Jawadhu Hills 50 km Ultra Marathon

It was another beautiful sunny day after a great leg workout, when I decided to look up the list of marathons that I should plan to run after July.

According to the Indian marathon calendar, there was an interesting race in Jawadhu Hills (which according to Google Maps, was near Vellore and just 5 hours away by car). Deciding to investigate I clicked on the link, and up came three challenging choices – 50k, 75k and 100k (the 25km race category was full). I weighed my options and decided that if I could complete the Wipro full marathon in 4hours 45 minutes, this should not be an issue either.

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Now came the next challenge – how should I go about training? I’m primarily a fitness trainer who wants to be proficient at all sports. I knew I couldn’t sacrifice the gym (check), running? (Definitely check), swimming? (Maybe once in two weeks – check), biking? (I love cycling, so yes – check that too). With further help from my running partner ‘Barefoot’ Srikant, we managed to log in a 50k one month before the race. So my training schedule consisted of a minimum of 42km running per week, 60 to 100 km of cycling per week, two or three days at the gym for a triathlon – designed – workout and swimming once in two weeks. I couldn’t remember when I had last put in so much of blood and sweat into exercise – probably only in my college days in 2002? Thanking God for my stamina and muscle memory, I analyzed myself. I knew I was in no shape to win a 50k race. But to complete it within the 7 hour cut off mark? Yeah – seems ‘doable’.

I had never been to a race this big and hence the need for an inventory. Whenever I had free time between patients, I used to think about what I needed for this race. I didn’t think I needed much, except for a sleeping mat, bedsheets, pillow, torchlight, running gear, water and pre – & post – workout nutrition. Drenched in ego of running marathons for the past three years(a total of more than 18 races), I never bothered to write down what I needed and hence – forgot the energy bars.

The 6th of August came up pretty quickly and it was time to leave. We hired a driver since I knew I would be in no shape to drive back. The Abarth Punto took us on a great journey. We stopped for tea in between.

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The foothills were beautiful and I found myself wondering – if just this looks so awesome, how much more beauty are we going to see up at Jamunamarathur?

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We rode up well – laid roads and had a safe journey to the top all the while taking in the sight of wonderful greenery everywhere. Our destination soon arrived – St. Joseph’s School. Opposite the school was a parking area where people had pitched up cute looking tents.

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Srikant and I went into the school, located the bib counter, got our bibs from friendly, energetic volunteers and proceeded to locate a vacant classroom which we could use to sleep. We found a few empty benches, put them together, laid the sleeping mat on top – and that was that.

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Night time came, and with it the burden of mosquitoes. I was glad I had bought a huge tube of ‘odomos’ cream, which came in handy for us. Our next mission was to charge our smartphones. Since we had come ahead, we managed to find a lone plugpoint at the entrance (there were none in the classrooms). Dinner was amazing and we enjoyed a second serving of chapathi, chickpea and curd rice. Soon after, we went to bed after pinning our running bibs on our race t – shirts, but sleep refused to come, while my mind was making vain calculations as to how to run my 50k to finish in good time. Srikant was attempting the 100k race and so, I walked with him to the start point at 3AM for their flag off.

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Following this, sleep came in very short intervals and before I knew it, it was 445 AM. I made my way to the men’s bathrooms and to my dismay , saw a line of 8 people waiting in queue. After waiting my turn, then hurrying back and shifting my sleeping gear to the car, I made it to the start point at 529AM – Just one minute before the race was started.

Dawn was breaking, and I figured I didn’t need my torchlight after all, as I pushed it deeper into my satchel, tilting my cap and adjusting my coolers that were hanging on the rim of my t – shirt’s neck. It was a tough race ahead, but I wasn’t going to let it get the better of me.

I wasn’t blind to the beauty of the trail and managed to take a few shots of God’s own art.

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My usual half marathon pace is 1 km in 5 minutes and I figured it would be wiser to run at a 7 minute or 8 minute pace. Soon, I had crossed 25 km in 3 hours – now for the difficult part!

The way back was as treacherous as the way we had come – steep inclines & declines and loose stones that poked into my shoes. I resorted to the usual run – walk strategy, jogging in level areas and declines and walking up the inclines. For inclines that were too steep and needed momentum, I jogged up them slowly with all the strength I could muster.

The kind souls at the aid stations every 3km were the only ones who helped me to keep going. Soon, 34 km were completed and I had three hours left to finish in cut off time (7 hours). My mind wanted to do it, but my calves, hams and feet were begging for mercy.

I dug around in my pouch, found the Dolo (paracetamol) I had kept for emergencies – I’m sure this constituted as one! I walked at a fast pace till the pain had reduced, then went back to running – walking. I met a good doctor from CMC medical college, Vellore on the way, and he inspired me to run faster. Dr. Henry was 46 years old, and was apparently running much better than I was when we reached 38 km.

The trail soon turned into roads and I thanked the Lord for not allowing my feet to be poked anymore. The ice compresses at the aid stations were like heaven, that we rushed to, every three kilometres. However much salt and sugar we took, we ended up feeling dehydrated at the end of every 3km. We couldn’t afford to drink too much water either – as a heavy tummy will interfere with running.

Soon we had crossed 42 km(full marathon distance) in 5 hours 15 minutes. We pressed on, and soon enough, the pains were back again. As a doctor, I knew it would be highly irresponsible of me to pop another Dolo, so I resorted to walk this one out. Even as I walked I crossed many who had overtaken me previously. I tried the 100 steps walk and 100 steps run technique but even that failed me in the last kilometre.

As I struggled into the school’s ground entrance, I somehow found the energy to push myself again. The result was a trot, but enough to get me over the finish line in 6 hours & 20 minutes, well within the cut off time of 7 hours, amidst cheers from volunteers, audience and other participants. I was immediately given the medal I deserved and sent to the recuperation area. After a few warm down movements and stretches, I made for the aid station, gave myself an ice compress, letting the cold water run down my hair, neck and parched lips. By God’s grace, I’d made it and was still alive to tell the tale.

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After a bath, I left this wonderful place rather reluctantly. I had witnessed the beauty of nature and the most difficult run of my life – worse than my 21k in Leh and my 42k Wipro in Chennai. We had lunch on the way back and were soon home.

As I sit in my clinic during my free hours, writing this blog, I still feel a remnant of the pain in my legs, and that doesn’t make me wince anymore. So, what’s next? The 75k?

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