Here is a write-up of mine that appeared in Bangalore office's newsletter.
The Longest Run - Bangalore Ultra-Marathon 2010 - by Yogesh Rao
Many of you may remember my Monday Musing article (http://www.facebook.com/note.php?saved&¬e_id=467022274905#!/note.php?note_id=136464794905) last year after my experience at Kaveri Trail Marathon. I had been burning for another Marathon experience ever since then. The burning for another marathon kept going up progressively when I missed two very important marathons of this year, Auroville Marathon at Pondicherry and Kaveri Trail Marathon at Srirangapatna.The Bangalore Ultra trail near Hessaraghatta happens to be one of the most beautiful places to run in Bangalore. But since Bangalore is my city of birth, I have to say that it is the most beautiful place to run in this world. It has rolling lawns that exemplify Savanna of South America. Running here is known to be an out of the world experience. I started seriously thinking about registering for the run in the 3rd week of October. I had an issue though, I was out of shape. I used to go to the gym fairly regularly, but buffet meals that are part every event had taken its toll on my system. I had received an email from the organizers about the Bangalore Ultra Event to be held at Hessarghatta on Sunday, Nov 14th 2010. I was not sure if I would be able to run. Several questions ran through my mind - what if I am unable to practice enough, what if I am unable to run, or what if I have to travel. The human mind's power of reasoning gets in the way of doing things the Nike way, "just do it".
I finally registered for the 50km run event with apprehension. Registering and paying money was an important event. There's something about putting one's money where one's mind is. Once money leaves one's wallet, the level of commitment suddenly goes up, big time! So, I started practicing in earnest. The practice involved running as many 10km runs as possible in a week with a half marathon (21km run) thrown in on a weekend day. I also started being more careful with the food I ate. I put myself on a diet comprising of multi-grain bread, low fat cheese, curd/yoghurt, and pulses. One of the challenges with being a vegetarian is the number of protein choices one has. I therefore had to stick to a diet that had generous quantities of protein-rich vegetarian food like tofu, pulses and beans. I soon found myself running a little easier and more comfortably. It's amazing what good food and a healthy life style does to one's cardio-fitness levels. With a few weeks I found that I was able to run 10km without my heart pounding hard.
I was faced with several challenges in my training between the time I registered for the event and the event itself. Most significantly big meal events like Diwali festival, Navrathri festival, and several major IDM4 launch event at work. Each of these involved huge meals and time commitment that made it difficult to go to the gym. This continued all the way through until the day before the event which happened to be my mother-in-law's birthday (again, a huge meal).
Finally, it was the day before the run. A very familiar feeling of anxiety began to clutch me. The stress was palpable and I was feeling knots in my stomach. I was unable to focus on conversations, I found myself drifting away in between conversations. That evening, I went through a mental check-list and charged my Garmin Forerunner and my iPod. I also loaded my iPod with eight hours of music, sufficient for a long run. I had a fresh wave of panic attack at 6pm on the evening before the event, I did not have the directions to the venue. I was searching for it frantically and sent out a couple of emails to friends. I then called the venue, but their directions were confusing. I then chanced up on a print-out from the organizers, it had the directions I was looking for. Phew! I was still tensed when went to bed at 8:30PM.
I had my alarm set to 2:55am for the morning on the day of the run. I remember tossing and turning until 9pm the previous night thinking, "I better sleep at least for 6 hours". I woke up startled thinking I was late, but no, I had woken up at 1:50am. I then tried going back to sleep for another hour but kept drifting between uneasy sleep and startled awakening. It was 2:50am finally. I quickly showered, woke up my wife, and had the ritualistic hot steaming cup of coffee. I left my home at 3:30am. I drove on west of chord road through the metro construction work with butterflies in my stomach. The FM station started playing "Zoobie Doobie" from the movie, 3 idiots somewhere near Rajajinagar. Something about the casual tone of that song suddenly made me relax. I finally smiled and told myself that it was not such a big deal, I would go there and give it my best. As I got on to NH4 from West-of-chord road, I realized that I did not know where was the Black Reliance Building where I had to turn left. I stopped to ask for directions at a bus stop. One of the persons there told me in Kannada, "Sir, I need to go near the Black Reliance Building, if you give me a drop I can show you where to turn left". I was very apprehensive about allowing a stranger in the car but reluctantly agreed. Luckily, he turned out to be a genuine person looking for a drop and not a thief or a psychopath. He also showed me where to turn left. At that point, I discovered direction boards that the Ultra Marathon organizers had painstakingly installed at all the spots. I finally made it to Our Native Village where the event was being organized.
I reached the venue at 4am and the 50k flag-off was not until 5am. I therefore had an hour to relax and socialize. I met Santhosh Padmanabhan, the super-man who was continuously running for 24 hours with the goal of running a 160kms. He was being painstakingly supported by another friend, Kavitha Kanaparthi on her bicycle. They were doing this for an organization called, Asha which works for educating the underprivileged children in rural areas.
It was finally 5am and time for the flag off. The run was flagged off by Arvind Krishnan and Arvind Bharathi of Runners for Life. They flagged off the event with the note that we could run as much as we want, i.e. not stop at 50kms if we had the energy to do more (several people actually ran more than 50k!). I ran the first 5kms in partial darkness. And then at 6am, the sun came out in all its glory and gave us the first view of the landscape. Oh my god! The landscape at Hessarghatta is breathtaking (check out the pictures). The rolling green pastures brings pictures of the Savannah grass lands to mind. In a land starved city like Bangalore where open spaces are like a breath of life, this was a heavenly experience. It also felt great running alongside friends and familiar faces. There were several people overtaking me as I ran. I had to keep telling myself that I was only racing with myself, no one else. My goal was to finish the run. I completed my first 25kms in about 2 hours and 45 minutes of running.
Strange things start happening to mind and body when one runs past the 37.5km mark. We had been warned as much by Arvind Krishnan of Runners for Life. You know your body is feeling pain somewhere, but the mind is in a relaxed state of Niravana. The music, which by then has become white noise, makes it feel like everything is normal. At this point, my mind started drifting towards things that ranged between strange and morbid. The green pastures with cows grazing looked like the happy emptiness that the mind encounters in mythologies after the demise of one's body. Also, the masked pain being encountered by the body made me wonder if this was the after death experience that humanity has craved to learn about ever since its advent on earth. Who knows? But, these strange thoughts went through my mind amidst a feeling of serenity created by the feeling of being beyond pain.
The best part of the day came when after I had been running for about 6 hours and 25 minutes, as I was nearing the 49.5km mark. I could see familiar faces of my wife, children, and my in-laws. The feeling of serenity was replaced by an extreme feeling of happiness. My family had traveled on a public transport bus for nearly 25kms and then taken an 3 wheeler for the 10 more kms just so they could be there at the finish line to cheer me. What a great gesture! At the end of the day all our lives are only as important as the people who love us. My family's presence had been doubtful that day (it's not easy to get to Hessarghatta). But, their presence there in spite of all the trouble it took them to get there, showed how much they really cared for me. What a lovely gesture indeed, I feel blessed!
I end this Monday Musing article with the same words that I finished my last one with, Hail the spirit of marathon. I hope the next one sees more of my colleagues running along my side.