SRT Ultra – 53KM

Race report SRT Ultra: December 2019
RACE CATEGORY: 53km
ELEVATION GAIN: 2300m+
Major Attraction: Had to cross three forts Sinhagad, Rajgad and Torna.

 

Race Flag-Off:

The race started with a huge jaighosh(acclamation) of Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj which filled us with enthusiasm and fervor. The top contenders disappeared from my sight in the initial 500m itself and I slowly started coming into the rhythm. My friend, Santhosh had advised me to let go others and run the first half easily. I sticked to the plan.

Climb of Sinhagad: Initial 2.5 km stretch was a tar road which worked as a warm-up for the upcoming challenge, the mighty Sinhagad. In next 2.5 kms we were going to gain 700m of elevation. It was still dark so we had to watch out every step with extra care. This initial climb is very tricky, you are full of energy and excitement, so you want to go as fast as you can which works against you. By the time you reach top, you loose half of your energy and almost all the excitement. Hence I was walking meticulously, neither going too fast nor slowing down too much. By this time I had no idea, how many people were ahead of me. I just kept climbing with smaller steps and reached on the top, where the volunteers along with many regular trekkers were applauding and cheering the runners. I could not stop myself from running here and made few fast steps towards the first aid station which was just 500 m away. At the aid station I filled my water bottle had few dates and started the run again. Few other runners also joined me and it became a pack of 5 runners.

Sinhagad Trails and second Aid station: Next 10 kms were going to be filled with beautiful trails, climbs, slippery downhills along with dangerous passes where you could place only one foot at a time. Many a times it happened that the pack moved ahead and I lagged behind but without panicking, I sticked to the plan. After almost 7 km of running, the downhill started and we started to pick some pace. By this time 2 runners from 25 km category had crossed us. Now the trails had ended and we were running in plain fields which soon led us to the tar road. I took some lead from the pack and reached the second aid station at 15km mark. Before reaching the aid station I over took one more runner from 53km category. At the aid station, the volunteers told me that 6 runner were ahead of me. I took my time to fill water, eat dates, lick a little salt and stretch a bit. Before I could start again, 3 runners came and went.

Sinhagad Fort view from SRT Ultra

Reaching foothills of Rajgad: After stretching, I too started and soon overtook all three. Next 10 km stretch was a pure road run till the half way mark, 25th km. After a while I saw one guy, some 500 m ahead of me. He was from the 25 km category. At 20th km mark I caught up with him and we ran together for some time. I came to know that he was a national level athlete and had amazing 5k, 10k and 21k timings, which I could only dream of achieving some day. But that was long back, now a days he gives training and it was his first ever hill run. He gave me few advice for the remaining distance, post which I continued towards the next aid station. I was wearing my trail running shoes which made it a little difficult to run on the tar road, but I had no other option. 

Soon I reached the half km mark, my watch showed 2 hrs and 45 mins which was 20 mins faster than my previous year’s time, when I participated in 25 km category. So it was a confidence booster for me. The good thing was, I was feeling fresh and confident. Again I took my time and stretched a bit, refilled my bottles, filled dates in my pocket, took the Red Bull I had placed in my drop bag and started the run again.

Till this point, I sticked to my hydration plan as well, I drank a little water in every 30mins along with a sip of rice water(maandh). Had a little salt at aid stations, few dates and a bite of chocolate.

Climb of Rajgad: From this aid station started the ascent of Rajgad fort. By this time the sun had come up and was doing what it does best. Running uphill was not an option, it was only fast climbing with short steps. I was at the 5th position and couldn’t see anyone following me, I thought I had gained a good lead. The last part of the never ending climb had railings and it was a very narrow path which was already covered by the trekkers and it was getting difficult to move fast there. Finally I climbed last few stairs and volunteers started cheering along with other people who were gathered there. I poured some cold water on my head, filled my water bottle and continued. 

The wrong turn: From this point, I tried to further increase the lead but a wrong turn was waiting for me. At a junction, instead of taking left, which was going down, I took right, which was going up towards a peak. After reaching at the top I realized that I have come wrong and I was not alone in this, Nupur, who had caught up with me, had also taken the wrong path. This costed us 10-15 min and a lot of energy. Without wasting any other minute we came down from the other way and started running towards a mandatory check point. Marked our chips and started running again. 

Trail to Torna: Nupur and I ran together for a while until the plain trail started. I took the lead here and started running alone. Through out this patch, I took water from many unknown people, few gave me chikki to eat and I even took salt to prevent cramps. Until I reached the next aid station at 33rd km at the Rajgad’s foot, I kept having dates, chocolate and sip of water and Red Bull alternatively at regular intervals. After a 2 mins break at the aid station I started towards the mighty Torna.

Sinhagad Fort view during SRT Ultra 53 KM

Game of cramps: Post 34th km, a funny thing started happening, I started getting cramps in my right thigh. I didn’t know what to do, and still had 18 km to go, so I took a sip of Red Bull and to my surprise in next km the cramp went away. So, it became a thing and I started waiting for the cramp, once I had it again, I continued with it for 500 m, had a sip of Red Bull and continued until I got the cramp again. But soon, this game got over as my Red Bull lasted only till 41st kilometre.

Climb of Torna: The actual climb of Torna started at 38th kilometre and it was brutal. While climbing, many people couldn’t believe that we had started our race from the base of Sinhagad Fort. They couldn’t digest the fact that people are running 53 kilometre run here. One person got so shocked after hearing that I am a software engineer that he told many other that see engineers are running a race.

 

Climbing Torna during SRT Ultra
Climbing Torna

 I remember one thing vividly and I will remember it always, while climbing one of the hardest patches along the route I groaned in pain “are saala kya hai yeee” and the guy standing at the top replied “ye Torna hai bhai Torna” in a tone that suggested that it will break your body and it surely did.

By the time I reached at the top of the last fort, I had run out of my precious Red Bull and chocolates and I didn’t have anything to cure the ever increasing cramps which, by the way, had attacked my other leg too and had spread in calves as well. Only good thing was, it was complete down hill from here till the finish line but it was not at all a reason to be happy, because the downhill was tricky too. Stairs were big, which reached up-to the knees, small rocks were there and to make things even worse, mud made it too slippery to even walk fast.

After suffering for another 2 km I reached the last aid station at around 43rd km. Filled my bottles with electrolyte and water, took few dates and few slices of orange and started the battle with the technical downhill which ended at 48th km and the last patch of tar road started.

Coming down from Torna during SRT Ultra
Coming down from Torna

The mind game: I had made a target of seven and half hours to finish the race and I had exactly 35 minutes in hand. The target looked simple but with every step I was losing energy and motivation to continue. To make things even worse, at 49th kilometre I asked one volunteer, that how many kilometres were remaining and he replied, 7 kilometre. I was like whattttttt are you sure it is not four kilometres, but he was so confident that I started doubting my watch and realized that 7:30 hours is not possible. After walking and running for around 500 m I saw one more volunteer sitting at a turn and asked him to confirm whether it is 7 kilometres or 4 kilometre. He too, confidently said, it is around six and half kilometre. It was like the last nail in the coffin and I lost all my confidence and motivation to run, I started walking and cursing my watch that it showed be wrong data. After covering another 1 kilometre I saw one of the organizers himself and he gave me a hug and asked how I was doing, instead of answering him I asked him, is it around 5 kilometres from here. He smiled and said, no buddy, its around 3 kilometres only. His words worked as elixir for me, I quickly checked my watch and I still had 18 minutes to cover those 3 kilometres. I gathered all my leftover energy, convinced myself that it’s only a pace of 6, I can do this and started running. 

The last km: In the last kilometre, few village children joined me and started asking me so many questions but I couldn’t answer any of them. Meanwhile I saw few participants, who had finished earlier, coming from the opposite side and asked them pointing finger at them “bhai please Sahi Sahi batana Kitna bacha hai”. He, being a runner, said 850m. No matter how tired you are, you’ll always get pumped up in the last km, I too got that adrenaline rush, which increased my pace and I crossed the finish line running as hard as I could and finished at 4th place (Yeah, I had crossed the 4th runner at around 35th km) before 7 hrs and 30 mins.

The pain was finally over, I stretched properly, drank a gallon of water, one Red Bull and took rest. This finish and this whole race experience was as a confidence booster for me, I felt relieved and satisfied. Months of preparation had finally given results.

Post finish medal

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VAGAMON Ultra

Before beginning the post I would like to thanks a very humble soul, Alwyn, for giving us a ride in his car throughout our stay in Vagamon. It made our journey very very comfortable.

Ultra runs are fascinating, they take us through the paths that are less traveled and places that are less explored. Every Ultra Running event has something different to offer.
Vagamon Ultra too offered us a completely different experience in terms of route, scenery, views, miseries, pain, cramps and few good pics too. Not only the race but the night before the race was unforgiving. We had put our tent along with many others and we were welcomed with heavy winds and chilling temperature. It is advisable to get proper sleep before the event but Pawan Devta (Lord of wind) made sure that we don’t get it. We battled with the wind and cold throughout the night. In our group, YOgendra (Yogi) and Santhosh were doing 90k, so they had to leave early. And we kids, who were doing 60k “only” could sleep for another one hour.

Soon the time came and we all lined up to start our longest run to date. To get the feel of the starting line, just imagine yourself standing in Shimla or any other hill station in the morning, wearing shorts and a t-shirt with the fast blowing wind taking the tour of your whole body. The only refreshing thing was the sun that was rising slowly and making the sky colorful and beautiful beyond imagination.
Generally, I run without any company but this time Jagdish and I had decided to run the whole race together. Many of my previous company’s friends and I started in a group, cheering each other and taking video. Within 2kms group scattered and Jagdish and I started running together behind six runners. Because of the cold winds, it took our body around 5 kilometers to get warmed up. After which we started running freely without forcing ourselves.

Starting Point of Vagamon Ultra
Race Flag-off

Right from the beginning, the view of tea estate was beautiful, the smell of morning along with the tea leaves was refreshing. We had already made a strategy that we’ll be taking a break at every aid station, not very long though, to hydrate ourselves and we followed it till the end (only thing is, in the end, it had become more of a necessity than strategy).

Tea Estate of Vagamon

It didn’t take us long to leave the tea estate and enter into the farmlands with lakes and fields covered with lush green grass and before we knew we were climbing a high mountain to reach “The Suicide Point”. 

Lake
Lake View

To give us the proper feel of it, the route was kept pretty near to the deep valley. I realized, that many suicide lovers would have changed their minds after seeing the view from there but the cruel wind would have pushed them anyway. Yes, the wind was this heavy and we had to hold our bibs with one hand while running past that stretch. 

Suicide Point

Apart from this dangerous yet beautiful place we ran through the rocky path, climbed a few boulders crawled through some slippery downhills, found our way through high bushes and avoided few dogs as well. Soon we were running behind only one runner and while maintaining a good pace we entered the pine tree forest. 

Pine Forest during Vagamon Ultra
Pine Forest

Like every other event here also, we met our beloved guruji, Yogi. We took a selfie and his blessings and continued till the first rest area cum food zone at 24km mark.

With Yogi
With Yogi

While we were busy gulping food, 4 runners came and went before we could finish our lavish breakfast. Intimidated by the fact that we will have to run fast to cover up for the lost time here in the rest area, we quickly finished our food and started running. First-person we overtook was a Naval Officer who was full of energy and Josh, he gave both of us a nickname, “Nike Warriors”, as we both were wearing Nike shoes.

It was a continuous uphill which was getting steeper and more difficult with every passing meter. After a few kilometers, we left the tar road and started climbing the mud road full of small rocks, which led us to the trekking area with more and more uphills. We knew that soon this elevation will end and while going down we can cover the lost time. After reaching the top we had a few hundred meters of flat course followed by the much-needed downhill. As we started to run down we began to realize that this downhill is not at all runnable, it was covered by tall grass and the ditches inside it were not visible, we had to take every step very meticulously to avoid a fall. All our plans were flushed down by the grueling downhill. Tallgrass was not the only problem though, to add on to this, it was slippery too which made this course even more dangerous. By the time we reached the bottom of that hill our legs were burning and knees faced the maximum punishment.

We were chasing the 7:30 hrs timeline to finish our run so we had no time to rest hence we continued without taking too many breaks.

Now our next milestone was to reach the rest area at 43rd km mark. Which was still 12 km away and as we were dragging ourselves towards it, we came across an aid station that was managed by three enthusiasts, and it wasn’t a part of official aid stations provided by organizers. They gave us omlete and a special drink made of ginger, lemon and chia seeds. It was refreshing and felt like an elixir. We thanked them and started running again.

Now both of us started to feel heaviness in our legs and we could sense that it is the starting phase of cramps. Jagdish being an experienced person in dealing with cramps didn’t bother much about it but I was getting a little worried. We took lemon water that we were carrying in our hydration packs and continued, but eventually, cramps got our legs and with very little energy left in our body we somehow reached the 43rd km aid station. With each other’s consent and by putting our egos aside we increased our finishing time from 7:30 hours to 8 hours as it was getting more and more difficult to even walk. At this aid station, Jagdish looked surprisingly motivated and ready to run and I was like..let me sleep here for ages. Fortunately, people at this aid station were playing some Punjabi songs which were energy booster. They also provided us some black coffee along with eggs and other stuff to eat, which gave us a little spark of energy.

We checked the time and we had some 1 hour and 45 minutes to finish within 8 hours. Hence started the quest to finish the last section of the run in a challenging time.
We battled with our cramps and motivated each other, to push a little bit more. The funny part was, we were getting cramps alternatively, whenever Jagdish felt even a little bit better, I slowed him down. Whenever I started to run comfortably, I could see Jagdish struggling. It felt as if the cramps are playing with our legs. It started with calf, moved to hamstring, held my thigh and within a minute I was jammed and could not even move. Somehow we continued and stopped only at aid stations, keeping our time in mind. At every aid station, we could see that we were only 7-10 minutes behind the 3rd runner so we were continuously pushing ourselves to get him but couldn’t do it till the end.

When we reached the second last aid station, we had close to 55 mins to finish the last 9 kilometers. Again, Jagdish motivated me and we started our run, with a few ups and downs we reached the last aid station. Now we had 27 minutes to finish the last 5 kilometers. It felt like an impossible task. The guy at the aid station said it is mostly gradual downhill from here on. We both looked at each other, like the heroes do in movies before they go to fight the villain, ate a banana, had an energy drink and said those magic words, “Chal yaar jo hoga dekha jayega” and started our run. 

I would like to flaunt a bit here as we both took off really fast and ran the next two kilometers in less than 9 minutes. Crossed a little stream, climbed few stairs outside a house and before we could start our so self-obsessed “fast run” again, we were hit by a wall. Yes, a wall of the gradual uphill and as we could see it was going long. We still tried to run but our legs had completely given up, our will power to run had completely given up, all we could manage to do was to walk and finish. And with this, our target of finishing under 8 hours became a distant dream. Now the only thing left to achieve was, finishing the race. 

So we started walking slowly like lost men in a big desert as the road looked never-ending. We got into a discussion of how Suresh was able to run so fast even after getting his ankle twisted, what kind of food does Santhosh eat and how do these Bangalore people train. Then we moved to cloud computing and how we don’t have any future in SAP. Again, how does Yogi keep himself motivated in such long distances? Where did we mess up in our training, how much more mileage was needed. Meanwhile, shoes were tightening their grip and squeezing my feet. Suddenly we realized that we had been walking for at least 25 mins and hadn’t reached the finish point. We feared losing our route, but fortunately, we were guided by local kids that the finishing point is nearby and later two guys from organizing committee, who were going on a bike, maybe to take pictures, also confirmed that we were on the right path. 

After taking the last turn we could see the finishing line in front of us that filled us with joy and we decided to run fast and finish with a sprint. But our cramps had different plans. We tried, but could not run beyond 3-4 steps, so we walked a little fast and crossed the line together making it a Bhai Bhai moment. Received our medal, a drink of 7up and lots of congratulations. We finished the run in 8:25:35 hours.

Last part of Vagamon Ultra
Last few steps
Finishing Vagamon Ultra
Finishing Line

Every time I finish any race, all the pain that I feel during the race disappears and feeling of happiness and satisfaction overtakes it. I will always remember this race for the pain it gave, for the teachings I got from it. It was an ego buster run for me and taught me that ultra running is no game, it is a real sport that is not meant for under-trained kids.

We need to improve a lot, need to train a lot for the upcoming races. Each and every word about pain, cramps, and struggle I have mentioned here has the sole purpose of explaining the changes our body goes through and thoughts we get during the whole run, and not to brag anything about myself. I hope I had conveyed it properly.
Keep running and #beyourbestversion

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Sinhagad Epic Trail Run

Race Report: Sinhagad Epic Trail Run

This was my first competitive event since the Vagamon ultrail in January. I participated in the 22km category, which had an elevation of 1200+ m, and emerged as a winner taking 2:56:17 hrs of time.

Our race started at 6:05 AM, 5 mins after the 42km flag off. Initial 1 km was a concrete road, which worked as a warm-up for the upcoming hill, the famous Trek of Sinhagad. The next two kilometers were pure trekking with 400m of elevation. Upon reaching the top I got along with two 42km runners and we started running together on the downhill until we hit the next hill, “The W”, full of greenery, mud, and water. Uphill running was fine but downhill wasn’t that much fun because the water had made the ground very slippery. While we three were putting every step very carefully, holding trees, bushes and whatever we could find, a girl came from behind and went really fast on that downhill, just like the water flows. She was so smooth as if she was not even placing foot on the ground. After crossing the last downhill of W, we hit the plain farming fields. The next few kilometers were easily runnable and I tried to cover the lost time here.
The next obstacle in the path was the marshy land full of water, mud, plants, and whatnot, it reminded me of my childhood days when I along with my cousins used to run barefoot in this kind place. And that’s what I did this time too. I removed my shoes and socks and crossed that field barefoot. That was fun!!

After crossing that part, I put on my shoes again and started running. The next one kilometre was a concrete road followed by another section of trail and small hills. Here I could maintain a steady pace and run comfortably. I was aware that after a few more kilometres I have to climb the Sinhagad again, so I didn’t want to push too much and lose energy. By this time I had started thinking that I am in the first place until I saw one more runner (Saurav) ahead of me. I increased my pace a bit and watched his bib number carefully, he was from my category and running strong. I knew that there is still fun left in this race. From here on we both ran almost together.

Soon we hit the road again and I started taking the lead slowly. I continued to build that gap until I reached a junction and couldn’t decide which way to go, luckily I started running in the right direction and reached the water station. The volunteers guided me for the next section which was the last uphill of the race, the trek of Sinhagad from the other side of it.


Meanwhile, Saurav also caught up with me and we both started climbing together. Pace had dropped and energy was going down exponentially. When I looked up to check how much climb was still remaining, I noticed two local people, man, and woman, climbing up with a huge bucket of fruits on their heads. I was like…whaaatttt!!!!
I got filled with energy and started climbing a bit faster. We were getting close to the top and the last aid station of the race. But before we could reach there, we had to climb the giant steps. Ohhhhhh…those steps were killers, even the encouragement of the volunteers there, could not encourage me to move faster. I had noticed that Saurav was also getting tired and as it was his first hill run, I speculated that upon reaching the top he would be more tired than I was. We reached the last aid station together and to my surprise that guy started running like anything. I took my time, started running slowly and built my pace gradually until I caught him and the game was on.

By this time the crowd had increased, we had to shout to ask for the way and before we knew we reached the point where we had to start descending from Sinhagad.
Here again, Saurav took the lead and soon disappeared from my sight. I could not see him for the next 100-200 m but was not ready to let it go. I further increased my pace and caught him drifting down the uphill. We ran neck to neck for some time and I overtook him eventually. After coming down, the last stretch of 1km was left, where I could run freely. I kept increasing my pace and crossed the finish line as a winner of my category.

I was happy with the result but there is a lot of room for improvement. When the winner of the 42 km category arrived, I realized how slow I had run my race.
But to an extent, it is a good thing, if we don’t see someone better than us, we might not push harder. Had Saurav not run faster I would not have pushed myself.
This race and other runners made me realize, where I lag and where I need to focus more.

In the end, I congratulate all the fellow runners, especially those who experienced this kind of terrain for the first time, for pushing their limits and finishing one of the toughest races.

Congratulations to the organizers and volunteers for giving continuous support and encouragement even in the heavy rains.

Sinhagad Epic Trail

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