A revenge served cold
Musings on Beeism
“Firstly, a DNF at Mandwa-Pune ultra. The weather was odd, conditions were new, a stumbled stomach minutes ahead of the start with Maharashtrian version of popular cuisines –provided enough excuses to wave off the grudge. And then the same result in my own backyard, Bhati –this time falling to medical issues.” This was a completely different story from what expected, the way things wrapped up in 2011. And now it was raising too many questions. “Running and Living Gurgaon Marathon and a half and then a little more” was the last long run before the end of a dismal year. Overloaded with far too many monkeys of multiples failed finishes on my back, ending year on a high was an ultimate requirement before stepping into a tough 2013.
With no great deal of running ever since Bhati apart from 5X15 and 13X13, all I wanted was to keep things safe and survive the 24 hour toil on foot. Soon, race director Rahul Verghese shooted an email stating the minimum qualifying distance to be 120 km. So plan suggested by Tanvir during Bhati was on for a toss – “start, run 5 km, sleep for rest of the time and return within 24 hours to finish. There can’t be a DNF!” Recent results of Tanvir, Randeep and Jacob for 24 hours at Bangalore Ultra provided an overview of what a safe distance would be. Certainly, asking for 100 miles out of a stumbled body was too much; 140-150 km was still a fair call. But then, running a marathon plus distance in winters that too at night was something I had never done before.
“There’s nothing like bad weather; but inappropriate clothing.” I tried to pack as many woollens as I could’ve carried for a single day. A kg of honey, gloves, my regular cap, my handheld bottle, inners, tees, skins, shorts, three pairs of shoes and some accessories lead by headlamp was on my checklist while I was leaving for the expo and the run. Saturday, December 1st 2012 was the day for expo and the race day. I was supposed to catch up with Anil Kumar who reigned the track of Hennur, Bangalore just a few weeks ago in little over blistering 10 hours.
It was two weeks ago when I got a message from Avinash regarding Anil’s interest in participation and he needed my assistance to confirm a few details and further. So, Anil and I decided to visit expo together, get him registered and then (at least) start the run together (he’s way too fast for ultras). When I look further into past, a day after Diwali, infected by the virus I contaminated his house with, in July, Shwetank declared his participation in a 10K race at Pune International Marathon on very same day. Overwhelmed on his decision, we were discussing the strategy to follow for the first 10K, some clothing, shoes and hydration tips followed by more run talk. He’s among those few guys I’ve successfully been able to inspire to take up running.
Digging deep further, I was following Kavitha’s words and Dr Chauhan’s guidelines by keeping myself away from longer distance and making sure I had miles under my legs before appearing for big races, leading to a possible pull out off Annapurna 100. But, Aparna’s appearance for La Ultra 2013 was an icing on the bitter cake as I was keen to crew her for the deadly 222 km distance (though final decision yet to be made). So, that leaves me with little ultras and more (directed) training for the year 2013.
Anil decided to reach race venue on his own, while I was the last one to pick the bib stalking the expo 30 minutes before the start. Jacob, Param, Piyush and Vishwas were there all set to leave for the start. Wasting no time, I changed my apparels and within a few minutes I was in the pre-race mode having hard time tucking the bib. Though it’s still hard to believe, but for a change, Vishwas was not running an ultra. He travelled all the way from Ahmedabad to Delhi just to crew for the run.
The sun was shading away while Piyush and I exchanged more words when I was looking for Anil who was nowhere around. As we proceeded to line up at the ‘Start’, something whooshed across my right ear to the start. Do I need not to mention who was that?
We were seconds away from the start and the clock refused to stop for next 24 hours, atleast. The field was strongest I had seen in any of my ultras. Once again, decorated with caps, skinny thermals covering body to the greatest possible extent, all were waiting for the flag off while Rahul was busy with some last minute affairs. Anil Kumar (Muzzafarnagar), Lihas Trivedi (Ahmedabad), Piyush Shah (Ahmedabad), Henrik Westerlin (again, Ahmedabad), Gaurav Madan (Delhi), Krishan Chauhan (Delhi), Devender Chauhan (Delhi), Sumedha Mahajan (Mumbai), Tushar Tripathi (Kolkata) and Jacob Boopalan (Bangalore) were glaring the asphalt while soaking the final few warm rays of sun ahead of a cold and challenging ultra on a lame flat track with nothing but monotony to offer. Chris Pye (Brisbane) and Alida Cross (Brisbane), couple from Australia on a vacation (?) in India, were missing from the start; and pronouncedly, they started a lot of minutes after the start.
As Vishwas flagged off the run right at 4pm and a few seconds, we were released to demolish the track leaving trails for others to chase the next morning. Anil led the pack, followed by Lihas, Henrik, Jacob and Sumedha. Piyush, Devender, Krishan and I were doing the sweeping work with Tushar; and within first three minutes the pack was dissolved. We were supposed to run one 10.55 km loop during the day light and then the track was reduced to 5.55 km loop which continued to test the patience through the morning where track was again 10.55 km by 5 am. Denying the testament of Beeism to start off fast, I decided to keep the first loop real easy and consumed an hour and 30 minutes for the first loop. “There’s no need to hurry, we have good 24 hours to spend out here” I told Tushar who was trailing the pack with me. Devender, Krishan and I started together, but pee breaks and variable running patterns and strategies separated us by a fair margin of 2 km while Piyush was going easy with 6 km lead.
It was not the first time I had to spend 24 hours on the track, but testament of Beeism said, “don’t stop and keeping for the entire stretch.” The track was rendering absolute no inspiration to run, in case you were losing your own. It was self driven pace pushed by the support that I was moving. The base camp was at 1.5 km while there were three turn around points, each at the start, 1.7 km and (2.5 km for 10.55 km loop) 3 km mark. As soon as I finished my first half marathon, little under three hours, I was taken by surprise. Ashish Shrivastav was there, unexpectedly, to cheer. A hug, a picture, a cup of water and I was back moving on the track. Naveen Kundu decided to pace lazy me for a little while. I couldn’t say, but sorry, “I didn’t want anyone to run with me at that instant”. The mercury was dropping every minute and I wanted to walk. As soon as I reached 1.5 km, I was separated and I continued to walk for next couple of kilometers with some running breaks.
On next loop, I carried Ashish Shrivastav with me, who, by then, decided to stay there for entire night and probably, till the end. The god of Beeism, Aditya Bee, was supposed to be there next morning to pace Piyush. Till the time, I could pace myself with some running bursts with Ashish who was wearing jeans and recovering from plantar fasciitis. Otherwise, I always had comfort of having Vishwas on track throughout the night. I kept on piling lazy loops on loops and I was done with 65 km in little less than 10 hours. It was not a bad speed, considering the way I was moving –while mere walking I had added 45 km in 7 hours. Ashish was doing some calculations on his part that I refused to understand, but he wanted me to finish 120 km by 20 hours so that we had 4 hours in buffer to look for more.
So, going by his calculations, we had 10 more (cold) hours and 55 more kilometers to cover. But, due to excessive walking and little running, body was in the walk-only mode and running breaks were reduced from 10 minutes to 3-4 minutes strides per loop. Contrary to Bhati, I was consuming sandwiches, salted boiled potatoes, gatorade, honey and biscuits at regular intervals keeping check on osmoregulation and salt balance. Laded with skins, shorts and pyjamas for the bottom, I was covered with inner thermal, tee, and a warm sweat shirt to cut down the cold and reserve my body heat while mercury was dropped to five, as people said. While being in motion, I was perspiring absolute normally, but sweat was not getting evaporated. And soon, all my inner clothes and gloves were wet. I was shivering like an engine. Visible cramps were there in thighs, butt and lower back. And that was a point when I decided to take my first break denying all my predefined rules for that ultra.
I sat on the damp grass for a while, stretched my muscles and decided to crawl to base camp dancing as popcorns on fire. As I reached there, Vishwas, Rahul, Ashish and others were enjoying the bonfire –and that place seemed nothing less than heaven. I quickly removed my clothes, handed my gloves to dry them, and decided to sit around fire to relax shivering body a little while putting on fresh dry clothes. I was half way into the run and things had begun to show up. Meanwhile, Henrik was still going strong at 10 km an hour pace. Anil had pulled out of race driven by muscle pull, for which I completely blame him –it was a DNF he earned by his foolishness (apologies for harsh words, but true). Piyush and Sumedha were in walking mode, followed by Jacob and Krishan. Devender decided to have a few minute nap (that lasted for over 2 hours) while Lihas was working hard to keep us impressed. The couple from Oz was crawling right next to Tushar and me, supporting each other to an amazing extent on a tough Indian vacation. In all, cold was doing its damage to all while most of them were giving their best fight.
I finished 50 miles in little under 13 hours where I decided to rest a bit with Jacob as next pack of ultra, 103.5km and 63.3km was being flagged off within 15 minutes and stretched pulled muscles a bit. That break lasted for over 20 minutes. The injured ankle of last year was causing trouble once again as achilles were sore due to some aggressive walking for a sustained longer period in the cold. I started to run with the flag off on onset of 14th hour, but soon was reduced to walk once again. This loop onwards, circuit was once again 10.55 km long. Falling to aggravated pain, I was crawling now and had to make multiple halts to pee and rest the achilles every kilometer. Blisters were sore and tough part of ultra had just begun. It took me somewhat three hours to finish the single loop. As I reached the base camp on return, I decided to tape my achilles –thank god, I myself know how to tape. The medical crew knew nothing about what running was all about, forget about taping.
Almost 16 hours into the run, I was good 30 km short of cut off with 8 more hours left in the run. The first marathon took 5.45 hours and the next took 6.45 hours and I had to finish the third within 7 hours to stay in hunt where three hours were already wasted. Now I had four hours and 30 km to chase. As soon as I reached the start, I cried for Vishwas to help me stretch as I wanted to break into run on this loop. Vishwas generously helped me stretch and wasted no time in setting up a pace for me to follow for the loop. I removed the layers of clothing and exposed the body to fresh morning breeze to soak the positive energy. The red sky with contrasting streamlined cirrus clouds was picture perfect showering warm red rays exposing the lustrous surrounding through the morning mist. Supported by fresh legs of marathon runners to cheer, I was running again (with pain) while fellow ultra champions were slowing down further. Though the target of 7 hour marathon was not achieved but I was 2 km away from the cut off with little over 4 hours to spare.
I was in no condition to run and all I wanted was walk. I could feel achilles were not supporting anymore. Ashish decided to walk with me and set a walking pace for next 4 hours. As we walked our way, lower back and achilles kept going from bad to worse and I was forced to make a halt at 3 km to rest them. At turn around point (5.25 km mark) I decided to make another halt and get some massage for my back. I, at last, sat down on a chair and asked the medical support staff for some back pressing as I sipped in some water. Instead of pressing the back to relax the stiffness, he continued to spray diclofenac on my sweaty posterior. With this sudden outburst of burning sensation, within seconds I was on floor and desperately wanted to puke failing to hold the feel any further. Soon, ambulance was there and I decided to lie down for a while to settle the things. The back pressing done by med-staff inside the ambulance aggravated pain even further, then Ashish came to the rescue and he took the charge by himself. Gently, Ashish helped my back relax and with a 20 minute break, we were back on track, crawling strong once again.
Within an hour we were back at the start and had 160 minutes to spare still. While Ashish decided to change his clothes, I relaxed myself on the edge of the road with some biscuits, water and a huge smile. Tushar had done his 120 km and decided to call it off by then, while all the others were still busy crawling on the track. Jacob was not looking in good shape; while Sumedha was fuming over issues with the distance she had covered and broke into tears due to emotional outburst. Meanwhile, Aditya was there pushing Piyush on his final leg. Ashish was too keen to run down the last lap, but I held him back. I know he must’ve been cursing me for the reason, but I had no option left as I wanted to finish without much damage and wanted to walk back home standing tall (?) We kept walking at very easy pace as if we had all the time in the world. Meanwhile, Chauhan brothers had decided to call it off. They scaled an amazing 135 km as their second appearance in any of the ultras.
Soon, we were at turnaround point. Like always, we had some potatoes, little gatorade and biscuits and headed back to what we could call now, the finish. For the last 5 km we had 90 minutes in bank. As we kept heading forward, Sunil Arora was sitting right on the edge of 4 km mark with a decision of quitting his second ‘Marathon and a half’ attempt. Brave heart was 48 km into the run, but body was not supporting the push anymore. Despite various failed attempts to push him further, we decided to keep walking as ambulance was there to carry him to the finish. Enjoying salted wafers, chit chatting, planning future runs and discussing some from the past, we kept walking at the snail’s pace when we made a halt at base camp where I wanted to pack my drop bag which was chaos like always. My handheld bottle was missing from the scene, which was there till the last loop. “They must’ve carried to the start knowing that it’s yours” insisted Ashish while we continued to walk to the finish. To make it 24 hours, we still had good 30 minutes to travel the last 1.5 km.
Ashish couldn’t resist running anymore, I could see in his eyes. He was prompting me to run every other minute while I kept delaying him stating most stupid of reasons to continue walking. Around 300 meters away from the finish, we finally broke to run –for the first time in past 5 hours.
“It’s your run Gaurav, finish it on a high” shouted Ashish as we kept increasing the pace.
Within next few seconds of running, t’was it! 23 hours and 54 minutes and I decided to call it off. I had covered 140 km and wasn’t feeling tired. “Hungry for more?” I asked myself, but then said that was enough for the day. I stepped on start line with a target, and I was glad, I had achieved it. [Click here for results]
Grabbing a bottle of gatorade, I rushed towards ice to cool down achilles and knees a bit. The blisters were bleeding, achilles were sore, two more toenails were lost yet again and there was smile. A near perfect ultra, I could have regarded this one, if distance was any longer. Greeted with a huge certificate, medal and the barefoot shoes by Piyush Shah, that I had ordered, I packed carried my bag crawling to Vineet’s car who was supposed to drop us to nearest metro station. Vishwas, Aditya and I decided to board the metro to reach our respective places.
Though the night was tough due to cramped muscles and rusty ankle, but fortunately, I was back logging miles the next morning in new shoes gifted by Piyush Shah. Certainly, now I knew the secret of blistering pace of those 54 years old legs. The barefoot shoes were a comfort on their first trial and so far, they have suffered for over 20 miles. The recovery 10K runs are still in progress. Shwetank timed an amazing 1.10 finish on stiff Pune track to establish himself as a potential ultrarunner. I’m sure, Pune runners are going to find him on track more than often chasing the half marathon targets.
Before I sign off, there are many acknowledgements to deliver for the support on and off the track. Starting with Kavitha Kanaparthi for the continued support, acknowledgments go along with Rahul Verghese for putting the first ultra in his backyard. All the crew members, volunteers and support staff who managed the things. Runners, especially, Jacob Boopalan, Piyush Shah, Tushar Tripathi, Devender Chauhan and Krishan Chauhan were the supports at tandem. Fortis medical staff tried to do their bit but I was unsatisfied, sorry on that part. Special acknowledgements for Vishwas Bhamburkar, Param S Narang, Sumeet Virmani, Vineet Aggarwal and last, but certainly not the least Ashish Shrivastav for his amazing support that sailed me through the challenging times bestowing me a proud finish. Will be running more with you my friend.
Photo Courtesy: Running and Living and Ashish Shrivastav