahead at a much higher pace than what my body could take had led to a ligament pull in my right hip.
I still had 40k to go and the pain from the ligament pull was at best allowing me to drag my leg after me. Arun stepped in to pace me here. A new person, a different brain, a different mindset and different topics of discussion all led to lifting my spirits. What helped even more was Arun being ready to move at my pace without putting any pressure on me. During the earlier loops, knowing how close i had come to quitting on more than one occassion, not because I couldn't do it but because I couldn't take the pressure from my pacer, I cannot describe how liberating it was to not be on a tight leash. I cannot thank Arun enough for letting me be myself for a little while.
The remaining 30k went by with huge dollops of massage at the Aid Station, dragging my leg for 10k and another huge dollop of massage. The credit for my finish goes to Mr. Shukla of Artemis Hospital, who patiently massaged the pain away from the pulled ligament after every 10k. The 30k took about 9 hours, but at the end of it, 100 miles had been done. My target of 28-29 hours had gone for a toss; the reasons for this will be debated amongst the team and hopefully the next such run will see quantum changes in terms of strategy. I am sure a lot of improvements too will be in place.
For now, I am happy at being a finisher at GR Bhati Lakes 100. And having come in second does make things sweeter.
The only jarring noise comes from people who either haven't attempted running ultras at all or if they have, not any really long ultras for sure. But they are the ones who will give various logics to undermine what I have done. And these attacks are not direct. Usually, these attacks do not even refer to running, but would be directed more at a personal level.
Maybe, as my other ultra-runner friends had said, one needs to prepare when one runs a 100 miler or more. Prepare to deal with people thereafter.