When I started writing this blog, I thought of writing stories that have inspired me to do the stuff that I do and make me say ‘why will I do it again’. But, there are also stories about people that I have had the pleasure of knowing. It is some of these stories that I would like to unfold for many.
I really admire those who have the courage to try out something big on their own. And one such courageous person is Kieren Dsouza. I am always heard saying this, “Kieren is one of the finest ultra runners that we have in India”. And I totally mean it!!
I met him at the time when I was doing my first 100 km race in Nilgiris. Kieren had also participated in a 100 km race there and had finished it in a little over 13 hours. Killing those hills stretching over- 100 km, in 13 hours, I was massively impressed with this guy sitting on the table next to me, at Hyderabad Biryani House in Ooty.
And over the years, I have met him during many running events and have seen him grow and become better at what he already does so well. He has ran a spectrum of races from Bhatti Lakes, to Stadium run to Mont Blanc, and have done them really well!!!
In fact, very recently he finished the tough 111 km La Ultra High in a crazy time of 15 hours 30 minutes. Considering the altitude, this is bloody insane!!!
Just to give you a teaser on how this guy trains, during a training run before La Ultra High, a friend of mine Shailja Singh Sridhar was pacing him for a 60 km run on her bike and this fellow did a full marathon (42 km) on a training run in 3 hours 23 minutes. A pace many can’t imagine on the flattest of the surfaces during a fully supported actual marathon.
To me he completely redefines the perception of ultra runners being slow runners in India.
Now getting to his next event, he is participating in Spartathlon.
It is one of the few runs I aspire to do someday. And I am sure many like me want to, too.
But, currently I am so happy and proud that our Kieren will be on the start-line at Spartathlon 2016, this September.
So, what is this Spartathlon? And what is the fuss about?
This is how it is described on their website:
SPARTATHLON is a historic ultra-distance foot race that takes place in September of every year in Greece. It is one of the most difficult and satisfying ultra-distance races in the world because of its unique history and background.
But, I will tell you as a runner, you should know it is a race between Athens and Sparta over the distance of 246 km. And you have to do this distance in 36 hours- non-stop (ouch)
Now to begin to tell you what a beast of an event this Spartathlon is, well, it is one of the most difficult races to qualify for:
To qualify for Spartathlon, you have to achieve one of the following
- Finish a 100-km race within 10:00 hours (men) or 10:30 hours (women).
- Cover a distance of 120 kms (men) or 110 kms (women) in a 12-hour race. (We have seen even in our most well controlled stadium runs, with all the hydration and nutrition facilities at your beck and call this has been tough to achieve)
- Finish a 100-mile race in 22:30 hours (men) or 24:00 hours (women). (oh my god, that means no sleep??? )(And kindly note: from next year -2017- on, the qualifying performance for a 100-mile race is changing to 21:00 hours for men and 22:00 hours for women)
- Finish Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run within 24:00 hours (men) or 25:00 hours (women)
- Cover 180 kms (men) or 170 kms (women) in a 24-hour race. ( two who managed this miracle can totally apply)
- Finish a non-stop 200-220 km race within 29:00 hours (men) or 30:00 hours (women).
- Finish UltraBalaton 2015 (221 kms) in 31:00 hours (men) or 32:00 hours (women) (note: the Ultrabalaton edition of 2014 – 212 kms is covered by criterion
- Finish a non-stop race longer than 220 kms or Badwater within 41:00 hours (men) or 43:00 hours (women). (Note: from next year -2017- on: the qualifying performance for a non-stop race longer than 220 kms is changing to 36:00 hours for men and 37:00 hours for women. The qualifying performance for Badwater is changing to 39:00 hours for men and 40:00 hours for women. Finally, from 2017 on, Grand Union Canal Race has its own distinctive qualifying performance of 34:00 hours for men and 35:00 hours for women)
- Finish Sakura Michi 250-km race in 36 hours
- Finish Yamaguchi 100 Hagi-O-Kan Maranic 250-km race in 42:00 hours (men) or 43:00 hours (women).
- Cover a distance of 280 kms (men) or 260 kms (women) in a 48-hour race. (next year’s target maybe)
*Source: Event Website
And you thought the qualifier was tough. Then please check out the crazy sectional cut-offs.
|Check Point No
||Distance from Athens
||Final Point Closes
||Distance for Sector
|0 – 22
|22 – 35
|35 – 43
|43 – 52
|52 – 60
|60 – 75
*Source: Event Website
NOW you know why am I making a big deal out of it…
I caught up with Kieren and asked him these 17 questions that I need to know answers for before he ventures out to conquer Spartathlon:
1. Why did you choose Spartathlon?
Well, Spartathlon is one of the biggest races out there. From what I have heard, it is easily the greatest foot race on earth :), so I can’t wait to experience it.
2. When did you set your eyes on it?
It’s been a few years since I was aware of the run and dreamed of doing it someday. It got a little more real when I qualified last year and really real when my entry got accepted.
3. You just completed the La Ultra High 111 km challenge and that too in a record time. How was that race and how are you recovering for this next big challenge?
La Ultra was great, the weather was great and things pretty much moved smoothly during the run. I feel I am getting along ok. I have a couple of long runs planned in the next few weeks so I will get a better idea then.
4. Spartathlon has a very difficult cut-off qualifying time. Which race was your qualifier and how did you achieve your qualifying time for this race?
So, I did the 100miles at Bhatti Lakes Ultra last year. That was my first 100 miler as well. I did not really think much about Spartathlon before Bhatti, as I was not sure how I would be able to do the distance. Once I finished, I realized that my finish time was fast enough to qualify me for Spartathlon.
5. It is in September, less than a month to go, how are you training for it?
As of now, being in Faridabad, I am trying to make good use of the hot (high) temperature. I have stupidly hurt my back a little and have been resting for the last few days, but I will get down to business from the weekend again :). I plan to train three times (thrice) a day; run twice a day and cycle in the afternoons, mostly spending a good amount of time in the heat (as I find the heat quite hard), and a good deal of strength training.
6. What is your ‘real target’ and what is your ‘optimistic target’ for Spartathlon?
Well, my optimistic target is to finish and real target is to finish well :). I have read a lot and chatted with tons of people who have run the Spartathlon, they all warn me to take it nice and easy till the 81km mark as it has a tight cutoff of 9hrs 30min. So that is what I plan to do, take it easy till there and then try and last the rest of the distance of 145km 🙂
7. It is a race with a lot of sectional cut-offs. Which one looks the most challenging to you?
Well each one would have its own challenges depending on where I am in the race. 81km in 9hrs 30min is fast, and then you have 246km in 36hrs, which is also fast so all of them are going to be challenging.
8.You have ran so many ultras, both in India and internationally. Which one has been your toughest?
Well, the toughest is the one that I am yet to complete, whether it is Spartathlon or a run after that. From what I have done, they all have had their own share of up and downs.
9. During ultras, what is the strategy that you follow? For eg. I run the first half much faster than then second half. I run much well in the sun than at the night. So what is your strategy?
I have never really thought of these things, I work from race to race and try and keep it simple – make sure you are not hurting at the 10k mark in a 100k race. So I try and start out at a pace I am comfortable with and one I can manage for a long duration. As for the day or night, it depends a lot – both has its pros and cons- the nights are cool, it does get a little boring as you can’t see much but if there is company things get a lot easier. The day brings in some light, it feels much better that I can look at the place I am running through, but then it also gets warmer. I enjoy it both.
10. How do you hydrate yourself? And what do you have for nutrition?
A lot depends on the temperatures, if it is cool I drink less, but if it is hot I drink more. I try and keep a simple strategy 1 liter an hour – 500ml of it is water and 500ml is RRUNN PRE/DURING. I have some solid food that is provided at the aid stations, gels from Unived, Unived RRUNN PRE and DURING Drink mixes. When it is hot I definitely take a salt tablet every hour or so.
11. What do you tell yourself when you are feeling low?
Hahahah, well I am normally cursing my self why did I not train harder, but then I move on and start focusing on short term race goals about getting to a particular point, or to run for X amount more etc.
12. What is the regime that you follow in the final week of a race like this one? Do you train till the last day? Or do you rest for 10 days before such a race?
Pretty much the last week is quite easy, nothing specific maybe a couple of 10km runs in the early part of the week and a few shorter ones closer to the day. I would also do a good deal of walking around. The last day is mostly rest, maybe a bit of walking 3-4kms.
13. Do you worry too much about numbers- pace, heart-rate, etc? Or you follow your body’s natural rhythm and take it forward?
Naah, I don’t really worry much, I mostly keep a check on how I am feeling and focus and getting into a good easy pace.
14. At what point in the race do you think the going will get tough? And how do you plan to handle it?
I have no clue about when things could get rough. I just hope I am make it at the 81km mark nice and comfortable. I have never done anything more than 160km, so at Spartathlon I am going to have a good 86km more to cover after the 160km mark. Nope, I have no clue as to when it is going to get tough, it could be before the 81km, getting up the mountain at 160km or maybe after. Well, I like to keep moving during the run and I do not really like to sit much, so that is what I am going to do, focus on putting the next step forward.
15. Every race is a new learning. Can you elaborate with eg. some of the learning from your previous races that you would apply in this one?
Make sure I enjoy the parts I am running through (what better way to explore a new place than running through it)
Make sure I get in some food regularly. (Did not eat much during LaUltra, would have been better if I had)
Keep my salt tabs handy.
Ah, I forget this in every race but I definitely need to keep a cap (I had decide to keep a cap for the day bit of La Ultra and conveniently forgot it)
16. Ultra running requires a lot of sacrifice- food, social life, etc. the list is long. What has been your biggest sacrifice?
I have None really, I enjoy every bit of it.
17. One thing that you are looking forward to after Spartathlon?
The next race and training for it :).
Kieren during one of his training runs
Kieren close to the Effiel Tower