Chasing the Monsoon

Auroville marathon

This year was really a mixed bag of emotions when it came to running. More injuries than the previous year, lot of self doubt, lows and highs that resembled the Malnad elevation profile! Also I was too lazy to write race reports after every race — so here’s a summary of the year (read long post) so far.

Part 1: Auroville

Auroville marathon
Auroville 2017 with Andre

The year started of at 65 kilos! Hehe Yes — I do occasionally watch my weight. I came back from a fantastic holiday — little running, lots of eating.

From a super year in running the previous year, I thought I would only improve this year, but it wasn’t so — at least didn’t seem so. I had planned which races I was going to do with times that I wanted to do them in. Sadly none of them were met. Was I disappointed — yes initially but then I figured some days (years) are good some not so.

The plan this year was to do more long runs, more tempos and try and fit in some speed work. I wanted to do 1 long run every month, so I started doing 3 loops of nandi (~44k) once a month.

Auroville was my first race in Feb. I hadn’t had trained enough since December so I went in to the run thinking I’ll do what I can. We went in a big group this time and it was loads of fun through out the trip. Thanks to MD for making it happen!

Andre was my cycle lead this year as well — I felt I was in luck. He did a fantastic job of making way for me. The only race where I felt like an elite runner. Only in the second loop does the tiredness (and humidity) hit you. I managed to shave off a few minutes from last year. Auroville rarely disappoints.

Part 2: TCS: 39:00

Work and time constraints meant less time to the track, I cut down on coaching and ran close to home. Not being able to go to the track meant that I did less speed work. This hampered my shorter races in the long run. I could have done it on the road but somehow I just didn’t manage it.

I started my monthly long runs at Nandi. To be specific, I managed exactly 2! I was ambitious about mileage thinking I would be able to keep up 65–70 miles a week. But that didn’t span out. I soon developed a chronic pain at the ball of my foot. Some form of metatarsalgia. This was 3 weeks before TCS — the question was would I be able to recover in time. I thought I should rest it at first but then I met a Physio who said it would be ok to continue with my running. I did. It got worse — to such an extent that walking was painful. 2 weeks before the race I made the decision to just take the next week or 10 days off and hope that the pain goes away. It sort of did. Two things I did wrong that could have lead to this: 1. Stretch more regularly + foam rolling 2. Don’t try a new model/brand of shoes, stick to what has worked int he past.

TCS was a bit of a disaster. It was good till about the 6km mark after which I lost steam. 80 sec more than last year but I was happy it was under 40 mins.

With the injury still plaguing me I was contemplating on whether I should do the rest of the races planned. I let it be. Took some time off, did shorter runs. This meant no Nandi.

Part 3: Bangalore 10k & Ramping up

Yup — I’ve felt better days! Photo credit Geeks on Feet

I had Bangalore 10k coming up in July and Jawadhu 75k in Aug. Long runs started end June but were limited to 18 milers. My weight was still around the 62kg mark. Most of my running was aerobic and did very little speed work. A few tempos and I was standing at the start line of Bangalore 10k. I knew I hadn’t put in the training for shorter races but thought I would some how do close to last year’s time — no didn’t happen.

I focussed on Jawadhu the next few weeks — made sure I put in some high mileage weeks. The injury hadn’t gone away completely but it was good reminder to make sure that I stretched on a regular basis. I started doing core workouts with stretching almost everyday after my run. This in the long term I think helped.

Part 4: Jawadhu 75k 8:00

Jawadhu 75k
Start of the 75k

Like Malnad, I come back to Jawadhu every year for the people and unforgiving trail. What I like about CTC races are they’re no nonsense, the basics are in place and you really don’t need more. The trails are marked well, aid stations well stocked, you get good wholesome food and meet happy, warm people. The heat does take it’s toll, but that’s something that adds to the challenge.

The start timing was something I had to get used to this year. With the 75km & 100km starting at 2am meant:

  1. Breakfast would be practically non existent
  2. We’d be running in the dark for almost half the way — something I had done very little off.

To add to the challenge there was unseasonal rain the night before. Not a drizzle but it really pissed down! Me being me — I decided to sleep in the car thinking there would be less noise from other runners retiring later. As soon as I go into the car the rain began. It must be my karma I thought as I lay there listening to the rain. Some time in the course of the 4 hrs I was there I went to sleep.

The morning was pleasant. It was humid but far better than the heat you have to run through later in the day. Reflectors on the trees really helped show the way. Sampath and Vipul (100k)were the obvious ones to start at some crazy pace. There was no strategy going in to the race. Not having breakfast, had me a bit worried, for after 50k is when you feel it the most if you haven’t had enough carbs.

There were one or two places where we had to wade through water (apparently there was another way past … sigh) / slush. But most of the trail was as it had been the last couple of years. My energy levels were at highs and lows. I had a few gels with me which came in handy.

I met Sampath at the half way mark. He seemed very comfortable. This was after doing 12hrs the previous weekend at the stadium run- crazy!)My legs had started to tire but so long as they didn’t cramp I was ok.

On the return leg the sun had come out. The different hues of green were a refreshing sight. I plodded along just trying to keep to a consistent pace. Vijay (also 100k) wasn’t far behind. He too very consistent and always creeps up on you! I had a lot of people asking how far the 50k u-turn was — sorry I had no clue! I managed to scare a donkey that went and complained to it’s owner — that’s a first!

I caught up with Sampath again at close to 60k mark. It’s good to have company when most of the running you do is alone. We ran / walked till the finish (of my 75k). The 100k had to do another 25k — I was thankful I didn’t have to go out again in the heat. I don’t know how they did it — A big shout out to Aakriti who managed to finish the 100k. My stomach was all over the place so I just lay down for a while and waited till the people I had driven down with finished.

Things to pack / keep in mind: Sleeping bag + mat. TP. Breakfast for on race day (for 75 & 100 — id suggest carrying some breakfast bars and eating about an hour before the race). Find a room away from the eating area as it could get noisy. Mosquito repellent. Head torch. Hydrate well on your first half of the run. Get to loos earlier to avoid the rush. Cap — gets very hot post 8am. Don’t get carried away with running fast for the first half — take it easy. The return is not all downhill + heat will make you work really hard.

A big thanks to all CTC volunteers.

Part 5: GoHeritage Badami 21k, CTM 50k & Nandi 70k

The next few weeks were low mileage weeks — work got busy, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do Malnad and I just couldn’t motivate my self to get up and run on some days.

My next run was a more last minute choice. We went as a group – runvaction to Badami for the GoHeritage run. We had the the ooty run earlier this year and it was a super trail that went through Lovedale. I was a bit sceptical as to where we would run but the route proved to be very picturesque. Their runs take you to very interesting places and routes that are off the beaten track.

Badami 21K
Badami — Lots to see

This was my first CTM race. I had only seen pictures. I wanted to fit in one more race before Malnad. So the next weekend I found myself in the unreserved compartment of a Chennai bound train. The train I was supposed to take got cancelled the morning it was scheduled but no one was notified. It was funny to be in a compartment that was Bihar bound! Apparently the train goes to Chennai and from there goes to Bihar.

The adventure had just started. Getting off at Chennai Central I got an Ola shared cab to take me to Red hills. I arrived sometime post 7pm after much complaining by the cab driver who didn’t realise it was that far.

It had rained the previous week. So the course was slushy. The humidity was something I will never get used to. I met a couple of runners from Bangalore, and shared the dinner with Gaurav (Dev) and Srikanth. Gaurav has a bright future as an upcoming ultra runner. I’m not sure what I was doing at 21 — don’t think I’d even heard of a 10k.

CTM — the not so slushy bit! Photo credit Chloé Boiteux

No breakfast again apart from some bananas. We got up to a warm and humid 4am. I found myself running at a fairly quick pace with Sampath, Vipul and Gaurav.

At around the 10–12km mark or what I thought it was we got lost. Bec of the dark and the rain from the previous week, the route wasn’t very clear. We ended up back at an aid station we had crossed a while ago. The decision to go back to the start which would make it 21k was taken. But why should the fun stop there. Gaurav and I slowed down behind Sampath and Vipul. Soon we didn’t have them in sight. As we ran instead of going back tot he start we retraced the 21k loop — so essentially we went in reverse. This of course confused runners and volunteers and we had to tell people we were doing the reverse direction. But they were very accommodating and told us to carry on so long as we knew what we were doing.

I hadn’t run in as much slush in a race before. At around the 35km or so Gaurav had slowed down and I was running by myself. I was happy to have had the company of Gaurav for most of the race. After getting directions from a volunteer on getting back to the start — this time in the right direction, I set off. I’ve never been happier to finish a race.

Things to pack / keep in mind: Sleeping bag + Mat, lots of Mosquito repellent, breakfast — carry with you if you’re used to having it. If it’s rained you’re better off with lighter trail shoes or racing flats. Getting there and back is quite difficult. Getting a day before is ideal so you don’t have to rush. If someone is driving there — try hitching a ride and back. Torch / headlight a must. Try and get to the loos early as there’s usually a rush. Carry extra TP.

I had already fixed dates with D for Nandi the coming Friday. I wasn’t sure if I would be ready for it but I didn’t want to delay doing my last long run. Trail runs don’t leave your legs as fatigued as road races but mentally they are quite draining.

Nandi Trail
Nandi Trail — perfect weather!

With the weather we were having, Nandi was perfect — slightly chilly, overcast for most of the day with a slight drizzle at times. The plan was to do the same as last year — approximately 80k. This meant 3 loops of Nandi and 3 trail loops.

I did the first loop with D which went well, I was hoping the breakfast I had this time would help me get through to at least 60k. I had a couple of gels with me that I kept just in case I felt low. I really like Unived’s new flavours, I usually keep a mix so I don’t get tired of having just one. I haven’t tried their ultra butter, but hope to soon.

The second loop was to run back to the first intersection you get to before turning left to the road leading to Nandi hill base. Just opposite the intersection is a small dirt track that leads to the trail. I love the trail route as you don’t have any traffic and no people. Just you and the trail. Occasionally you do find a local collecting firewood. Whom I’ve on one occasion scared the hell out of as he thought I was some wild animal coming up from behind him. They will also smile at you and give you that ‘mad city people’ look.

The trail this year was overgrown and very wet. A lot of the switch backs were hidden in tall grass and my shoes were completely soaked when I got to the top. There are two parts tot he trail. The first till the main Nandi hill road. For the second you need to turn left and like a U follow the path that goes up. the second part has a lot of steeper gradients like you’ll find in Malnad. Though these are short they’re a good work out.

Nandi Trail 2
The second part of the trail

The first loop went well but didn’t carry enough water so was a bit dehydrated when I got back to the Nandi base. I refilled and started my second climb. BTW the total loop is about 20 miles so it’s a good option to do if you don’t want to do repeats of Nandi hill. Plus a little more scenic.

I met D mid way. He didn’t look too good. You can read his race report here. I always enjoy reading his race reports! Leaving D, I moved slowly to the top. The previous weekend’s run was taking it’s toll.

One more loop to go. The third loop as you guessed didn’t go too well. I made it to the top of the first trail. Then I thought I would do the road as it would mean I didn’t have to watch every step. I made it up a couple of km and then walked up most of the way. Sitting at the top for 10 mins I was wondering if this was all worth it. My decision was to go back down the road route and end it there which would mean about 60 odd km. Starting back down, there seemed to be a bit more energy in me, I thought why not go down the trail route and end it at the base of Nandi.

I finished strong. That was more than what I wanted. It was 10k short of my original goal — I didn’t care. A good breakfast was waiting for us at PC.

Part 6: Malnad Ultra 110k: 13:12 (Or should I say chasing Paul)

Marigold fields
Marigold fields Credit: Reena

Plans for Malnad kept changing. Tickets were booked and cancelled, accommodations was transferred. Till the week before Malnad we weren’t sure how we were getting there and where we were staying as we hadn’t heard from our host. You can read my last year’s post on it here.

Meeting Gerard: A2 had met Gerard last year at the pre-race dinner. Gerard owns one of the remaining non CCD estates. We had ultimately got a ride back with him to Bangalore. He is an amazing story-teller and the stories he tells are of a forgotten era. We were mesmerised with the stories and longed for more. A2 who unfortunately couldn’t make this trip, got in touch with Gerard earlier on and asked if we could come stay for that weekend. Gerard was more than happy to have us over. The stay was so much fun — I wished I wasn’t running. This will need another post so more on that later.

The race: Reena (I wish I looked so fresh after a night of drinking! Coorg blood I think!) and I managed to hitch a ride from a volunteer jeep that morning. I had no expectations from the race. Mentally I was quite drained this year. I just knew I had to get my shit together and finish the race. There were no plans of racing it and I knew that there were quite a few upcoming runners who were in a lot better shape than I was.

running group
The D Gang! Credit: Reena

0–50km: The race started at 6:30. The route starts with a downhill — what goes down must come up..later at 45k! I ran with Vijay, Dev and Vipul. I held back on the pace. Sampath had already chasing Paul and did a fantastic job of keeping pace with him till almost 70 odd Km!

I made sure this year that I would eat more and don’t get low on energy. May be I should listen more often to my self! The change of route this year meant we return to Lalbagh at 50km, do another 60km loop through estates and return to Lalbagh to finish. Last year there was a much longer downhill section at the start so you had almost 10 hrs to not worry about it.

Getting lost seemed to be the flavour of the year — at the 16km mark we were to take a U-Turn and work our way up to the view point. I almost missed it and have it not been for Paul who had already made the mistake and was on his return, I would have done 5km extra myself. Getting to the view point seemed a lot quicker this year. Also the time spent on top was a lot shorter. I felt like a tiger coming out of the bushes with all the photographers at the summit clicking away. May be I should have done a little dance and bounded back down.

From here on most of the way I was running on my own. I kept watch for the rest areas, as I knew we had to check in each time. People often ask what I think about when I run for long stretches of time — I frankly don’t remember! All I remember asking are why the freaking km markers were going so slowly! I literally ran from aid station to aid station, from stream to stream. Every stream that cam I would stop and wet my cap, and almost try and find an excuse to stay there a bit longer. Would I leave if I did — not sure!

At on of the larger waterfalls my prayers were answered by the photographers being just behind me in the jeep. I had finished trying to waste as mush time as I could and was leaving when I saw them get out of the jeep. It would have been impolite to leave them there with no one to photograph, so like a sit down version of the Liril model I went a posed on the rocks under the waterfall. Reference below for all the Millennials!

I remembered some of the route and I found it hart warming that a lot of the volunteers remembered me from last year. The last 5k of the 50k was a real low point. I was walking up most of the way as I had started cramping. I thought if this was how I felt at 50k — how would I manage another 60k. May be I should just stop and let it go. I met Kieren on his way up to the finish and he said it will only get better — thank you. It remained with me some where in my head and I guess there was that confidence to try and see what happens.

50k at last! Stretched and spent 15 mins wondering what I should do. Amit was sweet enough to offer me butter and a massage (hehe! I know how that sounds!). Curd rice — my go to food for any race or meal. I had a big helping and a can of that Storm drink. It was probably just the food that I needed. I left Lalbagh thinking — ok let me do how much I can.

50–70km: My cramps were still playing up and prevented me from running uphills — the gentle ones. I slowed down my pace. There wasn’t a lot of big climbs for a while so I would stop in between, massage my cramping leg and carry on. At some point I ran side ways like Federico Bruno did at Rio. Just to see if it helped. I found how much happier I was running through the estates than on the road. The part on the road seemed never ending. Everything seemed like a blur.

70–80Km: Rajgiri. I remember getting to Rajgiri and asking one of the volunteers how much ahead Paul and Sampath were. The said they had left 20 mins or more ago. It was a 10k loop back to the aid station, so I guessed I’ll never bump in to them. They’ll probably be back anytime now.

I love gradients that decide for you. A lot of the ones in Malnad explicitly say ‘walk- don’t try running’! I trudged along and the path gradually started to climb and just when I thought it must be nearing the top was when I saw the famous climb.. the gradients of all gradients. At this stage in the race I was happy to walk, but this made walking hard. The worst part was that it curved so you you couldn’t see the end. One must always look on the bright side of hills — so I started walking backwards up the hill. It was 3 or 4pm and the sunlight hit the bottom of the hill. My view was a lot better than staring up it.

After what felt like ages and probably only 2km I got to the top. This met the road that lead to Kemmangundi. It was all downhill from here. But my legs refused to move. They felt sluggish and the cement road felt painful. I was happy when we cut back in to the estate towards the Aid station.

The guys at the aid station seemed very happy with the time I took and they said I had taken 3 mins less than Paul and Sampath had left the aid station a bout 5 mins ago.

80–110: Sampath the crazy boy (in a good way) hadn’t eaten anything substantial and I knew it was taking a toll. It would be good to have some company finally if I could catch up with him and may be even finish together.

The part what I love is when kids run out of homes to wish you best of luck. There were a bunch of boys standing on the side of the road not more than 7 or 8yrs old, all wishing people going by. I ran passed them, thanked them and stretched my hand out to shake hands with one of them. The boy almost fell back in fright — quickly realised that I wanted to shake his hand, shook it laughing. Then I had to shake all the others and continue on my way.

Finding Sampath: A jeep with volunteers drove passed and then 5 mins later drove back and they asked if we were to go back the way we came. I had presumed we were as I didn’t remember the map.

There was a murmur and a “We saw Paul going down one of the side roads — I think he’s lost again”, I though oh no not again! Little did I know that, that was the route and I eventually wen down through the village and entered another estate. I finally caught up with Sampath. It was pretty much Jawadhu all over again without the heat, thankfully!

Locals and distances. Ask how far something is and they’ll give you a number that may never be close to the actual number. Also their sense of gradients is very different from ours. S and I were told that the next 2 km would be down hill but what they didn’t tell up was that there were 3 up hills in that stretch. I’m not complaining, this was just an observation, as a matter of fact we found this quite amusing.

I left Sampath some where around the 90km mark, as I thought he would be better off at his own pace. I had more energy now than earlier and was feeling much stronger.

Dusk was upon us and I was losing light. Ten mins after entering the last estate before the final stretch of road to the finish, it went dark. The path was a river of slush. All that came out was f*** each time my leg got stuck. My mind soon got occupied in trying to find the best path. Your run-of-the-mill head torches aren’t very effective on this kind of terrain, so your best bet would be to just run through it.

Meeting Anand: Anand hope you’re reading this! “It’s all down hill from here, just a couple of small uphills but net down hill.” Famous last words before I set off to the finish. I don’t remember too many down hills! Where??

It’s tough to judge gradients, running in the dark. I’m a newbie when it comes to running in the dark. Only your breathing is an indicator to how much effort you’re putting in. I walked for parts of the stretch to the finish. I remembered last year and then decided I should just keep pushing.

You can see the lights from a distance. But like the km markers they just don’t seem to go by quickly. Finally I saw the light at the end of the tunnel and was the happiest I’ve been this year. From stopping at 50k to finishing 110k strong was a big weight lifted off from my shoulders.

Malnad Ultra 110k
Yes! Credit: Reena

A big thanks to Anand, Coffee Day and all the volunteers / staff (who lit fires and stayed awake till the last mad runner finished), the lime juice that was to die for! Also a big thank you to Gerard for hosting, wining and dining me and teaching me all about Organic farming — done the planters way!;-)

Congratulations to all the runners whether you finished or not. There’s always next year.

Gear: RRunn Endurance Gels, salt tablets & buff, Mizuno Wave Hitogami 3, Elite NU Calf compression sleeves, Azani combo shorts, Petzl Tikkina Waterproof head torch, Garmin 310XT, Hand held bottle

What next?
I’m giving ultras a break for the next year, strengthen my core , run shorter distances, spend more time designing, add more episodes… so see you around.

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