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.
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).
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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