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My experience of Malnad Ultra 2019

I had been longing for a mountain trail ultra marathon for a long time. There aren't any in India, specially in the south, except for the CTC events such as Javadhu hills and Yercaud (Severoy hills). I couldn't participate in Javadhu hills due to lack of time. When I had time, they stopped all sport events due to the unfortunate event of Kurangini forest fire. That accident has left deep scars in our hearts.

The same year, Malnad ultra started. I heard of Malnad as a beautiful place from Sv (wife) as she had done GMC (Great Malnad Challenge) twice. Ashok Thiruvengadam, a cyclist and runner enthusiast, with a good soul and poetic heart, enchanted me about Malnad Ultra. Deepak Mhasavade, my cycling team-mate, had also done the same. So, I was all charged up to try one.

I registered for 110k as soon as the registration opened. But they introduced a qualification criteria. Two marathons or one ultra of 75k plus between Nov 2018 and Sep 2019. I don't usually run that much. So, I didn't even have a marathon nor was there a plan to run one. So, I had to register for an ultra marathon to qualify for Malnad Ultra. I ran the Bengaluru Endurance 12 hours in a stormy and pouring night covering a distance of 107.4 km thereby winning the category.

Team Challenge

As I came to know about team challenge in the event, I wanted to be a part of a team where adventure and endurance were a common passion. Formation of the team was more challenging than I thought as I didn't know any woman runner expect Shilpa Deo in my office. Over time, we did form a team in time.

Our team Trail Crazies comprises of Suma Rao, Shilpa Deo, Balakrishnan T in 50k, Shikha Rawal, Rahul M V, Jay in 80k and Apparajitha, Dipankar, Deepak Mhasavade, myself in the 110k category. The idea of team was just to have some extra fun. Nothing else. But we had the potential to win as per the rules of the team challenge. That added even more adrenaline to the event.

Honestly, I could drop out of the race just by giving my motorcycle accident 5 weeks ago and no training at all. But that is not me. If I can walk, I should be able to run ;-)

Added to the excitement was the incessant rain in the weeks and days preceding the race. The organizers also came up with a new course. So, it was going to be a new course for everyone!

With less than a week to go, Dipankar had to drop out. I was disappointed, but we didn't have a choice. There went any chance of winning.

It is not about winning anyways. So, we still kept the spirit high. Deepak and I wanted to run at competitive level. Deepak came 4th in last year 50k category with a finish time of just 5 hours. So, it was natural for him to aim for the top spots. I often end up comparing myself against the awesome Deepak and assess myself based on his, because I believe that we have similar abilities in running and cycling. So, we talked about sticking together as much as possible.

Race day

I had slept 3 and a half hours on Thursday night, one hour of nap on Friday afternoon and 2 and a half hours on Friday night. Jay, Rahul, Deepak, Shunmu (my college classmate) were in the same dorm in Kaantinivas. Stay was basic, which I was fine. But room smelled like cigarette. It was horrible. Otherwise, it was a nice place and we had nice and simple food. Suma and Shilpa were in Last Resort. Bala was in Golden Hills. Apparajitha (Appu) was in Jose's. Shikha started late from Bengaluru and was staying outside Ballavara.

We prepared for rain though some of us dreaded for the experience of it in the trails. Fortunately, there was no rain for the past two days and we could see star lit sky in the serene village and glowing green carpet of mountain tops in the day.

We all got ready on time before the 3:50 AM bus depart. We reached the race venue by 4:45 AM.

We, team-members met during and after breakfast. It was a difficult meeting consider we were in different locations and different start times.

I emptied bowels before the breakfast and flagoff of 110k category which was at 6:30 AM. It was quite a large number to my surprise. I couldn't even set my foot in the first 5 rows.

First 4 km was on tarmac with some gradient. We overtook scores of them. We kept a target of 6 hours for the 50k loop which had an elevation gain of 2000m and loss of 2000m, which meant an average gradient of 8%. I often compared this with 5% gradient Nandi hills road to understand the difficulty level though they are not really comparable. We covered the first 25km under 3 hours and we were doing good, staying among a small group of leaders. Kaliappan from Erode was with us for a long time. After about 35k mark, the sun became hot and gaining speed became difficult. The lead group of about 6 runners started playing cat and mouse, overtaking each other every now and then as one ran and walked. Some parts were so steep that just walking up or walking down was a challenge. I like running down and I was quite efficient in it. My shoe sole grip which I repaired for this race started peeling off. I peeled it off completely. Though the trail was slushy and badly beaten up at some parts, most of it were manageable. After the 35k mark, my right toe box started hurting. This is the foot that got badly injured during the motorcycle accident and I still think that there is some misfit with the shoes after it healed. I didn't want to run barefeet considering that I had a lot of popped blisters from a barefeet maraton on tarmac two weeks ago. So, I bore with it as I planned to switch to a fresh shoe or sandal at 50k mark. We also passed many 50k runners who were on their way out in the first 18k segment that was a two way trail. It became tricky to pass them on many narrow and muddy trails. Meanwhile, the sun became even stronger exactly at stretches where we didn't have tree cover. We jogged and walked. There were a few runners without water bottles and they suffered big time as the hydration points were 6 to 9 km apart.

Deepak and I reached 50k mark, which was actually 47.2 km as per gamin watch, exactly after 6:20. We didn't cross the timing mat yet. We went to baggage counter. I changed to sandal while he went to physio therapy. He had slight cramp on left calf. We took a break of 25 minutes and decided to proceed skipping lunch. The 30k loop had no volunteers at junctions, there were no tapes to block wrong turns, signs were difficult to spot or difficult to understand if spotted. Some junctions had totally conflicting and wrong signs. Some runners got really angry. Deepak and I kept it cool hoping that we would clear out of it. But that didn't happen. After about 9km, we were back to just about 200m from the start again and had done about 2 km loop twice. Our plan was to finish 80 in daylight and pick head lights for the last 30k repeat lap. But given the markings, we decided to go back to baggage counter and pick the lights. Some confusions were cleared up by then. Both of us were on right track. Rahul, Jay and Shikha caught up with us by then. Or should I say, we caught them up after we got lost and they were also stopped from proceeding after finishing their 50k. It was still a mystery, but more runners were there. So, it gave some comfort and confidence.

We lost a lot of time and energy. The 30k loop aid stations didn't have bananas, which we depended more. I would never take biscuits. Oranges weren't enough for me. Eletrolyte mix was too dilute all the time, but I would always mix more powders. Deepak and I started feeling different, a bad feeling, which made even jogs difficult. We took a long break on a road side, then decided to walk until evening. Evening came and we were still not okay. We decided to walk the entire course and finish that way. We got lost at many points. We also saw a series of wild boars crossing the trail at fast speed in the dark just ahead of us. I was really hungry and stomach started feeling a burning sensation. The trails was also really slippery and steep or wet and muddy here and there. Finally, we saw 74km mark at 7:30 PM and we expected to finish 80k in another hour. But we finished at 8 PM which meant that it would have been just about 2.5 to 3 km. We cannot tell the exact distance as we kept getting lost with very confusing signs.

We had dinner, met Rahul, Jay and Apparajitha (Appu). Appu had quit at 66k mar after seeing the trail as she didn't feel safe to walk alone in the night as she would mostly be alone for her finish target. She had trained hard for this and she should be really disappointed. But I was happy for her decision, which was the correct decision. She actually didn't look disappointed at all except for a guilt of letting down the team. We all cheered her up to not feel guilty about it.

We took better head lights from Rahul and Jay and proceeded with Pratheep from Coimbatore who had accompanied us half of the previous 30k loop. We chatted a lot on science - Deepak loves Chemistry and I love Physics and we both share some level of philosophy. We did bore Pratheep for sure, but he preferred to listen than give his own talk. We skipped a loop of 2 km in the beginning as we already did twice earlier. There were more people with us, slightly ahead or behind us. We didn't get lost this time except for a small stretch which Pratheep quickly found out from his previous log on the watch. Finally, we joined the tarmac which was about 400m to the finish. We decided to walk to finish together. Just a few meters walk and we somehow got tempted to a sprint finish. Deepak insisted that we do it. I sprinted off at my best with my sandals and we all finished just under 20 hours. We had food again before the bus which took off at 3:40 AM.

Reached the stay, took cold water shower as there was no hot water. We then slept before phone rings and chattering people woke me up at 6:00 AM. Slept for a while again before the call for breakfast woke me up again at 7:30. So, I had slept less than 8 hours in total over past 3 days!

Post mortem

Deepak and I still don't know what really happened to us. We both lack the experience of endurance running to know. I had done a couple of 100k plus and he has done only one. All were successful and were of different experience. This time, the feeling was totally different which I can't explain. We had done a lot of endurace bike rides and we hadn't experienced anything similar too. Both of us were panting with even slightest effort. Legs weren't a problem. We probably pushed a bit too hard in the sun, but that wasn't such a hard push and was of only a short period. Both of us have enough experience to ride or run with lack of sleep, with more or less food. I definitely expected a rejuvinated run towards the evening for sure. Anyways, it wasn't our day. But we decided to just finish instead of quitting.

Logs

I logged the first 50k and last 30k. I cancelled the log of the first 30k loop as I was lost and also battery of the watch died. I kept it charging in baggage counter while I ran without watch. Deepak logged it though.
50k loop: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/4218887025 (see only first lap, it was actually 47.2k)
30k loop: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/4218887166 (we skipped a small 2k loop as we had already done that more than twice in first 30k loop).

My watch already logs lesser elevation gain. Others log more. So, we can add about 15% to my elevation recording.

Pics shared in Whatsapp by Ashok Thiruvengadam, the closest source of the pics being Senthil Kali, who may have collated from others.

While I was too focused on the running, I missed even mentioning the beauty of the trail. Some pics I got are stunning and they tell the story which I failed in my writing.

Thanks Senthil for the pics and for allowing me to use them here.























Comments

  1. Wonderful writeup. Awesome running too!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Amazing wrote up! Lived race once again!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Excellent account of the experience of Malnad Ultra.. Well done Sir.. Brillant write up.

    ReplyDelete

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