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.
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.
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 TEAM– The 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.