Acknowledgement:

This was probably the first time someone else had written about my run experience and Savita Ayyar, a wonderful neighbour and a wellwisher, has done a fabulous job of writing this story to get featured in a quarterly newsletter that is published in my residential apartment. It all started with me sharing my Border experience with Savita over a cup of coffee.  She, in return, had converted the conversation into a beautifully handcrafted story. Running, by far has been helping me in scaling up every day and re-discovering my version.next.  I now have a sweet compulsion to identify my next mission so that I get featured again 😉

I attribute this finish success to my lovely wife Meera Kannan and my two adorable children, Aditya and Anjali.

Jump here to learn more about my reflections


*Citius, Altius, Fortius: In conversation with Kay Sundararajan, written by Savita Ayyar

He runs alone down a long, dusty desert road, shifting sand dunes to either side. “Ram Ram sa”, says a curious Rajasthani villager, passing him by on a camel. He smiles but declines the ride and continues on his journey. 160 km in the Thar desert, a run to be completed in a single stretch in under 32 hours.

At the start… 12 pm on the 22-Dec.-2019, with the other runners who were attempting the 100-miler and 100 km races

SAA resident Kay Sundararajan is back home after his recent ultramarathon run, the incredible 100-mile Border run from Jaisalmer to Longewala (http://www.thehellrace.com/the-border/). We spoke to him about the race. Excerpts from the conversation.

At the finish line… unfortunately I couldn’t find the organizers. I had to ask a tourist to click this picture.

“Every marathon event has some story associated with it. The first edition of the “The Border Run” was conceived to celebrate the triumph of 120 brave soldiers of the Indian Army at Longewala who fought the famous Battle of Longewala in 1971.

The route runs closer to the Indo-Pak border, starting at Jaisalmer and ending at the army post of Longewala. Wars come unannounced and so was my 100 miler run which was not part of my plan.  I wanted to see if I could go there and possibly experience that history and the challenge the Border run would offer, testing my own abilities in the process. The more I read about the Battle of Longewala and the reality of the Border Run, the more I became inspired and committed to taking up the challenge.   I had 53 days to prepare.

As with any marathon event, I had to have proper training. I increased my training mileage in November (320km) and December 165 km in preparation for the Border Run.  I did two 12 hour runs in Bangalore to be mentally ready for a 100-mile race. I did two carefully planned day & night runs from 6:00am-6:00 pm on one weekend and another 6:00 pm-6:00 am to get me used to running for long stretches, mainly through the sun and night, beating the body fatigue and sleep cycle. One also needs a good strategy for what to carry, eat, when to hydrate and where to rest. While on a long run, one cannot eat much, as the digestive system is in a state of shut down.   These training runs were designed to experiment with everything possible.

Day 1 – when everything was fresh…

Longewala is a border town in the Thar desert, the largest desert in India. Before the Border run, I had only read about the Thar desert and seen it in movies. On 22nd Dec, I started my run at 12:00 pm in the afternoon and ran the rest of the day with the sun at 25-27 degrees in the desert, which was manageable in December. My strategy was to run as much as I could during the daytime and to then continue to manage the unknown cold during the night. I did not know what to expect during the night time.

During the daytime, the desert can be very deceiving. There is a mirage effect, and I kept underestimating the distance to landmarks while on the move. Ramgarh on the route had a gas turbine plant, and I could see the plant at what seemed like close quarters, but which actually turned out to be 30 km away! One cannot imagine either such mirages or this kind of visibility in Bangalore.

Ramgarh also has canals, and the landscape there changed dramatically from deserts to a verdant green with fields of mustard and potatoes. I also spotted many domesticated cows, goats with long ears and Sambhar deer.

After about 120 km

By 5 pm, the temperature started dipping and eventually reached 1 degree by nighttime. The run took place on new moon day, and the desert was completely lit up at night, which was really spectacular. Some army men who I met before the run mentioned that during the night, there could be vipers on the road as the sand was colder than the road surface. Thankfully, I didn’t encounter any snakes! I enjoyed my dal-chaawal with aloo at the stops and continued my sojourn, spirits high and heading steadily towards the finish line.   I had to battle through many village dogs who kept a vigil on their masters. It was really scary to fight them through and to keep moving.

The cow was extremely curious to find a person at the middle of the desert… I had a great interaction with this animal.

My goal was to keep active throughout the run, without stopping. During such a physically demanding activity, the muscles are working as well as breaking down, and the mind keeps asking you to quit. However, I didn’t feel like quitting at all. I had to keep moving. I set an overall target to finish my run within 28 hours and actually clocked 27:59!! This was well within the total cutoff of 32 hours set by the event organisers. 22 runners took part in the 100-mile event in December 2018, and I finished sixth.

I had taken this picture somewhere after crossing around 130 km. My mind and legs were feeling really fresh after the sun started shining behind me. I kept my phone supported by my Camelbak and after few attempts I got this shot.

A marathon is a battle with you and your own capabilities. In simple terms, ultramarathon running is a solitary mission. If you want to be alone, you can be alone, and one can achieve if If you can enjoy your own company.

6th place out of 22 runners started, 12 finished

I have returned elated from the Border Run. A run like this makes you think about a lot of great things happening in our life positive and negative and certainly making you stronger emotionally.

The finisher medal, honored by the Rajasthani Pagadi…

Citius, Altius, Fortius: The Olympics Motto, which translates to “Faster, Higher, Stronger.”


My reflections

What I really enjoyed the most?

  • I was very well prepared for this event. Now I know what it takes to run a 100-miler-near-flat-course confidently, and also the kind of things that I need to fix.
  • I have the greatest appreciation for the race Director, Viswas Sindhu, the Hell Race team and the team of volunteers for executing a most complex 100 miler point to point event. Conceptualising an ultramarathon idea like this is very easy but putting all the puzzles together and executing them is the most difficult aspect. The Hell Race team has the best team and invested their time, passion and energy in making this event a successful one. They have taken some wonderful efforts in convincing the Government authorities and the armed forces in seeking their blessings.
  • The incidents leading to the Longewala Battle and how valiantly it was fought by our Indian army men had brought a deep emotional connection with the armed forces men and women who protect our country 24×7. I can confidently tell that now we have a real Comrades Marathon in India. I’ve finished the Comrades marathon twice and it always gave me a fabulous feeling. The reasons behind the existence of these two ultramarathons are almost similar and we Indians don’t have to travel to Durban to experience what the army men go through in a conflict. The new battlefield for us is right at our neighbourhood Rajasthan. The Border run has all the ingredients to grow into a huge event attracting thousands across the country and from other countries.
  • The lonely desert route between Jaisalmer to Longewala, the date for the race selection which just coincided on a full moon day can’t be more perfect than this.
  • The December months hot day time and cold night time, and the other challenges the route had offered (especially the last 40 km undulating & winding roads) made the race one real hell of an Ultra.
  • It was a unique opportunity for me to run side by side with some of the celebrated Indian ultra-endurance runners. Listening to their stories at various sections was extremely motivating and inspiring.
  • The event arrangements were fabulous, right from the start till the time I was brought back to the Oasis camp. The presentation ceremony and the hospitality offered with the Rajasthani touch was amazing (The place was extremely cold and windy and I wished we had a closed place to sit through the ceremony and also to interact with other runners. I did not enjoy the spine chilling cold after the 100-mile exhaustion)
  • The-10k-only vehicle support was just adequate and offered a perfect Ultramarathon challenge. The bananas, coke, Monster energy drink, the sandwiches, the physios, the bed and blankets to cozy around during the chilly night, the campfire – all combined with the poring love from the energetic volunteers; they were just enough to fuel the Ultramarathoners heart, mind and comfort. The time taken for me to reach the aid-stations were increasing and was more challenging as the day progressed into night and it was offering additional challenges. I did some mistakes with the way I packed my additional layers of clothing and ended up suffering.
  • Finally, I was able to relate to the hardship faced by the soldiers and the least I could do is to subject myself through the difficulty of running a 100 miler in the same soil where the Battle of Longewala was fought, with just 53 days of preparation. It’s my dream to run the same section within 24 hrs one day. I’ll go there again!

Results at a glance

PosFirst NameLast NameFinish Time
1AmitGulia19:43:06
2BreezeSharma22:58:05
3DharmeshVerma23:56:09
4PuliketJain25:24:58
5VinayNagyal25:38:20
6KannanSundararajan27:59:20
7Rajvadgama28:43:51
8BalakrishnanS28:29:13
9VinayBhaushan29:21:10
10BharatSharma31:35:45
11AnenthuSukumaran31:35:50
12PraveenGandhi31:35:55

Few things could have been better,

  • The finish line at Longewala was crowded with tourists. I was so damn happy to approach the finish line. To my surprise, I couldn’t figure out where exactly it was and when I thought I finished I did not find any of the organizing team to receive me. I didn’t know if I had to stop my Garmin or should continue running till I found them. Luckily, there was a random army officer who understood my confusion directed me to a nearby Dhaba where the crew were waiting. There was no celebration, photos or even some claps. The finish was one of the quietest ones one but upon reflecting back I kind of enjoyed it. I was able to relate to the soldiers who finish a war and come back home. I don’t think they expect a heroic welcome. It’s their duty and they come back relax, spend some time with their family members before their call of duty arrives. I’m bracing myself for the next race
  • I should have packed some recovery drink, protein and some light, easy to digest food at the finish line. I felt the meal that was served lacked the right nutrition to refuel 28 hrs of running & walking.

I’d like to thank the following people and friends who had supported me.

  • My wife Meera and both my children for being with my endurance journey always
  • Swetha Khandelwal and Vijay Pandy who ran with me during my 12 hr day run. Swetha pampered me with her Vegan culinary skills to fuel me the entire day
Shweta and Vijay
  • My academy pothole hoppers Amod, Praveen and Mansi to run with me during the 12 hr night run
  • Mrs and Mr Raghavan for that rejuvenating coffee at 2 am
  • Mr & Mrs Rajendra Shah for their hospitality and care at Ahmedabad
With Rajendar!
  • The neighbours from Sobha Althea and Azalea apartments who came down to be with me during the 12 hr night run




6 Comments

Vasu · March 11, 2019 at 6:31 am

Congratulations on finishing the border run with just 53 days training. Nice to see that you enjoyed this ultramarathon and took time to take pictures. Hats off to your endurance.

    Coach Kay · March 11, 2019 at 2:02 pm

    Thank you Vasu

Jaisinh · March 11, 2019 at 1:34 pm

Wow! This must have been an awesome experience.
Running in the desert day and night having to fend off dogs and managing freezing temperatures. Very well written and now I would like to know when’s the 2019 edition?

    Coach Kay · March 11, 2019 at 2:03 pm

    Thank you Jaisinh, Not sure if they have already decided the dates, I think 15-16 December 2019

Pranesh · March 15, 2019 at 4:09 am

Congrats Coach. Its awesome to read it. 100 miler in India is really a cult event. Sincere thanks to Savita and you for penning the thoughts.

    Coach Kay · March 15, 2019 at 5:28 am

    Thank you so much Pranesh. Would love to run with your sometimes soon!

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