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.



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.


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!

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.


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.


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.

Chennai Olympic – Category Triathlon

I peered into the last patient’s eye observing his retina, noticing nothing remarkable through the 90 D lens at the slit lamp microscope. Having found no refractive error, muscle imbalances or internal pathology in the eye, I assured him he was fine, referred him to a physician for his headache and asked him to review for regular follow – up. It had been an eventful day with surgeries and 60 plus cases in the out – patient department. Patients done for the day!

Looked up the marathon calendar again – the triathlon sounded promising, but I needed a bike didn’t I? Thanks to my wife who found the Track & Trail cycle store on one of our casual car drives, we got our Montra Trance Pro hybrid. Javadhu Hills 50k run was coming up (read previous story) and I integrated cycling with my regular workouts and runs.

After Javadhu, I totally dedicated my training toward cycling and running, because I knew the ex – state – level – swimmer in me would not need much prodding. Usual mileage during training per week was around 4km of swimming, 150 to 200km of cycling (sometimes 50km or 100km more) and 50km to 70km of running. Visits to the gym, was twice a week, which I reduced as the event drew near.

Having registered for the Olympic (51.5km) triathlon, the least distance of the three options available (the other two being a 112 km event and a 226km event)I felt fairly sure of being in the top ten due to my confidence in swimming, which would give me a decent lead over the rest of the youngsters who craved running and cycling.

The next step was forming an endurance club in Trichy. We were just three – Ramu, Mr. Chidambaram and myself, but we went through the training schedules and diet I had carefully planned and both of them, who had never been in any such events before, soon managed to finish olympic distance within four to five hours during practice times.

14/12/’16 & 15/12/’16

The first day in Chennai was spent at my cousin’s place. But during the second day, Chennai didn’t exactly greet me with open arms. Hotel Centre Point which I had booked via Oyo suddenly declared they had no rooms, and it was after two hours of haggling that we managed to find a nearby lodge with an A/C room. We had arrived in Chennai two days before the event, which we used to locate the local Track and Trail store on OMR, rent a Montra Celtic 2.2 road bike and also practise swimming in open waters at the ottiyambakkam lake.


It took some patience locating the lake, because of bad GPS following the ‘Vardha’ cyclone leaving Chennai defenceless and barren without trees, electricity and internet. 

And so, after wandering through narrow streets and being chased by dogs, I finally located the lake. Was happy to see Varadha Raja, one of the volunteers of CTC (Chennai Trekking Club) there. 

He encouraged me to take a dip and sure enough there I was relaxing in the cool waters of the pond. Didnt really feel like putting my head into the water yet, but I knew the moment would come when I raced.

My parents arrived one day before the event and we moved into Hotel Holiday Inn Express which was much more comfortable.

Dusk arrived and at 645PM, we went to Agni College of Technology which was 1.5km from the swim venue to collect the bib for next day’s race. The place was packed with people and we managed to get the bibs after submitting the disclaimer form. Sundhari Thevar, Vanathi and a few others were doing an awesome job at distributing the bibs and t-shirts in the most efficient manner possible.

Following this, I went to the lodge, collected my rented cycle and brought it to Holiday Inn. After some difficulty, I also managed to persuade the hotel to keep my rented road bike inside, instead of the parking lot to prevent it from being stolen.

D – day: 17/12/’16

I took out my bike from near the kitchen galley and set out, waving a thanks to the watchman who had agreed to keep the bike inside. A careful and slow ride at 5 AM through the pot-holed roads leading to Ottiyambakkam via Navallur and Agni College of Technology took me to the lake by 545 AM.

The participants of the Full Iron Triathlon were getting ready to start. I proceeded to the bicycle area, inverted my ride and placed it on the ground making sure the handlebars and seat were flat against the ground, with wheels facing the sky (race cycles don’t have stands). I made a mental note of the location of baggage counters too. Soon the photo session was complete and the full and 3/4 iron triathletes stripped to their swim wear and proceeded to the pond.

I looked on in admiration at the huge task of 112km(3/4th iron) and 226 km(full iron) that these guys and girls were willing to face. (Note – to – self: will be in their shoes very soon.) The event started at 6AM and soon the triathletes were doing loops in the pond.
By 730AM, it was time for the Olympic category(51.5km) race. I removed my T-shirt, shorts, shoes and socks, stuffed them in the transition bag, handed it at the baggage counter, donned my swim cap, goggles and ear – plugs and left to the pond, barefoot.

SWIM PHASE (1.5KM): Warm – up session started and all of us assembled in our swim – wear.

Mom arrived by car just before the start. I waved her a hi and got in the pond, wetting myself to let my body get used to the temperature. We were to do 5 loops (10 laps = 1500 metres, aka 1.5km). 

The start was made and soon we were off. The foreigner by my side swam like a fish. Trying to keep up with her and leave the slower ones behind, I forgot to locate an external pointer to see where I was going. This was a drastic mistake and my huge lead went to waste as I had to redirect myself back to the centre. By the time I arrived I was among the first ten, and had to fight my way forward.

At the end of each loop I shouted my number (104!) so that the volunteers could note it down and keep track of how many loops I had done. By the time I finished I had used up quite a lot of energy dodging kicks and punches, veering in and out of slower participants and swallowing pond water twice and praying I wouldn’t fall ill.

Decided to use a spurt of energy and surged ahead finishing within the first three – immediately realised this was a mistake after finishing, when I couldn’t stand up. 

Mom helped me out, while I caught my breath and headed to the baggage counter. There was a major 5 minute delay in finding my bag, but once I had it, I had changed to cycling attire in 3 minutes and I was off.

CYCLING PHASE (40KM): The bike ride was difficult on bad roads that extended to a distance of 5km, because I didn’t know how to change the tyre tube in case of a puncture (God forbid). Fortunately, nothing happened because I was slow on these parts and picked up speed on the highway. During the eight minute transition to cycle, and my slow driving, around ten people had gotten ahead of me. A smile appeared on my face when I reached Navallur – time to show everyone how a guy who trained on a hybrid and is relatively well versed with a road bike has an immense advantage over those who trained only with road bikes. I was soon hitting average speeds of 30kmph and overtaking auto-rickshaws and mopeds. At around 3km to the U turn, saw the first four participants returning. Everything was going fine until after a refreshment point at Thiruporur and a U – turn later, when we faced headwinds. 

Fortunately my training on my hybrid helped me to easily keep my average speed at 24 kmph till Navallur. The bad roads came up again, and I attacked them with a little more vigour because the end was near. The finish point came up 500 m from Agni College and I raced in. Looks like I had finished bike stretch in what appeared to be less than 1h 42 mins. 

I didn’t have to change into running gear because I already had everything I needed, and I was off.

RUN PHASE (10KM): The run was terribly exhausting in spite of all the practice due to the hot sun and the humidity of Chennai which drained us of all electrolytes and water. 

Four people did get ahead of me in the first 5km including my friend Anirudh Pandya, who works at Pro Health Foundation, Tanjore. Notice me behind them trying to catch up with two of them in the picture below. I soon overtook them.

It was in the next loop that I felt like I was running with 2kg dumbbells attached to my legs. The sun was just too hot. I did manage to overtake one more foreigner who was more dehydrated than I was. Giving her a thumbs up sign, I kept surging forward. Was almost chased by some mean dogs at the 7th kilometer, but I think they realised I was no fun because I looked exhausted. This was soon followed by a refreshment point, where I helped myself to electrolytes, water and a piece of banana with salt.
I did try to keep the pace till the 9th km. Ran and walked the last km finishing the 10k in 62 minutes with a total time of 3 hours 36 minutes including transitions. 

Mom was waiting excited at the finish line and said it looked like I was third. I knew there were two more batches who were performing out there and I knew there would be someone better than me in them. I had given it my all and was definitely in the top ten, out of 500 participants – all glory to God! 

Finisher – medal – photos followed and after hydrating myself with 3 litres of water and ‘Tang’ , we placed my bike in the car, located my transition bag and left with joyous memories.

Proud of my mates who trained with me – that’s Mr. Chidambaram who finished in 4 hours

 and Ramu Angappan who finished in five hours. 

Both of them bore with my strict schedules before the race, and finished well within cut off time.
Special thanks to my mom who made it to the venue and my wife who were key factors in encouraging me and uplifting me during my training. 

Both these guys were lucky enough to get a click with my role model – Peter! He is the founder of CTC and a pioneer in health& fitness and environmental betterment. Thanks for being an inspiration to the youth, Peter and congrats on conducting India’s first Full Iron Triathlon!

Kudos to the full iron finishers, who completed their race (3.9 km swim, 180km cycling and 42km running) by 10pm, with special mention to my friends Ahmed Hanifa, Vipul Kumar, Thomas Habel, Nandini Sharma, Vinolee Ramalingam, Akriti Verma and others who I may have forgotten. You guys are my inspiration!

Here are the results for my 51.5k category. Think I’m in 6th place:
Next target – full iron? Or maybe just 3/4th iron? Depends on how well I progress in my training!

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.


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.


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?



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.



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.


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.


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.





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.




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?