This is a story about the summer of 2015. My sister is a writer and travel blogger. As part of her job, she has to cover outdoor festivals. That is how The Coorg Escapade (an event combining trail running, mountain biking and kayaking) had been the topic of discussion at home since a few weeks.
The idea was to take a short break, enjoy a sleepy hill town, get away from the Bombay heat, revel in the festival activities and complete a simple 10KM run.
Now, I have been running since college. The sport was a break in between the 14 to 16 hours that were spent in studying for CA. And nothing could refresh me more than a short sprint. The wind in your hair, the stars shining up and the breeze adding to your running momentum, I always enjoyed it.
I started training seriously for running in December 2014. Completed the Standard Chartered Mumbai Half Marathon and the Thane Half Marathon with the least time of 2hrs 27mins. In February I joined Striders, a running group that trains 4 times a week with a diverse routine, from running on tar to sand, strength training, working on speed and so on.
The Coorg Escapade was in May and I had been training for running since 5 months. I felt fairly confident that 10km would be a breeze.
A flight to Bangalore followed by a 7 hour drive got us to this beautiful green hill town that is Coorg. We were welcome by a drizzle and some rain, a happy sight for a family that had braced the Mumbai heat this year.
The day of the race finally arrived. All excited and charged up, I reached the starting point well in time. My parents had a flight back to Bombay at 6 in the evening. The race was suppose to start at 7:00a.m. We were to leave Coorg by 9:00 a.m. to make it to Bangalore in time. Although my family asked me not to stress and run my best, I had estimated a 90 min run, taking into account the incline and hills enroute the trail.
As the participants started coming to the starting point, the organizers shared that some participants were on their way and there would be a delay of about 30 mins to start. They also told us that the first 5kms of the trail was a complete ascent of 900 metres and the balance 5kms was downhill trail.
In between deep breaths, I was mentally getting ready for what lay ahead.
After a 10min warm up session, all the participants walked towards the starting point. Minutes before the start, I noticed a leech on my leg. I know from a previous trek that they fall off when salt is sprinkled on them. However, all I had around me was 500 other participants loaded with electrolytes and carbs for the run ahead. Half panicking, half praying, I looked around and found a piece of wood with which I removed the insect and joined the gang once again.
Before I knew it, the gun was shot and the run had begun.
Like in any run, many participants charge ahead running from the start. Eventually, some of them reduce their pace or start walking. It is normal to go ahead of others within 15 to 20 mins of a run and thereafter too.
However, this run was different. I started with a slow jog which I maintained for the first 2kms. There were small hills enroute, the greenery and sights around pushed me to continue. Unlike the other runs, the participants who charged ahead, stayed ahead. There was no scope for taking over.
After the 2nd kilometer, the ascent got very steep. It is better to walk on a hill, especially if you have a weak lower back. Walking, jogging in parts where the terrain was flat, I continued the trail, however the continuous ascent started getting challenging.
The fact that we were time bound because of the return flight and the difficulty of the terrain, both were creating alot of noise in my mind which affected my run.
Somewhere around the 3km mark, I witnessed something absolutely unreal. A professional athlete was on his way back and the length of his stride was unbelievable. It must have been atleast 3 metres wide.
In city races, it is a delight watching runners from Africa run with the time keeping van ahead of them. It looks like as if they are gliding on the road. They are so rhythmic to watch, one feels as if they are running to music.
But this was another sight altogether. Here I was, barely jogged-walked 3km and this superstar had completed 7kms with only 3 more to go.
There were more superstars in the next 10 to 15 mins. To think of the speed at which they were running, the control in the body, the ripples in the muscles, the drops of sweat on their face, it was all a challenge and an inspiration at the same time.
Post the 4th kilometer, I was not happy with what I saw. Up ahead was a steep hill, normally part of treks and we had to climb to the top as part of the trail. Fortunately, it was not as difficult as it looked.
Since I was nearing half mark, I stopped to click a few pictures.
What followed for the next kilometer was a climb to another hill, this one was hidden from view and participants who were returning back, kept pushing us with encouraging statements of 200 metres more, just 100 steps more, another 5 mins and you are there.
Since the hill was hidden from view for a good part, all that could be done was to keep at the trail, at times rocky, at times with grass. In hindsight I realise that the route was winding up the hill. There were moments when I felt like the kilometer is just not getting over!
Finally, atop the 2nd hill, I took a break and had 2 glasses of water. Then the descent downward began. Refreshed, I felt, nothing can stop me from racing down. This was when I learnt that it is better to sip on water enroute than gulp down 2 glasses at one go. The water was causing cramps in my stomach and it took sometime before I could start running down the slopes.
Another challenge when one runs downhill is that it is difficult to brake. One has to be very sure footed because you gain alot of momentum running down a slope.
Amidst a few hellos and smiles to newly made friends, the trail run continued. The distance between 6 to 8kms was fairly easy. After which, I am sure the last 2kms were longer than actual 2kms.
After running for nearly 6 months, I knew my estimate of a kilometer.
Tired and confused as to where is the finishing point, I started walking. I started hearing cheers from a distance, but couldn’t see the path to the finish point amidst all the foliage. I continued walking. My mind had given up too soon.
And then out of nowhere, I saw my Mum. She had walked inside knowing I would be close to the finish point. Mummy saw me walking and pushed me to run. A little ahead, I met my sister who cheered and pushed me further still. So running to the finish it was.
A little ahead and I was met by an unknown stranger who asked if he should help me pace. I politely refused, not sure if I would be able to keep up with him! Another person ahead of me started walking just 100 metres from the finish. This time, it was my turn to push. So I asked him to run and with that final sprint, I made it to the finish, to be welcomed by a medal for my first trail run in 1hr 43mins.
A quick change and sips of Glucon D, we left for Bangalore to make it in time for the flight.
I am sure there will be other trails I will run and more lessons I will learn. Here are points I will keep in mind before my next trail run:
- Training for a trail is very different from training for a city run. It is better to see the route, understand the trail and train accordingly. eg: I would have done better had I trained to run on hills.
- Breathing exercises help increase lung capacity and help in running for a longer time.
- Have sips of water or better still, orange slices in the middle of a run. Do not drink or gulp glasses of water. It causes cramping in the stomach, hampering your run.
- Wear the correct shoes
- Have a calm and cool mind while running.
As I end this post, I am currently training for the Satara Hill Half Marathon in September 2015.
I’d like to hear your trail running experiences. Looking forward to hearing your running stories.