Ultra 75k: Doors to spirits and Oiled hinges

It’s been three weeks since Bangalore Ultra and I am still coming to terms with it. My ankle keeps me in check along-with a tan that’s left me looking haggard. This is my Bangalore ultra 75k race story. It’s long. Race stories don’t begin at the start line, it begins way back at the start of the season and this story does no justice to the nine months of training, I’ve tried to keep it short.

“… Perhaps the genius of ultra-running is its supreme lack of utility. It makes no sense in a world of space ships and supercomputers to run vast distances on foot. There is no money in it and no fame, frequently not even the approval of peers. But as poets, apostles and philosophers have insisted from the dawn of time, there is more to life than logic and common sense. The ultra runners know this instinctively. And they know something else that is lost on the sedentary. They understand, perhaps better than anyone, that the doors to the spirit will swing open with physical effort. In running such long and taxing distances they answer a call from the deepest realms of their being — a call that asks who they are …” – David Blaikie

..and most times you are not ready to receive that call, but it’s the only call you are allowed to and I took mine in the bottom of a murky chance-less pit.

There’s a beginning, a middle and an beginning to this story and the heart of it lives in the middle. The heart which is sandwiched between your head and your ugly feet. The heart that wants to bleed, but you put a band-aid on it and like Sandy said at the start of last year’s 50k, it’s like putting a band-aid on a bullet wound. The bleeding doesn’t stem nor does the pain. The yearly heart check-ups make sense now, most people are torn between their heart and mind, we runners are torn between heart, mind, glutes, knees and ugly stinky feet. A mind that wants to stop, bums and glute that want to sit, feet and toes that turn black with envy and a heart that wants to go on.

I finished the ultra upright albeit 7 hours after the winner had finished the race. Sanjeev Ramki, won the 75k in seven and hour hours and must have returned to his home in Chennai, I took fourteen and a half, two hours more than what I had planned for. Doesn’t matter. I finished. I wish I had finished stronger, to give my friends tighter hugs, to hug my coach tighter till a happy laugh spilled out and stronger to punch one particular RFL organizer in the jaw. Probably squeeze his neck till his tonsils lay among the gravel we were forced to run on.

JLBR and gang spent most of the season huddling around. We first huddled in Jahangir Hall, declaring a purpose of intent on the 75k. We huddled around yummy food for the rest of the season, most times curd rice with a dash of sambhar, idlis some times and I secretly had my own stash of biscuits and choclates. We huddled around sweaty yoga mats and dumbbells at contours and on a long night run we fought hard, haggled, negotiated and huddled over a smoking brown broth of coffee in the middle of a longish night run. Rest of the time we ran and ran whole-heartdely, sometimes in pain and discomfort, sometimes with Santosh throwing rocks at us, sometimes in endless loops in an apartment block, around lakes, around cubbon, through rock cleavages, through throny shrubbery and running around a lonely tree till all of us regrouped together. Yes, we did run around a tree. You can’t make this up. Nine months of training and it wears the rubber off your shoes, grates away the layers to your soul, it’s easier to feel happy and joyous after a long run, easier to feel the pain of the past, the beauty of everything that surrounds you is glaring, silence so profound it silences and quiets your mind and sometimes the sheaths around your soul are stretched so thin that it’s easier to touch a nerve. Though it happened many-a-time, one moment I recall fondly is at Kanteerava. We met up earlier than usual at Kanteerava to do our hill-repeats and when we wrapped up, it was still dark with the sun-just peaking on the horizon. The horizon and the city you can see only when you climb to the highest cement row of the seating arena. I’ve stolen moments here, to look down on the dash of green of the football patch, simmering somedays in the light of a feeble distant floodlight. As you rush down, jumping down the steps and dashing down the ramps, it’s gravity all the way and on that particular day of pushing harder than usual, I finished my workout, crashed into the wet grass of the football field and lay sprawled facing the sky. As my hastened breaths slowed down and it was safe to open my eyes, it was spectaular to see an ink blue sky framed by the oval of the stadium, with distant stars sparkling to a rhythm I couldn’t hear. I lay there for a long time, the dew seeping through my clothes, drenched in sweat, moistened eyes and choking a little.

fotorcreated

JLBR – Madness personified

Race day came quicker than expected. Some tough runs thrown in and I was feeling a little not too great, coach says, this happens all the time. The first giant bite was the stadium run, eight hours of looping around 400 meters. Mine was painful, my glutes hurt and hurt bad after four hours into the run. It hurt so bad, I had it trampled. First with Sujoy, who ran a few loops with me, who helped me bring my back focus and then stomped the hell out of my glutes. Getting stamped in the middle of the run feels good, so I’d sneak away every half hour to ask if anybody wanted to walk on my buttocks. Quite a few were interested. This went on till Vinay spotted me and sent me packing away. A few personal issues saw me missing the longest run of the season, eight hours on a Saturday and four hours on Sunday. Santhosh, being the task master that he is, made it clear that I get it done or just move to a different distance. I took the challenge head-on, landed at Cubbon at 8am to do the run by-myself, it would be the longest I would have run by myself and all the enthusiasm drained out by the fourth hour. After jumping over one garden snake, booed by couples who were frolicking in the undergrowth, trying to bring down a Persian cat perched on a tree, sipping chocolate and trying to out-run a walking horse, I finished the run at 4pm, drenched in sweat and stinking to high heaven. It was the longest ever and accomplishing it gave a strange confidence that I was alright, but I wasn’t.

stadium

8 hr stadium run …clocking close to 50km in 400m loops

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We’ve failed our forefathers

You know what makes a runner? Nothing. We are just a pair of nail-less limbs moving in rhythm through the contractions of a thousand muscle fibres, muscle fibres fired by a million synapses in the brain. Therein lies the problem. The brain. Probably the utter callousness of the two hemispheres to agree upon the common good of evolution; to seek comfort in shelter, rest and food. The failure to adhere to the rules of Darwin, runners tend to tread in the opposite direction of the general flow. Our hunter gatherer ancestors tore limb and fruit to land us here; Here in a bliss, privileged ocean of high carbs and fry. The industrial age ensured we don’t move a muscle to plough, to reap and to transport. Silver screens and streaming pictures ensured we don’t have to head out to colosseums to see humans bludgeon each other for entertainment.
Here we are at the cusp of everything our ancestors ever dreamt of and what do we want to do? We want to be like them. To keep moving, make new trails everyday. To run away to faraway lands in hunt of animals that no longer roam the forests, the only animals around now are mongrels and we run haywire when they come snapping. Of all the things we ever wanted, we wanted to be like our forefathers the most, to build cathedrals around our heads, then on paper and then on a mountain top, to catch the first rays of the sun. We then want to race to it from the plains, run up switchbacks lined with wild flowers, yellow blooms that leave their pollen on our feet to travel the world with us. With all the cathedrals built, with souls trampled like flowers on a side-walk, all we are left with is to dream and sometimes those stop too. So, on a dreamless sleepless night, you reach out and if lucky find that crankshaft deep within your heart, tether it to hope and jump start yourself, jump start into a run, a long hard run where you find yourself again and hopefully to dream again. Not to be haunted not be chained, only to be free. Free to think, free to be. Free to hallucinate about food dripping in fat and a beer to wash it down, that’s all we ever want. We just want to reach out to our primordial days, the little rush of rashness that’s left in us, we want to reach out to that place, dip our hands into happiness and let some of it sweat down our brows. We’ve failed our forefathers.”

Bengaluru Marathon 2014: First Home Run

Ten thousand footfalls and slowly the dust settles over the Kanteerava. Ten thousand stirred souls, a cauldron of emotions. Joyous, euphoria, pride, relief, loathe, sadness. Some tear smeared faces, mascaras that run long after the race has finished. Tears of joy. Tears of pain. Ten thousand runners. Some have risen, some have fallen, personal bests broken, some agonizing finishes, many for whom the weight of the medal on their chest is a new surreal feeling and as the floodlights dim and switch off one at a time, it’s time to reset the clock, to countdown another year before we have the second edition of the Bengaluru Marathon. With the first we’ve taken off and given India a world class event, with the second we are gonna soar.

Bengu

Bengu Superpowers [pic: Facebook Bengu Community]

But you look at the clock that’s been ticking away, the hands spinning endlessly in reverse now and you can’t help but marvel at the precision and effort to keep the clock ticking, the vision to execute at clockwork a race unlike any that Bangalore has seen. If you lift the glass off the face of the clock, move aside the hands, what you’ll see layered below are countless promo runs and runner parties. Nandi Hills, Decathalon, Kanteerva, Pipeline. The brashness of the 12 hour run at Kanteerva. No organizer across India has attempted that, attempt it as a promo run at least. A 6am to 6pm run. Big names, celebrities, ultra-distance behemoths, some young, some bare- feet, some topless, all runners alike, running on the 400 meters in an endless blur. It was just epic to stand on the sidelines, watching alone made one dizzy. The traffic commissioner flagged that run and ran a few laps himself, that reconfirmed what an epic race the Bengaluru Marathon was in the making and he returned in the evening to speak and give away medals to the twelve hour crazies.

12hr Run

Twelve Hour run. A twelve hour fest [pic: Raghu Mohan]

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SCMM 2014: A race that wasn’t

Don’t we love the underdog stories? Rocky Balboa black eyeing Apollo Creed, the phoenix rising from its ashes, the ogre called Shrek who marries a princess , Croatia toppling some major teams in the 1998 world cup, Bangladesh thumping us on a few occasions and in recent memory Ireland making a mess of England in Bangalore. The lore around them is the belief that each one of us is capable of doing something majestic, something extraordinary and running has been a path to a door that opens up these possibilities. Running reiterated the fact that I was capable to star in my underdog story.  Kaveri Trail Marathon and I starred in it handsomely, content with the riveting experience of the training and enormity of a race, the experience brought tremendous belief to trust the process of training and leave out the result. Coming from Santhosh’s tutelage, results didn’t matter, didn’t matter if I came first or last and I managed to achieve the latter and the chief was witness to it and he was one proud mentor that day. But for some reason I needed the validation, the validation of a measure of that effort, it’s a single dimension and however hard I tried to shun that thought and bury it, it seemed to rear its ugly head and come right back.  And I literally tried to bury it too. I went out on a motorcycle ride to the ocean for a good 1000 kilometers after Bangalore Ultra. Sitting on the beach, some of the boys built castles while a few of us got busy building elaborate graves and hacking tombstones out of cigarette packets. A few of us threw in cigarette butts and buried it, symbolic to the act of quitting and lit another right away to mourn the passing. While we performed the final rites, I mentally threw in a few numbers into that pit, my KTM timing, my appraisal numbers and the numbers in a bank, all thrown in and buried. As we set the final tombstone, I was convinced I’d put behind these measure units and continue doing the things that brought me joy, but that was not to be.  The obsession with the numbers returned. It seemed to have gained some demonic powers and shaking it off seemed tough.

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Kaveri Trail Marathon 2013: A mauling and a full

I  ran my first full marathon in 2013 on the banks on river Kaveri in the Kaveri Trail Marathon,  it was a race of epic proportions and I learnt a hell lot about myself that day and also the unconditional support and love within Runner’s High.  The race story;

I squint to look at the bird circling endlessly a mile high in the sky, it looks like a buzzard at first, then slowly as my eyes get used to the light, I see it’s just a crane or a swan and I smile. It’s nice to be lying down in the middle of a race, the concrete slab of the culvert feels nice and mellow, without the buzzard around to pick away at my bones, I’d love to just lay here, just like that, still, without a movement. Without a sound.

“If I lay here
If I just lay here
Would you lie with me and just forget the world?”

Just lay there and listen to the gurgling water beneath the culvert, listen to the approaching footsteps of a runner, footsteps close in to you and listen to them move away.I’d love to just stop, not quit, but just stop and catch my breath and try to enjoy the scenery a little bit more, but it is kilometer twenty six and not mile twenty six, I have a long sixteen kilometers to go and it feels longer than what I’ve trained for. I gather my strength and stand up, look at Paroma who is patiently waiting for me and give a nervous smile, I’m just warming up to my antics on this race, I start to move and trudge ahead.

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Namaskara; Hola

Who am I?

I’d love a Hollywood intro to that. A fast dropping camera, falling through the sky, tearing through cloud banks and pausing over an island in an endless blue expanse. A white crescent beach, with a single shack, a boom box, a cabana,and me on that tan stained cabana with a book in one hand and a beer in another. One foot in a flipper and another in a sneaker. I’d turn to the sky, slow mo, look at the camera, adjust them shades and wink and then realize there wasn’t nothing sexy about the hovering camera but a floating subpoena. I’d scramble, make a dash through the sand to the surf, grab my board and paddle and disappear into the ink. Wilson my shoe, the last image on the lens.

As we are not getting that Hollywood intro, something about me, a little more grounded? Am a Josephite and a Bangalorean. Fitness freak would be too strong a term, I’d go with fitness skew. A lot on this blog would spin around that, “being strong” “eat your greens” “PRs” “running” “bench presses” “hammer curls”.

Who am I again?

Can I get cheesy and use the term “Meet me to know me better” Pleasy please, cut me some slack.

What will I write about?

A lot about running, it’s a new found way of life and it’s nastily addictive. I train and run with Runner’s High, we are a small group of eccentrics, who wake up before sunrise on weekends, to run around in circles, very very large circles. The blog will host my marathon race stories, I will try to avoid the usage of the sentence ” a marathon is a metaphor to life” but will not guarantee it.

What else will I hopefully write about?

Travelogues, bike rides, short stories, poems and lots of vagueness. Ramble ramble.  Day dream accounts. Doodle boards.  Ways to bring about World Peace.

Why wash linen in public?

I’ve been penning for awhile, my friends say I should share my content in the public domain via a blog, I really don’t know whether it is to encourage me or to embarrass me in front of a larger crowd, they usually cheer me up with a beer when I tend to sulk with jeering, so am still to gain, even if it’s a mug of stale beer.

Your feedback and comments would be great to hear from, I’d love to connect to share more ideas, the crazier the better. No ideas? How about connecting to share that beer.

This is not my first blog, the other one fizzed out within a week. If purpleinkrambles sees daylight after a year, I feel I would have accomplished reaching to a larger group of people, hopefully connecting to peers with similar interests and mending my procrastinating ways with regular posts.

Thanks for reading. Cheers.

PS: A little about the title, purpleinkrambles.

Purple, they say reflects royalty, of course it’s not chosen for that reason, no royal lineage here. It’s just that I did the bulk of college note scribbling , doodles, pen fights, collages, all with an arsenal of purple pens, purple markers, purple sheets, heck, I even had a purple silk shirt in under grad. Hence the word purpleink, purplechart, didn’t have the same ring to it. “Ramble” because of what you’ve read till now, lots of unstructured thoughts put into what looks like an ensemble of words.