Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Redemption – 50k Ultra-marathon at the Bangalore Ultra 2011

                Now why would anybody run an ultra-marathon (in which runners run beyond the regular marathon distance of 42.2k) and willingly put themselves under such pain? When asked this question, I end up providing a simplistic response like “it’s fun”. Mainly because it is not very easy to explain it to a “normal” person (generally people don’t run or those who say- I can walk for a whole day but don’t ask me to run). “It’s not like you’ll win the prize money or anything!! So why bother” they say signaling that any further conversation on my part would serve little purpose. So in this blog entry I will try to analyze the answers to the question – “Why run an ultra”.
Before you read any further, let me warn you that this is a long blog post. So here’s the gist of the entire post:
                Bangalore Ultra 2010      - 37.5k category  - DNF (Did Not Finish)
                Bangalore Ultra 2011      - 50k category     - 5 hrs 31 mins.
                Overall score => Bharath- 1: Bangalore Ultra-1.

Let me now continue with the Charles Dickens’ version of the post:

                The Bangalore Ultra in 2010 humbled and beat me into submission (read sordid story here). I realized that lack of training and preparation was what beat me and decided not to fall short on that account this time round.

                On race day, I reached Hessarghatta around 30 mins to start time and headed to the room of my friends who were staying at the ONV hotel near the start point. First shocker of the day: My racer kit was missing. Meaning even if I run the race, my timings would not be recorded. For some reason I remember being calm in that situation as I knew that running chip or no running chip, nothing was going to stop me from hitting the red trail that day. Rajesh or Chief as we like to call him picked up another backup racer kit and we ran to “Runners For Life” Organizer stall with 5 mins to start and programmed the running chip for the 50k run. Ended up at the start line just before flag off with no warm-up to speak of.

Early morning start at Ultra
                  The 50k and 37.5k categories were flagged off together. I initially ran with the lead group of the 37.5k runners. After around a km or so I realized that they were running too fast and I had to slow down. One of the toughest things for me is to let people overtake me because I am generally competitive when it comes to running, but this time I told myself that it was important to stick to my overall plan of running 50k in 5 hours. The trail was the toughest I had ever run on. I always had to keep an eye on the ground for fear of hitting either roots or getting my foot stuck in some rock. Add in some loose gravel here and there and you have a perfect recipe for a fall. Fortunately I fell only once during the run and knew how to fall to avoid injury.

                I stopped at the third aid station and noticed that it was well stocked. I helped myself to a decent treat once in a while at these aid stations – peanut butter and bread, potato chips, oranges, bananas etc. The organizers even had common salt at the aid stations. A few runners take salt tablets once every 15 kms in such ultra-marathons to ensure that the salt level in their body does not drop drastically. But you do not get them in India, ergo substitution with common salt at the aid stations. Since I did not know what to expect for my first 50k run, I ensured that I ate more than required and was well hydrated. Considering my intake during the run, it’s surprising I did not gain weight at the end of the race. 

Completing first loop of 12.5k
                 At around the 8k mark, an American woman cut across the trail and overtook me. Up until that point, only Athreya and Honda San, two accomplished ultra-runners, from the 50k category were ahead of me. Determined not to lose my position, I kept up with her and finally overtook her after two kms. Lizzie turned out to a determined runner as well and I ended up maintaining a decent pace just because I knew she was on my heels.

                Before I could complete my first loop I ran across the 12.5k runners. Though I hate to be labeled an elitist, I really do not understand where or how a 12.5k run fits into an ultra-marathon. Is it the money? Most probably... The event organizer - RFL is after all a commercial organization that needs to make money to survive. Is it about encouraging new runners? Nah. I am not sure I would have stuck with the sport if I had started my running career in an event like Bangalore Ultra. Runs like these are, deep down, are about a certain degree of masochism though most would not admit it. We were there to see our rigorous training come to fruition, celebrate our strength and challenge our bodies. In a treacherous trail like this, the newbies are ones most likely to hurt themselves, either due to lack of knowledge or training or both.

Third Loop done. One more to go...
                I had slowed down at around the 32k mark. The American runner was long left behind. We had formed a partnership of sorts with one of us leading the way for a certain length of time. But she cramped up at around the 20k mark and asked me to move on. Met a lot of other runners that I interact with on a daily basis on the internet but hardly ever get a chance to meet.

                At around the 44k mark, I noticed Bhaskar Sharma overtake me. Though I did not know that point in time, he had just moved into the third place in the 50k category. Being my first run beyond Full Marathon distance of 42k, I don’t think I was in a position to chase down a runner who had been running ultra-marathons years before I had even started running. I was totally spent. The sun had come out and I was reduced to taking walking breaks more often than planned.

Mission accomplished. From left - Steve, Venkat, Me and Ashish
                With just a km to go for completion, another runner, Srini, overtook me. I really could not understand where he found the energy from but he started putting in some decent pace. After the race, I caught up with him and only half-jokingly warned against overtaking with such a short distance left as it leaves one heart-broken.  He laughed it off. Seeing Srini put in good pace this late in the race, I realized that however good your training level is, the desire to succeed is what drives you in the final miles. You need to run the second part with your heart not your strength because of you have very little of that left anyway. I finished my first ultra-marathon distance of 50k in 5 hours and 31 mins. It was undoubtedly the toughest thing I had ever done in my life. I realized what this race meant for me – Redemption. And it tasted sweet despite all the pain I was in.


Hemant Soreng said...

Now this is inspirational...way to go Bharath !!!

Bharath said...

Thanks Hemant. And congrats to you too on finishing the 50k successfully.

Nitin Jain said...

Very well written. It wasn't that long as you mentioned at starting of blog. :) Congrats for leveling the series 1-1. I am at same score now. :)

Bharath said...

Thanks Nitin. I think the score will remain 1-1 for at least for a couple of years. Not sure about competing in the ultra next year!!
What are you talking about this not being long - In this age of micro blogging; anything more than 140 characters is long!!

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Ravi Patil said...

I bumped in to your Blogspot searching for the trek trial of Bandaje falls and was really impressed by the way you write...

Not easy but I can tell you may be one day we shall meet in the 50k marathon Buddy...

I will start running from tomorrow...

Bharath said...

Hi Ravi,
Yeah. Put on those running shoes and hit the trail. I know how tough it is to start running. Do check out sites like or which provide very good info on how to start up.
Also nice to know that I have succeeded in motivating a few folks to take up the sport. That after all is the purpose of this blog.