Ever met someone who wants to run and see the world? Deepthi Velkur had an opportunity to speak the man himself, Upendra Tripathi.

A senior management Leader with a leading Semi-Conductor company, Upendra Tripathi((aka Upen) has achieved running accolades in 3 years what most of us will probably not achieve in our lifetime.

With the right mix of will, passion and hard work, he has run in various events across the country and across 3 continents in a very short span.

Besides running, he is a keen wildlife photographer and enjoys trekking and cycling as well.

“Mirror Mirror on the wall, I’ll always get up after I fall. And whether I run, walk or have to crawl, I’ll set my goals and achieve them all” – Chris Butler.

With that inspiring quote in mind, let’s talk to Upen and have him share his driving force so that we may be inspired as well.

FM: Fitness has always been your top priority. So, when did running really happen? Why?

Upen:I have always enjoyed sport and fitness from childhood. Growing up, I played football, volleyball, badminton, cricket and swam a fair bit too. Obviously, with the responsibilities of being an adult, sports took a backstage though I gave fitness a fair shot by being a regular gym goer.

3 years ago on my way home from a late night movie, I saw a bunch of runners competing in the Midnight Marathon and that really inspired me. At the gym, I was used to running 3-5K but running outside is a completely different experience. I remember that Saturday morning in Oct 2015 – the chill Bangalore air, a bit of fog and an outside view (not the best in Whitefield). My breathing was heavy as I made my way through the meandering streets but I was ecstatic. I remember vividly thinking, “maybe I can see Bangalore just running around!”.

I covered close to 8K that day and thought this was ok, I can do the same thing tomorrow. I was mistaken and how!I woke up the next morning to excruciating pain all over my body, but the child-like enthusiasm got the better of the pain and I ran 4K that day. Best decision ever!

FM: You completed all the 6 World Major Marathons, The Comrades Ultra and innumerable half, full and Ultra marathons in less than 3? What was the motivation behind achieving this?

Upen: The one thing that I’m proud of  is my resilience. If I choose to do something, I stick with it and try to do everything I can to succeed.

I remember my first 10K run at KTM  in 2015– I met so many runners who finished the race in half the time I took. That got me thinking – was my current training inadequate? While at that point I gave myself the benefit of doubt considering it was only 3 weeks since I started running, I decided that I need formal training with a coach.

The first person I turned to was our neighbourhood coach Dharmendra Kumar (aka “Dharma”) and training with him gave me an opportunity to meet some amazing runners.

I participated in several 10K and 21K runs and with my confidence in place, I ran my first full marathon in July 2016 (Cherrapunji, Meghalaya).

At this time, I was reading a book by Hal Higdon that spoke about doubling your mar
athon runs and boosting endurance. It fascinated me and I was enthralled by the idea of mileage, long distances, and repetition.

Pace alone wasn’t my poison – “a combination of right race pace and appropriate long distance”was!

After having run the Berlin, Tokyo and Chicago World Majors, I decided I needed a change of training strategy and decided to work with the brilliant coach Brijesh Gajera (aka BG) who is the coach for the “Ashva Running Club”. It was another good decision and his focused training has not just helped me run faster and farther than before but also gave my confidence a real boost.

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With my new found zeal and help from my friend Gauri Jayaram, I registered for the remaining 3 majors.

Having completed my last major (the Boston marathon) this year, I wanted more. I decided to run 90K at the Comrades Ultra (South Africa) in June 2018 after a recommendation from my friend Divya Vasishta who did it in 2017.

For me, the love of running and racking up the miles has been the biggest motivation. On top of that, when you get your finisher medal it really gives you such a sense of personal achievement.

FM: When did your association with Ashva Running club start? How has joining this club assisted you in achieving your running targets?

Upen: It was in Feb 2017 (during the Tokyo World major), that I had a chat with coach Pani sir on how can I step up my training. He recommended Brijesh Gajera (BG) who trained under Pani sir for 8+ years.

On my return from Tokyo, I spoke with Gurmeet Bhalla (my running partner ) who has inspired me in so many ways and together we met with BG and that’s how we started running with Ashva Running Club (ARC).

BG apart from being an accomplished runner himself is an extremely intelligent coach. He first does a holistic assessment of each runner’s needs, capabilities and then prepares an individual training plan.

For me, he devised a plan basis my statistics, my targets and also to ensure I run injury-free. He added specific warm-up drills, individual schedules for each day, recovery plans and cool-down drills. Furthermore, he recommended weight and functional training at the gym as well as proper nutrition to aid my training plan.

With the right plan, the right focus from a coach and your determination, achieving your goals is no longer impossible.

FM: You ran the Boston Marathon and Comrades Ultra Marathon this year with less than two months to spare? How did you plan your training and did it differ for both?

Upen: Training for both the races was a constant challenge for me.

For Boston Marathon, I wanted to target a better race pace which required me to focus on intense speed workouts like intervals and long tempos, whereas for the Comrades Ultra (90K) my training needed long distance runs, high mileage and slow pace.

My coach devised a plan – he made the Boston marathon one of my long training runs for the Comrades Ultra and made me focus on mileage with a 10s slower pace than my FM race pace (5:20)for my ultra-run. This worked really well as I ran the Boston Major at a slower pace, which worked well for me at the Comrades Ultra.

FM: The right physical and mental strength is required to run a marathon? Any tips you’d like to share on how to stay strong during a race?

Upen: Running a marathon is a mind game. A healthy person has enough physical strength to run 42.195 KM as long as their mind is ready to handle the stress.

I have run all types of distances from 100mts to 90 KM at varied pace and different terrains. Nothing is easy. After finishing around 80% distance of the race no matter the distance, you are exhausted and the remaining 20% of the distance is all in the mind.

Running is an experience. What works for one may not work for another. You have got to practice and try a few techniques to know what works best for you. I do however have a few guidelines for sure to stay strong during a race.

  • Train hard for your run for at least several weeks or months as needed.
  • Pace your training so that you don’t burn-out before race day or week.
  • Eat, hydrate and sleep well. Make this your routine and it works wonders.
  • Enjoy the race! Do a proper warm-up, start slow and slowly pick up the pace.
  • Hydrate regularly through the course. Ensure you eat some solid food too.
  • Remind yourself – you trained well, you’re rested and you are enjoying your race.
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Follow this and trust me, you will finish the race strong and you will be extremely happy with your performance.

FM: Having had the experience of running in high altitudes, technical terrains, trail running, and Ultra
running? Which course do you find the most challenging and why?

Upen: Every terrain brings its own challenges. I have run at Ladakh, Khardung-La, Comrades, World Majors, Malnad and almost all big city marathons in India – they all have challenges that you need to train for.

I would suggest reading the race catalogue, going through the website and talking with runners who have done the course before – all of these help in preparing a mental course map for yourself.

There are some conditions like steep uphill, downhill, trail course that you can train for but there are some extreme conditions like low oxygen, extreme cold, unplanned snowfall or rain, extreme heat on race day that can catch you off guard. This is where the mental map and preparedness helps.

I think among all the races I have run, the Khardunga-la Ultra was the most challenging. 32K continuous uphill, 40K continuous downhill, freezing temperatures, running at an altitude of 5370M, low oxygen levels – just a few bumps along with an otherwise gorgeous course. Obstacles aside, this run is an experience that stays with you forever.

FM: Can you please give us a glimpse into your regular training week?

Upen: My regular training week is 4 running days and 3 weight / functional training days. I usually split it down like:

  • Monday – Lower body exercises at the gym (1hr)
  • Tuesday – Fast Tempo of 10-15K run
  • Wednesday – Upper body exercises at the gym (1hr)
  • Thursday – Intervals / Fartlek or slow Tempo of 10-15K run
  • Friday – Functional training / Yoga / Circuit training at the gym (1hr) or rest
  • Saturday – Long run of 20-30K
  • Sunday – Recovery slow run of 8-10K

Depending on which race I target, the training plan is tweaked for that period.

FM: 25 marathons in 28 months? Phew! That’s quite an accomplishment? Tell us all about it?  

Upen: As part of my training, I maintained on an average a weekly mileage of 70K. After my first full marathon, I had this thought of converting one long distance training run into a full marathon event which in turn would take care of my hydration as well. This essentially meant I ran one full marathon a month, except between March and July as there are very few FM events in India and I possibly could not travel out of India every month either due to my personal commitments. I handle the runs in a way that I’m not pushing myself at all the events except a couple of events a year to where I plan to finish strong and the rest are treated as training runs. This approach gives me enough time to recover from my previous runs and not overstrain myself. I’d like to enjoy my runs and have fun along the way and stay stress-free.


FM: What are the three most vital things to keep in mind while training for a major running event?

Upen:

  • There is no substitute for training. One needs to train hard to race easy
  • Proper taper plan, eating, hydrating and resting well
  • Building a mental map of the course and mentally preparing for its challenges

FM: The Ultimate running goal you have set for yourself in the coming years?

Upen: I want to run for the next 30 years.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Deepthi Velkur is a former sprinter who is trying her hand at various sports today. A tennis fanatic, who believes that sleep should never be compromised.

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