Auroville Marathon 2020

I put down my pen and scratched my head. This year’s running goals entailed attempting 21 kilometres within 90 minutes and 10 kilometres within 40 minutes.

This seems like an impossible and daunting task but I thought I would start my running journey this year with Auroville marathon. Hence in the quest for 1 hour 30 minutes half marathon, Auroville saw me attain a running time of 1 hour 38 minutes in the 21 kilometer race. (My previous PB being 1 hour 42 minutes)

I donned my Asics GT 2000 shoes and left my hotel room at Mango Hill at 5:30 a.m. I drove to the start point near Matri mandir where I met Joison, Venkat Sir, Albert, Dr. Vishnumohan and other members from the Trichy Endurance Team.

The start was exactly on time at 6:15 a.m. after a few fireworks and I sprinted ahead along with a few youngsters who were trying to maintain 4:10 to 4:15 pace/km.

As expected, the pace soon dropped to 4:40 and I gave up hope of finishing the half marathon in 90 minutes. I was however seemingly leading the pack and that was enough motivation to keep surging forward.
The two kids behind me kept catching up at aid stations and I decided to put some space between us, focusing on breathing, leaning forward and running with calm. The distance between us soon increased to 300 meters.

The kids who came in third and fourth place

The volunteer who cycled ahead and paced me was very helpful, took photos and encouraged me to stop for fueling every once in a while.

Before the fifteenth km

The JBL Bluetooth headphones I use only on major events helped me keep my pace up, with rock, pop and trance hits. (I generally don’t recommend music unless you’re pushing really hard at a big event). The tracks from the movie ‘War’ soon had me pumping myself without realizing it.

Whenever I felt tired, I took deep breaths, focused on my posture including orienting my upper body. (Bad posture due to fatigue usually starts with tight upper body muscles) I loosened myself up and swung my arms in sync with my legs.

Tired but trying to maintain form

The aid stations were stocked with oranges, bananas, water, electrolytes and chikki. I started taking fruits after the tenth km and kept fueling with carbs every six km, using water and electrolytes and alternating between them every 2.5km.

Once I crossed the 17th km I became confident of finishing at sub 4:40 pace and i pushed harder. There was a moment of weakness at one aid station but I forced my body out of it though the pace was down to 5 for that km.

It was soon only two km to go and I was pumping harder. The last km saw me go back to 4:20 pace as I gave it everything I could. It was soon just 100 meters and I sprinted to the finish to record 1 hour 38 minutes and odd seconds. The kids behind me finished two minutes after.

Only then did I discover a foreigner had finished ahead of me by ten minutes with a blazing time of 1 hour 28 minutes – nevertheless it was great fun and an experience to cherish.

I took some photos at the finish point with a few of the volunteers and friends among the participants who finished over the next hour.

With the volunteer who paced me by cycle
Must – have finisher pic
Cute volunteers are always a blessing 💐
Catching up with Niranjan from CTC
With Poornima from Chennai runners

A short nap at Mango Hill soon followed after breakfast at the tent. Lunch was at the Promenade and things finally fell into place for a few of the Trichy Endurance Team members to meet.

With TET members at The Promenade

The drive back home was fun, starting at 330pm with Sanju, Shruthi and Sharukh. The CM paid his respects to us en route too 😉 (there was a ten minute wait at Ulundurpet) but we got home by 630pm. Looking forward to more events this year!

Skechers Performance Chennai Marathon SPCM 2020 – Chasing the sub 3:30 goal

I looked up ‘Strava’ desperately tapping my screen to make the app get back to recording my run after a few drops of rain made the app to stop functioning. I had crossed 20km in Skechers marathon and I was fiddling with my phone while trying to maintain a pace of 5 minutes per km – man, this wasn’t going well at all..

Saturday – pre race day (4/1/2020)

We were all set to travel to Madras for SPCM 2020 where I was to do my fourth consecutive 42.2km marathon. I never miss this one because it’s my favourite.

My wife and I made it to Chennai by 9am, had breakfast and set out for collecting the bib at expo.

This was at Kalaivanar Arangam near Spencer’s. Met a few people there who I knew and collected my precious race kit then proceeded for lunch outside.

Once I got home, I checked up on the rest of my stuff:
Nike zoomx Vaporfly- check
Injinji socks – check
Bib pinned to polyester shorts – check
Marathon t shirt to wear to startpoint – check
Cap – check
Prebooking taxi for 3am – check

Decided to head out to Phoenix mall to complete the day since I was still fresh – Sanju and I covered all the floors before deciding on a Japanese restaurant for dinner. Taking a huge risk I had two bowls of non veg base Ramen as a carb up meal.

Sunday – (5/1/2020) RACE DAY
The taxi was right on time as prebooked. I reached the venue at 330am and met Anand, with whom I walked to the actual start point which was 1km inside YMCA campus. Had the privilege of meeting my college senior Dr. Arunandhi who is also an elite runner.

After fifteen minutes of waiting, we were asked to walk for five minutes to the actual startpoint from where we were flagged off at 4am sharp.

I made the huge mistake of not making it to the front before the start and paid a huge price of three minutes of slow running trying to get out of the crowd. Once free, I sprinted hard till I covered 1 km in 4:48 pace. I checked myself – no hard breathing, heels flicking backward, slight forward lean from the hips- everything seemed to be in order and so I proceeded at 4:10 pace for a while till I caught up with three people who were running at 4:30 pace.

I knew it would be tough to maintain but I felt it could give me a margin to relax in the last hour of the run. I held on for dear life as the runners in front chatted, laughed and joked as they continued to run at 4:30 pace. My plan was to hold on till the 11th km then let go. I changed the plan to 14km after making a few calculations in my mind and assessing my body.

At the fourteenth km I let them move on and dropped my pace to 4:40. The refreshment points were awesome and I made sure to stop running for ten seconds to fuel whenever I needed to eat something and just slowing down for water or Fast&up electrolytes. The pace soon dropped to 5 by the time I crossed 21km distance. Strava was causing issues by automatically pausing every time a rain drop or a bead of sweat fell on the stop button. I tried to use my Xaomi watch but it didn’t find a GPS signal.

By the 25th km (now on ECR) Strava was on pre save mode and refused to return to recording the run however much I tried. I cursed inwardly as I strained to maintain pace and finally ditched the app – I had now come to Seashell avenue. The turn reminded me of my previous run last year and I remembered being winded by the time I reached the coast. Nothing much had changed!

There was a modest incline but combined with the sea breeze acting against us at the 28th km, it was a tough place to get through. My legs were aching all over and my lungs were on fire. I stopped for a good twenty seconds to get my bearings, had water, electrolytes, a banana then shoddily attempted running again. My pace had dropped to a dismal 5:30 by the time I made it back to the highway. A few minutes later I saw the trio who I followed at the start on the opposite lane – I made some calculations and found they were already on their 35th km!

Getting my energy back (motivation?fast&up? Banana? Lack of headwind?) I went back to running at sub five pace. Good news? Strava had started working again. There were two more similar loops leading to the coast, each one slowing me down to 5:30 or worse, before I eventually reached the 31st km, where we were to take a U – turn. The beep from the recording strip sounded as the volunteer announced 31km time 6:20am – that wasn’t bad! I had just 11 km left to cover in 1hour and ten minutes!

The new found motivation spurred me on to five pace. I sighed as we were made to repeat the three loops to the coast. The one to Seashell Avenue dragged me down to 6 pace. I struggled- I shouted inward and flicked my heels rather than reflexively using my calves. I noticed Venkat sir, Srikanth, Anand and Hari – all members of Trichy Endurance Team on the way and managed to encourage them.

Just seven km to go! 35 minutes left to reach a goal of 3 hours 30 minute marathon! I knew I could not make it – but that didn’t stop me from trying. Whenever I felt I was exhausted, I slowed to 5:30 pace. One of the refreshment points were serving watermelon and I hungrily munched on one piece, had fast&up and sprinted at 4:50 pace. Just two more km to go! I could soon see the finish line – should I sprint it?

I eventually managed to convince myself to do it but to my dismay it was the finish point for the twenty – miler and not the full marathon! The actual finish was another five hundred meters away -i looked at my phone – it was 7:30am already and my goal time of 3 and a half hours had crossed. I still managed to sprint in perfect form and completed the event in 3 hours 32 minutes and 20 seconds.

It was wonderful seeing other friends from the running community who welcomed me with open arms. There was even a volunteer who read out and congratulated our names individually as we walked up to get our medals. The people there were mostly half marathoners and twenty -milers.

I met Vignesh, Ramya, Karthy, Yogaraj, Mr and Mrs. Gopi and Albert to name a few.

With Yogaraj, one of the volunteers at SPCM who is always truly caring and hospitable

With Mr. And Mrs. Gopi

With a man who is truly passionate about cycling – Vignesh from Madurai

I warmed – down with a few dynamic movements and static stretches, had breakfast and slept on the lawn. It was a successful day for everyone on the team – probably the best way to start a brand new year.

The page from MyRace showed my position as 16th out of 495 runners in the full marathon.

Details on My Race page for my bib 42291

There was hardly any pain but I did feel a little giddy – overall an awesome experience. I’m already waiting for Skechers 2021. This is Vinod from Trichy Endurance Team, signing off till next time.

When to transition from half marathon to full marathon and how to go about it

This is a commonly pondered question. The answer totally depends on your goals.

IF YOUR GOAL IS:

1. Looking to lose weight:

shave off more time in your half

marathon before moving to the full Monty. The slower your speed, the lesser your chances of losing weight even if you run a 100 miler. This is the worst mistake you can make and end up damaging your joints due to heavy weight combined with high mileage.

What to do?

– Low carb food sources
– high protein diet
– Frequent tempo and hill runs

-Weights and core sessions twice or thrice a week

– Focus on better timings and train like a pro rather than log slow miles.

2. Looking to improve timings:

if you’re a pro or a beginner who is looking for more speed, it would be very counter productive to increase your distance without having achieved your goal time. An ideal time goal for a beginner in 21.1km would be 2 hours 20 minutes. If you want to improve your timing, then it would be ideal to shift to a full marathon only after you manage a 2 hour 10 minute or sub two hour half marathon.

What to do?

– healthy carbs and high protein diet

– tempo runs and hill runs

– aim for sub 55 minute 10k and then sub 2 hour 21k. Come back to FM once you’re done with both.

3. Running for fun/accumulating mileage:

if you’re a running junkie looking to run more and show off your Strava records, be my guest! Even if you take 7 hours you can still complete your full marathon.

Though I would generally not advise this, if you’re purely an endorphin fan, go for it and get your dose of runners’ high.

Gates of Hell – Day 5 – THE ULTRA RUN

I COULDN’T SEE ANYTHING INSIDE HER EYE. Her other eye showed signs of severe Non Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy which meant she needed prophylactic green laser in the said right eye.

The left eye wherein no view was possible presumably had vitreous hemorrhage which meant the abnormal vessels from her retina had already bled out, which in turn meant it would be impossible to administer laser at present. We would need to wait for the blood to clear, or try injections to absorb the bleeding vessels.

Either way, she had only a 50 % chance of good vision. I explained her the prognosis and she was devastated. “If only someone had told this to me so clearly previously”, she groaned as she left.

THIS BRINGS US TO THE LAST DAY OF OUR ADVENTURE FOR AWARENESS OF THIS DEADLY EYE DISEASE.

Day FIVE

The alarm rang with resounding finality signifying the last day of the 5 day challenge. The “Gates of Hell Ultra Triathlon” definitely had brought out the best in all of us.

Over the past few days, I had swam 15km and cycled 940km. Today would be the last and final day.

I checked my knee which I had banged on the platform – there was some tenderness on the medial aspect over a 3mm diameter area. I yawned and checked the time – it was 345am. The support crew would arrive in fifteen minutes. I rushed and got ready.

I emptied the paper bags with ten bananas and oranges into the car, then packed the ice bag with pre refrigerated ice packs before placing fruit juice cartons and energy drinks inside it.

The crew had arrived and by the time everything was ready it was 425am. I wished Balaji, Ajay and Jeeva a very good morning and they took a video marking the start of the last event of the challenge.

Ajay and Balaji, both accomplished 10km runners finishing in sub 40 minutes timing, would accompany me for twenty km, taking turns to be with me until I had completed the full distance.

The injured knee meant I could not do 120km as planned. Hence I decided to try 100km instead and reduce further if necessary. The forecast was rain on and off and I estimated around an hour of the same. I decided to cover 7km each hour and planned a suitable cut off for the same. If 100km was the target distance, cut off would be around 14 hours.

I limped for a while then decided to try jogging on and off. With Ajay by my side, encouraging me, we set off at 8 pace per km. We had tea and distributed eye awareness pamphlets at the 7th km.

Focusing on running, I managed to localise the pain in a pinpoint area so that it did not flare – up. It however returned with vengeance whenever I sat down to rest and got up from a seated position. The core of the matter was, as long as I was running, I was 95% pain free – and that’s just who I am.

Before we knew it we had covered 23km and reached Kallanai.

We had another cup of great tea here and proceeded forward. My knee was much better now and we were keeping a steady pace of 6:30 per km or less.

We took breaks every 4km to sip water and have fruits. Balaji took over from Ajay and he accompanied me till our breakfast point here.

We soon reached Thiruvaiyaru in 3 hours and had lunch (which wasn’t actually lunch but halwa and coffee, under Ajay’s recommendation). The rain had started by then and it was a great combination – being wet, enjoying the aroma of sweet and coffee, while looking out into the busy street at regular traffic going about their busy Monday jobs.

En route to Kabisthalam, we came across a friendly dog which gave us company rather than chasing us.

Running in the rain was an awesome experience by itself. The pain was forgotten with the cool feel of water drops on our faces which came complimentary with a gentle breeze.

We were getting closer and closer to Kumbakonam, which was 30km ahead of Gangaikonda Chozhapuram (our initial destination)

Kabisthalam welcomed us with coffee at Balaji’s sister’s and a great stretching a.k.a chiropractic session courtesy of Balaji. The coffee was a great boost, which was served with egg puffs though I tried telling her we may be too comfortable to run with puffs inside our raging tummies.

Back to my calculations again, I estimated we had 12km to Kumbakonam. My knee was aching again and we decided to complete the run at 90km near Kumbakonam bus stand. Since we had updated the distance, the cut off time would also have to be dropped from 14 to 13 hours – which did not give us much time since it was already 415pm and we had to finish by 530pm to finish at 13 hours as planned.

Normally this would have been a cinch, but with knee pain and four days of triathlon added to the mix, maintaining even 7.5kmph was a challenge. We set off, and I tried my best to keep the pace at 5:30 or below, taking breaks every 3km.

Ajay emptied the energy drink and sprinted his last km to complete full marathon distance and got into the car. Balaji and I passed him and continued to run at 5:40 pace. It was getting difficult to breathe and I had forgotten my knee pain now. I looked at my mobile – 4km to go. Ajay gave me the other can of energy drink. Taking a swig, I set out behind Balaji as the pro continued to run at 5:20 pace.

My knee had gone numb and all I was thinking of was keeping pace with the champ. Balaji has been trying to get into the Territorial Army – and in the process had honed his skills to finish a 5km at 3:40 pace or below. Running at 5:20 seemed like a breeze for him and it was all I could do to keep up.

“Sir, just one km more sir” the 25 year old encouraged me. I nodded and kept looking ahead. I could sense all the people of the town of Kumbakonam looking at the pair of us, as Balaji’s bare feet struck the ground softly and quickly moved to the next stride.

I don’t know how he managed to run on the road riddled with potholes with his bare feet but he did, and he seemed to be running faster with every kilometer. I looked at my phone. Strava showed the distance as 89km – just 1km left!

Balaji must have realised the same, because his speed increased – he was now steadily taking me to 4:40 pace. I ignored the people staring, the regular traffic everywhere. My vision was now a tunnel – focusing on the guy in front and keeping pace with him.

And before I knew it, we had reached 90km! I slowly jogged to a halt and shook hands with Balaji, then with Ajay and Jeeva who closely followed in the support car. We took a few pictures, an awareness video, took pictures at Kumbakonam railway station, then visited a popular coffee shop.

We then left for Trichy – Balaji in a very tired state having run his highest mileage of 30km in one day. Both of them slept soundly in the back while I kept talking to Jeeva as he was driving back home. We had dinner at SRM Hotel as soon as we got back.

We arrived home at 11pm and I thanked the crew profusely – I’m pretty sure I would have managed only 70 to 80km alone.

With that we now come to an end of the 5 day Diabetic Retinopathy Triathlon a.k.a #gatesofhell . I hope the public learns about the seriousness of this condition and takes proper measures to safeguard their eyesight.

This is Vinod, signing off once again till our next adventure.

STAY HEALTHY, STAY BLESSED.

Gates of Hell – Day 4 (The end of cycling)

I WAS CONFUSED – I had seen the patient last year and his vision had been perfect. But now he could hardly see two feet ahead. I questioned him about it and he seemed reluctant to say anything. After some time, he slowly opened up that he had switched to an alternative mode of treatment. Now I’m not against other fields of medicine, but when something is working well, why switch unnecessarily? There were abnormal blood vessels all over his retina and a significant fluid collection in his maculae. He would now need to spend around 30 to 40000 on injections alone other than the other costs, with no chance of regaining lost vision.

Which brings us to:

DAY FOUR:

I woke up at 445am feeling battered. We decided to let Bhuvanesh skip Yercaud since he had arrived only at 130am. I sent him a text and the rest of us silently left the room without disturbing his well deserved sleep. (The plan was to recoup en route to Trichy)

Aravind was making great progress. We soon reached foothills of Yercaud in just an hour, had some tea and proceeded to climb the hill. The hill was slightly easier than Kotagiri and would have been easier than Kodai if it hadn’t been for the tiredness we were facing.

As we climbed higher, more mist and clouds came our way. It was serene, even though the usual hustle – bustle of traffic was ever present.

We stopped for breaks every 3 km and we were soon at the top at 830am. After a few photos by the lake and the U turn point at Eggetarian, we left and returned to Salem.

The next plan was proceeding to Pachamalai hills via Mettupatti and Maliyakarai. This hill was similar to Sirumalai and we wanted to finish the challenge before 6 pm, aiming to finish and descend back to the forest checkpost by 6pm.

It was already 930am. We also had to cover extra distance at Pachamalai to compensate for skipping Sirumalai. That would mean 23km uphill before returning to base. Making calculations in my mind as we pedaled I estimated we would need at least 3 hours to pull off this stunt, which meant we needed to reach the forest checkpost by 3pm.

Was that Bhuvanesh up ahead? Yes it was – our plan was going like clockwork. He had checked out, skipped Yercaud and joined the party. Welcoming him, I went back to calculating distances and times. Google maps showed 72km left to the forest checkpoint. It was already 1130am. Time was not in our favour as usual and we would have to achieve more than 20kmph average to achieve this feat.

I kept the boys moving at 25kmph with breaks every 10km and we took a half hour lunch break to gobble down barotas at Maliyakarai. We resumed our journey keeping the same average and managed to eventually make it to the cool hill base at 3pm as planned.

The forest checkpost guy sat lazily and beckoned Ramesh to come sign the entry roster. The three of us cycled past and continued uphill. The hill was not that difficult but after the cumulative effort of the journey, our bodies were taking a massive hit. My knee was also paining badly despite the medication I took after lunch.

We did see some really beautiful landscape up at the top and on the way. The air was fresh and rejuvenating with almost nil traffic.

A tree shaped like a deer with antlers

I relaxed, forgot the time limit, and inhaled deeply. The smell of pure air was at it’s best. We took a photo at the viewpoint and kept riding in the rain for another 10km before returning to the forest checkpost by 610pm.

I smiled – just a ten minute delay! These guys were awesome. We then cycled into the city and had tea following which we were back to driving like mad men at 25kmph. This time we took just three stops over a distance of 60km to Trichy.

The traffic was annoying but we grimly fuelled, had snacks, carbonated drinks and pedalled with everything we had left. The pain had numbed and our minds had pushed it into a localised area somewhere insignificant.

Thuraiyur soon arrived – we took a break there. Aravind went ahead for a while but we caught up again and overtook him. We soon reached Manachanallur – just ten km to Annamalais Toyota which was the designated finish point! All those hours were now coming to this – half hour or less of pedaling!

Bhuvanesh and I looked back and saw no sign of Aravind. Worried, I pulled over and called him. There was interference but I managed to make out he was just 2km behind. Bhuvi and I proceeded forward at a slower speed and finally finished the challenge at 9pm. Aravind joined us 15 minutes later and we took a finish photo before dispersing.

Finish point with both warriors!

Aravind was going to ride home to Tanjore to cross 1000km! Bhuvi was going to his place of stay at Dindigul highway and I had 8km left to home. We departed after handshakes and goodbyes. This was a memorable occasion. We reached home and Ramesh was emptying all the stuff from the car.

“Lucky guys”, I thought to myself. “I still have 100km of running left to do tomorrow”.

Ramesh responded with “Enna thambi?” and I realised I had been thinking out loud. “Oh it’s nothing”, I replied in Tamil. My family was of course glad to have me back (of course I was berated for straining my knee)

After a well deserved dinner of yummy noodles, in went the next dose of paracetamol with enzyme.

MILES TO GO BEFORE I SLEEP! But still, I messaged Balaji, Ajay and Jeeva to come at 4am to start the run. What a day! Only God knew what the last day held.

AND WHAT A DAY IT WAS GOING TO BE!

Gates of Hell- Day 3

“HE’S UNNECESSARILY EXTRACTING MONEY FROM ME”, complained the old lady who had been advised panretinal photocoagulation by green laser. She had almost lost all her vision due to visiting her doctor late, and has refused to visit her ophthalmologist again because her first sitting of laser did not give her vision back.(PRP needs three sittings of laser)

I sighed.

I sat her down and explained the need for the next two sittings of laser which were necessary to preserve the rest of her vision. I also gently broke the news that she was too far into the disease to get any of her eyesight back. I referred her back to her previous ophthalmologist and advised her to listen to her healthcare practitioner and not worry about the cost at this stage. She gave a toothless smile and blessed me. Ah, the perks and the disadvantages of medical consultation!

ONWARD TO:

Day 3

Waking up at 330am had become easier now. I rubbed my left knee that was throbbing a bit after the encounter with the platform the previous night. I got up and was happy to note there was no pain on weight – bearing.

By the time I got everyone ready, it was already 430am. As we rode on through traffic and bad roads, the sky was dark on one side, with the moon casting it’s monochrome illumination over the urban landscape. The promise of dawn awaited on the other side with a definite lighter hue toward the east.

We stopped for tea halfway to Ooty foothills then proceeded to our destination. We reached Mettupalayam at 6am thanks to significant downhill roads, then went on to take the right turn after the bridge to ascend to Kothagiri.

We realised there were already “animal crossing” boards and recognised the possibility of no restaurants for breakfast. Ramesh took the car back to town in search of parceling something to eat, while we cycled onward, attacking the elevation gradient which was definitely tougher than Kodaikanal.

With each km we recognised that we could never reach the top on time, our speed dropping to a dismal 6 – 7 kmph low at times and going to 10kmph only at slightly lesser gradients.

Ramesh returned toward the 15th km upward and we enjoyed idlis and sambar which he had procured from a food cart due to unavailability of hotels at said time. Food had never tasted better as we gulped it down inside the car while hungry monkeys jumped on the bonnet and tried to snatch our food from us. We refilled with tea at a nearby shop and went onward again.

The slope progressively rose higher and higher and we were eventually cycling at 6 to 7kmph with frequent breaks.

W

We crossed Kothagiri by 1230pm then pedaled ahead 19km to reach the U turn for the day, at Uwais CCD.

After this it was an all out sprint back downhill. The plan was to take the route via Sirumagai – Puliyampatti -Nambiyur – Gobichettipalayam – Bhavani and reach Salem by 1030pm. (142km from Sirumugai to Hotel Palm Residency, Ariyanur)

It was already 4pm and we were running out of valuable time. We pedalled as hard as possible and the roads had alternating elevation and troughs which both aggravated and relieved us.

The knee pain was becoming more and more intense. With medication after Nambiyur, the pain reduced enough to proceed. The rains returned after Gobichettipalayam along with bad traffic, who never bothered to give way for cyclists.

We soon had dinner at 8pm and found we still had 60km to cover but our bodies weren’t responding to maintaining a 20kmph average. Bhuvanesh’s head started nodding after a while and he couldn’t manage without sleep. He offered to rest while we moved on. Soon it was just me and Aravind, pedaling hard fighting exhaustion, to reach Ariyanur at 1130pm.

We requested Ramesh to bring Bhuvanesh back and we thank him for sacrificing his sleep to go back and escort Bhuvanesh back to the hotel. They arrived by 1am (I was drifting in and out of sleep waiting for them to return) and soon I was at peace, following which all of us were sound asleep.

The adventure cost me my knee though and the pain was slowly returning. I had to take another paracetamol with aceclofenac and serratiopeptidase before bed.

Two more days to go – will it be possible with this battered body?

Gates of Hell – Day TWO

THE PATIENT WAS IN TEARS. He had become totally blind in a matter of two months. His wife had expired and he had discontinued his diabetic medications and injections for three months straight. I examined him in as much detail as possible and could give him no guarantee for his lost vision. If he had taken his meds and visited his ophthalmologist and physician regularly, he would at least still have his eyesight.Diabetic retinopathy is real and it’s very serious. Kidding yourself that your doctor is lying will only bring you ill health.

Will my suffering over 1045km bring awareness to the public?

Onward to:

Day TWO:

Hotel Chenduran Park, Dindigul

I got up at 330am, proceeded to brush my teeth and get ready while waking up the others who were still fast asleep. The plan was to go to Sirumalai at 5am but we found that the forest checkpoint would open only at 6am. Losing one hour of valuable time didn’t sound cool since we had to cover 290km that day of which 50km was uphill.

The elevation to Kodai is for 50km as can be seen from the graph.We started straight to Kodai from the hotel.

There was a drizzle but nothing that could not be managed. After taking some time to find the way, we set out at a good speed. The morning was chill and the occasional call of birds meant we were not the only ones up and about.

Maintaining an average of 25-28kmph, we stopped for tea twice along the way. I bought the guys some cake to eat before the climb at 630am. We reached the base checkpost on time and clicked a picture.

The climb was awesome and I managed to keep a steady 9-10 kmph speed.

Photo of Manjalar Dam:

Aravind caught up with me when I was having breakfast at the 15th km uphill.

Both of us then rode together to the top, taking photos near the famous Silver falls.

We finally reached Kodai at 1230pm and I found a chocolate shop (Aravind’s favourite cycling snack), took pics by lake,

then had lunch at ‘Thatha’s bread omelette kadai’. Bhuvanesh caught up in half hour and we started downhill at 1pm (or so we thought).

The road to Palani had ten km of further uphill (which none of us noted on the graph) and weren’t mentally prepared for. Cursing and whining within myself, I pushed on. After that, we were blessed with downhill adrenaline rush at 40kmph speed, except for bad road patches every two km.We managed to reach Palani only by 330pm, and raced at 25kmph average to Udumalpet. After that, exhaustion took it’s toll, and the average fell to a dismal 16kmph being fuelled by tea or drink stops to 22kmph on and off. We crossed Pollachi only by 730pm.

The road to Coimbatore saw us fully drenched in rain.At 50km from the point of stay, the rain started pelting our faces and bodies making it hard to see. We jumped down a platform and ran to take cover under a building. The rain had no intention of stopping but when it reduced, we decided to keep moving. While returning to the bike, Aravind placed his palms on the platform and cleanly swung his legs up back to the road.

Forgetting my exhaustion I followed the 18 year old, only to bang my left knee square on the platform. My vision blurred as my knee went through pain and then numbness. I closed my eyes, knelt on one knee and focused, breathing slowly and steadily.

When I felt I was fine, I proceeded to examine my knee. No pain on flexion or extension. No pain on internal or external rotation. There was some dried blood but I figured no broken bones. We managed to reach Hotel Pranov Residency only at 1130pm after navigating through highly irritating traffic which slowed us down to a 10kmph crawl.

The pain in my knee was more pronounced now.”Worrying”, I said to myself as I proceeded to insert my phone charger to the socket.

Exhausted from the day’s events we fell asleep almost as soon as our heads hit the pillow.This was probably our second most difficult day of the five day experience. (The worst was yet to come)

Gates of Hell Ultra Triathlon

Diabetic retinopathy – sounds boring doesn’t it? But when not intervened early this can lead to permanent visual loss. There are two types:

1. non proliferative, which requires basic blood sugar control and

2. proliferative, which requires green laser, intravitreal injections and surgeries to stabilize vision – none of which bring back lost vision.

Hence the need for something drastic to make people notice the need to keep their blood sugar under very strict control from the start! After all, why would you spend 100,000 on a disease you can prevent?

Which brings us to this huge scale event.

Day ONE:

5 AM

The pool at Ponni Delta was pitch dark. The only sounds to be heard were the water sloshing and the occasional sound of crickets. The moon was the solitary source of of light in an otherwise shrouded night sky.

I undressed, got into my swim trunks, got my refreshments ready inside the changing room to feed myself in-between what I assumed would be a 10 or 12 hour swim.

15km seemed like a daunting task. I had never swam more than 10km recently and that’s just what I love – a new challenge. The last time I swam 15km was at CTC Swimathon and that had taken 8 hours 35 minutes two years ago. (Read old post in my blog) I set off across the length of the beautiful thirty meter long pool with my Amazfit smartwatch logging my activity.

By 630am I was pleased to see I had already covered 3.5km. I had brought along cake and some fruits – I fuelled a bit, and continued. By 730am, 5km had gone by and I was happy that things were going well, when the nausea set in. Instead of panicking, I lowered my heart rate, slowed down and let my body take care of itself.

Soon the nausea had vanished and I decided to take a bathroom break at 8am. 7km in 3 hours – this was going better than I had expected. Back in the water, I focused on making my strokes smooth, breathing out inside the water steadily and taking short breaths of air before going in again. Bhuvanesh came by at 9am and stayed for an hour, taking photos to post on the fitness group on WhatsApp.

By 10am, 12 km had gone by.

My movements were becoming choppy at this point since my body wasn’t used to swimming such mileage. I forced myself to relax and concentrate on smooth strokes and breathing, eventually managing to get back my rhythm. I proceeded to count the number of strokes per length of the pool and it stayed at 28 to 32.

Toward the last km I started swimming more of breast stroke and less of freestyle to preserve energy for the next phase. At noon, I managed to complete 15km and collapsed by the side of the pool.

I ate the rest of the food, hydrated well and took a nap. Aravind and Bhuvanesh were supposed to report at 1pm to start the cycling phase to Dindigul, which was 109km away.

I got the banner from the car and met Hari Raman who had graciously offered permission to use the pool for the day.

After taking a few photos with him, we put up the banner for display. I went back in and took another nap.

Swathi soon called when she arrived with the photographer for publishing the article on Times of India. The photographer took a few pictures of me swimming, cycling and running inside Ponni Delta by which time Bhuvanesh also joined.

Aravind was running late and we managed to start the ride only at 230pm.

Phase 1a: cycling to Hotel Chenduran Park, Dindigul
Aravind – already an accomplished 1000km BRM rider, took turns with me switching up lead position to help Bhuvanesh keep up with the slightly heavier hybrid bike compared to our road bikes. We were doing pretty well at 23 to 25kmph. The elevation was steadily climbing but the energetic car support from Ramesh was more than enough to sustain us.

This is a rough elevation profile of our ride to Dindigul, from Trichy.

I kept pushing the boys to take no more than two minute breaks and it paid off when we reached Dindigul at 730pm. Finding the hotel was a different ball game and that took an extra half – hour, with Aravind and me overshooting the destination and making u turns to get back to the finishing spot on Google maps. Bhuvanesh found the hotel first and we decided to call it a day.

The hotel had a restaurant with nil maintenance and delayed room service but the room was neat and the food was good. Ramesh and I settled in early cos it was gonna be a very long day the next day. The boys went out (God knows where) and came back at 1130pm.

That marked the end of day 1- which actually became the easiest day among the five.

100 km ultra run (last day of #100daysofrunning challenge)

#100daysofrunning – I yawned, thinking I was mad taking up the challenge, because of the Dhanushkodi bicycle ride which clashed with the same (previous article). But as you all know, I decided to go with it anyway.

After 60 days of running were over, and the 600km cycling brevet was completed successfully, I entered all – out into running, climbing rapidly from 0 to 90th day from the 700th rank to the 200th in the country, in terms of cumulative mileage. When I expected my joints to disagree, I actually felt lighter and healthier than before. I was eating healthy and not skimping because I was giving it my all. The 90th day arrived and I wondered if I should keep a challenge for myself on the last day. I gave it some thought and decided to go with a slow 100k run over a timespan of 16 hours.

THE ROUTE

THE START POINT for the sake of convenience was to be my home.

Noone else was free to run with me on said day, and hence I chose a safe route- the same I had used for the 75km run previously described in this blog- the only difference being I would run an extra 65 km to Melur along the same Madurai highway road instead of turning back to Trichy. Melur is 25 km before Madurai en route from Trichy to Madurai.

2/8/’18 (DD/MM/YY)

AS THE DAY DREW NEAR, excuses cropped up, fears crept in, and laziness seeped into my mind. Pushing aside all negative thoughts, I starting calling volunteers to help me because I needed protection while running alone through the night. The plan was to start at 9pm on the 4th of August and finish by 2pm on on the 5th(Sunday). I had asked help from six volunteers but only two were confirmed – Jeeva and Abdul Basith. They were to drive motorbikes and assist with protection, nourishment and hydration.

4/8/’18

830pm: Sending the last patient away, I sighed. Wondering whether I would have the strength to do this, I had a light dinner of mainly protein and a handful of rice, double checked the mobile devices, smart watches, portable charger, supplements, energy gels, water, money and a waist pouch.

Jeeva and Abdul arrived at sharp 845pm and we started the journey at 9pm.

The initial 20 km was a breeze and the pace varied from 5:30 to 6:30. Abdul proceeded ahead 50 to 100 meters in front, illuminating the way, while Jeeva followed 50 meters behind. This ensured I would be well illuminated and safe from being hit by traffic from behind. I was horrified in-between when I felt a small catch in my right buttock and hamstring but this wore off with some electrolytes and a mild change of running form. We had crossed the Boothakudi toll plaza by 11:15PM.

I was able to complete the first 40 km in just 5 hours (one hour before designated time).

Soon it was midnight and before we knew it, we had dogs barking and howling all around us. I stopped in my tracks at one place and pretended to pick up a stone, and they retreated.

5/8/’18:

2AM (40km complete): We stopped at a Kovilpatty(10km from Viralimalai) bus stop, wiped off the dust and lay down on the cement seat for 20 minutes and were back on the road. Tea followed for another 15 minutes where an accident had happened nearby. We passed the glass shards carefully and noticed the Toyota Innova on one side, it’s taillights flashing after a truck had rammed the parked car from behind.

We had two more areas of dog – trouble but were able to walk through them.

5/8/’18:

5:15AM

60 km covered: In another 20 km at Thuvarangurichi, we made the next stop at the 60km mark, slept for another 25 minutes, had tea for 15 minutes, offered fizzling glucose – electrolyte tablets in water to the volunteers and we were on the way by 5:55am. We crossed a petrol bunk at 620AM and I changed my clothes there after using the washroom. Gone was the Blue Mont Run t shirt, which was now replaced by a Spandex top resembling Thor’s.

Feeling significantly fresher and lighter, I proceeded at 5:30 to 6 pace making maximum use of the time before the sun came up hard. I donned my cap and shades. We stopped for breakfast at hotel Aryas (Kottampatty) around 24km from Melur. Before we knew it, we had finished 80km at 9am!

We made a live video for Facebook to let our friends know about the last day of the challenge and the distance covered. This would be the first time of my life that I would cross the 80km mark!

THE LAST 20 – Me VS THE SUN – WHO WOULD WIN?

After another 8 km, my pace slowed from 6:30 to 7 and below. The sun’s rays were blazing now. With just 10km to go, every muscle was telling me to stop and my feet refused to move though my mental stamina was still fresh.

At the 94th km, I put on the 100 days of running t- shirt over the sleeveless top, to finish the run in style. I was still 100 minutes earlier of schedule and hence resorted to alternate walking and jogging for the next four km. Jeeva was very helpful in buying me bananas (Mondham palam) which were larger than the normal ones and these pushed me further over the next two km.

FINISH POINT: HOTEL TEMPLE INN, NEAR MELUR:

WE CROSSED THE HOTEL at the 99th km, and since we had not yet completed 100, I went on ahead for a half km and returned, sprinting the last 100 meters to complete the 100km run at 1230pm. Jeeva and Abdul were there at the finish point to give me the medal and we took some photos before I sent them home, profusely thanking them for all their help over 14.5 hours.

My cousin, Shruthi and her friend came by car to pick me up from Melur and we had lunch at Kumar Mess in Madurai, following which we left to Trichy with great memories. A 100 kilometers! From an average guy like me! Who would have thought it? Praise the Lord!

10 AM 6/8/’18: BACK TO WORK!

SEE YOU GUYS LATER! GOD BLESS!

P.s: an account of my Strava activity, enclosed (only moving time recorded)

https://www.strava.com/activities/1755146782

Dhanushkodi 600 BRM

All of us are bitten by bugs. Some of us by the food – bug, others by work, but for me I was bitten by something else altogether. Running, cycling and swimming keep my mind fresh and completes my sedentary day.

The Dhanushkodi 600 km BRM (BREVET DE RANDONNEURS MONDIAUX) was another try at pushing my body to the limit. Approved by the Audax cycling club from France, the route took us through 600 km of sunshine, wind, rain and thunderstorm. Quite the story.

THE START

Track & Trail, Ramsun was open at 3 pm, when Anand and myself reached the venue. We got our BRM cards, ticked off the final checklist and met co – riders from different Indian states,accounting to a total of 70+. I took some time to delete unnecessary apps from my phone to save battery and space. Joy took care of my drop bag which I was to use at the 350th km mark. I secured my helmet and strapped it in, switching on my Xiaomi smartwatch to track my progress.

Anand announced the route and in another five minutes, we were off.

Anand and I took the lead helping participants find their way out of Trichy, into the highway. Once we were there, they sprinted off. I kept a steady speed of 20 to 25 kmph to make things easy for Anand, but the winds were heavy up till Tanjore – something which we hadn’t predicted on happening this soon. We reached Tanjore by 645pm, checked in at the first water point, then proceeded to Pudukottai, little knowing we were heading toward far greater challenges ahead.

THE STORM

The headwinds up to Tanjore translated to tailwinds for around 10km. When all seemed to be going well, the winds picked up. Volunteers worriedly informed us about the thunderstorm at Pudukottai. The ride turned into a 18kmph crawl, which became worse when a fellow rider suffered a puncture. A few locals including an old couple helped us with the puncture. We spent 40 minutes with him following which we called Joy to help because of the tube slipping out. Anand and I then left struggling to maintain a decent speed against intense winds.

The lightning and thunder were dramatic and soon we experienced rain. Tired and irritated, we expected to slow down but instead the winds changed and the rain helped us move forward faster by lubricating our chains and reducing road friction.

(Picture from Google)

We overtook several riders and managed to arrive at the first CP, albeit late by two hours.

THE RUSH OF ADRENALINE

FUELED by the fact that we were among the top 15 at the first CP, we gulped down a roti and loads of grape juice, courtesy of Pradeepa, before we left in ten minutes. We had a fairly decent lead because everyone else was taking at least 30 minutes to rest.

The winds were still on our side and in spite of rain we were flying along at 26kmph. We stopped for ten minutes break every hour and pushed ourselves hard till Karaikudi(50km from Pudukottai). We took a diversion as advised to avoid bad roads but still ended up facing 30 km of mud and stone. Milind, who was now with us had two punctures but was very skilled in changing tubes in ten minutes each. To make matters worse the rain was relentless and we we’re shivering whenever we slowed down.

THE COAST

WE HEAVED a big sigh when we reached Thiruvadanai , following which the rains reduced and we pressed on at full speed making use of good roads to get to Thondi. We then checked in at the second CP, then sped along East Coast Road till Ramanathapuram. Joy and Venkat sir were riding in a car all night helping us and other riders to replenish our tired bodies.

The ride to Rameshwaram was tiring under the heat. Long gone was the cold of the night, with the sun smashing against our faces.

Pamban bridge greeted us with open arms and we took a picture of it’s majestic view. Rameshwaram soon followed.

Anand and Milind decided to take a break and I pushed on ahead.

HALF WAY THERE!

Somehow managing to keep my speed at 18kmph, I surely but slowly approached Dhanushkodi, which was 20km from Rameshwaram. The road curved and twisted into a beautiful pathway going through forests and beach sand on each side, alternatively.

(Above pic taken from car during previous trip to Dhanushkodi)

The last 9km was mind boggling and it took all of my will power to keep pedalling through the wind and the sun. Milind caught up and we reached Dhanushkodi at 1115am. Not wanting to quit the running challenge, I did a short 2km walk at Dhanushkodi, which served as a cool – down.

Joy and Venkat sir treated us to food and drink at the third CP. Anand and Milind started back early and I followed them after ten minutes. We soon reached the hall at Rameshwaram where we were supposed to change. A fresh bath, food and drinks brought us back to 90% efficacy. Anand had some time to nap while I waited in queue to bathe. We started off in 45 minutes on our return journey, having oiled and cleaned our bikes.

EASY RIDE TO THONDI

WE MADE good headway with tailwinds on our side, but Milind had to drop out due to calf pain. We stopped to sleep at a bus – stop for 20 minutes after which we got moving again. It was the first time in my life that I fell asleep as soon as my head touched the cool hard stone.

We stopped for tea near Ramanathapuram and reached the 4th CP Thondi by 6pm with the last rays of the sun, setting just before we made it.

Thondi to Thiruvadanai was uneventful except for extremely dark roads due to lack of lighting and the clouds hiding the moon. We were chased by dogs but managed to pedal away easily. Then came the rain, which was now our worst enemy.

THE SECOND THUNDERSTORM

THIS WAS different from the first storm, with each raindrop pelting against our faces due to heavy winds. Worried about qualifying, I motivated Anand to keep riding at a slow pace. I used both my headlights to counter the bad roads till Devakottai but we still ended up being battered by then. The lightning lit up the whole road once in a while and the scene was straight out of Hollywood.

To our surprise, up ahead was the leading pack – Galin and co , fixing a puncture. We joined them at a hotel outside Devakottai and had dinner, all soaked from the rain.

We crossed them and headed to Karaikudi, gaining a good 30 minute lead.

THE REAL ENEMIES

KARAIKUDI SOON arrived and we took a 5 minute breather before heading to Pudukottai. The journey was supposed to take 2.5 hours but seemed a whole lot more.

Before we knew it, sleep hit us head – on. No amount of Red Bull or energy gels helped. I fought it off and pedalled harder but found it returned with a vengeance. Soon after, I thought I saw what appeared to be a few lead riders’ taillights conglomerating into a dancing figurine before spiralling into a cloud of smoke.

(Pics of hallucinations taken from closest similarities on Google)

This was my first time of experiencing visual hallucinations. I blinked, shook my head and continued to ride when I noticed shrouded figures of humans and animals standing by the roadside which disappeared on drawing near.

Figuring this had gone on long enough, I decided on a break.

Soon, I called out to Anand and my heart skipped a beat when he didn’t respond though I could see his headlight right behind me, swaying in the darkness. I tapped him and he woke up with a start. Two packs of riders went past us taking the lead once more, including Galin sir. We decided to rest at a petrol pump outside Pudukottai and another time at a toll booth. 45 more km to Trichy!

THE LAST OBSTACLE.

It was when we crossed Keeranur and had just 30 km left when my rear tyre went for a toss. Anand helped me with the change of tubes and we managed to resume cycling in 40 minutes. We crossed the Trichy toll booth and pedalled 5km before stopping for tea. Energised, we pedalled harder at speeds above 26kmph till we reached our end point at Annai apartments opposite Track and Trail. Pradeepa and Vijesh were there to welcome us with our medals and finishing pictures. Anand and I had arrived at 10th and 11th place out of 70- not bad at all.

An egg and a muffin recharged me, following which I waved goodbye to my friends, disassembled my cycle and placed it in my Abarth.

A good three hours of sleep followed, after which I decided to return to work. After all, a hobby should never interfere with a bread – winner!

Overall the ride touched me in many ways. It made me more humble, more spiritual and gave me an idea of what my body is truly capable of.

Special thanks to my parents and wife who always give me space for my endeavors, for continuously keeping track of me via a GPS app instead of sleeping for two whole nights, for Vijesh and Prashant sir for awesome organising of the event, to Joy and Venkat sir for simply superb volunteering in the face of adverse events, to all the riders who faced the worst and overcame all odds – really proud of you! Till next time, it’s goodbye from me. God bless!