The first time I finished running a marathon (SCMM 2012) and I “didn’t die”, I wondered how much further I could go. And this question recurred a few more times, including this year at TMM.
I signed up for the Tata Ultra on a whim as a group of friends were going and I thought what the hell… It will be a “fun weekend” (yes- I realise now that my idea of fun is warped!) A brief chat with Rahul and the small voice piped up and I changed my race registration from 35 km to the 50 km, post a fantastic Sunday run, which went against my own principle that NO decisions should be taken post run, as you are on a high and NOT thinking straight. The last time I had done this I registered for the Hyderabad Half- another tough course. There is something about a post run high that is empowering! (Endorphins are hallucinogenic!!)
The Goal: I had to devise a plan for a distance I had no idea how to train for: 50km
The Route: Hostile (I saw the elevation AFTER I changed my registration!!)
Time: 40 days
Reality: I was terrified. I had taken on this mountain (many mountains actually) and now I had to pull myself up for it.
The Plan: Simple. Run 5 days a week for the next 5 weeks and climb every mountain! For me, whose hill-o-phobia is well known this was really me facing my fears. I just kept my head down and simply chugged along. Every day began with a small warm up and me running up Peddar Road, all the way up to Hanging Gardens. And then I followed my fancy to run up and down and everywhere. Hills, hills and even more hills. Slow and easy. People who saw my Strava maps wondered what was wrong with me (I wondered too!)
The journey: As I chose hills, time after time, the block of fear in my head was getting chipped away, one step at a time. Each step made the stone smaller and my mind stronger. Its true test was when I ran 32km in just under 4 hours under, over ALL the hills of Malabar Hill, and some twice, as they weren’t enough! I was really tired that day. I was overcoming my own resistance.
The Race: We started at 2.30 am, with much anxiety about sleep, meals and most importantly, the darkness. The organisers had given us headlamps, which did their job well! The crowd at the start stayed together for most of the first 12km as it was a series of steep climbs, which we all walked up. It was magical as we looked up at the runners ahead of us. We could only see a series of head lamps zig-zagging in a line at 30 degrees above us. We need to reach the orange light up in the hill, said Bijay. That was high up above us- and far! Conserve for the last 10km, said Vandana, an experienced ultra-runner advised us. So Mulraj and I plodded along. And, just as we crested the last uphill, after 13km, the road opened up our legs started moving. We had warmed up well, and it was a rolling route with gentle slopes and smooth terrain. The detour to Amby Valley was just beautiful. The trees formed a canopy, welcoming us. I felt free. I flew.
The road was patchy in parts. The poor visibility was another factor for people tripping and losing their balance. But this darkness was a part of the magic. There were many occasions when I was alone, with my feet moving, and nothing around except the vast blackness as a backdrop for twinkling stars. Soon it was dawn, and a warm glow revealed the silhouette of the landscape. Truly a moment of a lifetime to be amidst nature,surrounded by the Sahyadris, doing something that I loved, feeling joy.
We passed the 42 km mark and I was euphoric. I was unknown territory now, going ultra. Luckily, as I had paced it right I just continued in the same rhythm.Slow on the climbs, flying on the long downhills. Suddenly at 46km I met my nemesis and slowed down to a jog. This was a precursor to the next 2 km (47-49km) when we all walked. There was just no other way to do it. By then I was finished. At the last aid station, a volunteer tells me that the last kilometre was downhill. All I could manage was a weak smile. I picked up my feet, trying to quicken but I had no steam left. I had reached my end. Doing the best I could, I inched towards the end and sprinted to the finish with a smile and then tears, of joy, of relief and of exhilaration. I was an ultra runner!
High fives all around as I hobbled to the finisher’s tent. Such a wonderful energy there with runners from all over who had come to test their limits.
The lesson: I was just overwhelmed with the experience. On the long drive back, I replayed the race.There was a lot of climbing, and sections of terrain technical enough that you had to stay completely focused. Ultra running forces you to be in the moment. Sometimes it is mentally tiring, but also makes me feel totally present and Zen-like.
I realized that over the last so-many years, I had spent an unnecessary amount of energy “hating the hills” , on resistance.In fact, I wonder if I stopped wasting so much energy resisting, how much better I would actually be able to navigate the challenges and adventures in my life. Training involves learning to overcome resistance.
noun: the refusal to accept or comply with something.
What are you resisting in your life these days? And how would your life look different if you stopped resisting and trained yourself to lean in, instead?
We wake up early when we feel like sleeping.
We go to bed when we feel like staying up too late.
We choose better fuel.
We follow the plan even though we feel lazy.
We seek hills when there are plenty of flats.
We change it up on purpose when we feel comfortable or stagnant.
When we train right, we intentionally choose the harder path, and soon the hard things begin to feel a little easier.
I could have easily called it quits after TMM 2020, or even done only the 35km challenge run. But, no!
I chose the hills. I chose the hardship. I choose the challenge.
I will not be intimidated by hills.
I am a Runner. A Marathoner. An Ultra Runner.
We have to practice that which we wish to become.