Thursday, October 12, 2017

Malnad Ultra 2017 - 80K

One of the recurrent conversations at last year's Malnad Ultra (MU) was about several runners wanting to be back for the next year's edition. As the race director, Anand told us at the briefing the night before, 86 of last year's 198 runners came back. That's enough support for the fact that it is a bloody good race. I had planned to be back for 2017 but I was wondering whether I should repeat the 50K or the 80K, since I have nursed the plan of doing Comrades for a while. My goal has been to do an 80K under a specific time, so that I have the confidence to fund the expensive trip to SA.

My decision to register was made rather easily since one of my friends, V had already registered for this year's race and transferred his entry to my name, since he was unable to run the event. Till then I had been holding back on whether to go back and do the 75K at the Bangalore Ultra (some ego damage there) while doing the 50K at Malnad.

I began training specifically for the race from early June.

I cheat a bit here. My dear wife, S had seen some other runners at MU 2016 and recommended I get a hydration back pack for myself if I was serious about long runs. Being the cheapskate I am, although I don't skimp on my running expenses, I had never even considered getting one. But I got one in Jan from the US, which helped manage the logistics quite a bit. It took a little getting used to, since my shoulders weren't very strong. So even 1.5L of water left me a bit sore on my first try.

Thanks to K, with whom I made my first ever trip to Thurahalli forest for an exploratory  run sometime then. I was in love! Thurahalli forest is perhaps one of the delights of the year for me. One big lesson from the prev edition of MU was that my ankles weren't very used to trails. Thurahalli more than fixed that! Thurahalli forest has elevation, trails and few people in the early hours of the mornings, even on weekends, although some cyclists turn up early to do downhill slopes with people walking by! I did a run at Thurahalli at least once a month over the last 4 months to get used to trails. And all the runs were way slower than my usual long run pace, mostly because I couldn't go any faster.

One of the major decisions in training is nutrition. Since I had planned for an 80K, I had always wondered what to eat on the run. I had considered bananas (not enough for me), curd rice and dry fruits. I never got around to trying dry fruits consistently although I have used figs on several long runs. Bhasker had introduced me to a product available at Namdhari's called Dry Fruit Delight from a TN based company called Navadarshanam. It is a disc shaped mix of dates, figs, almonds and cashews. I used that on my 45 and 60K runs as below. I also had a detailed chat with Farah on this a few weeks before the race.

I also did a triple Nandi (3 times up and down Nandi, by road  - 45K) and a quadruple Nandi (60K) about 2 weeks apart, to get used to the elevation at MU. The triple was uneventful since I can now go thru marathon distance w/o much trouble. The quadruple was 2 weeks after. But before that, a hitch.

On a simple training run during my 3 week taper, I twisted my ankle at Lalbagh. My right ankle swelled up to the size of a golf ball or so to the extent you couldn't see the ankle joint for 2-3 days. I did nothing and no running for 4 days or so, although I had planned to do so, 24 hrs after. This is perhaps the first time in my brief running history that I have had an injury so late in training. While this didn't affect my running as much of the training was done, it did make me conservative on paces for the remaining 3+ weeks, esp the 60K.

The quadruple was quite a learning experience. A and I started together after which he branched off to the trail loop (I didn't have the confidence to do the trail loop). Like an idiot, I made an overconfident bet on hydration by having only water for the first 2 loops (I usually drink mostly electrolytes). The 3rd loop was miserable since I began getting nauseous. I met A, the saviour for the day who gave me salt, cash and advice. I used all three :) He also left some spare salt at my car, stopping his run to do so (I would never have done so!). I used the cash to buy a can of Coke (!) and in an episode of Idiot Redux, bought potato chips with the change. That caused gas, which I think is due to the oil. I had had the foresight to carry ginger for my long runs. That helped take care of the gas, although it took a loop to do so. In a stroke of luck, I asked the vendor who sold me the Coke to give me some of the salted masala (the thing they put on cucumbers, guavas, etc - salt, chilli powder, pepper, etc). That masala fixed my queasiness. That's when I did the facepalm about using only water for the first 2 loops. On my 3rd descent and 4th ascent, I was hampered by the gas in my stomach caused due to the chips. I decided to take a nap after the 50K mark by the roadside. Several tourists esp bikers were amused by this. When I woke up after 15 min or so, I felt like a different person altogether. I managed the last 10K quite comfortably. This part of my training was to guide my race-day prep for MU 2017. The injured ankle was barely perceptible on this run since I land mostly straight and have little lateral movement. Further by sticking to the road, I also minimized the chances of any lateral pressure on the ankle.

The taper was spent in catching up on the year's reading.

K, N and I travelled to MU 2017 and I carried my breakfast (and coffee) for both raceday and the day before - muesli with milk and honey. I did eat lunch at the resort we were staying at - chapatis with dal, although I had planned to eat rice. The woman serving us, asked me to come back after finishing what was on my plate! I am not the sort who does multiple sorties at buffets unless it is for dessert. I pile at one go and eat leisure. Thereby I missed eating rice and curd. Dinner however had no such issues. I had almost a litre of curd with some rice for dinner. And that was it.

On the morning of the race, I got up before K and promptly got the adrenalin up, spotting a small scorpion right next to my bed! I killed it after considering for a moment whether I should do something else. After a quick coffee, I was ready and had my breakfast of muesli while K got ready.

Based on the time I took for the 60K, I had set myself a target b/w 9-10 hours (closer to 9.5 hrs if all went well, ~10 hrs if things went wrong). Since the course was wet due to the rains even the prev day, I knew that it was unlikely I would get anywhere near 9.5 hrs as wet trail surfaces make for slower running. I set out with a 10hr target in mind. The start was too fast for my liking but even the normally sedate A, went out with the lead group of 110K runners and they were ahead within a km from the start. I began falling back deliberately to try and not go faster than 10kmph.

At about the 6km water stop, I was promptly told by the volunteers who made a note of our bib nos, that I was the first 80K runner at the point. This situation didn't change thru the race. I was in the lead for the 80K till the finish. 3 of the 110K runners were ahead of me all the way till the 67K mark where our paths diverged. I suspect all 3 of them would have finished the 80K well ahead of me had they run my event.

Around the peak point of the course, I ran into A again and he greeted me looking fresh as if he had just been dropped at the top of the peak and not had to run 1200m uphill! He also told me Paul Giblin (the star of the race) had lost his way and missed the turn to the peak. I myself almost missed the turn but was corrected by a young guy running the 110K, Dev. I may have run 6K extra like Paul did, if not for Dev.

I was familiar with parts of the course having done it last year and slowly made my way back to the 50K point. At various points, I ran with Bipul who did a run-walk mix. I did the same but also did slow jogging up hill at some points, since I am not used to walking so much anymore. As Bipul pointed out, there was no discernible difference in pace b/w run-walk and running slow on the course.
I also shared a few kms with Sabapathy early on. By around the 40km mark, Kieren and Sandeep, the lead runners in the 50K whooshed past as if I had been a coffee bush or some such part of the landscape. Kieren eventually set a ridiculous course record, looking as if he was delivering mail, not like most of us, who looked shattered by the finish. Sandeep who ran a fantastic time at Comrades this year, eventually suffered for his pace in the last 6K and walked most of it, like Bipul and I did.

When I finally got to the 50K point, I was a little disappointed to find that the organizers weren't ready with sweet potatoes like they had announced. They had the same food for the 80K and 110K runners that they had for perhaps the 50K finishers and families. I don't think bisibele bath with khara boondi is the best food to eat during a run. So I sucked up and ate curd rice. A was done with his lunch and was leaving the 50K point as I was wondering where to rest for a bit. As I had done on the 60K training run, I took a nap, which I had planned to, despite not having any trouble with my stomach during the race. But eating rice which I have never done on a run, gave me a pause and I didn't want to ruin the race which was going well. When I went to sleep, I was still the leading runner in the 80K, although 3 of the 110K runners had completed ahead of me. When I woke up however, I did see a 4th 110K runner, who was leaving the 50K point. I saw him again only at the 67K mark, where he congratulated me in advance for making the podium in the 80K. I thanked him for doing the 110K :)

I woke up feeling quite refreshed and not sure whether I was still in the lead in the 80K event. Honestly I didn't care. If I wasn't doing 9 hrs for the 80K, it didn't matter to me if I was first or not. I really wanted to finish under 10 hrs as that would be enough reward for the training I had done. The stretch from the 50K to 57K mark was all road and new to me. We had only covered this by bus on our way to the start in the morning. At the 57k mark, I met 2 policemen who casually informed me that I was the lead runner in the 80K event, thereby answering the unasked question about whether someone had overtaken me while I slept. The stretch from the 57k for the next 2K or so, was easily the toughest stretch of the race as it was steep and continuous. One could see it from the bottom of the slope on the trail all the way up. I walked most of it and then began running slowly unless I encountered uphills - most of which I tackled with a mix of walking or jogging.

The cheap thrills of this year's race was discovering a waterfall (where the photographers got me to pose) somewhere around the 60-62K mark and then finding it again after a U turn downhill. It felt like I had a private waterfall for about 5 min. Another repeat thrill from last year was being asked by the photographers to stop and pose. I am happy for the attention.

Much of my race was spent running alone and thus felt like a vacation (albeit with more cardio than most of us get on one) mentally for ~10 hrs. I did encounter runners esp on the way back from the 73k mark (back on the same road to the start/finish area), all of whom greeted me, incl. one sweet lady who asked me to give her a high-five and quickly run away. I did as she asked :) Several fellow runners greeted me at various points and cheered like crazy, despite having run somewhere b/w 50-60K themselves.

There were missing water stops at various points on the course (incl in the isolated stretch from 62-66K) but once I hit the 68K mark, I didn't care any longer. That was the last point at which my speed was less than 5 kmph. I kept a steady rhythm from then till the finish, except on some uphill slopes where I walked or jogged. I was also greeted by various estate workers and kids along the route (yay! for Sindhu's troop of little bundles of cuteness!) some of whom asked where I had come from and how far I had run. At one turn somewhere around 75km or so, when I was climbing a slope, one bunch desultorily told each other that I don't talk while running since I just pointed behind me when they had asked where I had come from. I didn't mean to be rude but getting thru my first 80K wasn't going to get done easily for someone with my history!

When I came round the last bend to the finish, I decided to make a nice running finish and smile.

I finished in 9:44 hours, for the record. Here's a log if you are interested in that sort of stuff. I did a bit more than 80K after finishing by jogging around the finish line, just to have 50 miles on my Garmin, which I am unlikely to record anytime soon, again.

I felt fine enough to have some coffee, lemon juice and leave for our resort, since I needed a bath! I am still amused by the fact that I had 0 gels during the run of 80K and that I didn't have a monster meal after finishing. In fact I had dinner only around 7:30 pm, ~4 hrs after finishing the run. I guess 5mph isn't exactly sugar-sapping and I have more than enough fat to supply fuel for slow paces!

MU 2017 has been a lovely experience, enough for a lifetime. This is my 2nd time at the event and 2nd finish at the top. It is also my 2nd time of no puking during an ultra. I am unlikely to be back for next year's event since I have other non-running plans for the year 2018. I do hope to run the event sometime again in the future. The course continues to be beautiful and challenging. I am really happy that it exists and that I got to be part of it. Much respect to all my fellow participants esp the insane 110K runners.

As in every such journey of mine, several people have made it possible and I have mentioned some above. Thanks again to Bhasker, Farah, K, N and A among others. Thanks also to Anil Rao, Y and N, 3 ultrarunning buddies in the US, for the inspiration and support over the years. Finishing first in an event where there's no special recognition feels like being a character in an Amol Palekar film. You can secretly feel all pleased about a nice day of your life without wanting external validation :) While I am a fan of the process mindset too, a result like this doesn't hurt the motivation to pursue it as well as suck up the pain of saying no to a bunch of other nice things in life - reading, quizzing, get-togethers with friends, movies, etc

A billion thanks to everyone who made the event happen - esp the coffee estate workers. As I told the video team from Cafe Coffee Day, who are sponsors to the event, I couldn't have thought of a better way to bring two of my passions together - coffee and running.

Thank you for reading this.

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Blogger manoj said...

Congrats D. You trained hard and deserved this top finish. Great post too...We need to catchup over a long run / hot coffee on your plans (non-running?) for 2018!! Cheers!!

10/13/2017 5:20 AM  
Blogger Sudhindra said...

Was waiting for your race report and you did not disappoint. Great account of your run. Congrats :-)

10/13/2017 5:48 AM  
Blogger pnoasnidtiinvie said...

Congratulations Dhammo that's amazing stuff!

10/13/2017 6:25 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Congrats Dharamendra the great! 50 mile stones ko Chun chun ke maardiya aapane!😎🖐

10/13/2017 7:19 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Congrats Dharamendra the great! 50 mile stones ko Chun chun ke maardiya aapane!😎🖐

10/13/2017 7:21 AM  
Blogger Murthy said...

Congratulations D. Your story is amazing. you almost transported me back to the trail!

10/13/2017 9:00 PM  
Blogger Nitin said...

Congratulations D.

10/15/2017 7:51 AM  
Blogger Sundu said...

Congratulations!! Will written too

10/19/2017 1:53 AM  
Blogger Mith said...

Congratulations Brother!! Hope here more from you.
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Blogger Ankita Singh said...

Great and informative post. I really like this post.

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