As I write this, I am just 2 months away from the Big K challenge. So now is the time to really test ourselves over ultra distance. In marathon circles any distance over 42.2kms is an ultra. Counting for atleast 3 weeks of tapering, we are literally left with only 5 weeks of training. The past 3 months have flown with reasonably good success.
The killer would definitely be the the acclimatisation bit as we ascend to 18000ft during the run. We therefore plan to do the Stok Kangri summit prior to the race. We head to Leh on 31st Aug and intend to do the trek, that if completed weather permitting, will take us to 20000ft at the summit. Post the trek, hopefully we will be acclimatised and ready for the Big K 3 days later.
Time spent on the road simply gets exponentially tougher by the minute once you head into the ultra range. Just like graduating from a 10 k to a 21k seems arduous or from 21k to 42 k seems like never-ending, going beyond 42 k takes the cake.
So, this weekend was a step towards the same. To go beyond what i have done so far.
Lonavala to Amby valley is a 24 kms stretch that goes beyond the chaotic Bhushi damn (intentional). It climbs up steeply beyond INS Shivaji to the plateau that seats Lion point. Thereafter, its a roller coaster ride upto and beyond Cloud 9 resort till one reaches the bifurcation that leads to Amby valley
We started off from Lonavala at 4:15am. Within a few minutes it started drizzling. The temperatures were cool and our legs were fresh and all excited. It was pitch dark at places when the headlights of a fast descending car would dramatically light up the road for a bit.
But what stunned us was the fact that hordes of wild young bikers and 20 somethings screaming aloud at us from the sunroofs of their cars at that hour. Some yelled the cliche bhaag Milkha while some even said "armyche cadets aahet"..etc. I wish they could see our 4-decade old faces more clearly!!!
It did remind us of our hilarious days when we did the same. Sameer termed them louts! Well, the louts' brigade didn't seem to stop, as we trudged up the ghats, there seemed to be an unending supply of cars ferrying louts!
The clouds had started moving in and at times the visibility with our torches were a few metres at the most. It was completely surreal and great fun running in the fog that lashed out heavy rains at times. The psychedelic lights of a restaurant belting out Bollywood numbers and a roadside DZay party of some garrish dhaba near Bhushi damn, we thought was the ultimate!
All this made the first 10 kms literally a breeze. A steady climb in the dark against an onslaught of heavy traffic got us to the Lion's point plateau. It was around 545 am. Thats when we realised the source of the perpetual brigade of cars. In the super dense fog, we could only hear a million cars maxing their system decibels. We literally stopped to try and take stock of what was probably the dying hours of a huge overnight party!!! Unbelievable!
The early hues of dawn were now visible. We decided to get rid of our torches in our backup vehicle. Fed on some bananas, enerzal and dates. This took care of a grumbling tummy. And headed for the beautiful roller coaster ride that followed.
Beyond party zone, we could now actually hear the morning songbirds amidst the pitter patter of the rains. Its so much easier to train at such places than in Mumbai. We had instructed our driver to stop at every 5 kms. That ensured a constant refill of my bottle and also a steady nutrition along the way. These are paramount to avoid cramps which i am so prone to and hitting "the wall" later.
With daybreak and the distractions away we could actually focus on our running.
That led us to build some speed as we went past Korigad and reached Amby valley (24 kms) at exactly 3 hrs.
We stopped for a good 20 mins at the gate, stretching, eating and preparing mentally for the way back.
The route back surprised us no end. We actually saw a signpost on the road through the dense forest that hilariously mentioned "Haunted place after 6. Enter at your own risk" I turned back, there was no one in sight on the eerie unending ribbon of tar disappearing into white nothing
The cold of the rain and the foggy weather actually gave me a shiver.
Plenty of buses ferrying staff of Shilim, Machan, Club Mahindra etc zipped past us. At some road junctions, we did get stared at by villagers and picnickers alike sometimes in sympathy but most times in awe. On way back to Lion point, it was a mess of the revelry that ended a few hours ago. It was close to 35 kms done and the sun would peek out of the clouds at times. And yet another mental game came up, much like on most of my long runs. The trick would be to simply run through it. The ghats that we so effortlessly came up while in the dark and rain, now seemed unending in the sun. Beyond INS Shivaji, the traffic grew worse often making us stop and walk. And it was a complete full stop as i crossed Bhushi damn and the subsequent dam near Lonavala. I walked in the now glaring sun, with no cap and no glares. Sam had completed his targeted 40 kms and stood at the 45 kms mark egging me on. I had half a mind to join him in the car but carried on. It was further 3 kms back to Lonavala. I could certainly imagine how crazy we appeared to surprised onlookers on Main street at 10:45 am as i finished my 48 kms in 6hrs 27 min
Interviews have revealed that ultra-marathoners placed great importance on finishing the race.
Prikko Markula, PhD, a professor of socio-cultural studies of physical activity at the University of Alberta, Canada notes in her blog on Psychology Today that the 'runners found pushing the limits and finishing extreme running races empowering -- a sense of achievement that made them feel good about themselves.'
So, yes..I did feel good about myself. Its not everyday that one finds motivation to kill oneself this way! Running an Ultra!
My friend often tells me, "I can suggest easier ways to kill yourself.. "
"Well..those ain't meant for me!!!"