Trichy – to – Rane Engine Valves (& back) Self – Supported 75km Ultra Run

Following my previous stints at Javadhu and Chennai for the ultra and triathlon & swimathon respectively, it was time to move up the ladder and start preparing for a half triathlon (3km swim, 90km cycling and 21km run). 

I don’t know about others, but increasing my running distance always helps me to perform better in longer ‘tri’s. I usually equate 1km of swimming to 8km of running and 1km of running to 3km of cycling. Going by this formula, I came up with the idea to prepare for both the Javadhu Hills 75km ultra as well as the Half Triathlon coming up in the next two months – that is to run 75km and see if I could finish within 11 hours (which was the cut – off at Javadhu).

It was February and we still had time to prepare for both events. I contacted Srikanth(who accompanied me to Javadhu last year)  and Mr. Venkat (a senior finance professional from the IT industry, in his fifties who is a veteran runner) and we set the date for our 75km self – supported ultra run at 25th March 2017.

The three of us had run from Trichy to Tanjore Big Temple (60km) previously, and I was pretty sure crossing that distance wasn’t a problem. It was the remaining 15km that posed the issue. We each took up tasks of getting water, electrolytes, energy gels and bars. I arranged for volunteers (Mani and Deepak) to help, up till 7am following which Mr. Venkat and his brother – in – law arranged for a car to keep our refreshments in.

Two cyclists volunteered to join and one (Shree) wanted to ride ahead to finish 130km, while the other (Yoga Raj) planned to ride by our side.

The preparations were soon over and the big day came. Gopesh came to send us off at 2AM. Our departure from my home was marked with the sound of dogs barking at the six of us as we proceeded to break the stillness of the night with our activity.

These were the landmarks anticipated:

1. Manikandam (8km from home)

2. Boothakudi Toll Plaza (21km)

3. Viralimalai (30 km)

4. Rane Factory (36 km)

5. U turn at 37.5km

6. Return: Rane factory (39 km)

7. Return: Viralimalai (45 km)

8. Return: Toll Plaza (54 km)

9. Return: Manikandam (67 km)

10. Home, sweet home (75 km)

We kept a steady pace of 6’40″s covering 8km or more per hour, me in my Adidas ultra boost, Mr. Venkat in his Asics shoes and Srikanth doing the barefoot – party, with Mani following us flashing his bike’s headlight for us to see ahead and to offer us protection, till we reached the Toll Plaza at 420AM. 

Mr. Venkat had pain in his feet due to shoes being too tight and Srikanth had headache due to lack of sleep, following which both of them slowed down for a while. Deepak soon replaced Mani and came to illuminate the way while offering electrolytes, water and snacks every 3km. Mr. Venkat boldly decided to go barefoot and both of them caught up with me pretty fast by the time we crossed Viralimalai.

The car had arrived by the 36th km and at the 37 & a 1/2 km, we stopped for ice cold water from the thermocol box that Mr. Venkat had thoughtfully arranged to retain the cooling of the water and electrolytes. I glanced at my watch – it was 7 AM – not bad at all, considering we were running 75km that day and we had already finished half of it in 5 hours. I knew the return would not be this easy and tried not to think about it.

I slowed down pretty much immediately after this, and the other two took the lead. The sun, had by now really come up, wishing all of us a hot and dry morning and we were really feeling the heat. We asked for the car to stop at every 2km from then on and we sipped water, ate biscuits, drank cold Gatorade/Tata Glucon with ‘Rrun’ energy gel whenever we needed the kick. 

I caught up with the others and we had soon crossed Viralimalai again, by 830AM and reached the Boothakudi Toll Plaza, marking a total of 54.5km as complete. 

We collapsed on the sidewalk, sipped cold water, ate biscuits and drank electrolytes and were on the move again. Mr. Venkat developed shoulder and rib pain and had to slow down his pace after the 56th km. I attribute the wonderful pace that we kept from half the course up till this point to him and he decided to drop out by the 65th km. I wondered if I would be able to perform the same at his age.

We soon reached Manikandam and with just 8km to go, I was experiencing mixed emotions. My mind was in robot – mode, but my body wasn’t listening to it. A group of kiddies joined us at this point and turned my performance around for the next 3 km of running.

I was in half a mind to drop out at the 70th km, but it was Srikanth who motivated me saying ‘Javadhu’ would be tougher and we had to complete 75km today so we would know if our timing was adequate. 

“Just two more pit stops”, I said to myself as I continued to jog. I kept my mind totally focused on the run , inhaled steadily for three steps , then exhaled while taking the next two steps, managing to surge ahead. Mr Venkat again decided to join us for another 5km to top off his run at 70km.

The last pit stop was a short but welcome break after a steep bridge that really tested my endurance. In five seconds I was out of the car and bolting back on the highway, knowing home was just 1.5 km away. My spurt of energy soon died out though, and I started to walk, waiting for Srikanth to catch up. 

Both of us resumed our run soon and we sprinted the last 100 meters home, to complete 75km in 10 hours and 48 minutes, around ten minutes before the Javadhu – cut – off – time.

I knew I needed to do stretches but my mind was reeling as I continued to sip water from the car. My legs were buckling and I suddenly discovered I wasn’t able to walk. The others had sugarcane juice from a vendor while I retreated upstairs to get a warm bath.

We had seemingly done the impossible – ran a 75km run in the scenario of a hot summer and completed at a fair time. Srikanth and sir had been practising hard but my ankle had just recovered and it was totally by God’s grace that I managed to cover this big distance.

Special thanks to Shree, Yogaraj, Gopesh, Mani , Deepak and Mr. Narasimman (Mr. Venkat’s brother – in -law who drove the car and assisted in hydration). 

I will be seeing you on this blog after July 1st to tell you all about my first half iron triathlon!

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15 km CTC Chennai Swimathon 4/3/’17

I felt my right foot miss a step, heard a pop from my bent – over ankle, and experienced a gush of pain that doubled me over. I cursed myself for successfully spraining my ankle just two weeks before Annur Marathon. Now I had no hope of long distance running in the next two months. There was mild swelling and tenderness over the ankle but I was able to bear my bodyweight while walking. Mine seemed to be a grade I ankle sprain.

To help you get a general idea of ankle sprains and how to grade them, here are two illustrative diagrams:

Then came the memory of my friend Ramu’s invite for the CTC’s Swimathon on March 4th. Being a doctor I knew there was a fair chance of swimming by then, if I give my ankle adequate rest, ice and physiotherapy before the said date. But things didn’t go as well as I had planned and the pain from the grade I sprain kept coming back at work whenever I got up and switched places . 

I don’t know what hit me, but as I was looking to register for the swim, I noticed there was a 15km swimming category along with the 5km and 10km categories in the competition and I signed up like a madman on a hunch even though my ankle hurt in certain awkward positions and extended range of motion during plantar flexion. The maximum distance I had covered in a single day during a swim was 7km and that was way back in 2010. This was definitely going to be interesting.

Two weeks went by and I had managed to hit the gym twice a week, walk 10km once a week and had visited the swimming pool twice every week, with mild jogging for a kilometer or so, whenever pain was absent.

The pain slowly withdrew three days before the event and I tapered my activity to be fresh for the swim. Prayers were said, not just by me but my family members as well, because they couldn’t fathom how I could complete such a distance which I hadn’t done during my days as a state level swimmer in 1999 , now, without any practice and that too with a messed – up ankle.

March 3rd: The days flew by and the time had come. I finished my work at my hospital then visited Apollo for a visiting consult before leaving to Chennai by car, with my wife and mom. The venue was the same as the CTC ‘s triathlon (refer previous post) and we checked into Hotel Holiday Inn, which was nearest the venue on OMR road, after dropping my wife at her parents’. I wouldn’t recommend the dinner I had to anyone else preparing for a Swimathon, but I crammed myself because I knew the next day would easily burn off everything I ate in a period of three hours max. So, in went three butter naans, chicken gravy, spicy chicken salad and chicken dosed with pepper and salt, followed by curd rice and mousse. I was worried if I had enough space for my 330 am snack which would determine my actual performance during the swim.

March 4th: 3:30AM

I did manage to get up and swallow two banana oatmeal muffins before sleeping till 430AM, following which I brushed my teeth, washed my face, changed and I was on my way. Mom would join me later at 8AM and Sanju, at 2PM.

Owing to unavoidable circumstances, my friend Ramu who had intimated me about the Swimathon couldn’t make it. I arrived at Ottiyambakkam Open Water Swimming site at 5AM sharp , filled the disclaimer form, had my BIB number (158) written on my arm with permanent marker to help me remember it (we had to shout our number on completing each loop for the officials to keep track of our progress) then located the baggage counter where I undressed to my swim shorts, and donned my swim cap and goggles.

The warm – up session for 15 km, 10km and 5km races started at 550am and we went through the usual exercises to loosen our joints and increase our core body temperature to prepare us for the gruelling event, followed by a group photo.

6AM:

I felt a strange calm envelop me and I told myself I just needed to focus on finishing 15km , within the 10.5 hours cut off time. Nothing else mattered, including placing. There were only 13 participants en toto for the 15km event out of which 5 people downgraded to 10km because they felt they could not complete it. Now, here I was, swimming in a 15km event which hadn’t even been introduced into the Olympics, which in itself is a privilege. All I had to do, was focus on finishing.

6:12AM:

I got into the pond, which was surprisingly refreshing and not freezing. The time had come, and I said a quick prayer asking God to spare me from cramps, which is the worst enemy of all swimmers and to give me energy to complete 15km in one piece. For those who don’t know this small water – body, it’s in Ottiyambakkam, Chennai, around 3km from Navalur on the OMR highway via Agni College.

The pond/lake is 150 meters long and since we had to cover 15km, we needed to finish 100 laps (50 loops)

615AM to 8AM

It was soon 615AM, and the race started. I preserved my strategy of doing mainly the ‘breast – stroke’ to prevent my ankle from getting aggravated, with a few strokes of ‘freestyle/front-crawl’ thrown in to keep up the rhythm and to prevent overload of the muscles used during the breast – stroke. The crowd was huge but aside from a few kicks and punches from other participants, nothing went bad for me. I had soon completed 3.5 km by 8AM and made my first fuel – stop at the 3rd km mark. The volunteers were at the water’s edge with plates and gave us bananas, Electral and ‘kadalai mittai’.

815AM TO 1145 AM:

I was feeling pretty confident when I had crossed 5km and was going strong, when the inevitable happened. I was shouting out my number for the officials when someone from my side kicked my right (injured) ankle. There was a burst of pain – I closed my eyes and floated for a while before slowly proceeding with freestyle. In a minute my ankle felt better and things were back to normal – power of prayer!

I spotted mom at the 6th km, waved to her and proceeded with breaks every 1.5km. I had soon crossed 7.5 km (half the distance) by 1030AM. A much – needed toilet break followed at 1145 AM with mom helping me out of the pond.

A few shots of the event:

(Youngest participant in the 5km race)

(Lifeguard at the other end of the pond)

(Lifeguards from Bay of Life on surfboards watching with an eagle’s eye)

(Volunteers(and sometimes tired participants) hung on to tyres that were tied together through a rope to the other end of the quarry)

1145AM to 2PM:

Following this, I felt very refreshed and zoomed past many who had crossed my distance during the break. By the 10th km, I felt early signs of my body giving in to fatigue.

I continued to follow my fuelling strategy but for every 1.2 km (4 loops) instead of every 1.5km(5 loops). This kept my burning tummy at bay, with adequate refueling via mom’s banana oatmeal and Electral from the volunteers. Bananas had unfortunately run out by then and I had to make do with ‘kadalai mittai’. Both Thomas Habel and Vinolee (two of CTC’s best swimmers) and Mr. Anil Sharma had lapped me several times by then.

There was, by now, a mild stiffness in my left calf, which, as a long -time swimmer, I knew , could be a sign of cramps – to – come. I switched to doing more freestyle and used only half my usual power for kicks.

2PM to 250PM

“5 loops to go!” It was awesome to hear it from the officials but my body was in robot – mode, much like what happens when I spend prolonged time in cataract surgeries – the mind automatically takes control. The tightness in my left calf increased, despite my increased consumption of Electral, and by the 14th km I knew cramps were coming on.

I fuelled one last time, with three loops to go, and increased the power in my arms in as relaxed a state as possible, to compensate for my poor kicking. Saw Sanju and Aunty during the last two loops and waved.

The last loop would probably have seen my best timing, with a finishing touch of 150 meters of freestyle. I breathed out in the water to lower my heart rate, then proceeded to be helped up by a kind volunteer. The time was 250 PM and we had started swimming at 615 AM – a total of 8 hours and 35 minutes.

I sat down, dazed, sun – burnt, partially dehydated, but overjoyed to have clinched the title of ‘Finisher’ of one of the world’s longest distances swam in an official competition.

Peter, the hero of the day and the founder of Chennai trekking Club, came by to give me my medal after starting the 3km event. 

It was a memorable moment for me to meet my role – model, and to pose with the two ladies who have encouraged me to pursue my passions, with special mention to mom who oversaw my nutrition needs during the swim (since the bananas had run out by the 10th km, I would have definitely cramped up earlier if not for her banana oatmeal)

Post – event:

Mom answered worried calls from relatives, assuring them I was indeed safe and sound and had completed the event well within cut – off time. I gobled up ten banana ‘adais'(wheat and sugar thrown in with bananas and cooked), had ‘Tang’ then proceeded with total rest till dinner time. I ate up food to fill my still – ravenous gut during dinner, as expected and slept soundly that night.

The following morning saw us depart from Chennai at 10am and reach Trichy at 330 PM. 

It was an eventful journey – one that I will remember not for my performance but for God’s immense grace and mercy for helping me finish 15km of swimming without even practising a 1km swim in the previous month, due to my ankle.

This is Vinod, signing off, before I meet you on my next adventure.