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