Race Report – Malnad Ultra 2021

I had an unfinished business with Malnad Ultra and I wanted to settle it this time. First time when I participated in this event, it was back in 2018. It was my first ultra ever. I had trained a lot for it but still, I finished with cramps and a complete drained out body. So I decided to go for it this year.

The PLAN

This year, I did not have any plan to participate in it, but then it was coinciding with my travel to Chennai. To add to it, one of my friends, Raman, was training for it and he put this idea in my mind. So I decided to not only participate but to make a V-log too. However, I hardly had 20 days to prepare for it, because of few other responsibilities, including lot of travelling.

All this busy schedule and less training days somehow made sense with my whole “settling the business” thing. Last time I had trained a lot and ended up in cramps. So this time, I decided not to train(as much as I should’ve) and do it with ease and in lesser time. (Here I want to make a point that I had been running throughout the year and recently, I had participated in Solang Sky Ultra. So I had some mileage in my legs. It’s just that I didn’t train specifically for it, I just trusted my body)

Finally the plan was made, I reached Mudigere, met my friends and we were set for the race. Raman and Anitha were doing 80k, Raghavendra, Praveen and I were doing 50k.

The Gang

RACE DAY

80k race started at 6:45 AM. Raman and Anitha started at that time.
At 7AM I was at the start line with my camera in my hand, ready to take on the race. Little did I know that it’s not only me who wanted to settle the business here, but the organisers and the event had their own plans too.

Malnad ultra 2021
80km start line

The Race

Gun went off and we were on our way. As always, initial few miles worked as a good warm-up and I settled in my easy pace. At around 7 km, reached first major uphill, took a u-turn, came down and entered the forest area. Saw elephant’s foot prints at many places. For a long time I was running alone, worried and hoping that to be on the right path. Luckily, after a while spotted few 80km people climbing up a small hill. It gave me some relief and I continued on the same path.

At close to 15th km, came out of jungle and witnessed the most beautiful part of the race. From here, downhill started with a little technical section and I enjoyed it to the fullest. I started gliding down.

Malnad Ultra 2021 route
Race Route

The 'U' Turn

While we were going down, some 80k runners were coming from the opposite side. I speculated that there must be a u-turn and was hoping to see Raman too. But he didn’t appear. Meanwhile, one of the 80k runners said something about the 18th km mark but I couldn’t get it.

We kept running and finally reached the 18th km mark. Few steps ahead , there was a tree. The guy I was running with, said that the 80k runner, who crossed us, told to take a u turn from this tree. There was no sign there to instruct runners that they are supposed to take a u turn here. Then it struck to me, may be Raman missed this u-turn and went ahead. I started shouting his name and blew the whistle hoping that he might listen and come back, but he didn’t. Instead, 2 other 50k runners who were ahead of me, did. Apparently they had missed this u-turn and went ahead. I could see the frustration on their faces and in their words. Can’t write exact words here, because of the obvious reasons.

At last I started returning, met Praveen, he told that Raman was coming behind him. Poor guy had missed the route somewhere else.

U Turn in the race
The infamous 'U' Turn. PC: Malnad Ultra Insta Profile

Back to the race. After some time I entered the forest area again. Some part was full of bushes with no visible trail, some was well paved path. Enjoyed this part, got company of few other runners. It was gradual downhill, so I managed to over take them and maintain the lead for a while.

Malnad Ultra 2021 Race route
"Run through the jungle"

Akkad - Bakkad

After covering around 22 km, road section began. Long, straight, empty road. I kept following it. Didn’t see any marking for a very long time. Organisers had told us that wherever it is needed we’ve put marks, specially at junctions. I did reach a junction, but couldn’t see the marking. Got confused and literally had to do akkad bakkad to choose which way to go.

Took left, saw two guys coming from opposite side. They said it’s the wrong route. Poor guys had covered 1.6 km in that direction and were returning. I, on the other hand got lucky. Continued with them towards the right direction, reached the aid station after climbing another major uphill of the race. By this time my thighs had started giving indication of cramps. Had some salt, oranges and water at the aid station. Somehow escaped the cramps and continued running. Overtook few 50k runners in this whole process.

Moment of Confidence

At this point, based on my calculation, I was at 6th position. I had actually not thought about finishing at any place. My target was to finish strong and before 6hours. I was on my target pace.

I kept running at my set pace, and reached another aid station. Could notice that 5th place runner had just left and I could see him. After having my stuff, took off from there and joined him eventually. The guy was from Navy, running his first Ultra. We shared the route for some time and both of us could feel tightness in our legs. After running together for a while, I managed to overtake him and now I was at 4th position.

The fact that I was performing good without any specific training gave me confidence that my body is capable of enduring pain and overcoming it.

Glimpse of the Podium

I was keeping an eye on my watch and I was well within my target, rather faster. Although I had no hope of catching another runner, but to my surprise, I did spot one and started following him. After a while I joined him and then overtook him. Now I was at 3rd position, which was not at all excepted.

However I would have enjoyed this feeling only for 5 minutes that a runner, Paras, who I didn’t expect, overtook me and was actually going pretty strong. I consoled myseld by thinking that finishing 3rd was not my target. Even had I fineshed 3rd with a time of 5:40-45 it would’ve been a shame. But on the other hand I didn’t loose hope and kept my pace steady. We both stopped at an aid station, I rehydrated as quickly as possible and started running before Paras and built up a good lead. But again, not for long.

I reached a junction with no marking, got confused. This time, instead of taking risk, I played safe and waited for the guy to join me. Once he did, we both decided to take left. Thankfully saw one mile-marker which assured us that we were on the right path. I had gotten lucky one more time. We started running at a decent pace and covered a good ground. Soon my body started breaking, I was finding it hard to maintain the pace. I knew he would be feeling the same. But now it was only about who gives in first. After pushing for 3 km I finally stopped and started walking while he kept on running. I made peace with this and accepted that he was a better runner.

The Last Suprise

Anyways, it was straight road, and I could see the mile markers for both 80k and 50k at regular intervals. I kept running straight, reached a junction, saw the marks going left. Took the left and continued running, this time I saw mile marker only for 80k. This was strange, but then I thought that I did see the mark at the junction, there is no chance that I’m on wrong path. Continued again, reached another junction. It said take right for 80k route and left for 50k, I was assured that I’m on right path.

Took left and reached another aid station. Just for the confirmation, I asked the guy, how far is the 50k finish line from here. He said 12km. I was like..whattttt!!!!! I reconfirmed, he said it is 38 km mark and it is still 12 more km. I told him I have already covered 48.5 km. Everyone started saying then you must have taken wrong turn, I told them there was no chance of it. Then they advised me to take that 12km route. I asked them the shortest route, whether or not it is a race route, it doesn’t matter. They said this way you won’t get the medal. I was so pissed that I told them I don’t want the damn medal, just tell me the shortest way I want to finish the bloody thing.

Gang of Lost Runners

After wasting around 10mins there, I started returning on the same path. The moment I turned back, saw Vinay coming towards me. I asked about the distance his watch was showing, it was same as mine, 48.5km. I told him the whole story, he too confirmed from the people at aid station. But it was of no use. We both decided to return.

We would’ve covered few meters that we saw many other 50k runners who were close behind us coming towards us. Few of them had already missed the route couple of times before too because of wrong markings. They were furious and couldn’t believe that they had missed the route again. We all were waiting at the junction and deciding what to do. Before we could start again, we met two volunteers. They told us that they made a mistake at the previous junction, and they are sorry. In my head, Chandler’s words started playing..” ohhh he is sorry..I feel better!! “

The Finish(finally)

Anyways he told us to to go 2km back, reach the junction and take left. So we did the same, had to cover 3km instead, to reach the junction. Now they had marked it with words, “50k finish route”. Took left, covered another 1.5km and finally reached the finish line. What could’ve been a 5:20 hours finish, became 6:35 hours struggle with 6 extra km and added frustration.(The actual race route was 46.5 km, we ended up doing 53.5) In the end, the settlement ended in a tie I suppose. But deep inside me, I knew that the event had the last laugh.

Malnad Ultra 2021
The Finish Line

While having lunch I got a chance to talk to the race director. I told him about the wrong markings even at the easiest places. Although he couldn’t have done anything about it at that time, but he was humble enough to accept the fault. I appreciate him for that. Apart from it, the food was too good to be real. One of the tastiest post run meals I ever had.

Malnad Ultra 2021
Post run Medal

Hydration Strategy

This was the event in which I used gels for the first time ever. Obviously I tried it first in one of the training runs and I must say that I didn’t feel a thing at all. No so called push or sudden burst of energy.

Had my first gel at 14th km, second at 25, 3rd at 35 and last one at 46km after missing the route. At the aid stations I kept having little salt, orange and water. It helped me get away from the cramps. I also had electrolyte tablets mixed in water at regular intervals which helped a lot. Had 3 small Snickers too throughout the race. Had one Redbull, started using it from 38th km, one sip at a time. Like every other time, it did workout pretty well and kept me going.

Finally my long pending business was over. Not exactly how I wanted it though.

Read another exciting race report of Solang Sky Ultra, which happens in the beautiful valley of Solang near Manali.

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Solang Sky Ultra – 30KM

It was back in 2019 when my friend and I were discussing about this event, Solang Sky Ultra, that happens in a beautiful valley near Manali, The Solang Valley. Since we had already done 50k and 60k races so Solang Sky Ultra 60k seemed perfect to challenge ourselves. But then due to some unavoidable circumstances we could not participate in 2019 edition and then in 2020 Covid happened. Post that, even my training dropped gradually.

Fast forward to July 2021, I was planning my vacation and this thought struck me that why not go to Manali and enjoy the 30k category instead of 60k. Hence I registered for this event. 

TRAINING FOR THE EVENT

Although I had planned to “enjoy” the event, but even for that you need strength in your body. So, I had to do some sort of race specific training. Till August end I sticked to my 10k training. In September month I shifted my training more towards strengthening the body and gaining easy miles. In the name of uphill training, I only had one long flyover and my ankle weights. 

Hiking and steep downhill are not the only two challenging things about Solang Sky Ultra. The third and probably more important aspect is the altitude. For a guy who have spent almost all his adult life living at an altitude of 250-300 m, it looked like a bigger challenge. To cope with this, I tried two things. One, long very easy runs (as suggested by my friends and also by well renowned coach Eric Orton). Second, Yoga. I practiced sectional breathing and Yogic Breathing (not as much as I should’ve, but yes, I did practice it regularly).

To acclimatise, I planned to reach Manali one week before the event. Along with acclimatizing, I went for one easy run with a fellow runner (now a good friend) Mr. Rajat. Then I went to an easy trekking area, Jogini Falls with my wife (I’m a family man afterall, have to devote time to family too) and a friend, whom we fondly call Tyagi Ji. 

Jogini Falls Trek
Jogini Falls Trek

It worked as a good warmup for my next training hike to Mt Patalsu. It is a 7.5km long trek with an elevation gain of almost 1800 m with highest point sitting at an altitude of 4200 m. I did it with another fellow runner, now a very good friend, from Netherlands, Ms Cocky. Who is, BTW, 56 years old.

Mt. Patalsu Trek

This was probably the best decision that we both took. The experience that we gained here, helped us a lot during the event. My last recovery run was with Anshul, who was participating in his maiden trail running event. By the end of my “training” I decided to not just enjoy the run but to give my 100% and push till the very end. I even set a target of sub 5 hours(After discussing with our Guru ji, Yogi. I did not talk to Jagdish this time :p. Why? To know the whole story, read my Lake Marathon review). I was ready to take on the Solang Sky Ultra.

RACE DAY

On the race day, I reached the venue one hour before the starting time(Thanks to Tyagi ji and Ashish who gave me ride in his car). It was cold, slightly windy and dark. I spent an hour waiting for the race to begin and planning my hydration plan.

Slowly, other runners started to gather and the race feeling started to kick in. Before we knew it, it was already 6:30. We all were at the start line, our race director announced that we’ll have to wait for 10 more minutes as there were few arrangements to be done. Finally after 9 min and 50 seconds the count down started and we were on our way. 

Solang Sky Ultra
Starting Line

I started with a slow jog to get into the rhythm and as it happens in every event, I got panicked and started breathing heavily. But based on my experience I knew that this too shall pass. Finally after 2km I was totally into the race, feeling the rhythm. 

Our first climb was towards the Anjani Mahadev Mandir, we covered that quickly and enjoyed the downhill running on our way back. From the 4th km, a gradual uphill started with the route going on and off the tar road. The lead pack had already disappeared and the chasing group started to scatter too. I accompanied one runner for some time but he took lead after a while. Guys behind me were not too far behind either. I was trying my best to increase the gap from them and somehow I was keeping the guy ahead of me in sight too. I could manage to do this until I reached the Dhundi Bridge.

THE "MANDATORY" MISS:

The guy ahead of me had already crossed the bridge and I could see one more runner ahead of him. This gave me confidence and I could feel that I was closing the gap. Before I could go behind them, I saw two markers towards the trail which looked like a short cut for crossing the Beas River. I thought to myself that those guys must have missed the mark. So I continued towards the trail, thinking that this is my chance to close the gap or even overtake them. 

I would have run 100m then a group of workers warned me that the route is closed and bridge is the only way to cross the river. I was shocked, the thought that I had missed the route at a very crucial point was killing. But I did not listen to them and continued, thinking that I might cross the river some or the other way. I even went down to river, tried to jump to few stones, got wet till my knees, but had no choice but to come back and run towards the bridge. I was feeling stupid and super irritated with myself. To add to it, I could see that the group behind me has already crossed the bridge and some 10 runners had overtaken me. I was pissed to the core, beating my hands in irritation. But I did not have too much time to waste, so I continued running while being pissed.

Solang Sky Ultra
Still from SSU

THE CHASE:

I had lost 10 crucial minutes in this stupidity. The guys who overtook me had taken a big lead on me. Now I had to chase them down. There was no other way. So I started climbing as fast as I could. One step after the other, and I kept telling to myself, “they will slow down and I will not”, “I will catch them at the top of the hill”. Finally they did slow down and I did not. I started overtaking them one by one.

Solang Sky Ultra
Still from SSU

By the time we reached the boulder section I had overtaken all but two. We three started playing pakdam pakdaai and eventually, while coming out of the boulder section I overtook them.

Solang Sky Ultra
Still from SSU

From here, I slowed down a bit and reached Beas Kund. Now I had the most talked about climb of the entire race, the Lady Leg, in front of me. I filled my water bottles, grabbed few dates and started climbing. I looked behind and one runner had magically appeared. He was quick on the uphill but I was confident that I will get him while going down. We both reached the top and it was time to dance.

I’ve always felt that running downhill is an art. It keeps you engaged and on your toes. One wrong step, one loose stone and the game is over. 

Solang Sky Ultra
Downhill Dance

Anyways, I started rolling down, heard a group of trekkers cheering. I greeted and ran past them, reached another aid station, crossed the river, greeted another group of trekkers and continued running in hope that I’ll catch one more runner. Thanks to the superb marking, I didn’t have to stop and search for the arrows. Those arrows led me to the base of Beas kund and to the same bridge that I had missed.

THE FINISH AND THE SURPRISE:

Now it was only tar road. I could not see anyone ahead or behind me. But I still had to push myself to finish before 5 hours. I continued my run with occasional walk. When it was only 2.5 km to go, I gazed at my watch, it gave me only 10min to complete the distance. I started running like crazy, the last one km(almost) was trail. I treid to pierce through the small rocks and dodge ditches to reach the finish line before time.

Just before 300m I asked for time and volunteers told me it was 11:33….I was like..arree saaalaa, miss ho gaya. I had missed my target, but I kept pushing till I crossed the finish line at 11:33:xx. The race was finally over I was happy to finish the Solang Sky Ultra in good time. I sat down, had some water, ate a little and started introspection.

Solang Sky Ultra
Finish Line

While I was sitting, I heard my wife’s voice, which was strange because we had decide that she won’t be coming this time. But there she was making my video, I was surprised and happy. Those 4 mins were not bothering me anymore. She had made my day. 

We went to eat something and I started telling her my race story. All of a sudden I realised…the race had started little late so I had actually finished under 5 hours. It gave me even more satisfaction. I finally finished in 4:53:50 at 7th position.

The one with my wife

Read another exciting race report of SRT Ultra, which happens in Sahyadri Ranges in Maharashtra.

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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

To read all other race reports, please click here

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

To read all other race reports, please click here