Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Vignettes from the Hessarghatta Ultra Marathon

The toughest marathon in this part of the world was held in Hessarghatta, Bangalore on November 14. Forget the 100k and 50k categories that give this marathon the sobriquet of "Ultra", I had registered in the 37.5k category. My preparation for the marathon was staggered and ranged from a few half marathons to a trek in scenic Kumara Parvatha mountains. Not much but with a weekly mileage of 40-45k I believed I had done enough to get through 37.5k on race day. I reached the starting point just in time for the race and ended up in the front row during flag off. This turned out to be an advantage since at many places the trail gets very narrow allowing only one person to get through and a decent start was vital. The trail was 6.25k in and out meaning every loop was 12.5k. I maintained a steady pace and felt some discomfort in my right knee when I stopped for water at the 6.25k mark. My right knee was troubling me for sometime due to a fall during the previous week's trek but I decided to ignore it and push ahead at the same pace.  
A marathon is a gala affair and the most important thing that a runner must do is enjoy the race. And running in a forest trail with the sun just rising in the horizon is pretty much ideal settings to have fun. Add to this the amazing resilience and determination of folks running 100k and 75k for inspiration, there was nothing more I could ask for. Around the 10k mark I struck a conversation with Pankaj Sir who is a regular fixture in RFL long runs. When we ran into the 25k runners starting off, Pankaj stopped by and posed for photos with a group of friends! Unbelievable I thought. Ran ahead to press my advantage, but he soon caught up with me and said "We should always have some fun in life. Right?" and sped ahead. I realized that running is not all about race timings. It’s more about having fun while you are at it. 

Start of race 37.5k race
Soon my first loop of 12.5k was done; two more to go. And every time I stopped at the refreshment stall, starting to run again was becoming harder due to my knee. I decided not to stop since getting into my running stride was the only thing that numbed the pain. Very Soon I understood that this I wasn’t going to be able to complete this race. I was pushing hard through sheer grit and determination and the encouragement from fellow runners. Was afraid to stop at the refreshment stall and just grabbed some fruits and ate them while running. I completed 25k in around 2:38 mins and decided to stop in order to avoid aggravating my injury.
I settled in the Medical desk to apply ice-packs and watch the other runners strive, struggle and strive harder due to the blazing sun. You could say I had front row seats. I was there watching  Ashok Nath win the 37.5k in blazing sub 3 hour timing demolishing the previous year’s first by more than an hour, Nigel make his way to the starting point with long strides like a football player about to take a penalty kick and Cath and the other 100k runners run loop after loop with grim determination. You need to strive to be an athlete and not just a runner and these folks simply epitomized that ideal.
 And it wasn’t just about the winners. It was about ordinary folks making an effort at the extra-ordinary and stories that shall remain for a long time. After the first few 37.5ers finished, the folks from the medical desk brought in a person who seemed to have collapsed just a few steps before the finishing point.  Thomas had run 37.45 kms with gusto and seemed all set for a glorious finish in the category when exhaustion overtook him meters before the finish line. He told me that he was gutted at falling short at the finishing point. The ultra is a cruel race that way. But they seem to have carried him over the finish line and the timing chip registered his timing as 4th in the category. Congrats Thomas. Nobody deserved this finish more than you.

Me running the forest trail
Sometime later another person who seemed to have succumbed to tough course walked into the med desk. There was blood all over her arms and legs but a serene elation in her face that could mean only one thing- She had completed her 50k despite the injury. When I spoke to Vidyatha later to ask her how she managed to continue and she said “The pain is all in the mind”. Now I felt guilty at not having shown the determination to finish the race. Many such stories of determination and resolve came through and I was glad to have been there and soaked it in.
I would like to thank all runners from around the nation and the few outside it for participating and enriching this amazing test of endurance and stamina. Also much thanks to RFL, your organizational skills are truly sublime.
Soon all my friends Nitin, Suraj and Vinod completed their race taking a lot longer than what they had anticipated and we headed for lunch. Later limped back to the parking area, just like most other folks and I slept for the rest of the day once reached home. So will I be back next year? You bet. I have unfinished business…


Ramblin Rich said...

37.5k is not a marathon no less an ultra marathon suspect you have no concept of toughest either.

Bharath said...

@Ramblin Rich
The marathon had a 100 kms category from where the caption "Ultra" marathon comes. That should qualify as an ultra in any place! ( Even though a lot of the ultra marathons around the globe are 100 miles- 160k)

Absolutely agree with you that 37.5k is not in the ultra category at all. I guess it is there to increase participation from normal folks like us...