Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Bangalore Ultra – Experience the Beast

About little more than 2 weeks ago, we came to know that the Bangalore Ultra edition of 2011 is having a brand new route – few who had done a dry run there said that it was a tough course with lots of twists and ups and downs with no tree cover at all and that if it rains, it could be treacherous because the mud was softer than last year. A2 told me the previous day that the course has less gradient compared to last year. Mid-week before the event date, I checked the weather forecast for Bangalore for the weekends and there was a prediction of a nice and sunny day.

Having done two very tough half marathons in August (at Hyderabad) and Kaveri trail half in September and taken part in the Raj’s 100 kms event in the hot afternoon sun, I was like ready to tackle the toughest marathon event in India. There were few niggles here and there but I guess that is part of a runner’s life.

Last year’s Bangalore Ultra trail was tough in itself but had some little forest cover, but no straight patches of road at all. It was tough on the legs and though I had registered for 37.5 kms I could manage only 25 kms in the end having to throw in the towel due to a double strike of itbs in the left knee plus a back pain. The back pain had in fact surfaced early in the week itself due to running at Juhu beach only a week before the ultra – a monumental folly that. This year also I ran at juhu beach, albeit two weeks before the event and picked up a shin trouble. Well, two weeks was enough time to set things right. But last year’s failure was perennially at the back of my mind and that made me nervous. But one thing I was determined to do and that was to turn around at the end of the second loop.

Well, there I was at 6.00 a.m. at the start of the 37.5 kms event all set and raring to go, it was cold and chilly and there was enough of sunlight to go full blast on a new track and riding my early luck I started at quite a brisk pace keeping only such distance behind the runner ahead of me to see the track for any lurking dangers. I was surprised at the gentle nature of the track because there were quite a few patches that was straight though the soil was loose kicking up some dust. Little after 1.5 kms the route veers off to the left where the road undulates severely before turning left again to the second water station on the route.

Thereafter the route meanders through twists and turns but from 3 to 4 kms it is a straight path until it reaches a gravel path just after 4 kms mark for about 150 metres. Immediately after the gravel path the route turns sharply to the left to a monstrous triple pit which has the hallmark of an ankle breaker and then the water stop is situated. From this point onwards the ultra beast rears its ugly head and it is the most difficult part of the entire route. There are numerous twists and turns at this section for about 2 kms until the 6.25 kms turnaround. There are straight paths interspersed with stones, heavy grass and on a few places monstrous cactus plants that juts out onto the runners’ path threatening to sever the arms of the runner. It is this section of 4 kms to and fro that I consider the most difficult part of the entire ultra. Runners were falling regularly like Windies wickets at the Eden Gardens and there were bruises, cuts, sprains galore. The Ultra was again going to test my will and nerves.

By the time we were returning to the starting point on the first loop the 25 kms and 12.5 kms runners were let loose and veritably they were on a treasure hunt coming in hordes, occupying both sides of the road and threatening to bulldoze everybody else in their path. It was nerve wracking to keep your eyes on the road as well as look up at the runners trying to wrestle and knock you down. I had to holler out to the runners to keep to their side of the road. This went on for about half a kms until there was relative safety.

By the time we had come back to the start point after the first loop the sun was out, so the second loop was going to be difficult, which indeed it proved to be. The demons in the mind started rearing again and tough as it became on the second stretch, negative thoughts started occurring. Doubts whether I can come back for the 3rd loop, whether I should come back, why am I doing this thing, all sorts of negative thoughts started appearing in the brain. I started making a plan – that I would surely cross for the 3rd loop and then start a run-walk-run routine and take it further from there. I remembered that this was a long run practice run for the Mumbai marathon in January and if I miss this one, then surely I am on the backfoot. Plus with the glorious sun at your back, what better practice can you get for the Mumbai marathon. Slowly the demons started disappearing and crushing the negative thoughts from my brain, I turned for the 3rd loop with my left fist pumped up.

By this time, my groins were paining, shins and arms were hurting and by adopting a run-walk-run routine I managed to reach the last cut-off point from where it was only another 6.25 kms to the finish. The distances loomed huge though I was reminding myself that it was only 6 kms to the finish. I was running at all the straight paths and taking it easy at the treacherous ones thereby slowly whittling down the distance. It gave me immense pleasure to see the distances at the billboard mounting from 30.5 to 34.5 etc.

Normally I do not look at my watch at all during any race but here at 36.5 kms I looked at my watch which showed 5.04 hours. I reckoned last kms to take about 10 mins so I should be home by 5.15 hours which was fair enough considering that I had given myself 5 hours to finish this one. Last few metres people were shouting encouragement – “finish strong”. At the entrance to the finish arena there is a small bump so I waited until I crossed that bump and then slowly picked up pace for a few metres and with fists pumping in the air finished my 37.5 kms Bangalore Ultra in a time of 5.14.56 hours. A big leap of faith for me.

This year’s Bangalore Ultra is a tough demanding course and my title says it all – you have to experience the beast in this course – difficult to compare whether this year was tougher than last year but it brings out the best in you. The intensity of my effort was evident in the immediate aftermath of the event, when I could barely walk to the lunch counter, the bus, the hotel and for the next two days was in excruciating pain and discomfort. I had to travel to Chennai by the Shatabdi train that same afternoon and it was a considerable effort to climb the railway steps at Bangalore railway station and even more difficult to get down to the platform.

So, that ends my 8th event of the year and three back to back tough events.