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.