Saturday, November 10, 2012

My tryst with 100 km trail running

100 km Bangalore Ultra 2012

I personally advocate running as the best fitness exercise, because it involves very less equipments (may be just a comfortable shoe) and benefits are achieved with a very little time spent.

Last two years, I had been cycling long distances, starting from 100, 200, 300, 400, 600 and 1000 km. To be honest, none of these had been physically challenging except for the deprivation of sleep I had to go through. Of course, none of these were races and that made the task much easier.

My running experience

I don't run as much as I would want to. I had in the past participated in a half marathon of Kaveri Trail Marathon (organized by Runners For Life) 2011. I clocked 1 hour 40 mins for the distance. I cannot even say that it was my best timing, because it was the only one I had done so far even till date. But I somewhere felt that it was a good timing and I'm proud of it. Then I did Bangalore Ultra 25 km distance (which is not exactly ultra distance) the same year in 2011. I chose 25 km as I was confident of a podium finish in that category. But I missed the podium by about half a minute. That is pretty much all about my running experience. I had done three or four 10K runs.

Practice for my running events

I practise very less time running for any running event. For a typical half marathon, I would practice some three or four sessions of running, each of which will be an intense 3 to 5 km at the average speed of 15 kmph. So, not much to write about it.

Desire to test ultra distance running

But, in running, there is a point beyond which you cannot just walk itself. Even at the easiest mode of walk, one has to carry the weight of the body and that is no mean task unless one plans regular breaks. Though it has never happened to me in the distances I had done, I know this in theory at least. But I had done decently tough trekking a few years ago and I knew that I had the capacity to walk longer time. So, in the middle of this year 2012, I just felt the itch to try the 100 km Bangalore ultra in November clear sky.

From a couple of 20 km to 100 km directly would be a big jump. But I convinced myself that I will not race 100 km, but just aim to finish. I had RFL premium membership till July and I wanted to make use of the discount for premium members and hence I registered right in July.

Preparation for the 100 km run

People who are well versed in running advised me that I would need to train hard over months before a 100 km run. I kept brushing them off that I would not race, but just jog this distance to finish. So, technically, I had zero training plan. But my preparations for Bangalore Bicycling Championship (BBCh) in every third Sunday of the month kept me sufficiently fit.

I accidentally did try long distance run twice before the event. In August BBCh Team Time Trial, I got a flat on my front tire and I had to quit as there is no scope for fixing it in time trials. Out of disappointment in not helping the team cause by running a shoddy patched tire in TTT, I wanted to torture myself by running 50 km the next weekend. I went out in Lalbagh and started running in the morning. When everything was going good, I just carried 700 ml of water and plan was to fill from the taps there. To my surprise, the taps were dry and later I found a few running taps with the help of a newly acquainted runner (named Manmohan). By then I had run 30 km plus and I was feeling the effect of dehydration. It was still running at 12 kmph till then. From there on, hunger and thirst caught up and I had to quit at a 42.22 km in 4h09m.

Another attempt for a long run was when my kids were away with grandparents and wife wanted to try a longish distance cycling. She does not cycle and does not have one. So, we borrowed from a friend, named Rohini (whose husband, Chidambaram, is also a known cyclist in Bangalore). We decided that we would head towards Nandi hills and I would run behind her as much as I can and return from the point she would cross me on her return. But I had to carry water bag. So, I carried a 2L water bag and started jogging uncomfortably. Initial 15km till Hebbal from my home was at an average speed of 11 kmph. My wife kept updating me on where she was and she continued further as she was very comfortable. I had breakfast after 25 km or so and continued jogging. The sun started gleaming and I was running along with the highway traffic in bright sun. Just when I finished 42 km (soon after crossing Devanahalli turn), my wife had caught me on her return. I told her that she could continue riding home while I would walk back to Airport road turn off and catch a bus. So, I walked back another 8 km to complete my 50 km jog/walk.

Though I was tired and didn't want to continue walking any further on both occasions, my muscles were more or less good, with a bit of pain in the case of 42km Lalbagh running.

I wanted to do well in the October BBCh Nandi race and I did some rides. I had also planned a half ironman distance by Chennai Trekking Club in Nagalapuram, Andhra Pradhesh just the weekend before my 100 km ultra. I had some bad experience in that half ironman distance. Heat was intense and I mismanaged hydration. I ended up being very thirsty and yet stomach was full of water. As I started walking the last leg of half marathon on the trail, I kept saying to myself that I would be in a position to run after the stomach settled down. It never happened. I ended up walking the whole distance with casual jog now and then. This was a good warning to my ultra run as it showed me how things could go wrong. As I pondered what happened, I'm now believing that it could be the three snickers chocolate bars that I ate during the cycling leg of that event. I told myself to avoid all lactose one day ahead as I'm anyway not used to milk. I also developed some kind of strain in the left ankle or somewhere near ankle along the nerve that connects one of the toes to the ankle. This was there a couple of months ago. It also worried me and I decided to rest it completely 5 days after the half ironman and before the ultra run.

The race day

One of the best things I like about Bangalore ultra is their spread of food in their aid stations which are about every 2km. They keep orange, roasted peanut, sandwich with jam, biscuits, bananas, table salt, sugar, salted chips, plain water with ice and electral water. Of all these, salted potato chips are my all time favorite. This is the most exciting part of my ultra run. The run was to start at 5am and I decided to reach the place on car with another cycling team mate, Kiran Kumar (Tusker). As I stated going to the path which I mugged up from google map the night before, we thought we were lost as the road was totally mud and cattle path. Yet, we reached without getting lost. I was raring to go. They gave a flash light as the trail would be dark and would be in the forest with a lot of turns. Though I wanted to jog the entire distance, I also wanted to make use of the cool morning. I covered the first U turn point of 12.5 km in an hour and returned to complete on lap of 25 km in about 2h04m. I ensured that I gulped one cup of water in every aid station and grab a handful of chips with one orange. This would continue for the rest of my distance. I reached 37.5km mark in about 3h10m and I felt that I had to slow down a bit to allow my legs to recover. I returned and finished 50 km in about 4h35m. I felt really good. I stopped and changed my socks. Wanted to change the shirt, but avoided. I would have spent about 10 mins which I didn't mind as I was giving my body a bit of rest. I continued for the third lap. I finished the 62.5 km mark in 6h12m. All this while, I was very cautious to take easy on my left ankle. Then, suddenly I felt something not alright on my left knee. I ran the next three km or so, making 65 km in 6h30m. The left knee started hurting. I told myself that my aim was to finish though I was going at a rate that I would end up being 2nd or 3rd finisher. The first guy was ahead of me by at least 5 km. I stopped for a while and walked the entire return to 75 km mark taking nearly 2 hours for the 10 km or so. So, I finished 75 km in 8h15m. I wanted to walk the remaining 25 km at a pace of 6 kmph, which would make my total time as 12 hours. But then, I tried running a bit to see how I felt. To my surprise, I was still able to run and ran the next 6 km in about 35m. But that aggravated the knee. I told myself not to run again. I walked the next 7km comfortably. Finished 88km in about 9h40m (don't remember this one exactly). Then as I continued to walk the last 12 km, it started hurting really bad, so bad that I had to stop and bend my knees and rub them whenever I felt the sudden pain. Every km started taking 11 mins, 12 mins and 13 mins... finally finished the 100 km in 13h13m. Overall body felt good except the knee. Later when I tried to get into the car, I realized that I overused the right leg to walk and my right thigh/hip joint was weakening and unable to lift the leg to climb anything taller than one foot. I already asked Kiran to wait for my finish so that he could drive me back.

As I'm writing this piece, my body is almost immobilized as the two legs are enable to make much of the movement. I still have not thought of going to the doctor. I will watch over them in the next couple of days. One thing I had never done in my life is to suppress the pain with any kind of reliever. So, I know where it hurts and how much it hurts. I still think that I will recover. I will have to wait and watch.

Will I run the distance again? No. I ran this to test my running endurance. I think I can run long distances, but anything beyond 100 km, I would need more scientific methods of providing the nutrition during the run.