I ran 100 miles- a distance that holds very very special place in every ultra marathoner’s life. I can also say, any runner’s life.
Like many other runs, it was a great learning experience.
It was a run that took place in Singapore and I was among 46 participants running 100 miles. Having participated in many ultras back home, I am familiar with the whole running distance over many hours kind of format. But, what hit me in Singapore was completely unique.
So, this was the drill. It was an out and in race. 80.7 km one way and same distance back kind of run. The race started at 7 am in the morning on Saturday. It had many sectional cut-offs, like most ultras do. The aid stations were at varied distances such as 12 km, 9 km, 8 km, 7 km, 14 km, 15 km, 5 km and 10 km. They were called CPs. CP1, CP2, CP3……CP8. So we had to run from start line to CP8 and CP 8 to the start line. The distance of 100 miles (over 160 km, non-stop)
This was the first time that I was running an ultra marathon offshore; hence the whole experience was unique to another level.
Now, I am not the one who speaks about the problems I faced before, during and after the run. Instead I focus on learning. Yes, I am an eternal optimist, ‘kuch extra positive’ as one of my closest friend and batch-mate Sohini Mitter often says. ‘Annoyingly positive’, is what my friend Ashwini Gangal often calls me.
So what are the things that this optimist learned from her first 100 miles?
Here are the 17 things that I learnt from my first 100 miler:
- Travel a day or two before the actual event: Whenever I am participating in an event I am known to reach the last; usually because of the limited number of holidays I have in hand. Straight I go to any race (mostly from work to the airport), finish the run and comeback to work again. Thankfully, I didn’t do this mistake in Singapore. I landed in Singapore and I landed straight into high-fever. But, I had given myself two whole days to recover as I had been wise enough to travel two days before the event. I slept through these two days to recovery only occasionally stepping out to eat. Had I followed my usual cut-to-cut schedule here, I wouldn’t have been able to make it to the race at all.
- Miles, miles and miles before a 100 miler: The only thing I focused on before my 100 miler was gathering miles. The back up of 184 km that I had during my 36 hour stadium run suddenly made the 100 miler (160 km run) look doable. In fact, when the race started I was thinking ‘ok fine, I know it is a point to point kind of race but I have actually done this distance’. The confidence that I got out of this was purely awesome.
- Speak to a local runner to understand the place before hand: Thanks to Ajit Singh for introducing me to Ken Moon. Well, to speak about Ken, he is a runner based out of Singapore who had come to India to work for a few years. That’s when he befriended Ajit during one of the runs. Ken is a Boston qualified runner and works really hard on the marathons that he participates in. Ken was my single running contact in Singapore. He had warned me about the humidity and the crazy elevations during the first 21 km and of course the last 21 km. I was mentally prepared for the challenge.
- Understand various ways to travel to the start point and plan the journey accordingly: Now, Ken also helped me with the various options available to travel beyond the usual preferred transport- a taxi to the start point. And that was another plus. I was standing on the street waiting for the cab for the longest time in the morning and I couldn’t get one to reach the start point on time. But, I wasn’t worried. As I exactly knew how to take a train, at what time does the train service begin and which buses will take me to the start from my location.
- Study the route like an obsessed person: One mistake that I did and I must admit is that I didn’t know the names of the surroundings of the aid stations at the back of my hand. I knew aid stations as CPs. CP1, CP2, etc. But, did know them as Pasir Ris, etc. I underestimated the possibility of us getting lost in a point-to-point race. Considering that the distance between two aid stations was enormous and the surrounding was totally unique for us, I should have studied the route like a geek. We wasted a lot of time looking for the turns and got lost many times on the way to the next aid station.
- Keeping an eye on the surroundings, making your own mental notes: Many say ultra running is all about getting into that trance and getting completely absorbed into your run. It was a luxury we couldn’t afford during this event!!! It was a run through the city and we had to keep our eyes open to find orientation flags for turns. We had to make mental notes of the buildings that we passed, the gardens that we crossed, etc. to sail ahead smoothly. This really helped us. For eg, it was that Pizza Hut that we have to take a turn from or that cycling track that we have to follow till the end, etc.
- Owning a local SIM: GPS, GPS, GPS. Also, making calls to the organizers in case you are on the wrong route, can’t find an aid station, or are confused about something, etc. For example, we were misguided by a volunteer about the next aid station. The confusion could have been easily resolved at that minute with a local SIM and a call to the main event organizer. At one point in time, we went in the wrong direction, asked a local on the road to help us find the area with the GPS on his mobile, he shot a look at us as if we had demanded his kidney or will run away with his phone!!!!
- Having a familiar face running with you in a foreign terrain really helps: I was glad to have Breeze Sharma running this event with me. I have run many events with him and somehow I get along very well with him during ultra marathons. It is really strange that we both barely speak to each other when in Bombay; sometimes we don’t talk for months, but during races, we can run next to each other for hours. And in this case, it was over 27 hours. Also, he is a very experienced runner. Some of his decisions taken during the course of the run and his experience helped us sail through well.
- Carrying physical maps: Technology betrays, watch dies after many many hours of running. It is in your best interest to carry a small physical map with aid stations and the route marked. A small piece of paper won’t harm.
- Carry your own hydration and nutrition: A smart fellow once told me ‘don’t depend on the organizers for your hydration and nutrition’. I took his advice. I had drop bags at each aid station with basics that I am used to consuming during my runs in India. I am not saying that the aid stations that the organizers had were badly equipped. Not at all. They were very well equipped with watermelon, Oreo cookies, ice, Coke, etc. But, I am used to running and consuming a few things during ultra marathons and I just wanted to retain the continuity. Monica and Amit from Unived had very nicely packed 8 packets for 8 aid stations with their gels, salt caps, etc. which came handy during the run. I was also carrying Red bull to keep me up in the night. And there was one bottle each of Enerzal, a drink most of us runners are so used to drinking during our events in India which was given by my dear friend Ajit. Along with it, I had protein bars, a pack of dates and chiki packed by my parents all in the bags. Each bag had to last two visits for two people, Breeze Sharma and myself. And it did. (plus I am really not used to eating Oreo biscuits during a run 😦 )
- Learn some basic words in the local language: This will take you long way and help saving a lot of your energy and time wasted on loud gestures.
- Never underestimate the power of humidity in breaking you down: Coming from Mumbai, most of us are really super confident in dealing with humidity and heat. Well, that was not the case here. It was beyond hot and humid. My skin gets excessively exposed to sun during my training runs, but this was something else. I have never come back from an ultra with sun rashes, NEVER!!! The distance between the aid stations made the whole drill even more difficult. Honestly, the consistent consumption of salt caps given by Unived really saved the day for us and kept cramps, etc. at bay. We religiously had one salt cap each at every aid station. To explain with example, it was so humid that even at night time while we were walking we were sweating as if we were running at a very fast pace. While running in the afternoon, when we were passed many ponds and swimming pools and I actually felt like just diving into one of them, taking a lap and coming back to continue with the run!!!
- Do one acclimatization run: A small one, but at least one so that your body will understand the kind of weather torture if at all it has to endure through the event.
- Never ever plan a 100 miler around your menstrual cycle: Oh yes! Ladies, it pains and hurts and how. Ask me, I have experienced it all through the 100 miles on the second day of my periods. Stomach cramps-check, back pain-check, rashes-check, check, check. I had to go through all of this. These three are worth a 100 mile in their own right. The actual distance came later.
- Carry some cash on you, always: You run out of water, need to buy something sweet or salty to eat and aid station is far away, having some money on you always helps. We bought water on so many occasions, on our way to the next aid station.
- Be prepared to re-jig your plans and don’t be very rigid about them: One need not be stubborn about the plans and the goals set. You can revamp these plans looking at the situation in hand. For example, I was planning to run with a bottle in hand till 80.7 km and for the remaining 80.7 km in the night I was planning to run with a hydration bag which was lent out to me by my dear buddy Girish Bindra. But, I had such a bad shoulder pain and sunburn on my left shoulder that I simply stuck to holding a bottle in hand.
- Don’t forget to enjoy: It is your first timed 100 miler. You will never experience the same feeling again. Challenges, toils, turmoil, troubles aside, enjoy the journey to the finish line to the fullest.
P.S: Must thank Garmin for the watch Fenix 3, Nike for the gear and the shoes, Unived Sports for the hydration and nutrition. To all my friends Milind Soman for happily giving me all the advice and lending me your watches, Inderpal Khalsa, Jayaraman Rankawat, Abbas Sheikh for those long training runs, Ajit Singh for all your support, Vamini Sethi for being so peppy and positive, Girish Bindra for the bag, Pranav Mehta for being around and happy to help always, Ken Moon for making us reach the finish line- you were our eyes and ears in the night, Breeze Sharma-let’s do one more 100 miles 🙂