End of an era
After a celebrated triumph in Delhi Half Marathon pacing the rookies to a sub 3-hour finish, the lure of ultrarunning was on the call to rediscover the grits on same old trails of Bhati mines. ‘My Den’ as I call those long abandoned deserted forest trails, returning there was immaculate. Nervous energy, heavy legs, callus on right foot and due to that slightly disoriented right ankle gave me enough to have goose bumps weeks ahead of the start.
Finishing Bhati Lakes 100 2011 was a near dream come true steered by Aparna Choudhary and Aditya Bee. Finishing 100 miles completely on my own, was something still left to be achieved. The failed attempt during Mandwa-Pune 250 km run was the learning curve that instigated the need of proper fueling plan to be a part of training schedule. Already carrying a grudge of pulling out of Uttarkashi 135 mile ultra despite being the prime assassin in setting up the run, there was a lot more to look for in terms of physical and mental stability.
Mandwa run took a lot out of the body, destroying the immune system, leaving a blister turned into callus on right foot. It was one run that took me over 6 weeks to recover -the longest for any other marathon. As suggested by Kavitha during the Uttarkashi recce, 12 hour night run was planned but, unfortunately, canceled due to flu. A couple of half marathons, a few 30 km runs earmarked by Gurgaon-India Gate-Home, 50 km run were all I could manage.
Already with such a wobbling tale of inconsistent miles, it was interesting already to launch for a 160 km target. Two weeks before the main event, 30 km run on the trails of Bhati presented a completely different picture of the trail I knew. Atmospheric temperature of 35 degrees and nearly 75% humidity, to start the run at 0830hrs in the morning with 7 kg load on shoulders was something, Aditya called, crazy thing to do. The fairer sections of track were washed off and few rougher sections were flattened over past one year. The last 3 km of the trail was narrowed with outgrowth of thorny bushes leaving a narrow track, slimmer enough even for underweight Aditya. The picture was quite evident. 100 miles were going to be a challenge and night was going to be deciding factor.
Delhi half marathon, 5 days before the run, and a few easy 5-10 km runs were followed by pre-race briefing, orientation and bib pick up. Certainly, it was the best bib pick up of my short span of running. T10 Sports outlet on MG Road, Gurgaon was the venue planned to host the grand (?) meet of ultrarunners who took up the challenge to target 160 km in deserted forest with roughest terrain. A podomagician from Ahmedabad, Piyush Shah was already at the venue with race director, Kavitha, 24 hour runners Tanvir Kazmi and Lovekesh Uppal, and the host, Vineet Agarwal. Soon Aditya Bee, Patrick D’aust, Ankush Mehdiratta, Jaspreet Singh, Arvind Tripathi, Randeep Singh Arora and Shshank Pundhir joined in to start the briefing session which was accompanied by birthday celebration of Shshank.
The highlight of the evening was the runner from small village of Muzzafarnagar, Uttar Pradesh, who wanted to target 8/9 hour finish time for 100 km. “Has he even been to Bhati?” Aditya and I laughed in surprise. ‘Anil Kumar’ was the name. 50 km of running on daily basis divided into three sessions was already too much for us to handle when Anil shared his training routine. “Anything less than 12 hours and this guy will be star of the trail for long” I said. A 13 hour finish was something challenging for most of the ‘veteran’ runners, but then no one had ever attempted before. With the progression of events, 50 mile category was almost dissolved into 100 km category with Krishan Kumar being the solo runner in the category.
The potential 100 miles
Unlike last year, I was successfully able to manage 40 minutes of sleep before I was picked up by Raman, one of the trusted resources of Aditya. In no time, we were there at Start Line in Kant Enclave. Aditya Bee, Patrick D’aust and I were the only guys who reached there at odd hours in the morning. Anil Kumar spent his night at the start line itself -too eager to start the run, he must’ve been. RD joined in soon. While Kavitha was busy arranging the supplies at the start, one of my good friends and a true support, Prateek was busy setting up the other aid station. Harveen Singh and Avinash Singh came as a support to Kavitha to set up the aid station number 1 while more guys joined to set up the second aid station. Third station, we had no idea where it was. It was expected to be at the bank of fifth lake, but there was some altercation between RD and support staff for setting up the third station.
The disaster did strike. The most beautiful section of the trail was no more a part of route. The turnaround point was 4.8 km for the first loop and 7.8 km for second loop onwards till 4 pm. As the day light diluted the loop was back to 4.8 km again due to security reasons. The mental calculation was on the toss as we were not dealing in loops any more. We were trapped in a strange mathematical equation which was tough to deal with. Preet Singh made sure the honey had an endless supply for the day with honey water for a change. Medical support from Fortis commenced the weight and blood pressure statistics procedure followed by unveiling of the route structure.
All thirteen runners: Aditya Bee (Italy), Vineet Agarwal (Gurgaon), Arvind Tripathi (Gurgaon), Shshank Pundhir (Gurgaon), Randeep Singh Arora (Bangalore), Patrick D’aust (Canada), Piyush Shah (Ahmedabad), Gaurav Madan (Delhi), Tanvir Kazmi (Delhi), Lovekesh Uppal (Delhi), Ankush Mehdiratta (Gurgaon), Jaspreet Singh (Gurgaon) and Anil Kumar (Muzzafarnagar) lined up at the start at 0515 hrs. Smiles, jokes, tickles and jingles surrounded the runners kicking off the nervous energy. Decorated with lamps on the forehead as miners, laden with garmins, shoes, fuel belts for some and hand held water bottles for a few, they were standing tall (and a few short) focusing the loose turmac howling for sweat and blood.
With flag off, all of us started to crawl the trail and Anil whooshed somewhere in the dark. Piyush and Patrick lead the 100 mile pack swept by Tanvir, Lovekesh and I. There had to be some strategy to follow. Unlike last year, I decided to start slow. Running, talking, walking with utmost care on gravel and torn trail, Lovekesh and I discussed our past experiences earmarked by our new slowest half marathon we posted a week ago. While we continued to move, Ankush too joined the pack. Sun was breaking the darkness with every passing mile exhibiting the shiny red trail through the thorny bushes doming the rocky surroundings. In no time we reached the checkpoint B greeted by Prateek and turned back towards the start. Tanvir and Lovekesh decided to take a short drink break while Ankush and I continued. I knew they were the faster runners and would join back in no time.
Coming back on solid turmac felt like walking on grass for a while -a clean mid-foot strike for a change. Ankush and I returned to the start, refilled our bottles and launched back saying ‘Hi’ to the volunteers. This loop onwards, the turnaround point was point C manned by Harveen et al. Tanvir and Lovekesh were following us while Piyush, Randeep and others were a few miles ahead. Logging faster miles in the cooler hours was seemingly an ideal strategy, but 34 degree heat was manageable, I thought. I kept going slowly. After a small halt, I exchanged a few words with Prateek and advanced towards Bhardwaj Lake. The turnaround point was right at the face of Bhardwaj Lake which made sure, despite of staying there for over 30 hours runners would be deprived of the magic Bhati Lakes behold.
By the time first 20 km were finished, it was little over 0800hrs and Tanvir and I indulged us in some mental calculations that were far underrated. By this time, the pretty cool morning, as Patrick cited, was turning the heat on. Keep piling the slower miles was something I planned while Aditya kept going at a mediocre pace mixing running in walking. After a while, all of us caught each other at 5 km station. Vineet and Arvind were worried about gaining heat while podomagician was feeling fairly comfortable. They inquired about Piyush’s possible strategy, took a little of my inputs and I left towards checkpoint C while they waited a little more before marching towards start line.
I was 40 km into the run when I took the first planned break. Temperature was 41 degrees as per the thermometer at the start. “What’s wrong with the clock? 41 degrees, is it?” I asked in amazement. “Yes it is boy” replied Kavitha handing me my water bottle wrapped in wet cotton cloth to keep water cool for next 5 km.
Dressed in white full sleeved tee with black shorts and white cap, I was sweating too much and was losing equal amount of salt. I couldn’t notice the salt stuck in the pores of my tee as no visible color change was there with sweating. However, one thing that was bothering me was the wet socks that were causing my right foot to slide a little causing malfunctioned ankle moment. When asked for my drop bag containing spare socks at aid station C an hour ago, it was still at start. Now, when I was at start, my bag was transported to station C. Another 8 km of slippery foot strike was going to irritate me more.
While I was hydrating well while eating a little at every aid station, fortunately my body weight was stable at 64 kg. The bad part -I had not urinated in past seven hours. I forcefully ejected the urine just to discover, “I was dehydrated!” The urine was dark yellow and thick. The alarms were on. “Hydrate as soon as you reach the aid station C” I told myself. A little of everything, viz. juices, gatorade, water, salted waffers, honey, lemonade and energy bar was consumed during the necessary 20 minute break. Soon Patrick joined and offered salt tablets; I denied as I didn’t know what will be the effect. After a half of 15 minutes, I began to walk.
It was not more than 700 meters from aid station, when suddenly I had a fall on the ground. The energy supply to the muscles was completely shut down and I was not sweating anymore. I tried to puke, but nothing happened. Gathering whatever energy I could manage, I stood up and walked a 100 meter and then collapsed under shade of a bush. I was waiting for someone to pass to declare the first casualty of the day. 15 minutes passed and I began to walk towards the 5 km checkpoint. I was already an hour and half when I checked in at the aid station. Prateek quickly came to the rescue spraying water on my head, and served water with honey and salt. Nothing was working. I was losing time, and more importantly my energy and focus on a wrong cause.
After half an hour, Param arrived at aid station accompanied by Randeep. Randeep had a heat stroke and terrible cramps, and he was taken off the track from that point over an hour ago. Now he was back and was running more cautiously. “I can’t handle heat” he had repeated earlier on quite a few occasions when we interacted. Param lifted me up, helped me stretch the muscles and all three of us began to walk back to start. I had lost over 2 hours and traveled just 3 km in the process. Somehow, I reached the start line. It took me 3 hour 45 minutes to reach aid station A from C. It wasn’t just about the time, but the lost physical and mental stability. Kavitha quickly offered a highly concentrated lemonade and 2 teaspoon full of honey. After waiting for a while, I began to walk with Tanvir and Lovekesh who decided to walk the loop, which was 4.8 km now. Soon, Ankush, Tanvir, Lovekesh and I were together again and finished the loop together. Meanwhile, Anil Kumar had already finished his 100 km in 12 hours and 53 minutes, a figure that amazed everyone around.
I was feeling a little better now. Lemon rice dinner, a little of juices and I began to walk back with Aditya. It was dark now so we carried torch and headlamp with us to make a failed attempt to illuminate the trail. We kept logging restless miles, while I made a few halts to stretch my back, thanks to Princy. While we were moving in dark, I was sweating a lot more than normal. I kept of applying the vaseline to lubricate the motion, but it was not working somehow. I had changed my shorts a few hours ago, so keeping up the momentum was all I was thinking about. Meanwhile, battle between Piyush and Patrick was gaining heat as both denied to stop; however, there was a considerable drop in pace. On the other hand, supported by his pacers Vineet was going stronger than ever, while Arvind followed. Shshank was the second casualty after Randeep, as both of them had pulled out off the run.
The chaffing was getting terrible as we progressed. To save time, I kept lubricating it with vaseline. Three blisters were there at my foot, but endurance running teaches you to prick them, tape them and ignore them efficiently. The day light was back and 30 mile runners were at the start line waiting to flag off. As we reached the start line, I rushed towards ambulance to seek medical assistance for some of the intimate parts. There I discovered the blisters and ruptured skin leaking a little blood. The salt in the sweat was exaggerating the wounds. Medical support team cleansed the wounds and applied some gel that would work for rest of the time, they guaranteed.
As the burning sensation receded, I began to walk with Ravi Parmeshwar discussing his running schedules and past experiences. The groin looked good for first 2 km, but as I began to sweat again, things were back to the stage from where they started. Sweat was washing things away leaving the surface open for damage. While Ravi continued to walk with Arvind, I made a small halt and then headed back accompanied by long lost pal, Adesh Sidhu. We kept talking on the way while I was busy with my penguin walk. The day was getting warm and I could feel the burning over eroded skin. On return to the start, I applied a little more ointment and continued to walk as I was lagging behind the clock. Things changed, and they changed quickly. The silent blisters began to bleed and nothing was holding up. Rahul offered vaseline he had, but nothing was working anymore. Crawling, I reached aid station B and asked for some betadine if aid station had. Not that, but got a hold of Soframycin. I repeated the procedure just to discover that things were more complex than they seemed. This was the end.
I reposed myself to get up and continue but the friction between skin and cloth with salt crystals in the middle, made the things worst. I laid down for over an hour when Preet Singh joined back in. Surprised and awestruck, he lifted me up and offered to pace for the remaining distance. I was 124 km into the run and still had good 36 km of travel left to travel. But that wasn’t how I wanted to finish. Moreover, I needed some immediate medical assistance. Preet and I began to walk after a while as I stopped puking and consumed little of water.
We walked as slow as possible to reduce the friction and were successful in walking over 4 km without any problem when things got bad and I was taken to ambulance in his car. Game was over. I was lost in my own backyard. Third casualty got confirmed in the ambulance, when medical staff denied me to continue any further as it was risking too much.
The defeat tough to handle
129 km and that was it. Did Not Finish was written in front of my name that was going to stay there forever. Aditya was the only runner left on track who joined us after 2 hours, finishing in little over 33 hours. Patrick and Piyush reigned the track with 25 hour finish separated by just 10 minutes, setting a new benchmark to achieve in this tough weather. Anil ran another 50 km next day with a blistering pace and set two course records in a single outing.
Dejected, I kept sitting alone on the sideline while 30 mile runners were busy in the medallion ceremony. I had lost everything and there was nothing else left in life, such was the feeling. Holding back the feel of grave, I joined Aditya in celebration of his maiden 100 mile finish. After the run, half sleepy, Prateek, Kavitha, Avinash, Anil, Aditya and I joined Rebecca at her place with Prem Bedi and Harshveer Singh at Vasant Kunj. A lot of chit chat, drinks, refreshments, some interesting experiences with a lot of humor, we spent good 5 hours there making it most celebrated post ultra celebration. Aditya and I were half asleep and at time were nodding subconsciously. Rebecca was adorable in holding such a nice impromptu get together with such perfection under candle lights beneath the open sky.
Even strongest walls chink and damp in good times, I’m still a human. God was graceful to bestow me a DNF at Bhati to reincarnate the ultrarunner in me. It’s awesome to see how one bad day in your life revives the entire vision and approach. GRBL2012 was the ‘end of an era’. An ultrarunner was died on the track. The ‘Globeracer’ will return next year with new targets, new approach, new vision but the same unaltered determination. Unlike others, I couldn’t walk away with the royal piece of metal, but I got something that no one else can steal from me –the learning, the memories, the humbleness and the vision.
Acknowledgements to all who were somehow linked to the celebration called Globeracers Bhati Lakes Ultramathon 2012 –RD Kavitha, Prateek, Sanjay Dhawan, Avinash, Preet Singh, Param Narang, Ravi Parmeshwar, Adesh Sidhu, Aditya Bee, Ajay Gupta, Rebecca, Medical Support Team, all the volunteers and crew members and last but not the least, the runners who made the evening worth anamnesis.