Will You Run Stronger Post Lockdown ? Maybe Not Yet.

Time to lace up and burn some rubber. To hit the road and hopefully some trails too. Something most runners have been looking forward to. 

Photo by Sunyu Kim from Pexels

With most cities in India starting to relax some restrictions on movement, runners can finally reclaim their right to the road. But if you are expecting the same speed and bounce in your step that you were proud of before the lockdown, you might be in for some disappointment. More often than not, it won’t feel the same, it will probably really suck to start with. Maybe that’s what they meant by the ‘New Normal’. 

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But I have been working out #Everydamnday !!

Running groups and communities, some qualified and some not so qualified trainers as well as your favorite fitness influencers made sure that your social media feed was full of WOD challenges, strength & mobility routines, running specific drills and some good advice on maintaining and improving fitness while staying indoors. A lot of runners made time for these workouts with impressive diligence. 

Few others were driven enough to clock some crazy distances anyways, even if that meant doing infinite loops of whatever little space they were able get access to. And there were those who have been making friends with stair-case and climbing the height of a mountain every other day. 

It is really awesome if you have been able to make time for improving or even just maintaining your fitness in a time when all that we have known as routine was thrown out of window. Must have been  great to finally make time for those mobility, stretching and strengthening routines and to strengthen some of the otherwise neglected and forgotten muscle groups. 

It is okay even if you didn’t. This was not a 60 days’ sports training camp. We all have our own battles to fight. Irrespective of what you did or didn’t do in past two odd months, everyone had to dig deep and find a mental fortitude to handle the uncertainty and anxiety of this whole situation. So you are still doing great and have something to be proud of. 

As we all know that beyond a certain point, Running is a ‘mental’ sport. 

But don’t expect that that #betterthanyesterday or #fasterandstronger feeling in the first few outings. Fact remains that you have not been running. All the good work and cross training from past few weeks will definitely go a long way in injury prevention and to make you a better runner. But your body will need some time to regain its ‘running fitness’.

Consider it like coming back from an injury or rehab and gradually start building up on speed and distance. ‘Too much too soon’ has caused more running injuries than any gait and posture issue or a faulty shoe. So hit the road smiling – even if its hidden behind your mask and get back in the zone. With no races on calendar for next few months, this is actually one of the best times to start with aerobic base building before shifting gears or to commit to a training plan and take your game to next level. 

Remember: Running is a life-long passion !! 

#RunStrong #RunHappy

P.S. I will be sharing a few more blogs on ‘running post lockdown’. These are my personal thoughts on the subject and not a prescription. Being an ultra-trail runner and a certified marathon coach might have impacted the thoughts expressed above. 

Matheran Endurathon 2017 – from Enduring to Racing..

RACE REPORT – Matheran Endurathon 50k_ 09 July 2017

Location – Matheran hill station, Neral, Maharashtra

THE PAST : 17 July 2016, Matheran Endurathon 2016

After finishing the first 25k loop in about 3 hrs (which was good for my fitness level at that time), my right leg started hurting. I slowed down and took time to stretch, hoping it will go away and tried to keep moving forward. But everytime I got into the running stance, there was a sharp pain behind my right knee which ran up to the thigh. I pushed through helplessly for another hour and it only got worse. For some reason, walking did not hurt as much. So I decided to walk the final 12-15km and managed to keep at it without stopping to finally hobble across the finish line in 6Hr 45 min.

This race in 2016 was the first time I picked up a running related injury. It was very frustrating as my body was ready to go but the right leg was just not willing to play ball. I felt miserable but at the same time there was a sense of satisfaction that I finished.

THE PRESENT : 08 July 2017, a day before Matheran Endurathon 2017

Less than a month to my BIG race for the year – Javadhu Hills Ultra 100K, I am in better shape than I have ever been. My last 30 days cumulative mileage hovering consistently above 300Km and I had just peaked my weekly mileage at 100km.

TRAINING :  In addition to conditioning for long hours on feet, I have been conditioning a bit for speed as well. Since there is only so much time to train, the speed training meant going all out for one of the final Km/s and making it the fastest Km for each run. Something like a 1km tempo squeezed in towards the end of every run. I can tell you that my legs hate this part, but they seem to be getting more used to the suffering with every passing day.

BUILD UP : Signing up for Matheran 50k was a no-brainer. It’s a complete trail running experience. With monsoons generally being in full swing around this time of the year, lashing rains, drizzle and mist was pretty much a sure thing during the run. I had personally pulled in about 20 runners to sign up and majority of active members of  #UTRC gang (https://www.instagram.com/univedtrailrunnersclub/)  had also signed up. So this was going to be like Home grounds.

Car-pooled with Bobby and reached Matheran Car Park (Dasturi Naka) by around 4:30PM. The cool thing about this place is that the hill station is 100% vehicle free. Which also meant that we had to hike it up to Hotel Ashok (3.5-4Km) for collecting our bibs. The same hotel was also the start and finish point for the race. After a few mix-ups and changes, I finally ended up getting a room at Hotel Ashok which meant I could (at least theoretically) sleep for an extra hour.

We collected our bibs, dropped the baggage in our room and went towards the market for a stroll and enjoying some bhajiya and tea which tasted heavenly in that weather. Afterwards, I headed off to Hotel Westend where Amit, Monica and few others were staying at. Amar, Pranaya and Jitu were also there and we had some interesting discussions about trail running scene, training, performance parameters, HRMs, recovery, gear and Panthers over dinner.

FUN FACT: BLACK PANTHER is Leopard/ Jaguar with melanistic color. something like Albino (white) Lions and they are not a different species as I had always thought. [#ThingsWeTalkAbout]

We could have kept at it for whole night but that was not an option 🙂 So I went back to Hotel Ashok to join my friends there over Dinner.

RACE DAY

I got up at 4:30AM and stepped outside. It was dark and misty, the air was fresh and temperature was very pleasant. A normal person smile and go back to the bed. But that not how we roll. To enjoy the rain we play in it. There was enough time to get freshen up and gear up before the 6:00 AM start. A lot of familiar faces a lot of positive vibes.

 

MINDSET : Given the previous year experience, I had been thinking that a sub 6hr finish will be a good result. But at the same time, I was in RACE mode today. The plan was to go all out and the gear choice reflected the same.

SHOES: Instead of my comfortable cushioned ALTRA LonePeak , I picked up my MERRELL All Out Crush which is built for speed on trails with an aggressive outsole which gives the confidence to go fast on a slippery terrain.

OTHER GEAR: Suunto Ambit Sport3 watch / Injinji Socks / DIY Crop top / Nike 7″ shorts / wayfarer sunglasses and a buff.

HYDRATION & NUTRITION: RRUN Endurance Gels X 2 – 1 Salted Caramel and 1 Espresso Cappuccino which also had caffeine. The aid stations were supposed to be available at an average of every 2Km with and were supposed to have Enerzal, Water, Bananas and other stuff so there was no need to carry much else.

THE START:

It was still dark at 5:45 AM and organizers were contemplating delaying the start by 10-15 minutes but the clouds cleared up and the race was flagged off at 6:00 AM and a race marshal on horse lead the way. I wanted to stick with the leading pack. With 80 odd athletes at the starting line, I did not want to miss the sounds of nature in the hustle bustle of runners. So I started off fast. At the heels of the race marshal.

0-12 KM / 1 hr 9 min / 1 hr 9 min

The two longest downhills (which later becomes uphills) of the course are within the first 2 Km and most people take it easy here and wanted to be a little cautious on the trail. I was able to break away from the mid-pack here itself.

The first loop is pretty serene as you will be the only one on the trails. The only sounds that you will hear will be of singing birds, waterfalls, rain and your footsteps. Its easier to find a rhythm and maintain it. At the same time, its equally tempting to find a rock overlooking the valley and just sit on it, absorbing all that you can. Not today.

Amit  (last year’s winner) flew away from the get go and Pranaya decided to chase him down. With neither the intent, nor the capacity to chase them, I settled for leading the pack which followed and pretty soon I was with the race marshal who also decided not to chase the two speedsters.

At around 3 Km, i was joined by Swapnil, a young boy from Pune and soon after there was another boy, Bhupender from Chattisgarh. They were setting the pace now and I was just keeping up.

Amit Mehta (UTRC) was waiting before the 12.5K turnaround point to see us and he clicked some pics. He stared at me and then at his watch and asked ‘what are you doing?‘ So i looked at my watch and realized I have been going too hard. But I was feeling well. ‘I am racing today‘ is probably what I said to him.

12-24 KM / 1 hr 10 min / 2 hr 19 min

We got chatting about the boys’ experience with this distance and the terrain. Surprisingly, it was their first trail run but they were running with a lot of confidence on the trails. Bhupender told me he primarily runs roads and max distance he had ever ran was 30 Km, mostly without water or mid-run nutrition. I suggested that he is in a good shape if he could start eating and drinking early on to avoid hitting the wall or running on empty after 30-35 Km. Swapnil added his bit and we pushed Bhupender to stop and pick enerzal or a banana from every other aid station.

After some time the boys decided to speed up. I was wise enough (Or maybe just not capable) to hold back. However I sustained the pace that I had managed from the beginning.

Met Amit Kumar before completing the first loop, he probably went too hard initially and had started cramping by now. Pranaya was  now in the lead but going cautious as his ITB was flaring up a bit. As expected, Ishan caught up with me before I finished the first loop and we ran together for a bit. I was getting a bit cautious by now as I haven’t raced this hard ever.

24-36 KM / 1 hr 28 min / 3 hr 47 min

One loop was supposed to be 25Km and we had to repeat it to make it 50Km. Thanks to the terrain, mist and clouds rising from the valley, it didn’t really felt monotonous or repetitive at all.

By the time most runners start the second loop, the crowd of tourists starts taking over parts of the trail, blocking the way and many a times just hollering around and killing the serenity of  this place. The more time one took for the second loop, the worse it got.

Ishan was nice enough to stick around for sometime after we started second loop, but soon , it was time for him to take off. “Positive Attitude and Negative splits” is the best way to describe Ishan’s running. He just sticks around with the leading pack for the first half and once warmed up, he would start chasing down the lead runners one after another.

I met Amit Mehta again on the route and he seem to be relieved seeing that I haven’t blown up yet. Amit said I was on time for a Sub-6 hr finish, my initial target. I told him am going for a sub-5:30.

Amit also told me that Ishan had a terrible fall at 34 Km and his knees and palms were bleeding. I knew that wouldn’t stop him and sure enough I saw him battling it out with a smile before I reached the U turn point for the final time.

 

36-48 KM / 1 hr 32 min / 5 hr 19 min FINISH

It was only now that I started looking at my pace and timing. Until now it was all by feel – I felt good, I pushed harder. As planned, I took my second gel, Espresso Cappuccino flavor with and caffeine for that second wind effect as I turned around.

The crowd was increasing and got quite irritating at some points. Though it was better than last year when somebody actually asked me if I was carrying matches – hidden somewhere in my running shorts and compression top which were dripping with rain and  sweat. “Seriously!!”

Many of the aid stations were running empty already and all they had to offer was water. They were probably waiting/ arranging for a refill of supplies but there were quite a few runners who faced the same issue. From experience, I have learnt to go into a race with an assumption that a bunch of aid stations would just not be there. So I was able to take it in stride.

I would be the only one to blame if I messed up my race because I didn’t get enough calories or hydration.

So I carried on, keeping an eye on timer and distance markers. With each Km passing by, a sub-5:30 looked more doable. I was at sixth position now and in no mood to let go of that as well.  There is no ‘Top 6’, its either ‘Top 5’ of ‘Top 10’. So there was some effort being made to move up by one place before reaching the finish line.

I could feel that my feet were almost trashed by the hard running. The big toe on my right right foot had taken a beating from the few times i hit a rock and almost took a fall. But stopping wouldn’t have stopped the suffering. It stops at the finish line.

Owing to my training for 100K being on track, I did not take any walking breaks until almost crossing 40 Km. But now I was walking the uphills and running only downhills and flats.

THE FINISH – Official timing 5hr 19min. Actual distance 48.2 Km

So I didn’t lose my standing Or gained any and finished 6th overall. My smile and stride was intact when I crossed the finish line to claim the ‘CHAMPION’ title which was declared for people finishing under 5 hr 30 min. This would be the first time that I will have some bling to take home in addition to the Medal which everybody gets.


The two boys I initially ran with, finished first and second. Bhupender, who finished first was kind enough to thank me for what I told him about not waiting to go empty on nutrition. Ishan missed podium by 4 minutes but he is the real  champ for having the fortitude to keep on running even after picking up the injuries from his fall. Pranaya finished his first ultra trail race in top 5 and is now confident of tackling his first 100K at Javadhu next month. Monica ran a sub-6 50K to finish first amongst the women and Tara finished second which is pretty cool given that this was her first trail and first ultra run. Though she wasn’t that excited with her win as there wasn’t much competition or a good fight amongst females in the 50k category. Hope that changes over time.

I had the best run ever, felt strong and was able to sustain running at a good speed for much longer than I expected. It was only when I looked at my splits later in the day, that I realized how fast I was running. The pace for first 21 Km was almost the same as my fastest Half Marathon on road till date. Training gains are for REAL.

IT WILL HURT, IT IS SUPPOSED TO” was my mantra through this race.

Matheran was essentially a training race for JHU 100K. But the way it panned out had left me much more confident and sure about what I want to do at Javadhu next month. (That was on Monday)

REALITY STRIKES

On Tuesday I realized that right big toe is unusually swollen and I could feel a build up of infection and puss around the nail. I could either take a course of anti-biotics and hope for the infection to dry out OR I could go under knife to remove the nail and clean up the mess. I opted for the latter as I wanted a definite solution.

No Running for at least a week.

CLOSING

Kudos to RunBuddies for giving us a piece of heaven to run at. The core team is passionate and puts a lot of heart and effort in organizing this event. Matheran can be a logistical nightmare but the team will have to get better organized to ensure a consistent support for runners on the trail. Maybe stick to having limited number of aid stations which have the essentials instead of too many aid stations and many going out of stock mid-race will work better. I believe that the organizers have taken  the feedback in good stride.

Matheran Endurathon will remain a must do on my list for myself and anybody seeking to explore trail running and/or looking for their first ultra trail race.

THANKS to Team Veloscope, for all the beautiful images. Another reason why I look forward to RunBuddies events.

And CHEERS to every single runner who showed up for enjoying the trails and brought in loads of positive vibes. before during and after the race.

P.S. Next up is a 100K at Javadhu on 06 August. The toe seem to be healing alright. The pain has almost gone and follow-up visit today (15 Jul 2017) evening to change the bandage will give me a better idea of how soon I will be able to wear my running shoes. I am hopeful of squeezing in 10-12  days of training before JHU and that shall put me back on track. 

PHOTO CREDITS: Amit Mehta & Team Veloscope.in

You can also follow my journey on a more regular basis on my instagram page –  https://www.instagram.com/joshmach/

RoK2017_Back with a Bang

RACE REPORT: Run of Kutch 100K_10-11 Feb 2017

LOCATION: Rann of Kutch, The white Desert

KM20 / 2Hr 10 min

I was running within my threshold, but the threshold for a 20K training run !!

There were two conflicting thoughts in my mind at this point >>

1. Don’t be a fool in the first half , once you burnout, the race is over  2. I have trained for this. I am not going to drop from the chase. 

 

RUN-UP To RoK 2017

TRAINING > ‘Ideal’ training plans didn’t make much sense to me as I just didn’t have that kind of base or enough time to log in that kind of mileage. So I started pushing my limits with my existing fitness and mileage as base. Conditioning was primarily done through Back to Back to Back training runs with the longest single run being 32K and the biggest 3day block being at 59K. The Goal was to be in better shape than the previous year. About 540K of running over an 11 week countdown to the race got me there, almost. (I am conscious here that this might be less than the kind of mileage somebody training for a Marathon would put in. But I had to work with what I had.)

This is my second trail 100K. I ran my first 100K on the same course an year back in Feb 2016. Back then, the target was just to finish Or find out that I couldn’t.

My First 100K >> 100k and I am just Getting Started

Terms of engagement are different this time. I am no longer intimidated by the distance, I know the course and what to expect in terms of terrain and support. And felt confident that my training for RoK 2017 was definitely better than what I managed for RoK 2016.

Other than training, I was also pretty confident about my Gear. I have probably spent more time geeking out on gear than the time I spent on actual training 😉

The START >> As the first light hits the ground, a group of 17 athletes start their 100k and 160k race an exit the gates of historic Lakhpat fort. It gives you quite a rush as you exit the fort and a cool breeze from far away hits your face.

 

KM20 / 2Hr 10min

First 60k of the route is Border Security Force (BSF) territory and we were cautioned during the pre-race briefing to stay to the right side of the harrow lines marked on the sand – the farthest a civilian is allowed to go towards INDIA-PAKISTAN international border. For most part of first half of the race, the harrow lines were pretty much the only significant feature amidst the vast, barren, white desert that we were traversing.

The beginning few kilometers are tricky with small rocky hills, thorny bushes, heaps of sand and slushy surprise beneath the crispy dry top layer. The slush could be a few inches to more than a foot deep depending upon one’s luck. All runners but one managed to navigate through the initial slush minefield without much damage. Her foot sunk in about a feet and she almost lost her shoes. The commendable thing is that she kept going on undeterred for another 80+ kilometers before calling it a day.

 

Out of 17 runners at the start line, there were only 4 civilians and the rest of the field was from the armed forces. A bunch of young runners from the Indian Navy took off at a a fast clip right from the beginning to take the lead. Against my initial plan to ease into it for the first 10-15K, I decided to switch gears and not to let the race leaders out of my sight. I was hoping they will slow down a bit after the first 10-15k but they didn’t break a sweat. I was feeling good so I kept on with the chase, closing in every time they took a walking break or stopped at an aid station.

Aid stations in this patch were BSF posts that offered water, lemonade, bananas and dates. The soldiers were so encouraging and friendly that it just felt wrong not to stop to say a hello / ‘Jai Hind’ and at least take a sip of fresh lemonade.

I love running solo but I also enjoy company when I get that opportunity. Caught up with a young Navy officer – S K and another runner from Canada – Ravi on this patch. The duo was great company and I ended up spending major part of my run upto 65K with them. While S K was relatively new to ultra running, Ravi had some solid experience. When three of us were running together, SK was a bit worried about other runners and their pace. Ravi calmed him down with some words of wisdom >> ‘RUN YOUR OWN RACE‘. I believe that this is The mantra for any seasoned long distance runner and likewise, Life !!

KM40 / 5Hr 16min / 3 Hr 6 min (Lunch)

Loose sand kept slowing us down and the slush pits kept surprising us for the next few KMs as we moved ahead next to the harrow lines. This changes at around 32K mark as we scramble over a few hills. No trail to follow, just a series of  ribbons which suggest the direction one is supposed to proceed in. Mohnish and Avinash from Globeracers team seem to take sadistic pleasure in marking this patch in a way that almost always leaves you with a bunch of scratches and thorns in your shoes, on a good day. I love this break in the monotony and the fact that lunch awaits on the other side of these hills at the 36Km mark.

I knew that this would be a good opportunity to close in on the leading pack. I did catch them at the aid station but they were ready to roll by the time I got in. I took some rice, daal (lentils) and curd in a bowl which made for a quick and easy meal. Plan was to not to waste too much time at aid stations and I was on my way in under 20 min after the mandatory medical check-up.

 

KM60 / 8Hr 31min / 3Hr 15 min (Dinner – Lemonade)

40K to 60K is a challenge of another kind – It’s mostly straight and featureless as we traverse through desert but the sun gets blazing in all its glory around this time. It gets difficult to maintain pace and to make things worse with your head, there is mirage. 

Energy levels were good and i was getting some clarity on what I wanted to do in the second half of the race. A sub-15 Hr finish was appearing within reach – I just had to keep doing what i was doing – for a couple of more hours 😉

A strong headwind was blowing which countered the blazing sun but also prevented us from moving any faster or even finding a rhythm. On a few occasions, holding your ground itself was taking significant effort.

The 60k aid station was the second big landmark for the day. I finally caught up with the leaders at this point. There  were chairs and a few cots to lie down upon. Took a lot of willpower to keep my distance. A few gulps of lemonade, water refills and back to the grind in under 10 minutes.

As I walked out of the aid station, Ravi had just reached and he decided not to stop and keep going. So off we went.

 

KM80 / 11Hr 40min / 3Hr 9 min

At this point, we say good bye to BSF territory and fixed aid stations. The three support vehicles, which included an ambulance, keep shuttling between the first and the last runner, providing a decent coverage and support.

After sharing a major highway with trucks for about 4Km, we get on a trail to get on another road which barely gets any traffic later in the day. This one keeps going on forever. Despite the monotony, this works out well for runners as well as organizers as it is easier to stay on course after sunset. It is a decent tar road to start with, but gradually gets worse and eventually turns into a dirt track. An odd shepherd hut breaks the monotony of the desert and you pass a few herds of cattle ruminating about the day that was.

Ravi and I were now leading the 100K field, but Ravi wasn’t feeling great and decided to slow down a bit. I was feeling alright and wanted to make the best of the daylight. So I went ahead.

Ultras don’t start until the two-thirds of distance. It was around this time, that the ‘RUN‘ changed to ‘RACE‘ for me and the new target was to finish at the top.

I kept pushing, breaking into a jog when could and brisk walking for the rest of the time. It was total mind game now and my conditioning as a ‘solo’ runner really helped at this point.

KM100 / 15Hr 14min / 3Hr 34 min

Somewhere after 80K mark, I saw two lights ahead of me. These were two runners from Indian Air Force who were running the 100 miler and were executing their race day plan to perfection. I paced up to catch up with them. Vatsy and Raj made for great company through the final push.

My feet have started complaining by now. I could feel the stiffening and build up of cramps and it was hurting bad at times. So I laughed – that’s how I deal with pain and it did work to a good extent.

As we had slowed down a bit, another runner from the Indian Air Force, Gary caught up with us. He pushed hard and almost blew up trying to catch up with us as he just did not want to carry on solo. For the final stretch, we pushed each other to finish strong.

 

THE FINISH >> KM 103 / 15Hr 40 min

The final few Kms are tricky, with a bunch of twist and turns, before we get into sandy, salt pan terrain, and follow an endless series of electric poles to the eluding finish point. The GPS beeps 100K but you don’t see the finish point. Something typical to trail ultra races, unlike road marathons which would define the distance upto two decimal points and make there best attempt not to deviate, here the distances are not accurate and they don’t need to be. 

To keep moving forward after your GPS watch declares that the race should already be over now, is another task altogether. The body wants to shut down and you feel as if you are rubbing a dying battery between your palms to make it work for a few more minutes – there is fear, there is hope and desperation, and there is no promise that the battery (body) will come back to life/ motion for long enough to make it to the finish line.

FINALLY MADE IT !!

So we finally saw that spot, in the middle of nowhere, marked only by a support vehicle and a couple of volunteers standing next to it, clapping.

I still had some spirit and life left in my body to do a little sprint to the finish and I dragged Gary along. I felt a surge of joy, accomplishment and gratitude as I stood there.

CLOSING >> Gary had totally burnt out by now and was shivering. So he was given a blanket and rushed into the support vehicle. Vatsy and Raj took a few minutes to stretch before heading back to log another 60K before calling it a day. After a few handshakes, hugs and a few celebratory push-ups, I sat at the finish point and took in the moment as we waited for others to finish. I missed my ‘A’ goal for the day – to finish under 15 Hrs but still ended up with a new course record and finished on top of the field which was pretty cool.

At the same time, there was a feeling of a void. A purpose that had driven me for the last 3 months was checked off the list.

I have earned myself the ‘Desert Bandit’ title. WHAT NEXT !!?!!

“I HAVE TRAINED FOR THIS SHIT” was my mantra through this race.

There are a thousand things that can go wrong and end your race when you are running Ultra distances. I am very thankful that I was able to keep it together through the miles to finish strong.

A BIG  Shoutout to the GLOBERACERS team who were having a tough day due to some unavoidable circumstances including the field being spread too wide. But they still managed to support the runners for over more than 30 hours and pulled off an excellent race with no major issues on a single-track trail in the middle of nowhere.

And of course, BSF, who make it possible and shoulder the burden to look after some crazy people running around across the territory that they are responsible for guarding against internal and external threats.

The entire field of runners who raced through the desert and shared positive vibes before, during and after the race.

 

P.S. I will be lining up for my Next 100K at Javadhu in August and on the date of publishing this race report, I am working towards being in even better shape than before when I line up for that next adventure.

You can follow my journey on a more regular basis on my instagram page –  https://www.instagram.com/joshmach/

GEAR >>

  • Tesla Compression top +  DIY crop top
  • Ultimate Direction PB2.0 hydration vest  (2L bladder + 600mL hard flask x2)
  • Reebok tights & Nike 7″ shorts
  • Soxit Calf Compressions
  • Buffs x 2
  • Sun Shades from Decathlon
  • Quipco desert cap
  • Suunto Ambit Sport 3 watch
  • Injinji five finger socks
  • ALTRA LonePeak 2.5 trail running shoes (zero drop)

IMG_0218

NUTRITION >>

  • RRUNN Endurance Gels x3
  • 1 Energy Bar
  • Fast & Up Reload > 8 tabs
  • Dates + Raisins + Banana x3
  • Lunch > Rice+Curd+Dal (Lentils)
  • Lemonade
  • Aloo Bhujiya 😉

Pictures Credits > @Goberacers @Viral Shah @Joshmach

My Insta Page –  https://www.instagram.com/joshmach/

RoK2016_100k and I am just Getting Started

Race Report > Run of Kutch 100K, , Feb 2016

Location > The white Rann

One day i was wondering if i can run a 100K. A day later, i was thinking how soon.. and less than a year later, on a moonlit night in Rann of Kutch, about an hour past midnight,  I find myself standing at the finish line of my first 100K – Run of Kutch Trail Ultra.

And already thinking if i could have done it faster or should i have signed up for a 100 miler (160K)

18th Feb 2016 / 9:00 AM / Bhuj & the ghost town of Lakhpat

We were required to report a day earlier at Lakhpat. The nearest rail-head being Bhuj.  An important trading post connecting Gujarat to Sindh until the waters of Sindhu river until after the earthquake of 1819 changed its course of flow, Lakhpat is now ghost town with empty houses with the majestic fort walls being the only reminder of the past glory. One of the last places accessible to civilians on this side of the Indo-Pak border.

Most of the crew and runners arrived at Bhuj railway station on morning of 18th and that’s where i met a very enthusiastic and cheerful lot of people who were going to share and experience moments of Pain, Suffering, Laughter and Bliss over the next two days in different capacities. One might say that the runners are the ones who will be enduring the most, but every single person who showed up, to run, to be a support crew or even to document this adventure, had signed up to push the limits in some way or other..

The stay was at Lakhpat Gurudwara which was also the starting point for RoK 100K & 160K run. The serenity of the place and ever smiling sewadars at the Gurudwara was the best way to calm the nerves before taking up the task that we have committed to for the following day.

19th Feb 2016 / 7:00 AM / Lakhpat Gurdwara –

ALL GEARED UP

PC: Ashish Sulkh

A small field of 10 runners was raring to go and test themselves against the terrain of Rann of Kutch. With Gear check, Breakfast and Spot Medicals done, the only wait was for the first light to hit the ground so that we could get going. It was a group of 10 runners, half of them attempting  100k and other half going for 100miles (160k). For 5 of these runners, 100K+ was within comfort zone and the question was how much they can improve over their previous outings. For the other half, 100K was unfamiliar territory and a daunting target. Since major part of the route was in BSF territory, there was a quick briefing from BSF personnel about DO’s and DONT’s. Key message being, ‘Never ever cross the Harrow Line’. The harrow Line represented the farthest a civilian can venture towards Pakistan at the Indo-Pak border in this region.

I personally was feeling great. Did manage to get some sleep the night and my little boy was up in the morning to wish ‘Best of Luck’ when i called home before the run. My wife, Pooja, had accepted by now that i had moved to the ‘darker’ side of running, and sneaked in a Good Luck card in my backpack. It read ‘Where there is will, there is a way’.

Based on all the web surfing & personal experiences towards this run, I had two things running in my mind –  Keep going strong just within my threshold & Finish within the cut-off of 21 hrs. On execution side, it meant avoid Blisters or a Burnout.

A BEAUTIFUL & MAGICAL SUNRISE

The first rays of light hit the ground the run was flagged off. First few 100 meters were on tarmac before the red ribbons (route markers) directed us to a terrain which included small hillocks, thorny bushes and sand pits. With the view of sky transitioning from hues of grey to pink, orange and yellow and endless white expanse of white desert to our left, it was easy to find the rhythm and not really think about the daunting task that lay ahead of us all.

Within first few kilometers through this terrain, the runners were split into two clusters and a few runners going solo to take some lead early on. The next patch was a narrow tarmac road parallel to the harrow lines with a gentle gradient followed by a dirt track. Guess the whole bunch got a bit faster traversing through this stretch.

I was sticking with Manik and Dr. Nehal as their pace was similar to mine at this stage and  also because we were able to strike some interesting conversations. It was at around 19th Km where i felt as if ants were crawling in my right shoe. From past experience, i knew that i have to stop for a change of socks to avoid letting this hot spot set off the irreversible process of blister formation. Fortunately, this is where we had our fist major aid station (Two SUVs with supplies of Bananas, Oranges, dates, electral, chocolates and all else that we could need. I asked Dr Nehal and Manik to carry on while i taped a few potential hot spots, dabbed my feet with candid powder and changed my socks. This was a good decision as my feet felt better and i was just about to get out of my comfort zone distance of 21Km. 

PC: Ashish Sulkh

IT WAS A CAKE WALK, LITERALLY, AND THAT WAS NOT EASY!!

After a few more kilometers on the dirt track, we were now running at the edge of the white desert, with Harrow lines to our left. It appeared as if one could see the horizon and beyond, across the impeccably white landscape.

The trail was now very sandy and runner’s feet kept sinking in. Some tried to find a harder or less sandy route but that didn’t help as only a thin top layer was hard and their feet still kept sinking in as the top layer gave in without any resistance or warning. To give you a better perspective, the support vehicle was now a tractor as the terrain wasn’t friendly to anything less than that. With this change in terrain and about 25 Km of distance behind them, the runners were now started to slow down a bit. And Mercury kept rising.

I was moving solo for most part here with an intent to catch up my initial running partners, i made sure i never lost a visual contact and i kept closing in on them. I overtook other runners who had gone all out in the beginning and were slowing down now.  But Dr. Nehal and Manik, now joined by Parag Dongre, were kept moving ahead consistently an i was getting a little doubtful about catching up with them anytime soon. 

THEN CAME THE HILLS

A hilly patch of about 3 Km at roughly 33rd Km. This was the new addition to the otherwise flat trail where elevation haven’t really been a deterrent.  Parag was leading by this time and he kept moving over to the hills after a quick break. Dr. Nehal, who was at RoK for the second year in a row, wasn’t quite amused and that probably slowed him and Manik a little. This patch didn’t really have a defined track and runners had to find their own safe and swift route, from one red flag to the next one. The sun was right over our head by now and we had keep pouring water over heads to avoid heat stroke. The hilly stretch was followed by a dirt track through Jatropha farms to a BSF base where lunch was waiting for us.

‘This is Home’ is what I shouted as i reached the foot of the hill. That’s where i caught up with Manik and Dr Nehal. By the time the hills ended, i had already caught up with Parag and we were the first to reach the BSF post where lunch was being served, at around 36th Km after being on the trails for a little over 5 hrs.  I removed my shoes and left them in the sun to dry and served myself a generous portion of Rice and Dal with Curd, some veggies, chapati and a heap of salad. lunch was followed by some stretching and taping of hot spots and change of socks. And i left with both pockets full of black grapes 😉

With the Hills and almost 40Km behind them and a wholesome lunch, Runners headed back to the trails with new enthusiasm. But the elements were acting up and with temperature flirting with 40’s, to keep moving was a challenge in itself. Parag was still keeping the lead position and with Dr. Nehal caught up with him shortly after the lunch break when the leading pack had to slow down due to some confusion regarding directions. Manik and I were not very far behind and had a silent resolve of not letting them get too far ahead. Nitin ‘Nio Die hard’ and Joel were also keeping the pace and kept catching up with us a bunch of times. Another 10K and the runners scattered further wide. The next major aid station was at 60Km mark where runners had an option to eat dinner or get it packed for later. Most runners reached this point solo with Parag and Dr Nehal in the lead, followed by Nitin, Manik and me. 60K is key milestone for a 100K run as you are more than half way through. The sun was also fading away by now and most runners took a long break here for some self-assessment and setting a more realistic/ aggressive target as compared to what they have started with.

PC: Ashish Sulkh

I was not  really hungry so i got two parathas packed as i gulped a glass full of curd and munched on some salad. Had a few blisters on toes but noting major and i used this break to get some fresh air to my feet, tape the blisters and hot spots, change of socks . I was amazed that i was still feeling good but i did take some time to stretch and removed the insole from my shoes to allow some more space for my feet to swell and splay. And my resolve to finish strong was only getting stronger.

There was a 5-6 km stretch on the road before we had to take an off-road trail to get on another road, after which, it was mostly a straight road until the last 6-7 Km of 100K. The road was broken at most places and there was loose gravel and stones which kept us from going any faster. But the placement of this stretch was nice as it was getting dark now and would be easier for tired runners to continue on straight marked route/ road instead of being on tricky terrains.

But the other side of it is that when you are already slowing down after a long day on your feet, a straight, never-ending road may not really boost your spirits. There were a few landmarks, most prominent being a factory – But it wasn’t coming any closer even after walking for what seemed like eternity.

We had our first casualty just before it started getting dark. Manik, who had been running strong so far, got two big blisters on the sole of his feet. With about 30Km to go, Manik was keen on getting his blisters punctured and taped so that he could keep going. However, he somehow ended up with a ruptured blister. With a ruptured blister at a place which will have to take a beating with every step you take, it is practically impossible to keep going beyond a few hundred meters. Manik had to stop and that was definitely one of the toughest decision he had to take. The fellow runners were equally sad as they came to know about this. After enduring a few hours on a trail with a fellow runner, you get a feeling that everybody is on the same team and the distance is the common enemy that we all are fighting side by side.

I kept going solo for a bit after parting ways with Manik. Nitin was not very far behind and we kept playing catch for a bit and covered  a fair part of the stretch together. i didn’t want to slow down now and kept running (jogging) more often in hope of catching up with Parag and Nehal or at least reducing the lead. Somewhere on this stretch, the support team told me that their lead was only 2-3 Km. ‘Time for Soda Boost’ – I gulped down some Coca-cola and filled one of my bottles with it. This charged me up and the sugar rush helped me go all out for about half a Kilometer before I paced down as i was still not able to see any lights ahead of me and the road was getting rough with lose gravel and stones all over. Around this time, i felt another hot-spot in the making and decided to take a break, allow my feet to get some air and change socks. Nitin caught up with me by this time and we ended up sticking together to the finish line.

FINALLY THE FINISH

[which came after 17hrs 55min as per official time]

There was some confusion towards the last 5-7 Km as there were multiple trails but organizers have marked this section with flashlights/ lamps which really helped. The finish point was nothing significant – Just a point on trail where you could see about half a dozen people waiting for you. But the energy and enthusiasm was infectious and just the type of setting where you would want to finally stop. Finishing a 100K run in itself is such a personally gratifying experience that packaging of this experience does not matter. A carnival at the finishing point or just a solo rock which reads ‘FINISH’ would not make a difference to this experience.

I had another challenge before i reached the finish line. i was tracking the distance with runkeeper app on my phone but I had actually covered a distance of close to 103K by the time i reached the finish line. This is not really a huge variation and was mainly due to additional movement around aid stations and getting lost at a few places. However, when i heard that the distance covered is already  100K and the finish point was nowhere in sight, i suddenly started slowing down even more. It was as if my body has promised me 100K and now it just wanted to call it a day. Nitin wasn’t in great spirits either. So we tried to get some adrenaline boost by shouting some stupid stuff at the top of our voice and that kept us going. Two grown up men, in the middle of nowhere, at little past midnight, shouting their lungs out!!

The feeling at the finish line was awesome and i was ecstatic to know what my body and mind is capable of. As it happens, my mind was also racing to wonder, what else ? What next?                 


THE FOLLOWING DAY

There were 4 runners who had signed up for 160k (100 miler) for whom the race hasn’t finished yet. One of them decided to call it a day at 100K. Bhupender Singh, an established ultra runner from Delhi, had to take a long break as his stomach was upset since about 60th km. Nitin from Delhi and Dr Ashish from Surat were the two guys who kept at it well into the afternoon of the following day to clock 160K in Kutch.

I woke up on time the next morning and I was outside my tent by 7:00 AM. Guess it was mostly adrenaline, but i was feeling good so i picked up my camera and offered to volunteer at one of the aid stations for the 25K & 50K run which was to be flagged off as soon as there was enough light.

This also gave me an opportunity to see Nitin going strong towards the 160K finish line. I also saw Bhupender Singh, who was feeling better now, decided to accompany/ pace Dr Ashish towards his 160k finish in the spirit of a true ultra runner.

  • Was it Stupid?

Yes of course. There were only 10 of us stupid enough to show up at the starting line.

  • Was there any method to this madness?

While I haven’t technically trained for Ultra running like some more seasoned runners who would be doing back to back 30-40k runs on weekends and be able to hold a plank for a few minutes, i had been comfortable with running and being on my feet for a few hours when required, without much trouble. Before signing up for the 100K, i had already completed a 100K walk (Oxfam), 60K odd at 12Hr Mumbai Marathon and  Vadodara 55K trail ultra. So i had a very realistic idea of what i have signed up for and how my mind and body was likely to respond to it.

  • Will I Do it Again?

Hell Yes !!

This amazing adventure wouldn’t have been possible without all the support and good wishes that came in from all corners. But more specifically, it was made possible by:

> GLOBERACERS TEAMThe route is as amazing as it is inhospitable. The organizers made sure it was well-marked and they had access to the runners for the most part – even if that meant that they had to use tractors as the mode of transport where even 4×4 would not dare to go. The support team had been at the trails even before we left our respective homes and they just kept going, supporting the runners and helping us complete what we have started. Be it the Media team or the volunteers, everybody was involved and dedicated as if it was their own race.

> BSF – For their support & Hospitality  warm welcome, aid stations with lemonade and even the soldiers were offering to share their water even at Posts which were not designated aid stations and there was only limited water. They have prepared a complete spread for lunch and stuffed parathas for evening snack/ dinner.

> EVERY FELLOW RUNNER – The atmosphere of camaraderie that was created from the very moment that we met, the laughter & jokes and a genuine concern for fellow runners played an important part, at least for me, in keeping me in the right spirits. The joy of reaching the finish line was collective and so was the pain of a fellow runner who couldn’t. Also my friends and fellow runners in Mumbai who had the faith that i will finish and shared inputs and guidance which all added up to my mental and physical preparations.

> MY FAMILY – Especially my wife, Pooja who wanted to believe that i could do it but couldn’t ignore the fact that 100K was no joke and a stupid act of not respecting the limitations during the run could have serious implications. Also it is not fun when your husband keeps disappearing from home at odd hours and most of the weekends.

#RUNSTRONG