An ultra-run. A leader. My story.

Suchitra Patwardhan Ultra run

Suchitra Patwardhan, Ultrarunner takes us through her experience of leading a 14-member team on their first Ultra-Run. 

The 2018 TMM run had barely gotten over and our coach Pramod Deshpande (JJ, Bangalore) mooted the idea of us signing up for a 50K ultra-event. For many people, it was a dream – celebrating their 50th birthday by running a 50K. That’s how we came together to run the 2018 Pune Ultramarathon (a good first ultra to do).

The Pune Ultra Marathon (1st ever in the region) is the brainchild of Freerunners Charitable trust and is held in November every year. The course is a mix of trail, roads, gradients and hill slopes and provides the ultimate endurance test for runners. The 50K route consists of a 25K loop i.e. 12.5km back and forth with strict cut off timings.

I was given the opportunity to captain a 14-member squad (Ashok S, Bhaskar Madapura, Krishna Kalmanje, Shiva Subramanya, Sandeep Subramanya, Badri Narayan, Rajesh Manjunath, TN Ramanathan, Rahul Gurjar, Darshan Jain, Prasad Rao, Vijay Kumar Panchagatti and our Coach).

The basic criteria followed by the coach in choosing a captain is – consistency, persistence, discipline and strong communication skills. Furthermore, the experience of working under a coach and adaptability to his training methodology also plays a vital role. The captain’s role is to implement training programs designed by the coach.

Working together as a team

This was my first experience as a captain, and I wanted to give it my best. Despite doing my debut FM with the same group, being captain brought its own set of challenges – higher mileage (on weekdays and weekends), longer training hours, etc. Training for other events had already completed but we were still half-way through it and keeping my team focused was tough.

Being the youngest and only woman was a challenge, but the team worked brilliantly to achieve our targets. The most important thing was that we had fun as a group. In my opinion, working out as a team takes 30% effort but the same thing alone is 90%.

For me, I focused on 3 things – decision making, gaining confidence in myself and the team and idea implementation. I stayed focused on the task at hand, made the experience fun for all and together as a group we supported each other very well.

I strongly believe that the success of a team lies in an equal contribution from everyone. With this in mind, I involved every member in activities such as route mapping, carpooling, workout plans, training run ideas, technical support, planning the long weekend runs, etc.

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Training for the Ultra-race

We started the training 5 months ahead with the aim of covering 1100+km within that period. The first month started off with steady runs and our coach devised a 4-day running + 2-day gym session. During this period, we did walk+run method, uphill, downhill, staircase run, slow long runs(4km walk and 35-40k slow run), etc. along with plyometrics /strength and core exercises.

We took extra effort in making the long runs interesting such as mapping a route basis where we like to eat our breakfast. We also did combined runs with our JJ locations, and this helped build camaraderie. The coach and I had a great rapport – he gave us great support and encouragement while I emphasized the importance of strength & conditioning, warming up and cooling down, nutrition, etc.

As a team we stayed focused – rain, sun, personal commitments – nothing could drag us away. The fact that our coach also trained with us was a great pleasure and helped us stay disciplined. Running as a team was a joy – we shared birthdays, clicked many a picture and made memories for a lifetime. We received immense support from our fellow JJ runners during training and on race day (Krishna Rao, Santosh Malya, and Sri Padma Jain(family member of JJ runner -Darshan Jain).

In the end, the 5 long months were done without any injuries or mental exhaustion – all thanks to the amazing training plan designed by our coach and the unconditional support from all team members.

Nutrition is key.

Preparing for an ultra means more than just a training plan. You also need a good nutrition plan to improve efficiency.

In 2017, I was injured, had very low energy levels and my performance was not great despite me having a great training plan, good rest and recovery. On further analysis, I figured a lack of good nutrition was the cause. I listened to talks by top sports nutritionists and adopted their advice on types of food and proportions and stuck to the plan. In turn, I saw the results with my performance improving and I stayed injury-free.

Keeping in mind my personal experience and the immense knowledge I gained on nutrition over the years, I went through my team members diet plans and suggested changes that would boost their performance and help them achieve their overall goal. I also had to keep in mind their work and travel schedules and suggest how to alter their diet accordingly.

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Some of the things I adhered to in planning their diet was:

  • Getting a blood test done to find out the deficiencies as it helps to check if supplements are required or not.
  • Based on calorie burn on the workout day, I came up with recommendations on protein intake, carbs, fat required and the quantity of food to be consumed over a period of 7-8 meals in a day. Keeping all these factors in mind, I created a diet chart and included vitamin, minerals, and micronutrients they need.
  • Discussed hydration strategy with team
  • Suggesting tips on how to identify foods that cause allergy and avoid intake of such foods.

Race day

Come race day and we were geared up and backed by our training plan, we showed up strong at the start line. Flag off happened at 6:30 am and we had to finish the race by 12:30 pm with strict cut-off timings to be followed. The morning of the race was very cold and chilly and as time went by it started getting really hot. The organizers did a great job with planning and supporting the runners en route by providing baggage counters, aid stations, food, motivating and encouraging runners till the end of the race. One notable thing was that there were volunteers who pampered us so well by stretching, icing, filling water, etc. towards the end of the race.

Keeping in mind the heat, late start of race and duration of the race itself, we practised the same during our training runs which were extremely helpful on race day. Despite some difficult situations where we had a few runners cramping due to the heat, our team did very well.

My sincere gratitude to Coach Pramod Deshpande for believing and guiding me to fulfil the captaincy in a great way. The entire group including myself are indebted to all the family members of our group, without their support it could not have been possible.

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Suchitra Patwardhan

Suchitra Patwardhan

Suchitra is an amateur long-distance runner who believes in giving equal importance to strength, flexibility and nutrition.