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Impossible is nothing!

Guest Columnist, Kavita Rajath Nair shares her experience of achieving the Sub-2 target at her milestone run of the year-the ADHM.

Every fervent runner usually has a yearly target along with a milestone race or two. While I am still an amateur with my feet striding away for just over 2 years, I set myself a humble goal of completing a Half Marathon in under 2 hours (popularly known as Sub-2), at the start of the training season in March’18. I say ‘humble’ because my coach, Mr. Pramod Deshpande has always had immense belief in me and he said “Dilli abhi door hai. Tu kar legi!” (Translation: Delhi is far away and you will do it!)

Well, by now, you probably guessed I’m talking about the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon, ‘ADHM’ as it’s known. While ADHM has been AIMS certified way back, this year it was all the more glorified and achieved the Gold Label from IAAF. That really raised its profile and runners globally and across India wanted to participate in ADHM 2018.

It is sometimes very difficult for a runner to choose which races to run in a year unless you are one of those runners who run races almost every weekend.

How did ADHM happen for me?

I was training for my TCS World 10K 2018 hoping to achieve my personal best (PB) but then I was chosen to be the 75min official pacer this year alongside 19 other women pacers, a first of its kind in history at a world-renowned 10K event.

2019 January was already earmarked as the year for me to debut Full Marathon at the world-famous Tata Mumbai Marathon.

Procam International later publicised their ‘Procam Slam’ with 4 races in the year being the TCS 10K, ADHM, TSK 25K, and TMM FM.  It was kind of a no-brainer since I was anyways doing two of the four races and competing in the ADHM and TSK would ensure I complete the slam and the opportunity to travel to two more cities. Hence, the decision to compete in the ADHM and turn that into my 2018 milestone run with a target of achieving Sub-2.

What it meant to run the ADHM – my milestone run of the year

Simple! I wanted to achieve the Sub-2 target in the ADHM 2018 race. Any race prior was to be my practice runs leading up to D-Day (21stOct 2018).

With that in mind, I started my training with my running club – Jayanagar Jaguars(JJ’s). I enrolled for the program RYFM – Run your First/Finest Marathon (Half Marathon), a program of 16 weeks for which I was nominated as captain based on my race performance and the persistence I displayed the previous season while training for the TCS World 10K. It was intimidating to start with but I managed to find my place, I trained hard and pushed the team harder. I did not miss a single training run for 16 weeks and followed the workout routine to the ‘T’. Apart from fast workouts and tempo runs, I also did my gym workouts and followed the cross-training schedule.

Additionally, I supplemented my workout routine with a high protein diet (despite my dermatologist blaming the high-protein diet for untimely excessive breakouts. I really didn’t care how I looked as I was driven by my goal of achieving a Sub-2 at ADHM!), lots of fruits, vegetables for high fibre, and various nuts and seeds.

I also ensured I got a good night’s rest of at least 7 hours which meant consistently hitting the bed before 9 PM for over 4 months (that regularised my routine to a great extent).

The Race Month

Training is always fun when you have a group you run with, share a joke or two, the traditional combined breakfasts after the Saturday long runs all make the training a lot more pleasurable, despite it being draining at times. At the start of race month, it all became serious suddenly. I started planning for the race day, discussing with my coach and my 5 AM run-buddy.

Eve of race day

The carb loading and electrolytes hydration had started 3 days in advance. The day before the race was pretty busy. I landed in Delhi in the morning hours, headed straight to the JLNS Stadium where JJs had organised an exclusive meet with the event ambassador Sanya Richards Ross – an American-Jamaican former track and field athlete and later headed to the hotel.

The day was spent in getting my running essentials in place and after an early dinner, got some much needed rest.

The…Race Day!

After 16-18 weeks of training, it all finally came down to this one race. Races for me are like the online certification examinations as I always feel butterflies in my tummy.

However, with a good night’s sleep, I woke up feeling unusually peaceful with no anxiety and a great resting Heart Rate of 41BPM.

I did my usual routine of playing some soothing music in the background, had my overnight soaked chia seeds, some black coffee (no sugar) and a tablespoon of pumpkin seeds.

We reached the venue and went straight to the holding area of the allocated gate.

It was a great feeling, I was extremely positive and had a feeling I could achieve my Sub-2 target. While I had the Sub-2 in mind, I was hoping for something in the range of 1hr 53m -54m.

The strategy was not complicated. Since the course was extremely flat, I wanted to maintain a steady pace of 5:20m/km and that would take me to a 1hr 52m timeline. Even with a little buffer, I was still within my target.

Procam had an early start to the race at 5:00 AM as Delhi gets really hot after 7:30 AM. The energy was vibrant with colourful lights, thumping music, the weather was extremely pleasant and no sign of the infamous Delhi smog. The flag off happened at 5:00 AM, and I think after about 45secs – 60secs of the gun time, I crossed the start timing mat. And yes, what a feeling it was!

Two of my friends and I deliberately took it real slow in the 1stKm as the crowd was overwhelming and maintained a pace of 5:46/km pace. It was 26secs slower than my target pace, but I wasn’t worried as I knew I could cover it when the crowd dwindled further in the race. The next 2_5 km was comfortable and I ran alongside my two friends. This continued till the 6th km when one of the friends suddenly said: “Isn’t it amazing how we are running so comfortably at 4:50/km pace?”That was a shocker to me! 4:50/km was easily 30secs faster than my target pace and ran that pace at speed workouts during training runs. I looked at my watch and the current pace was 4:40/km. I slowed down, to come back to my target pace of 5:20/km.

My plan was to maintain the pace between 5:25/km – 5:35/km for about 13kms. I did pull over a couple of times for quick hydration but felt quite okay. Around the 10thKm mark, I did pull over again, gasping for breath and a close friend called out to me and asked me to join him. He kept repeating “K, never pull over, run consistently with me”. I tried to and managed to keep up about 50mts behind him till the 13thkm mark. That’s when I started feeling drained out and my legs felt heavy. I had just completed 2/3rdof the race. My mouth felt dry and tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth. I desperately looked for a hydration station and pulled over at the first one I saw. I had a sip of water and some Enerzal and continued. After which I had to push myself really hard.

I thought I was running well and close to the desired pace, only to see I was touching 6:00/km. I feared I may not achieve a Sub-2. That played negatively and dropped my energy further. At the 15thkm mark, an unknown guy saw me struggling and politely asked me to run with him as he maintained a 5:45/km pace. I did a quick mental math, and figured, that if I sustained that for another 6 km, I will still achieve a Sub-2. I managed a Sub 6:00/km pace from the 15th – 17thKM, but after that, I literally couldn’t run, kept alternating between run-walk for every 100mts. I felt bloated and heavy and couldn’t lift my feet.

With just 3KMS to go, I thought I might not even finish the race! But then as we approached the finish line, the crowd was magnificent, with perky music, pom-poms, chocolates, oranges, homemade chikkis, and energy shots. I stopped looking at my watch and just ran. At that moment, I wanted to finish the race and did not care about my Sub-2 target (my coach will disown me for that), swollen feet, heavy arms, nothing at all! I simply ran as I enjoyed the cheering crowd on either side. I think I might have been at the last hydration station when I heard one of the ladies from the crowd scream, “Come-on Kavita, you are strong, you are headed for a Sub-2!”.  Frankly, I couldn’t believe that it was going to happen, but that one cheer gathered all the leftover energy in me and I ran to the finish line to complete in 1Hr 58mins 39secs. I couldn’t believe I finished my race in Sub-2 timing!

I think I owe it to that unknown lady without whom I wouldn’t have pushed myself to the end as I had given up on my goal.

A few Take-away’s from the race

Although I achieved my target of finishing the race in Sub-2 timing, I haven’t been unable to celebrate my Sub-2, for various reasons –

  1. Guardyourself fromOverconfidence:under any circumstance. I got overoptimistic about achieving my target easily.
  2. Never give up: The thought of giving up at some point in the race, which was first time ever, in my life, and I detest that it crossed my mind.
  3. Use the watch diligently: itreally helps no matter whattarget/ goal you have set for yourself. I ran the first 6KMS at a pace faster than my HM race pace and that drained me so much that I suffered throughout the rest of the race.
  4. Besmart with your hydration strategy: The mistake I made was that I relied completely on Enerzal/ORS and skipped having any plain water from 3 days prior to the race. This led to me having excessive salt in my body which lead to water retention and thus the bloating and heavy feeling.
  5. Don’t get carried away: with the adrenaline rush you have at the start, the loud peppy music, nice easy course, cool weather and extreme confidence in yourself. The best way is to always be conscious and be on track no matter.

It’s been almost a month since ADHM happened, and I have mixed feelings thinking about it. While I thoroughly enjoyed the training phase, the journey up to the race day, the food at Delhi, shopping, family time but the main thing that took me to Delhi was the ADHM Race and the target for achieving a Sub-2: I am unsure if I rejoice thinking about it?

To all my friends within and outside the running community, I did a great job and achieved my PB and my target Sub-2! But what thoughts run through my mind, is something I can barely pen down.

So that was it, folks, thanks for being with me through my long journey of achieving a Sub-2.

GUEST COLUMNIST

Kavita, employed with an International Bank had taken up running to stay fit in summer of 2016. Her leisure running has now developed into her passion. She fondly inspires people around her with her enthusiasm, infectious energy and love for running

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Leadership Lessons from Marathons

Deepthi Velkur talks to runners to understand what leadership lessons they have learnt from running marathons.

“If you want to run, run a mile. If you want to experience a different life, run a marathon” – Emil Zatopek (three-time Olympic gold medallist).

We’ve all heard how running is good for us. Research proves that running makes us healthier (both physically and mentally), happier and can even help each of us become a better leader. When we see a marathon runner in action, all we see is a solitary figure but dig a little deeper and you will see that she/he draws inspiration and energy from their fellow runners. Similarly, leaders draw inspiration and energy from professionals around them.

Running a marathon teaches us life lessons – the fact that you can achieve anything, you can push your body and mind to new limits as long as you have the will and determination. Some of these lessons can be translated into the leadership roles we play. In my conversation with several experienced runners, they shared leadership lessons they have learned from running.

Always have a goal.

A big goal provides direction and purpose. Small goals are what get things done.

Rajesh Chandrasekhar (Director – Operations, Cisco Systems) believes that there is a symbiotic relationship between running and leadership.  He says, “Setting goals, both small and big, motivates us to garner all our efforts and focus our energies towards achieving that goal. He goes on to add that without a clear target in mind, our potential is under-tapped and our purpose can wander”. He sums up his conversation by paraphrasing the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland – “If you don’t know where you want to go, then it doesn’t matter which way you go!”

Anjana Mohan (General Manager, SEP India Pvt Ltd) likes to break things down when targeting a bigger goal. She chips in saying, “When a goal is overwhelming, just focus on a single step. The steps add up. Having a big goal is necessary to set up the path to achieving it. But once that is in place, just focusing on the single step ahead of you and staying in each moment is enough to get you to the goal. Breaking down a large goal into tiny little steps is an inevitable lesson of running”.

Deepa Bhat (AVP-Products, Prepmyskills) adds, “At work, I stay focused to completing smaller tasks and milestones without taking my eyes off the larger goal. I picture the victory, this re-energizes the team as well as me, celebrating the small joys and keep moving ahead”.

In running, you might set yourself a big goal of competing in a marathon major but you also set yourself smaller goals every week. Similarly, in leadership, you set yourself intermediate goals building up to the big target in mind. This helps build a sense of achievement as well as provides feedback on how you’re doing.

Being adaptive

 In a run, we do not always control every single factor, do we? In our corporate lives, we cannot manage every single dependency or risk, can we? When you run and the weather makes the route tricky, you adapt, you find a way to push through – that’s a lesson we all take into our corporate and entrepreneurship lives too.

Sagar Baheti (entrepreneur) who runs his own import and export stone business says, “Every time I run, I realize it’s a unique experience. If you’re running the same route, it feels different every time depending on so many factors like what you’ve eaten before the run, how much sleep you managed to get, what’s your state of mind. A lot of these factors, sometimes may not be under our control. Similarly, when you work with people on projects, there are so many factors that may or may not be in our control but we have to strategize and adapt to make the best of what we have at a given time”.

Anjana Mohan’s take is, “Learning to refocus on what you want and why is a key leadership trait. The miles can be long and rough. There are many obstacles in the way. But when a runner focuses on what they want and why the challenges of the moment melt away. Good leaders are able to focus people on what awaits on the top of the mountain, which reduces the strain of the climb and motivates them to keep moving towards it”.

Ram Narasimhan (Director, Colt Technologies) believes that if you keep the end goal in sight, you will automatically adapt to changing situations, “No two runs are the same and there will be situations where conditions are less than perfect (and these will be many), but then you learn to take them in your stride and work around them. Sounds familiar in real life? Day in and day out at work, I come across situations that need resolution, decisions and course corrections which may throw plans awry, but then running has taught me to keep the end goal in sight and the process will follow”.

Fail and learn early.

We all make fundamental mistakes in training, during a run, and in our lives. How we bounce back and learn from it, is the key to being successful.

Bindu Juneja (Teacher, Bethany High) has this to say, “Disciplined decision-making will help us in taking intellectual decisions based on your feedback loops”.

Pramod Deshpande (Senior VP, MFX Services) believes that as a runner we have to deal with negativity every time we miss a target or a weekly goal. Similarly, in the business world he says, “a leader should provide honest feedback to his team, even at the risk of being unpopular, only then can his team members achieve their potential”.

Anjana Mohan says “Failure is more important than success. Our successes validate our strategies and what we already know but it’s the failures that educate us about what we don’t know. A failure at a running event makes us more mindful about everything we did during our training, and what we could have done differently. In life, leadership or running failure forces us to face our ‘Lessons learned”.

Patience and Perseverance

Four strong values that help us achieve our goals in life – be it completing a run in personal best time or closing out that critical project.

Subramanyam Putrevu (CIO, Mindtree) is spot on when he says “Distance running is not a short sprint, it is sustaining the will and self-belief over the distance at a steady consistent pace with enormous patience. You need to have a lot of perseverance to build it step by step without injuring yourself. This is how you build the business or execute large projects”.

Pramod Deshpande adds, “With self-belief, discipline and hard work we can surprise ourselves with achievements, which we never imagined”.

Vikram Achanta (Co-founder and CEO, Tulleeho) says, “Hanging in there till the bitter end is especially valuable if you’re an entrepreneur where the journey is never easy – Finish strong”

Deepa Bhat, also adds “Training makes you realize the amount of hard work it takes to each milestone – What you put in is what you get. Running is the greatest metaphor! Sometimes you fail to make it to the expected target, that does not mean, you never will make it.  You only get to your milestones after focused, determined efforts for a longer time period”.

Run your own race

When you’re running the distance, you’re competing against yourself and not against other runners. Similarly, in a leadership role, we compete against our performance targets while keeping an eye on how others are performing too.

Annie Acharya (Senior Manager HR at a leading pharma company) gives her view on the subject, “there are 5 things common in leadership and running: a) common objective for group yet individual targets – you may train with a group yet run your own race, b) your competition is you, c) No excuses – like in leadership there is no excuse to fail, runners have no excuse not to run, d) running your own race, knowing your limitations and yet learning from others (leaders don’t shy from copying others best practices, yet they need to know their limitations and e) you don’t stop until you finish. Whether it’s 10K, 21K or full marathon runners finish their race. Similarly, in leadership, it is expected to achieve your targets irrespective of the hurdles or difficulties”.

Ram Narasimhan also adds to this. He says,The first thing running teaches you is self-awareness. It highlights your strengths and exposes your weakness in a way that you adapt yourself to run using your strengths. The same is true with leadership too – a true leader is one who is aware of his weakness and uses his strengths to overcome them”.

Be uncomfortable

Spending too much time in your comfort zone causes it to shrink and negatively impacts performance. Just like a runner who loses fitness if they are not pushing themselves, a leader who does not push herself/himself and their team outside their comfort zone are likely to be under-prepared for the challenge.

Anjana Mohan says, “Getting used to being uncomfortable is a necessary ingredient for change. We rarely achieve anything from our comfort zones. Whether it is having to wake up early and get out in the cold, or whether it is a particularly difficult and sunny stretch to keep running through, it is important to get acquainted with one’s own discomfort to facilitate change. Understanding the level of discomfort that one can tolerate without being discouraged is what determines the amount of transformation that one is capable of. This is a leadership lesson to motivate others as well as oneself”.

Recovery is important 

Most marathon runners take this seriously. They know that if they don’t build rest days and recovery into their schedule, they will burn out. In business, unfortunately, this is often ignored. Recovery needs to include physical and mental recovery to avoid exhaustion.

Bindu Juneja (Teacher, Bethany High) adds, “Recovery is as important as running, often ignored by runners, working long hours on a continuous basis reduces overall effectiveness”.

While running an actual marathon may not be what all of us want to do, in our leadership role, we are (metaphorically) training for a marathon every day you turn up for work.

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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How to consistently click miles every week

With an insatiable appetite for running, Divya Vasishta has quite a story to tell. In this conversation with Deepthi Velkur, she explains what drives her passion.

“The mountains are calling and I must go” – John Muir (Naturalist and Preservationist).

Probably one of the most compelling quotes that says it all for many outdoor lovers and definitely apt for our guest today – Divya Vasishta.

Divya hails from Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, a scenic mountain town, so it’s no wonder that her runs always seem to take her to the hills.

She is by no means a career runner – running happened by accident 5 years ago and she juggles a busy corporate life (quality head with a US-based organization) with her undying passion for running and the mountains.

Her running timeline might be short but she has covered the spectrum – countless 10Ks, Half-Marathons, Full-Marathons, Trail Running and also Ultra runs.

We had ourselves a tête-à-tête and I was fascinated by her story. Read on and chances are you will be too.

FM: It’s been 5 years since you started running, what inspired you to pick up such a tough endurance sport?

Divya: I never liked running on a treadmill but I had to for a long time as I spent quite a few years in Canada and the severe winters made it hard to run outdoors. A few years later though, I moved to California famed for its gorgeous weather and scenery, I started to head out for my runs every day for about 30 mins.

After having spent 10 years out of the country, we decided to move back to Bangalore. It was definitely a huge change for me. The weekends seemed empty with nowhere to go camping, no hills to climb, no trails to walk on and I ended up running longer durations inside my housing layout.

Initially, it started out as an aimless activity until a friend suggested that I participate in a 10k run back in 2013 to begin with, which I did and the experience of the race was enthralling. That paved the way forward and I have never looked back since. For the first two years, the focus was to improve my timings and then later on, I focused on building and testing my endurance and this became a vicious cycle with no end.

No distance ever seemed enough for me initially. I was curious to see how much further I could go and fast forward 3 years, I have run a maximum distance of 100K in 14 hours 20 minutes in the Bangalore Ultra. I also completed the Khardung La Challenge in Leh (the world’s highest Ultra marathon at 17582 feet) a distance of 72K.

Since 2013, I have completed 13 Ultra events and countless half and full marathons. I always enjoyed runs that are challenging with a sole purpose of finishing them comfortably and maintaining a constant pace. I personally prefer the quieter and smaller events and always look forward to trying new routes with new organisers.

The first 2 years of my running life took me to different locales but it was always the hills that kept calling and brought me a kind of peace that I couldn’t find anywhere else.

Having discovered running in the hills, I have completed events in Ooty, Munnar, Manipur, Leh, Manali (Solang Sky running – being the toughest so far) as well as Shimla.  This year, I became the 3rdfemale runner from India to run the Everest marathon.

I haven’t limited myself just to running in the hills obviously – I enjoy running in California and completed the Big Sur marathon which is considered a beautiful run but very challenging owing to the weather conditions. I have also completed a 143.9K run during the 24-hour Bangalore stadium run last year.

FM: Fascinating and amazing to see what you have achieved in 5 years. Prior to 2013, what kind of sports where you in to?

Divya: I have always been an active and outdoorsy person. Back in school, I loved running on the tracks and tried my hand at different sports like field and track events, basketball, hockey and mini marathons. With college and the initial few years of working, these activities took a backseat. Post marriage, my partner and myself started going on short treks in our free time. Hitting the gym became a part of my daily routine. In 2006, step aerobics fascinated me and quickly became one of my favourite activity. We (my partner and myself) had done a few treks of which the Machu Picchu, few in Alaska and the Everest Base Camp clearly were my favourites. Between 2010-13, I appointed a personal trainer and he used to set up various routines for me and then it was only in 2013, that I started running.

FM: That explains the ease with which you have acclimatized yourself to ultra-running.  This is me being curious – how was your lifestyle prior and how has that changed since you started running?

Divya: In terms of routine, not much has changed in my life. I have always been disciplined in everything I do. Early rising, timely intake of food and hitting the bed early has been my routine for the longest time. Food habits have changed for the better. For instance, I used to eat a lot of processed food and that has completely stopped now. I prefer eating fresh home-cooked meals and drinking natural juices. 

FM: Managing your professional, personal as well passion for running takes a lot out of a person. How do you manage this and what do you do to unwind?

Divya: I really didn’t have to make a lot of compromises. I started running when I was well-settled at work. There was no need to commute to work daily and work related travel was manageable too and was a part of my routine life. Both my husband and myself are morning people. I just had to wake up a little earlier so I could clear up any work-related emails and then head out for my morning run. While travelling, it becomes a bit hard to manage my runs so I make sure to manage expectations during those days and plan my work and running accordingly. And I never forget to pack my running shoes wherever I go.

Running is relaxing for me, but a spa appointment for a deep tissue massage and foot reflexology is a reward for myself (smiles).

FM: To be able to clock 9455Km in such a short time is astounding. Did you imagine you would have achieved this in less than 5 years? Do you set at a yearly target for yourself?

Divya: I was never interested in numbers, like setting up a monthly or yearly target. What I do is set myself a mileage target of 60K every week and try to achieve it on most days. My tally seems very less in comparison to other Ultra runners. But I feel, if I run a lot (especially training runs), I’ll probably start disliking running so I run the tracks I enjoy. Sometimes a training run of 35K stresses me but at the same time I enjoy running a 100K event.

FM: Another mind-boggling statistic is the fact that you have a podium finish in greater than 50% of the events you have participated? What are the 3 key factors that help you achieve this?

Divya: You are right. Out of 55 events, I’ve had about 27 podiums wins. I would say – It just happened. Though I’ve had podiums in the open category too but most of them have been in 45+ age category, so being a veteran probably led to this and I see it as an advantage. I really don’t run with a competitive mind.

FM: Congratulations on finishing the Comrades marathon last year – such a fascinating run especially given its origins. What interested you in taking part in this event?

Divya: Curiosity, I think. I wanted to see why runners are so crazy about this run and I guess I did find my answer. It’s a run with an amazing aura. I finished the race which is approximately a 89KM run from Durban to Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. It is considered the World’s Largest and one of the oldest Ultra-marathons, which was first held in 1921. The race has very strict cut-off time of 12hours and I managed to finish it in 11 hrs and 42 minutes. 

FM: Obviously, your training program for this run would have been different from your normal training. Can you please share a few snippets into the differences?

Divya: One needs to be diligent and disciplined in preparing for any targeted run, especially a run as challenging as this with strict cut-off points. It only tends to increase the pressure which may lead to unnecessary stress.

My goal was just to finish the run within the cut-off time and with that in mind, I prepared my own training plan and stayed within my normal weekly mileage, with an exception of 2 or 3 weeks where I exceeded it. I also added hill runs to my routine, almost every weekend and most of the events I went to were in the hilly terrains which got me stepping out of my regular running route. Being the only female from Bangalore to participate in this event that year, I had to look for a group running this event. The drive to the location for the training runs was quite far from my place and that led me to start driving in India, which I dislike doing, especially during the dark, early morning hours. I don’t remember missing a single run as per my calendar.

FM: So, where is your next big run and what plans do you have for the next few months?

Divya: A 100 miler in a decent time for sure.

 

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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All conquering Triathlete

In conversation with Siddhant Chauhan, Nandini Reddy finds out how this Corporate Communications expert became a certified Ironman Coach. 

Siddhant Chauhan, 36 yrs, working as Deputy General Manager – Corporate Communications and CSR with Nissan Motors India. He is also an Ironman Certified Triathlon Coach (completed last year) and Assistant Coach with Yoska under Deepak Raj. He recently completed the Cetlman – Extreme Scottish Triathlon is considered to be one of the toughest triathlons in the world which has seen only 1200 participants from across the world since its inception in 2012.

Triathlons completed so far Ironman 70.3 Bintan 2016, Ironman Nice 2017. Super Randonneour for the 2016-17 season.

Being a triathlete isn’t a decision that many people make, how did you decide to become one?

You are right. It wasn’t an overnight decision. I got introduced to the concept of triathlon at a time when I wasn’t pursuing any of the three disciplines required. On the contrary, my lifestyle was quite sedentary. I hated long distance running and when you stack it towards the end of a triathlon, it was definitely not the most attractive proposition. So I first began by getting comfortable with running and eventually cycling. And one thing led to the other.

At what stage of your journey are you as a triathlete?

In 2014 when I was working for Reckitt Benckiser India, then CEO Nitish Kapoor threw a challenge of running a half marathon and raising funds for our charity partner. I guess once I was able to successfully finish a half marathon, it gave me a confidence that I can take a shot at doing a triathlon. However, it was a step by step process and as you rightly said, it did not happen overnight.

 

What is your advice to anyone who wants to take up an endurance sport?

I am an amateur in endurance events, but with whatever limited experience I have, my advice will be:

  1. Have a goal and chalk out a roadmap to achieve that
  2. Invest in a good coach for a structured training
  3. Building mental toughness is as important physical endurance
  4. Focus on nutrition and recovery
  5. And of course, compete with yourself first to become better at it

It takes a lot of mental strength to reach the finish line, how do you motivate yourself to keep going?

Absolutely! With a regular job and family, it is tough to dedicate hours towards training day after day. It is fairly easy to get off the track, but you need to keep reminding yourself why you are doing this. It has to be for your own self instead of any other ulterior motive. You practice this through your training blocks and on race day, you give your 100%.

The day before the big race, how do you prepare yourself?

It is not just about the day before your race, one has to get into the mould through the week building up to race day. I run the simulation of this build up during my training blocks and it has helped me. On the day before, I try to keep myself as relaxed as I possibly can and get a good sleep. I keep a close watch on what I eat and it is an important part of feeling good on the race day. On the lighter note, the intensity of the peak week can often make the race day feel like a cakewalk.

Earlier this year you conquered the Celtman, how was the experience?

Once in a lifetime experience – the intensity of this extreme triathlon cannot be comprehended by the race video or report. The course is tough and the weather is harsh.

To give you a quick view of what it entails:

  • SWIM – 3.4K in cold (11 degrees), deep and jellyfish infested Atlantic waters
  • BIKE – 202K through cold, rain and winds through Scottish Highland roads
  • RUN – 42K over the Beinn Eighe mountain range (trail)

Celtman

From swimming in 11 degrees lake infested with jellyfish and riding in rain and cold winds to running across a brutal trail, there is no one part of the race which is easier than the other. It was quite a challenge for me as I trained for the event in conditions which were exactly opposite to what the race offered.

Watch a short video of the race – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XaniAKBzoRg 

Do you follow a specific or special diet and nutrition plan?

Yes, I follow certain guidelines for my diet during training. And of course, nutrition I believe is the 4thpillar of triathlon – extremely important to fuel your body right to take you through the gruelling day in the field

Do you have a particular race that is at the top of your wish list?

Yes, Norseman and Swissman extreme triathlons are on my wishlist.

Who is your role model who inspires you to keep aiming higher?

If you look around, there are enough and more role models who inspire you to keep moving despite challenges in life. But if you ask me for one, it has always been Michael Jordan since my childhood days. But particularly in the sport of triathlon, there are so many pros who perform at unimaginable levels and it is always inspiring.

What is next on your agenda of races? 

For 2019, my focus is to improve my timing for a full marathon, aim for the races in my wish list and aim for ITT nationals.

 

You can follow Siddhant’s journey on Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/siddhantchauhan/  

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

An irregular runner who has run in dry, wet, high altitude and humid conditions. Loves to write a little more than run so now is the managing editor of Finisher Magazine.

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Amateur marathoner with big dreams

Pune based Kavitha Reddy talks to Deepthi Velkur about how she caught the running bug.

Based out Pune for the past 10 years, Kavitha’s story can be encapsulated by George Elliot’s phrase “It is never too late to be what you might have been”.

A 43-year woman with two teenage sons, Kavitha is a small-town girl who grew up in Anantapur (Andhra Pradesh). Growing up, her father insisted that she stay active and despite not being a sportsperson in school, she followed her father’s words and lead an active lifestyle. She has been a marathoner for the past 5 years now and has completed 3 out of the 6 major marathons worldwide. I had a chance to talk with her on how did she transform her life.

You did play a bit of basketball in your younger days but running was never a fascination. What changed? How did running become so serious?

Growing up, I was never really into sports though I did some free play. Once my boys grew up, I had a lot of time to myself and wanted to do something for me. In 2009, I was diagnosed with hypo-thyroid and coupled with seeing my mother suffer from thyroid and arthritis, it really shook me into action.

I started with going to the gym thrice a week. During a chat with a close friend, long distance running came up and on doing some research, I found a running group called The Pune Road Runners club that trained at the racecourse. On September 19th 2013, I laced up my running shoes and joined the group for a run. I have never looked back!

Consistency is key? How did you make running your habit?

It is in my nature to be consistent. If I start something, I give it my complete focus and that really has been the key to my achievements. Further, it motivates me to achieve more.

At the start, I needed some time to figure out how to manage my time, kids, school but slowly I was able to balance it out. Obviously, there were hurdles but when you enjoy something, you find a way to overcome them.

Your dream is to run the 6 iconic World Marathon Majors. So far, you have done 3 – New York, Boston, and Berlin. Please share some snippets from each of these events?

Running the World Marathon Majors, a circuit of 6 iconic races around the world is my cherished dream. In 2017, I was accepted into the TCS New York marathon after my partner’s office recommended me. New York was the first of the 6 majors and I was super ecstatic about it. The course is very technical and challenging – plenty of hills, climbs / flyovers.

In April 2018, I ran the Boston marathon for which I waited 18 months post my qualification. The 2018 run had awful weather conditions with runners encountering the coldest conditions in 2 decades with rain, wind and snow reducing visibility drastically.
Two months ago (September 2018), I ran the Berlin marathon and clocked a personal best of 3hours and 28 mins.

Qualifying for the World Majors is no walk in the park? What challenges did you face while doing this?

Yes, there were setbacks and challenges. I have had bad workouts and a couple of bad races in the lead up to the 2016 Amsterdam Marathon, this happened due to a fall I had, which fractured my hand and I had to train with a cast on which was removed only a week before the race.

How did you train yourself for these marathon majors? Was it any different from training for a marathon in India?

Other than course specific training tweaks, overall it was the same training that was followed.

For New York, I included a lot of climbs / flyovers in my training as the course has the same. For Boston, my coach added mileage and tweaked the workouts to make me stronger to tackle the Boston route profile. He prescribed rolling routes for my training runs and tempo runs, included hill runs in the second half of my long runs and lastly, some fast finish long runs.

Berlin is a flat course, so I just concentrated on pace building with fast finish runs.

Despite such adverse weather predicted for the Boston Marathon this year, you still managed to clock the marathon in 3hours 38mins in your age category? How did you mentally prepare yourself for the race and did it go as per plan?

It was a nightmare! The weather was terrible and I could hear the howling of the cold winds. To make matters worse, it was raining and snowing. I was very depressed and had my doubts if I could run in such conditions. It appeared that all my hard work for the past 3 months would amount to nothing.

But then, I figured that all runners are facing the same conditions, so if I made my mind stronger, I could deal with this thing. Nevertheless, I started the race with doubts in my head but eventually, I got into a rhythm and regained some confidence.

I kept thinking of all the encouraging messages that I received from friends and family before the race and I felt a sudden surge of divine energy inside me. I renewed my resolve to fight it out and take on the upcoming hills strongly.

Another challenge was poor visibility due to rains and the huge crowds of runners which was quite intimidating. But in the end, I surprised myself by fighting it out bravely till the end and finished with a smile and great pride in a time of 3hours 34mins.

How many races have you participated in India and overseas? Which has been the best course you have run so far and why?

I have done 9 full marathons so far. 5 in India which includes ADHM, SPBM, SCMM(3) and 4 overseas ( Amsterdam, New York, Boston, and Berlin). I have also done countless half marathons and 10Ks.

The best race for me so far is my first FM at Hyderabad ( the first one is always special as I believed in myself and set out to do something which I thought I was incapable of doing). Following that closely was my most recent Berlin Marathon – that was one race where I was so consistent and strong from the start to the finish line.

How has joining motive8 coaching improved your performance and how is it helping your goal of achieving to qualify for the remaining 3 majors?

I joined Motiv8 Coaching in 2015 after I ran the Bengaluru marathon (my 3rd full marathon) and clocked my first sub-4 time of 3hours 53mins. It was then that I took seriously the possibility of qualifying for the Boston Marathon. I also realized that to improve further and achieve that target, I would require some personalized training and train in a more structured and scientific manner. Though I had run 2 full marathons earlier, I never had any fixed workouts and paces for my runs but just ran at a comfortable pace. After I started my coaching, there was a lot more structure and variety in the workouts as well as pace guidance and other details to each workout which I was unaware of earlier. That has helped me a lot.

I have run 6 full marathons after joining Motiv8. With each marathon, I have only improved myself and come out stronger. The focus for the next 3 majors is to do the same with steady improvement while remaining injury free.

What are the major differences you see between running in India and running overseas?

Running has picked up in our country in the last 6-7 years but I feel it still has a long way to go. The ecosystem developed around running overseas is a major plus point. People respect, value and understand the sport and this makes it extra special running in these events.

In the pursuit of achieving your dream, what are the lifestyle changes that you had to make and was your family supportive of this change?

I haven’t made too many lifestyle changes to achieve this. The only and most difficult one was missing my mornings with my family. But I am very lucky that I do not have a very demanding family and they supported me endlessly in my journey.

Yes, a few changes automatically come along with a new schedule. My day used to start early before, but now it starts even earlier with packing lunch boxes and then stepping out for training. My social circle now has more running friends. Overall, my lifestyle has changed for the better.

What is your message to many women out there who are sckeptical to take up running or fitness?

These are the following mental blocks I heard from many women around
when I began running and also during training – Are you not affecting your knees?
Are you not affected by hormonal changes? Is it safe to run on the roads? How safe are you running alone? How do you run during your menstrual cycle? How to take time out of kids’ schedule? How do you balance both your home and your passion?

All these questions are only present until you make a beginning. My personal experience is that everything falls in place if you enjoy doing what you do and learn how to balance it all. Your family will support you when you show your commitment to what you do. Personally, I am blessed to have very supportive kids and a spouse for letting me pursue my passion. At the same time, I take care of my responsibilities well to maintain that balance.

Despite starting to run late in my 30’s, I do not see this as a disadvantage. In the end, age is just a number, you can set goals at any age and achieve it if you are determined.

What is the next race in your race calendar for this year and your plans for 2019?
My next full marathon is next year. Currently, I am focusing on core, strength, and speed till I start my training for my 4th marathon major which is the London Marathon in April 2019. After that, my 5th one will be the Chicago Marathon in October 2019.

You can follow Kavitha’s journey on Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/deepak.kavitha/  

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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When you goof up your form

Common exercises done with incorrect form can cause more damage than you anticipate, cautions Protima Tiwary.

You’ve decided to get into shape, you are all set to hit the gym, you’ve got your workout gear in place, and you’re all charged up to sweat it out. Great job! Take a pause and congratulate yourself, because it takes a lot of willpower and determination to get started too!

Now that you’re here, we’re sure you’ll be expecting results. It takes time, a lot of hard work, a great diet, and most importantly, the right form, to see the strength in your body grow. If your form is wrong, not only will you struggle to see results, but also increase your chances of injury! While you might have trainers and coaches around you to correct your form, there will be times when you might be alone. Luckily for you, there is a way of checking if you’re doing an exercise right.

Here is a list of some of the most common exercises that people get wrong (even after years of training!) Minimise your chances of injury and maximise results with these form checks:

Planks

Mistake – Dipping hips. The dip in your back is what causes your lower back muscles to hurt.

Correction – Lie down horizontally, then lift your body off the mat in a straight line. Squeeze your glutes, and lift your hips so that your head, hips and heels are all in the same line.

Push Ups

Mistake– Flaring elbows too far away from the body (this causes shoulder injury in the long run), not going down fully, bending the hips up and down instead of the body, forehead touching the ground before the chest,

Correction– Plant your feet together, with your palms almost as wide as your shoulder width. When you push yourself up, only your palms and feet should be touching the floor. Make sure you’re coming up straight. Go down slowly, making your chest reach the floor first.

Bent Over Rows

Mistake– rounding your back, curling your wrists as you pull back the weight, moving your hips (excessively)

Correction– Stand with your feet as wide apart as your shoulders, bend at the knees and bend forward from your hips (like a hinge movement done with knees bent) You will now be at an angle of 45° to the ground. The bar should be below your knees, and your back and neck should be straight. Pull the bar into your lower chest, with the elbows moving into your body, pointing upward.

Overhead Press

Mistake–  gripping the bar wide, not contracting the core, doing a fast up and down movement.

Correction–  Maintain a shoulder grip at the bar, contract your core (and glutes) to maintain a neutral spine, and push your chest out a little. Your elbows should be pointing to the ground (not to the back) When you lift the bar up, move your head slight back while maintain the straight upper body form. Once on top of your head, bring it down slowly till your chest with your elbows pointing straight down.

Hanging Leg Raises

Mistake– swinging of the legs, swinging of the body, lifting legs only halfway.

Correction– Hold on to the bar, and make sure your body isn’t moving. After stabilising yourself, lift your legs as high as you can (keep the legs straight) If you are just starting out, bend your legs and try getting your knees as close to your chest as possible. If you have  a strong core and grip and wish to increase the difficulty level, try touching your toes to the bar that you’re holding (without bending your leg of course)

Bicep Curl

Mistake– swinging the upper body while doing the curls, curling the wrists too, not bringing the weight down fully.

Correction– Focus on using only the biceps. Stand (or sit) straight, place our arms at your side and lock the elbows into your body. Now slowly pull the weight up, and lower it without moving your elbow out of it’s position. In order to keep the forearm out of this movement, leave your wrists a little loose. When you lower the weight, make sure your arm is fully extended.

These exercises are the most common ones that almost everyone does while training, and more often than not the correct form is ignored. The injuries might develop after a long time of doing the exercise in an incorrect form, but why wait for an injury when you can prevent it and learn slowly? Progress is slow, you need to be patient, and if you’ve been working hard and using the correct form, the results are bound to show.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

An Army kid who wishes to travel the world one wellness vacation at a time, Protima Tiwary is a freelance content writer by day and Dumbbells and Drama, a fitness blogger by night. High on love and life, she is mildly obsessed about travelling and to-do lists and loves her long gym sessions like a fat kid loves cake.

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Ride every Mountain

Kiran Kumar Raju, mountain biking national champion has the 2020 Olympics in his sights, talks to Deepthi Velkur.

K Kiran Kumar Raju or KKR as he is fondly known is a Bangalore-based mountain biking (MTB) professional who has been crowned national MTB champion this year. Apart from MTB, Kiran has also achieved success in other cycling disciplines such as road racing and Duathlons.

A civil engineer by profession and a sporting ninja by choice, Kiran has dabbled in hockey, table tennis, cross country running at the university level. Realizing his passion lies in cycling, he decided to leave the corporate rat race and instead, chase his dreams on a cycle! Peeking into his cycling statistics will leave you aghast – 125+ races completed, 76+ podium finishes, 41+ 1st place finishes across road races, MTB and Duathlons.

I had the opportunity to talk to Kiran and was very interested to see how this former civil engineer plans to ride all the way to Tokyo 2020.

You’re a fairly busy person – active in hockey, table tennis and cross-country running. How did the switch to cycling happen?

I have always enjoyed sports and keeping active. In college, I had access to different sports and always kept myself engaged. I was University hockey captain at Manipal University, represented the college at Table Tennis and cross country running.

In 2010, I was working in Bangalore with Mantri developers and the famous Bangalore traffic was getting worse. Cycling appeared to be the only viable option to cover the distance of 40KMS. To me, it sounded like a good idea because apart from helping my commute, it was a great way to stay active.

My interest in cycling grew and I kept myself engaged with various city-wide events. Later in 2010, I heard about the Tour of Nilgiris (TFN), a grueling 7-day tour covering a distance of 900KMS and of course I volunteered. It was my first interaction with people from the cycling fraternity and I gathered heaps of information on different types of cycles, cycling events across Bangalore and India.

Armed with my new-found knowledge, I stepped up the number of races I took part the following year. I was at a disadvantage though – I never had a race competitive bike myself and had to borrow bikes for various races. I enjoyed the thrill of the race though and despite the competition, I was fairly successful.  My mode of training was still the 40KM daily commute.

As it happens with most of us, the busy work schedule took a toll on my other sporting interests. I lost focus on Table Tennis and Hockey but instead, I found time for Ultimate Frisbee which I did for 4 years with a club called Disco Deewane. My professional commitments also affected my cycling performance and I soon realized that cycling is where my passion lied. In 2014, I decided to let go of my well-paying job and chase my dreams on a cycle.

When did you realize mountain biking was your new passion?

Since 2011, I took part in road races as well as mountain biking (MTB). I enjoyed MTB more because unlike road racing where the focus is on power, MTB requires you to combine elements of power, technical skills, and endurance.

Being a notorious motorcycle rider, I was able to pick up bike handling skills faster than other riders and this gave me an edge over the other MTB riders in Bangalore.

How did you prepare for your first national MTB event?

My first national-level MTB event was in 2014 and since quitting my job in 2014, I was able to devote more time to training. People say cycling is an individual sport – I disagree. It is a team sport because it requires you to have a good coach, a supportive family, friends who not just help you financially but also motivate you.

My teammate decided to coach me for the event and I finished 7th across both events in my 1st national appearance back in 2014.

In my 2nd nationals in 2015, I won a gold in the Time-Trial event and 3rd place in the Mass-Start race. It was a very emotional moment for me and all that hard work and focus was paying dividends. I have been on the podium ever since.

What are the different races that you’ve been a part of till date?

I have taken part in all disciplines of cycling – road races, MTBs, and Duathlons. In 2011, I have also taken part in a brevet (an endurance ride that involves covering a target distance in a target time). I was advised to focus more on single-day short distance events instead, of a brevet. Till date (across 8 years), I have completed 125+ races throughout the country and overseas.

What kind of mental and physical skills do you need to participate in a brevet event? How is it different from any other course that you have traversed so far?

A Brevet event is more mental toughness than physicality and requires a lot of patience. Honestly, any race crossing the 6-hour mark requires a different sort of mental toughness. I could not dedicate my time training for these events but finished the entire randonneuring series just for the sheer joy of having completed it.

Personally, I do not recommend Brevet events for youngsters(<30yrs) in India. It is a day and night event, visibility is an issue and that carries too many risks and safety issues.

MTB or road events – what is more challenging and why?

Clearly, MTB is more challenging. Like I mentioned earlier, road racing is about power, endurance and the ability to control well enough at 50KMPH. MTB, on the other hand, requires a different skill set to excel, as here you need to select specific lanes along the trail which are faster and efficient, have exceptional bike handling skills, understand your bike well and quick reaction speeds.

How do you manage to juggle a young family and train for 400-600KMS each week?

It’s all about having the right support system. The credit goes to my family and my partner in specific who has backed me and given me all the support I need to focus on my cycling. My family is based out of Mysore while I do my training in Bangalore. I do my share of shuttling to ensure I spend quality time with my family in-between events.

When did your association with Trek Bicycle happen and how has your partnership been so far?

My 1st sponsorship was Kynkyny Wheel sports team and I have been associated with them between 2013 – 2016. Earlier this year, Trek Bicycle signed a 2-year endorsement deal and I am extremely thrilled to be associated with this brand as they are the most technologically advanced bicycling company in the world. They really understand my cycling needs and they seem quite happy with my achievements and apart from extending my contract for the next two years, they have also provided me with new advanced equipment to help pursue my future goals.

Yet another win at the MTB national event that happened between 26th-28th Oct in Pune? How did you prepare for it and did all go as per plan on the course?

I had a very clean race in both my categories – time trial (XCT) as well as the mass start (XCO). Time trail (XCT) is where you ride solo, finish 4 laps and basically race against the clock. Mass start (XCO) is where you start together and race each other.

My objective was to keep the rubber side down and avoid having a fall, push hard from start to finish and stick to the leading group for the initial lap and then set my own pace later.

From the start, my focus was winning the mass start as I had not won a gold in this category. Thankfully, everything went as per plan and I ended up with a silver in the time trial and a gold in the mass start (my first at the MTB event).

It was a huge achievement for me and a very humbling experience. I can now proudly say that I’m the “National Mountain Biking Champion” in India.

You have 2 key goals at the moment – represent India at the Asian Championships and then the 2020 Olympics. What are the steps you’re taking to achieve those dreams?

First, I had to prove to my country, sponsors, family and myself that I am India’s national MTB champion. With that out of the way now, I will use this time to rest well, recover and then start training in 2 weeks.

My focus now is to do well at the Asian championships in May 2019. Doing well here is my primary parameter to enter to the 2020 Olympics.

My training for the Asian championships will involve taking part in at least 4 races across Asia and then train for 2 months in Brisbane, Australia. When there, I will train and ride on trails that are more technical and challenging compared to India. I have already trained at Brisbane for 5 weeks prior to the nationals and that really helped me prepare well enough to win gold. This gives me the confidence to go back and spend more time training in those trails.

I have been at the Asian championships before, but compared to previous times I am a lot more confident now and with me being at the top of my game, I am aiming to finish in the Top 10.

What are the three most important things you need to do to cycle like a pro?

Discipline, dedication and a clean diet for at least six months prior to an event is what I do and anyone can achieve good results.

How difficult was it to make cycling a career choice?

Fairly difficult – unfortunately since cycling is not considered a big profession in India, it is challenging to make it a full-time career. What helped me was my family. They have been understanding, motivating and have supported me financially all the way through.

In India, you only get a medal and a certificate from the government for any national event across disciplines. The cash award applies only if it is an Olympic event. For e.g. the mass track event (XCO) is an Olympic sport and has cash awards unlike the time trial (XCT) which is not considered an Olympic sport. The national mountain biking riders are not offered a direct government job like the road racing champions.

I have been able to take up cycling full-time purely because of my family, sponsors, and well-wishers.

What are your thoughts on the current scenario of competitive cycling in Bangalore?

Bangalore is considered the cycling capital of India as we have the maximum number of races in the country. There is a fair bit of mountain bike races, road races that happen and attract riders from all over the country.

The races are handled very professionally, in a systematic and organized manner. Despite the fact that there are no cash awards, this has not deterred participants who take part for the sheer joy and experience of cycling.

I am thankful to Bangalore for creating this environment of cycling and my goal of winning the national and Asian championships are because of this. It is interesting to note that the national road biking and mountain biking champions are from Bangalore.

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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Running in the Sky Together

Our duo columnists, Mahalakshmi and Sandeep talk about how they conquered the Solang Sky Ultra, India’s only Sky running event in the Himalayas.

“Never limit where running can take you. I mean that geographically, spiritually, and of course, physically” – Bart Yasso.

I enjoy running – it’s a chance for me to go where my own two feet can carry me (literally).

It’s calming and repetitive. I have also found that the common running tenets of competitiveness, determination, positive thinking are the beliefs that I want to base my life goals on. It seems to me that running does a lot of good for a person and fits into my life quite well.

One of my running journeys took me up into the beautiful Solang valley in Himachal Pradesh that stands at an elevation of 8,400 feet. With the gorgeous Himalayas forming the backdrop, the Solang SkyUltra is India’s only mountain running race and is part of the Hell Race endurance series.

Skyrunning, as it is called is a high-altitude trail run and an extreme sport of mountain running that is run at an altitude of higher than 2000 meters and an incline of greater than 30%. These runs require a lot of technicality in terms of climbing and tackling the narrow trails.

“A wild story of human endeavour and sheer willpower”

This Solang Sky Ultra race has 3 categories – 10KM, 30KM, and 60KM respectively. The gain in elevation varies from 600, 2200m and 3800m for each category respectively. Mahalakshmi Sagar (my partner) and I registered for the 30KM race with a lot of uncertainty in our minds. Staying in Bangalore that is known more for its traffic than its trails, our uncertainty was understandable. Now, we have done our fair share of trail running too – the Turahalli trail as well as Yercaud trails for example but we still felt very apprehensive and unsure of the training that is required to tackle such a run.

Uncertainty and apprehensiveness aside, we decided to go ahead. We registered for the race, booked our accommodations and on the 28th of Sep 2018, Mahalakshmi and I along with two of the best amateur trail runners in India (Sampath and Aakriti) headed out to Chandigarh (our first stop). From there, we hired a taxi to Manali and thanks to the heavy rains our journey turned out to be longer and more exhausting than expected. The treacherous 12-hour drive was made palatable watching the wild, raging but beautiful Beas river making its way down the mountainside.

We arrived at the Solang Ski Resort and took the chance to mingle with a few of the runners who had arrived earlier and after a brief rest, we decided to go for an acclimatization walk on the race route.

During the race briefing, we were informed that the race route had been changed due to bad conditions and we were given thorough instructions regarding cut-offs, aid stations, etc. It was a daunting task to organize such an event under the given circumstances and the organizers had done a marvelous job getting things set up. We were ready to go and could not wait for race day.

RACE DAY! The 30KM leg flagged off at 7.30AM from the Solang Ski Resort and the route went down the Anjani Mahadev Temple road which lead us to our first river crossing of the run. They had created a makeshift bridge of a few planks of wood that enabled us to cross the river Beas leading to the harder section of the course.

Once across the river, the route meandered through tiny picturesque villages and then onto the Leh-Manali Highway which provided us with a bit of tarmac to run on. It was quite an easy climb to Jogini Falls. My Partner and I had decided to run the entire race together but halfway through we realized how unprepared we were for the trail, nevertheless, we were quite happy with the progress we made so far.

Jogini falls was a good climb and we were pretty warmed up by now and set our sights on the run ahead. All of a sudden, the race took us by surprise – it went straight through the falls! Obviously, we were soaked to the bone but we limbered on and set our sights on the remaining 16 to 18 KMS of the run.

Running through the waterfall, we hit the trail again and the trail sort of started winding down. Even though it was a downhill, the terrain was slippery and we could not run at the speed we wanted to. We passed through a village and had an aid station before the next climb.

The next section of the race was the most difficult one. Though only 2KMS, it had an elevation gain of 900+ meters. The terrain was rugged, to say the least. Forget running, even walking on this stretch was tough. We both realized, that this was way tougher than what we had imagined. We got really slow on this part, taking slightly more than 2 hours to complete this climb.

When we reached the top, we realized that we had 2 hours left and chances of us finishing before the cut-off’s seemed very unlikely. Nonetheless, we decided to give it a go, we tried to run hard and fast for the remainder of the race. Even though it was mostly downhill from that point on, we just could not get our speed going as the trail was full of slush.

We crossed a few more streams on our way down and that part of the stretch was the most beautiful. Through the winding trails, we finally came down to a gorge which had to be crossed via a century-old British bridge. It had lost its form and the only thing left was its railings. Volunteers helped us get across to the other side.

On crossing the bridge, we realized that if we did not run hard we might miss cut-offs by a good 10 mins. We kept running till we reached, the Manali-Rohtang highway. From there on, we both had decided to walk as we would not make the cut-offs anyway and instead we talked with the locals around and had an easy finish. Though that was not the ideal way we normally do our races, we thought it was worth it. We both decided then that we will do this race again next year and finish strong.

The 2018 race was unprecedented with the podium finishers getting through the course at some unbelievable speeds and setting new course records. In the 60KM race for men – Tianding Wahlang ended up 1st with a new course record time of 7hrs 12 min and 56 sec. Apart from Tianding, the other top two runners also bettered the previous course record of 9hrs 1min and 49 sec.

In the women’s format, there were the first-ever finishers with Aakriti Verma taking 1st place with a time of 13hrs 49min and 56 sec. In 2nd place with a time of 14hrs 44mins and 48 sec was Arpita Maitra which unfortunately was outside of the cutoff time, nevertheless, it is worth a mention. In the 30KM and 10KM categories, the gentlemen from the Gurkha regiment took home the honors with some exceptional running.

Though treacherous, we think races like Solang SkyUltra should happen more often. We thank the organizers for putting up a wonderful race. We truly appreciate the fact that the likes of Vishwas, Nupur, Ashok and Gaurav of the Hell race team are trying to build a culture wherein the runners are not pampered, they give you a tough race that leaves the runners with a feeling of utter satisfaction when they complete it.

As a parting note – we do not recommend this race to anyone who is not trained enough. Work hard on your fitness, train well and then go ahead.

 

ABOUT GUEST COLUMNISTS

 

Mahalakshmi and Sandeep are techies who have a passion for running. They met and married each other through running. They both constantly strive to achieve balance in their professional, active and personal lives.

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The No Limits Runner

Nandini Reddy catches up with Dr NTR Balasubramanian, a person who cannot see a limit decides to try his hand at every endurance event. 
When the list of marathons reads long and tough you know you are talking to a runner who doesn’t even want to think of the limits. From the Satara Hill Marathon to the Devil’s circuit, from trail cycling to ultra-running, Dr NTR Balasubramanian has done it all. Bala is a freelance diabetologist by profession who takes his health very seriously. I caught up with him to understand how he manages to power through all these amazing acts of endurance.
Excerpts from the conversation
When did you start trying your hand at endurance sports?
After self-training for more than a year, I attempted the Wipro Chennai Marathon held in January 2017. I directly had a go at the half marathon skipping the 10 km run. The number of miles I had covered before the event was quite a considerable number that gave me the confidence to sign up for the half marathon in my maiden event. Running Gurus typically advise to taper down the mileage a week prior to the event and rest completely for a couple of days prior to the event. Since I wasn’t looped into the community yet, I didn’t know this and did the exact opposite. I ran 21.1 km by myself the day before the event, primarily to check if I could complete the run on the event day.
Of course, this then led to tight hamstrings and calf muscles on the event day, but despite this, I managed to finish with a decent timing for a novice marathoner.
What motivates you to pursue these endurance activities?
Health is my main motive. This includes both physical and mental health. Endurance athletes need as much mental stamina as physical to complete an event which may extend for up to 24 hours or more. I’ve done a couple of 12-hour events myself. Similar to physical stamina, one’s mental stamina also keeps improving with every event. The better your mental stamina, the better you are able to cope with challenges in daily life.
You seem to have made it a habit to pursue tougher endurance events each time – what special preparation do you do for facing the various challenges at these events?
[Laughs] It’s not my habit! Our bodies are endowed with a gift of getting fitter and fitter as we keep training. Most of the time it’s the mental block which prevents a person from tapping his or her body’s full potential. I keep pushing my limits gradually while training, be it the distance fixed for a long run, the duration held of an iron-man plank, the route length fixed for a ride on my bicycle and so on.

Coaches advise physical preparation for an event in which a few weeks before the event we are advised to split the challenge into half and work our way up to the final challenge. This way the body is given a drill to build up its stamina for the full event on the D-day. Mental preparation is important and starts from the day I register for the event. The mind adapts and gets attuned to the challenge at hand. An interesting fact is that an ultra-marathoner who can do 100 km run cannot cope up with an extra 25 km on a day when he has registered for a 50 km run.

The athlete who crosses the finish line in style will be found limping and difficult to walk on his way back to his home. This is because it all comes down to mental preparation. 
You completed the Satara Hill Marathon, considered to be a challenging hill marathon – your advice for anyone who wants to attempt this course?
Satara Hill Marathon is an event that challenges the athletes’ capacity to climb the hill with a 1000 metre elevation while running the uphill distance of 11 km. Running the same distance downhill also involves endurance and tolerance of your quadriceps. I would advice people attempting this to train on a hill path once a month as part of their training schedule. Flyover runs can mimic a hill run to an extent.
The Malnad Ultra trail is one of the most challenging trails for runners and cyclists, how did you decide to attempt this race? How was the experience?
I am an ardent nature lover and have an affinity for mountainous areas. Malnad Ultra aka the Coorg trail has a tough route and I wanted to take up this challenge. The route is entirely on the non-motorable paths in the hill. The scenery and weather were so tempting that an occasional runner will be found enjoying the experience and taking pictures without being worried about their timing or the possibility of not being able to finish before the cut-off time.
Due to the rains this year, the paths were very uneven and muddy. Luckily, I sweat much less since the weather was cold. The view from the summit at 1200 metres was fascinating. The streams the cut the running path and the sounds of birds signing added to the experience. There were many lakes and a huge one near the 40 km rest area, which is a prime location for clicking pictures. A couple of professional photographers pulled every runner from the track to capture the magical moment. The 50 km race I was participating in was flagged of at 7 am and I completed this in 8 hours 12 minutes with the cut off time being 9 hours. Though we were warned about leaches and snakes I didn’t come across any.
Mental preparedness is the most important factor for any endurance race, you have any special rituals that you follow to prepare your mind before a race?
I announce my participation to my friends and their wishes give me a lot of confidence. I am also a regular yoga practitioner and never attempt a race without a session of yoga pranayaama and meditation the day before the race.
Have you run at any international races? Which ones have been the most challenging?
The only international race I have done is SUNDOWN MARATHON at Singapore in May 2018. My son, who is now working in Singapore, had told me about this event and I was keen to participate as it was a night race. This was a flat track race and I took 5 hours and 14 minutes to complete the 42.195 km
What has been your most memorable race till date? Why?
It will definitely be the Malnad Ultra 2018 50 km. It was my maiden attempt in a trail setting and a wonderful place to do that feat.
With the racing season in full swing now in India, what is next on your race calendar?
I will be running the 42.195 km in the Skechers performance Chennai marathon on Jan 6th 2019. The next big race in the pipeline would be the Everest Ultra marathon on 29th May 2019

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

An irregular runner who has run in dry, wet, high altitude and humid conditions. Loves to write a little more than run so now is the managing editor of Finisher Magazine.

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