IT’S SAID THAT DISTANCE RUNNERS WAKE UP TIRED AND GO TO SLEEP EXHAUSTED. BUT THAT IS FOR THE 26-MILER. FOR THE ULTRA RUNNERS IT’S AN ACT OF TRANSCENDENCE.


BY ADITYA BEE
PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY GLOBERACER
TITLE PAGE ILLUSTRATION BY DEEPAK

I’ve been going for 31 hours, and now just one last lap of the thorny and stony trail lies ahead… one last lonely plod uphill and then over the stony ravines and wild grasses of the former Bhati mines.

The other runners have long since finished, leaving me to bring up the rear. This is the second year I’m trying to complete the 100 miles over a trail that at times we jokingly referred to as Martian.

Gaurav had kept me company all night as we briskly walked and stumbled up and down the trail, our headlights bobbing in unison as we gradually and steadily covered a crucial 30 miles between dusk and dawn. We encounter other runners in the night as we crisscross each other, Gaurav and I calling out each of the four remaining 100-mile runners by name. We see Patrick, the race leader, at one stage comically run with his underwear in his hands, having had to stop and pull them off to avoid chafing.

During the night Param Narang, one of the volunteers (himself an endurance runner who has run 80 miles all the way uphill from Chandigarh to Shimla to raise funds for a school and upon arriving, promptly signed up to run a half-marathon on the spur of the moment!) comes to Patrick’s aid, to help him survive and keep going. We also find Piyush Shah on the course as he chases Patrick and talks to himself. We hear him disappear into the darkness as he goes on in Gujarati; never a dull moment with Piyush.

As the sun rises, I realise that Gaurav won’t be able to continue any longer. He has started to waddle penguin-like, due to the extreme discomfort from the chafing caused by excessive sweat collecting in the groin area. I leave him at the start/finish line as he seeks medical aid and return to continue another lap in the gathering light.

My only tactic to survive this year has been simple, to never stop—except for hydration and small meals I’ve kept on going through the night. As a slower runner I can’t complete the hundred miles in the stipulated 36 hours unless I keep moving and working to stay under the cut-off times that are a part of the rules: 25 miles in 8 hours, 50 in 16, 75 in 28 and the finish line in 36 hours.

I was willing to sacrifice rest and sleep to realise my ambition of completing my first ever ultra-marathon.
There were other reasons, of course; I kept repeating to myself over these past 30 hours that I must do this for the kids I train as a netball coach. I want to honour them and the Netball Development Trust coaching programme I volunteer for. This keeps me going whenever my determination flags, anything to keep from throwing in the towel. It helps to have a strong motive and I was dedicating this run to the girls and boys we reach out to in Uganda and India.

As you run, you also wonder if it’s a form of insanity. Why take on a hundred miles of jungle and trail? What do I gain by doing this? What riches await those who endure?

After all, even the original marathon had a practical purpose. As the legend goes, the marathon has been around since 490 BC when the Greek soldier Pheidipedes ran from Marathon to Athens to deliver the news of victory, falling dead after the mission.

What we recognise today as the marathon traces its origin to the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 when the Greek water carrier Spyridon Louis won the race in just under three hours. It remained a male-only preserve till women started (illegally) running the distance in the mid 1960s; it took a further two decades for the women’s marathon to be included at the Olympics. Women have proven to be far better endurance runners and the records have continued to tumble with the years.

But that is a 26-mile sprint compared to our 100-mile odyssey through these abandoned mines. Well, not all of us plod. Some are faster—this race was already been won hours ago by Patrick “The Waterman” D’Aoust from Switzerland in just under 25 hours. He was closely followed by Piyush who was at his heels with barely 10 minutes between them. They kept crisscrossing each other throughout the night and even the organisers were confused as to who was in front!
Patrick is a water and sanitation expert working for Antenna Technologies in Odisha to deliver safe water to villages in the state. A veteran of many ultras, he is 47, the age ultra-marathoners tend to be. He is economical in his running style. He set a scorching pace throughout, almost breaking the 24-hour record set by Arun Bhardwaj in the first edition two years back.

“ As you run, you also wonder if it’s a form of insanity. Why take on a hundred miles of jungle and trail? What do I gain by doing this? What riches await those who endure? After all, even the original marathon had a practical purpose. Speaking for myself, I can only say running is like a way of life. When I have doubts, when I can’t figure something out, when I need inner peace and to rediscover my own strength and fortitude

Patrick made time to run the Bhati Ultra, as he was returning to Switzerland after his stint in India. He flew in from Bhubaneswar a day before the race. I got a chance to share a couple of meals and chat with him as he had stayed with me for a night before the race. When he finishes this ultra-marathon just after sunrise, after a battle royale with Piyush Shah, he bids me goodbye as he leaves to get some rest and then board his flight to Zurich.

My mind wanders. As the sun comes up, the heat increases too. It’s imperative to stay hydrated and wear protective sunscreen and a legionnaire’s cap when undertaking such madness. Yes, you can get a touch of the sun even when you’re already touched.

It’s hard to say why we do perform excruciating labours. Speaking for myself, I can only say running is like a way of life. When I have doubts, when I can’t figure something out, when I need inner peace and to rediscover my own strength and fortitude, I dig deep and that is what the run is for me, the discovery of myself, my survival, perseverance and being unwavering in one’s commitment towards a goal. Others do yoga or meditate, I run.

None of the other seven runners who started before dawn the day before are professional runners. All of them started running as adults and all of them have a very busy professional life. Running has helped them focus on their own careers and evolve as human beings. It has taken out the rage and replaced it with calm, a collectedness of thought and action focused on positive actions and choices. The ultra-marathon is an exercise in patience and offers insights into equanimity and a deeper understanding of the human condition.

In many ways I’m all an ultra-runner shouldn’t be. I‘ve always been lazy. I don’t train. The secret of success (and indeed of survival) in the ultra is the miles you put into your “bank account” each week. It’s not unusual for runners to run 50, even 100 miles a week all through the year. I don’t do this. Though physically I have the right attributes for running, my lack of training is always going to stop me from setting the trail on fire with pace. It takes intense training and a dedicated regime to be able to sustain pace over long distances.

At 39, I’m the right age for this sport. Those who run longer distances tend to be over 35. These long races don’t attract professional runners who are busy pursuing their careers and bigger prize money over shorter distances.
Vineet Agarwal “Mr. T10” is a dedicated sports enthusiast. Vineet hasn’t run an ultra before this year’s Bhati, and yet finishes third in just under 27 hours. He owns T10, a sportswear company that provides specialised kit for runners and other sports.

This year his company also supported the race and though he is not an athlete by appearance, his credentials speak for themselves after the race. His tactics are good, he has an excellent crew of pacers and manages his fluid intake well; in fact he is efficiency personified. He is closely followed by Arvind Tripathi in fourth (27 hours and 55 minutes). That leaves me alone on the trail.

FROM LAKE TO DESERT, A TEST OF WILL

The Bhati Ultramarathon is organised by a small Bangalore-based outfit led by Kavitha Kanaparthi. Her dedication is apparent, her preparations meticulous. Kavitha returned to India from a good life in the United States to take on a challenge and pursue her dream of creating a running and biking endurance company in India. Today GlobeRacers is active across the country organising ultra-marathons and cycling races, of which the Bhati Lakes Ultra is an annual run, as are others in Uttarkashi, Ooty and Thar, the last being a severe test as it is held in April when day temperatures cross 45 degrees.

There are numerous elite ultra-marathons in the world, the most famous being the Badwater Ultra in California, where runners cross a 135-mile trail from below sea level in Death Valley, enduring temperatures in excess of 49 degrees in the shade to climb up over 8,500 ft. at the end of the trail.

This is an event that requires several qualifying factors, including the runner having run three ultra-marathons the previous year and a written application to convince the organisers of your intent to run and complete the race. Entries are limited each year. But they have no trouble finding participants.

Increasingly, organisers are throwing in 24-hour runs as well. At this year’s Bhati run, Tanvir Kazmi and Lovey Uppal signed up for this and completed 100 kilometres (62 miles) well within the allotted time and then went off to have a good sleep! In this form of the long run, the runner chases a distance of his or her choice within an allotted time. The speed tends in these affairs to be faster and it requires a different plan from the participants.

There are also other extremes, where runners run a “loop”, none more so than the Self-Transcendence 3,100 mile race held each year over a single city block of 883 mts. length in New York City. Runners are required to complete no less than 5,389 laps in less than the maximum allotted 52 days for an average distance of 100 kilometres a day.

This race has been held by the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team since 1985 when it was a 1,000 mile race and was extended to 2,700 and eventually 3,100 miles (5,000 kilometres) in 1996. The current record is held by Wolfgang Schwerk, a German runner who completed the distance in 41 days and 8 hours in 2006. The women’s record is held by the American runner Suprabha Bjeckford who ran the course in just over 49 days and 14 hours.

Ultra-marathons have been around for a while. No one really knows how; maybe it started when someone didn’t stop at the finish line and just continued to run home. It probably began when the challenge of the standard 42 kilometres and 195 yards no longer sufficed. That’s a bit like Edmund Hillary rappelling up a minor ten-thousand- feet-peak only to see the magnificence of Everest towering above. An ultra-marathon is any distance that has this Everest-like unattainable quality about it—the difficulty of the distance is the enticement to try it, and once you’ve done it you’re hooked for life.

Piyush Shah or the “Ahmedabad Express” as he is fondly called by his friends, is benign, smiling as he grinds away mile after mile, usually found under a weather-beaten cap, always has words of support for his fellow runners and loads of good advice: “stay hydrated”, “don’t run too fast”, “find your own pace”. He is the only ultra-marathoner I’ve ever met who chews tobacco.

An electric substation installer by profession, he works hard to run his own business, and he runs equally hard too. Though he looks every one of his 53 years, he runs faster and more solidly than many half his age. I once paced Piyush for a few hours and I can certify that he’s way faster than my regular pace. I’m 14 years younger.

Another quirky fact about Piyush is that he runs for long spells in what are in essence canvas slippers. How he manages to do that I haven’t quite understood. He’s taken a fancy to riding long distances on his bicycle, and the mileage he puts in both on foot and in the saddle is truly gargantuan. He’s planning for the legendary Bad Water ultra in 2014. There’s no stopping this express.

The Bhati Ultra was won last year by Bhupendrasing Rajput in 27 hours and 28 minutes, but this year he didn’t return to defend his title as Mr. Bhati. Having won the Thar desert ultra as well, Rajput is busy preparing for other challenges. Also missing is Vishwas Bhamburkar who limped into second place, having overcome serious physical stresses en route, crewed by none other than the Ahmedabad Express himself!

A hundred miles is a long distance on foot. A mountaineer wouldn’t dream of climbing a high mountain without the right gear and training. For us, it’s not about the right crampons and ladders, or the danger of crevasses or avalanches. Our preparations are a lot about attitude, intention and fortitude.

For the majority of us it’s about learning about our physical limitations and working with and within them, running ever longer distances and putting “miles in the bank”. It’s also about hydration and listening to your body. Every runner runs and prepares differently, there are no hard and fast rules. All runners like to be comfortable and take a lot of care to avoid chafing and other motion and friction-related issues.

“ Runners are not a tribe of masochists. We don’t enjoy or pursue pain. Instead we try to harness our abilities and remain within our physical limitations. In fact, the
runners are mostly in other professions, individuals who are stable in the physical, mental and, above all, emotional sense

This leads to a lot of leg pulling as we joke about one of us needing to apply band aids over our sensitive nipples and another frets about the right type of socks or underwear. The usual nervous jokes at the start line are about these concerns. Some of us wear sophisticated watches that give lap times and other data, while others are happy not to wear a watch or worry about the time at all.

Experienced runners tend to fall into a rhythm and a lot of what they do (and don’t) is based as much upon their emotional as well as physiological state. Endurance running has made me realise that as so often it is said, it is 80 per cent in the mind and 20 per cent in the head. It’s not for the faint of heart and requires mountains of patience, planning, calm, perseverance and endurance.

For all that, runners are not a tribe of masochists. We don’t enjoy or pursue pain. We don’t relish discomfort. Instead we try to harness our abilities and remain within our physical limitations to transcend pain and achieve something we wouldn’t be able to if we didn’t do follow a certain system and method.

Ultra running seems to be a madman’s (or woman’s) preserve; in fact, the runners are mostly in other professions, individuals who are stable in the physical, mental and, above all, emotional sense. In the previous edition, the Bhati Ultra had star appeal. We had the hunky Milind Soman take on the full hundred miles. He faced issues with footwear and changed to run for the major part in Vibram “barefoot running shoes”.

These are ideal for flat surfaces and roads, but using them on the jagged trail of the Bhati Lakes was truly phenomenal and Milind deserved an award for doing that. He totalled up a commendable 80 miles before throwing in the towel.

Though he didn’t return this year, he has gone on to run a 1,500 kilometre Greenathon with his friend Raj Vadgama who also ran the Bhati in 2011 and likewise was unable to complete the 100 miles. This is no easy race. It isn’t just the distance, the climate and the trail combine to do you in.

I had tried to complete Bhati Ultra the previous year. I had no idea how to prepare, what to expect and started off strong and fast, only to realise I had miscalculated and under-estimated this beast. By sunset on the first day I was finished. My body gave up. I had covered 45 miles and couldn’t even walk anymore. I had tried to continue with both knees bandaged, but couldn’t. I had crawled into a tent and slept for 10 hours straight. My race was over.

The next morning, still aching and barely able to walk, I decided to go out on the trail and complete at least 100 km even if I had to shuffle all the way.

As I moved and my body had lost its stiffness, I had been able to walk briskly, and continue. Though I had long since been disqualified I got some satisfaction in having endured and broken through my personal barriers.

As I lumbered up towards the apex of the trail, and entered the refreshment tent, I came upon Aparna and Gaurav lying on the floor. They were struggling to resume after having moved all through the night, and were completely exhausted. Aparna was desperately short of sleep. They had spent the night moving despite hallucinating. At times Aparna lay down on the dusty track and had tried to catch a nap. I encouraged them not to give up, to overcome their exhaustion, and in Gaurav’s case an excruciating back pain as well.

I offered to be their pacer and accompany them till the end of the 100 miles, and found myself suddenly on a mission—to get these two first-time ultra-marathoners to the finish inside the stipulated 36 hours!

“ Daytime temperatures cross 40 degrees Celsius as there is no cover and we bide our time as day reluctantly gives way to night and the sun disappears over the horizon. The night offers respite from the heat but throws up other challenges. No longer will it possible to run as fast, and a misplaced step could be disastrous. Most of us choose a steady pace the whole night and then quicken it to complete the distance after dawn

So started our saga, as we commenced and sustained a brisk walk (running was by now out of question for all three of us). I led the way and set the pace and carried extra bottles of water and Gatorade. Hydration and maintaining focus was the key here and we had to keep to a tight schedule if we were complete the miles. We still had the last quarter of the race to cover in under six hours.

I was determined not to let Aparna and Gaurav give up or to leave them, no matter what happened. This was going to be our Ultra. Instead of completing a hundred miles myself, which was no longer possible, I would assist and ensure two others completed their race.

Their perseverance and endurance under the blazing sun amid the scorching rocks of the course was something to see. We were being baked alive, but we logged up one slow but steady lap after another. Aparna and Gaurav dug ever deeper into their reserves.

They spoke less and less, kept their heads down and feet moving and going, as we completed the fourth and last of the six-mile laps and reached the finish line with 40 minutes to spare.

This by far was my proudest running moment. I had completed 70 miles but, far more importantly, helped two others stay on course for their own finishes. Though I didn’t win a medal in 2011, I gained two beautiful medals that shall remain forever with me—Aparna and Gaurav.

Running definitely changed my life. It had already changed my attitude when I took on the marathon, and it was forever altered when I took on the ultra-marathon. Over the past seven years I’ve been running all kinds of distances. I’ve discovered an inner strength, vitality and determination that helps me to stay strong within and to surmount any obstacle and challenge that life has thrown at me. If I had to choose just one positive factor, it would be that it has made me a more complete and focused individual. The difference shows literally in everything that I do.

Running, and ultra-running in particular, has taught me that preparation, attention to detail and due diligence are necessary to achieve goals—that there is a beginning, middle and an end to everything and to savour and experience each moment. I seem to be one with everything, the birds in the trees, the rocks underfoot, and that bush over there. The trail and I are one. I am and always will be a runner.

To misquote the Rene Descartes, I run, therefore, I am.
The Tarahumara tribe of northwestern Mexico is famous for its endurance running, covering up to 200 miles non-stop in two days. The Indian Dak runner and the Inca Chaski tribe runners also ran long distances barefoot, long before it became fashionable to do so in high-end trainers.

I love running for the simple fact that it’s uncomplicated. You don’t need much in the way of kit and equipment. For long distance runners, there is only one over-riding criterion: comfort. We soon develop our preferences and don’t often change. We tend to be fixed in that sense, obstinate even. Once we find a running shoe that provides stability and protection, we are loath to experiment with others. When we find the right fabric for T-shirts and shorts, we don’t change. Even the type of sock is important (in my case tiny foot-hugging ones individually sculpted for each foot).

We don’t seek the most expensive pair of shoes but the most comfortable one. Over a hundred miles and more, the constant rubbing and chafing that the body endures comes at a cost, blisters, lots of them, some of them may even be full of blood.

Towards the end of my run this year I stop and sit down in the dirt beside the track, remove a safety pin that holds my running number in place and use it to puncture a massive blister on the big toe of my right foot. It was causing me to hobble. The relief is instant. I’m able to continue running.

Hydration is essential in a long run like the Bhati Ultra. It’s necessary to drink enough fluids to feel the urge to urinate at least every four hours. The loss of body weight can be drastic. This year sees Jaspreet, a runner covering a hundred kilometres, lose over four kg. He’s fortunate to not be pulled out by the medical team who force him to stop, hydrate and regain his fluid levels.

THE ULTIMATE ULTRA

In India, ultra-running is a new trend and there are few events to choose from, but an inspired and determined enthusiast, Dr. Rajat Chauhan, has redefined the ultra-marathon in truly Himalayan fashion by creating the LA Ultra, which is the world’s toughest by far. It will tax the runner to the limit.

It is run at extremely high altitude in Ladakh and starts at Khardung La at no less than 14,000 ft. Runners then ascend over 10,000 ft. And also descend over 8,500 ft. over the 222-mile distance. They endure a temperature difference of over 46 degrees Celsius. This is by far the highest and most difficult ultra-marathon. It is so exclusive that one must be invited to run in it by Chauhan. Despite all these exertions, there is no prize money on offer.

The track at the Bhati 100 is even more jagged and loose than the previous year, with the so-called “tarmac” section being a horror. It’s nothing more than loose pebbles which used to be a “road” two decades ago. These pebbles have long since lost the tar that kept them together. As this once-upon-a-time-road peters out, there’s a short section of jagged rocks laid once for a road to the township of Kant Enclave that never was, and then you hit the “trail”.

At first it’s all gentle, just sand winding through thorny scrubland, and you coast along, a great relief from the rocks and the “road”. You cross a hamlet and then a water body where fat buffaloes are soaking themselves. The course becomes progressively harder as you climb, and the little shade that was there disappears. As you work your way higher, at the three-mile mark you reach a tent at the end of a sudden incline. This is the first aid station. A short break to replenish your water supply and grab a piece of fruit or a sandwich, and you run off further out as the trail gets thornier and narrower.

At the four-mile mark it’s no longer motorable by even the most adroit of off-road vehicles; you descend into a gorge and then make your way up again towards the apex. At the seven-mile mark, after crossing two more lovely lakes formed by rainwater collecting in the strip-mined Bhati quarries, you reach the second aid station. At this point you turn around to return the same way.

The 2012 race had us doing four loops of the course up to this second aid station and then eight from the start line to the first aid station after sunset on the first day. It’s easier to organise a loop race as the logistics are more manageable and a runner is less likely to stray off course. The Bhati trail requires the runner to stay focused throughout and attentive. A step wrong can result in a twisted ankle or worse and the end of the race.

Daytime temperatures cross 40 degrees Celsius as there is no cover and we bide our time as day reluctantly gives way to night and the sun disappears over the horizon. The night offers some respite from the heat but throws up other challenges. No longer will it possible to run as fast as in daylight, and a misplaced step could be disastrous. Most of us choose to keep a steady pace the whole night and then quicken it to complete the distance after dawn.

I’m bringing up the rear. Eight of us started out over 32 hours ago. By the first afternoon, two have left the race, having fallen prey to heat exhaustion, upset stomachs and strains and sprains. This morning, Gaurav Madan joined the casualties. He had fallen behind the cut-off times. I’m the only left on the course. It’s just me and my Mars-like trail. I enjoy this loneliness.

It’s a positive loneliness that makes me appreciate life and my connection with others all the more. I enjoy this moment and all that preceded it, because I know that all runs will be completed and all distances shall eventually be covered.

Gaurav, crazy as always, is the youngest at 23, unusual for an ultra-runner. He was hell bent on beating this trail once more. Gaurav is known for his lonely runs across Delhi, having once run the entire length of the peripheral Ring Road solo!

“ Gaurav has crazier ideas: To organise an ultra from the Taj Mahal to Gwalior Fort over 222 kilometres through the bird sanctuary of Bharatpur, and the once dacoit-infested Chambal ravines, in June, when the temperature will be 45 degrees and over in the shade This will be a self-supported run. Runners will wear CamelBaks, a water bag carried over the shoulder like a backpack, with a tube that allows one to drink, making bottles unnecessary

Aparna has since proved that her completion of the Bhati Ultra was no fluke. She completed three more ultras in quick succession, a 135-mile ultra in Uttarkashi, The Thar desert 100 miler and the Nilgiris 100 km challenge (the last in under 16 hours!). All these races were organised by Kavitha Kanaparthi of Globeracers.

Dr Rajat Chauhan has been impressed by Aparna’s performances and invited her to the 2013 LA Ultra Marathon, held in the dizzying heights of Ladakh. Aparna doesn’t look like she can last these distances, but this is only an illusion. Underneath that frail frame is the heart of a tigress.

Still in her early thirties she is an inspiration to women, proving that they can take on any male runner, that this is not a sport limited to age or gender.

As for Gaurav, he’s disillusioned because he couldn’t complete the Bhati Ultra this year. The trail has proved that it’s still a monster, a dog that can’t be tamed. But he has crazier ideas: To organise an ultra from the Taj Mahal to Gwalior Fort over 222 kilometres of hot and dusty trails through the bird sanctuary of Bharatpur, and the once dacoit-infested Chambal ravines.

As if this is not enough, he’s scheduled it in June, when the temperature will be 45 degrees and over, even in the shade (not that there will be any en route). This will be a self-supported run. Runners will wear CamelBaks, a water bag carried over the shoulder like a backpack, with a tube that allows one to drink, making bottles unnecessary. But you have has to train to run with one and get used to carrying one’s own water, just like a camel does in its hump.

For every crazy man and woman who runs an ultra, there are many more who make it possible for them to do so; medical staff who take care of the runners and keep a regular check on blood pressure and other vital signs including body weight during the run, volunteers who feed us, prepare our fluid intakes, listen to our complaints and always give us their support and smiles. Some of us test these volunteers to the limit.

Then there are the pacers. Lots of runners like someone with fresh legs to run along and “pace” us. This is permitted in an Ultra. However, there are races that prohibit the use of pacers. One must therefore maintain one’s own pace. It often helps to talk to get the mind clear of things. Many an interesting conversation has been shared by runners under a pale moon on a dark night.

The Bhati ultra-marathon is now three editions old and runs over a trail that starts at the Delhi-Faridabad border in what once was planned to be the mini township of Kant Enclave. The promoters soon found the name was only too apt, as they were stopped by the Delhi High Court from continuing and they can’t develop the land further.

Besides, the area suffers from severe water shortages as it is all rocks and no soil. The Bhati mines themselves were closed down in May 2009 by the Supreme Court and they slowly turned into lakes with the accumulation of rain water. The area is sparsely populated and no development is permitted.

“ My body is at its limit, it’s 3 o’clock in the afternoon and over 40 degrees. I’ve done it. I have kept my promise to myself, and my determination to run and complete my first ultra-marathon has been fulfilled. I raise my tired arms as I shuffle across the finish in 33 hours and 19 minutes, the last of five runners to complete this race

Adjacent to the mines is the Asola Wildlife Sanctuary where an Eco Task Force was set up to revive the local ecology and over 7,00,000 saplings have been planted. One of the beautiful aspects of this trail is the grazing camels and cattle, wild Nilgai and peacocks. We are in the Aravalis, one of the world’s oldest mountain chains, and this area is part of the very end of this chain, the Delhi Ridge which peters out at Raisina Hill, on which you will find the President’s Palace.

This year the Bhati Lakes Ultra is also a qualifying event for the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, an annual alpine run that traverses the Alps from France to Italy in a loop of 100 miles with gains of over 9,600 feet in altitude. This alpine ultra-marathon must be completed within 46 hours. This year, the Bhati Ultra will be a 32-hour race, cutting four hours off the time we had at our disposal for the first three editions. In fact, if I’m to complete it I’ll have to run faster or I will be disqualified.

I’ve been inspired by the story of a farmer who turned up at the start line of the world’s longest ultra-marathon race, the annual 875-kilometre Sydney to Melbourne Ultra back in 1983 (the race has not been held since 1991).

Cliff Young, despite his name, was 61 and the press doubted he would complete, leave alone win the race. Young was soon left behind as the elite runners took the pace and disappeared.

All of them ran fast during the day and then slept six hours each night. It would be a five-day race at the very least. Young had other ideas.

To the amazement of other runners and the press, he was going strong on the second morning and had continued jogging all night. He was unaware that he would need to sleep and in fact continued to run the entire distance without even taking a nap! As each day turned into night, Young crept ever closer to the leading pack and by the last night had amazingly taken the lead. The sheep farmer completed the run in first place and set a course record. He was awarded the A$10,000 first prize much to his own astonishment as he was unaware that there was any prize money on offer. He shared it out with the other runners and become an Australian hero overnight.

The next year, Young returned and still managed to finish in seventh place, despite a displaced hip!
The ‘funny way’ that Young moved has since been employed by many runners to tackle long distances and the “Young Shuffle” is the preferred mode for those running long distance races now. In fact, none of the runners sleep either.

I’m almost there. I’ve managed to keep going and now I break into a slightly quicker jog as I see the finish line at the end of a very long and searing tarmac road. It takes all my concentration to stay focused and put one foot in front of the other and count bushes and landmarks as I near my objective.

Each step bringing me closer home and a smile slowly, but surely starts to creep across my tired face.
My body is at its limit, it’s 3 o’clock in the afternoon and over 40 degrees. There are very few people left at the finish line to welcome this straggler home but I’ve done it. I have kept my promise to myself, and my determination to run and complete my first ultra-marathon has been fulfilled. I raise my tired arms as I shuffle across the finish in 33 hours and 19 minutes, the last of five runners to complete this race.

My mind is empty. For the moment I’m glad that I can stop running. But I know it won’t be long before the trail beckons me to return and continue this madness.

(Aditya Bee runs India’s only mosaic installation company which he juggles with his passion for endurance running.)

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One Comment

Kavitha Kanapathi, 1 year ago

Adi, it doesn’t sound like self promotion, but an ad for all the races and the runners :) Kidding. You have the heart of an ultra runner; endurance is the key, and anyone who knows you know how much you are capable of enduring! Go Adi. May you run a thousand miles, and inspire many many along the way. I’ll be around to organize some more insane runs and rides :)

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Posted on 11 October, 2014 in Uncategorized

Road to apocalypse

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THE MARUTI WAY

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Kashmir: From Sufi to Salafi

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Gift This Magazine

8 October 2014 at 10 : 02 AM

Road to apocalypse

Posted by in Edit

How many times can a state change its tack, and pretend that it’s staying the course? The answer, my friends … as Bob Dylan might have said. This isn’t a question that can ...

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8 February 2012 at 10 : 32 AM

A few good doctors

Posted by in Web Specials

In rural Chhattisgarh, haunted by poverty and fragile healthcare, a 55-year-old man weighs only 28kg; an eight-year-old boy will die of rabies because his labourer parents work ...

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