This blog was written by #fitsian Chayan Bhalla, KaysFIT Academy, who has been with the academy since 2019. Chayan enjoys leading a healthy life, running and cycling regularly.
Edited by Coach Kay
An incomplete start & a bold step
I decided to venture into trail running in the year 2018 and boldly registered for my first 50k Malnad Ultra. But, as fate would have it, I got entangled in the vicious web of injuries and recoveries after doing my 1st FM at the Ladakh Marathon 2018. I decided to give Malnad Ultra a miss.
I resumed running with a lighter “100 days of running” from April 2019. When running became regular and the injury was under control I mustered the courage to attempt an 80K race at Malnad Ultra. It certainly felt like a huge task to accomplish.
The need for a mentor
Even though I was not at my peak fitness level, I continued with the training along with at least one 10k run a week. I decided to attempt the 50k trail run at the Hennur Bamboo Ultra in Bangalore on 31st March 2019 with very little preparation and with incomplete knowledge of running an ultramarathon.
I finished my first 50k in 6:50:00 hr without any issues. This gave me the confidence to go ahead and sign up for the Coffee Trails 31k run. It was scheduled on the 25th of Aug 2019 in the scenic and difficult trails of Madikeri in Karnataka. Around the same time, I registered for the 80k at Malnad and was looking for an experienced mentor and a coach who could guide me through this journey.
The perfect choice
I was trying to follow the training schedule as much as possible, barring few long runs. With the history of me getting injured, I was worried about falling into the injury trap again if I did too many or too fast long runs. Coach Kay and I had regular reviews and tweaked the plan based on my incremental progress. My longest training run before Malnad was a 31K on 6th Oct.
I was slowly gaining confidence and bracing myself for the race day. The last few days were filled with carb-loading and strategizing the run. The rain and slush in the Malnad region were keeping me anxious about the race day.
Race day at Maskalmaradi
Time passed quickly and here I was standing at the starting point of Malnad 80k. I had stocked up a hydration backpack with 2 liters of water, a few energy bars, Unived Elite gels, Unived salt capsules, dry fruits, and some dates. I had a good breakfast consisting of bread & butter, boiled eggs, and upma an hour before the race started. Though I had tried to clear my bowel earlier in the hotel, the pre-race breakfast had its effect and I had to attend the nature’s big call just before the flag-off. I was lucky to just make it in time as there was a long queue piling up outside the portable loos.
The josh at the starting point was quite high as we met many runners known from the previous events and exchanged greetings/wishes for a good Malnad effort. The flagging-off of 110K guys set the tone for us and got the adrenaline rush before our start. The 80K race was flagged off sharp at 06:45 hrs. The first 4 km was a downhill tar road. All the runners slowly were entering the world of trails with a steep uphill and rough terrain right at the entry. Without any worries, I spoke to myself, “this is what I came here for!!”
Complex & technical trail
The route was mostly slushy with certain sections that were meant only for 4×4 jeep tracks. All the runners were slowly walking and also hopping from one side to another to avoid getting stuck in the slush. After a steep climb for the first 7k, there came some breathtaking views till about 14k Tuskar Point hydration station. After this point, the trail slowly started winding downhill giving me some relief. The first timing mat was at the 17.5 km aid station where I was pleasantly greeted by Coach Kay overseeing the arrangements and supporting the runners. Coach Kay was a volunteer run-manager for the Malnad Ultra this year. After a short conversation, I proceeded further towards the aid-station (also served breakfast) at the 20K mark inside the SVT estate.
I stopped at every aid station to have water, electrolyte, lemon-salt, and other fuel supplies. We were pleasantly welcomed by some beautiful and picturesque landscape at the 10 km and 40 km upon return. I stopped for a while and clicked a few pictures and again hopped on to the further course which was downhill for some distance.
My personal goal from this race was to enjoy the course, meet/greet fellow runners and remain strong till the end and not to worry about timing and personal best achievements.
50k well within the cut-off
I was extremely excited to reach the 50K cut-off point at 07:18:00 hrs. I had a proper lunch and headed to the baggage counter to stock up for the final leg of 30 km. After a break of around 27 mins, I resumed my run and started enjoying every bit of the trail journey. After stepping into the trail, immediately I realized that there were some serious issues in the route markings. Luckily, the problems were corrected around the time I stepped in and I could go unabated till the 70 km point. It was getting dark and I had to run with the headlights. This was a completely strange and unique experience for me. I opted for the Decathlon headlight which was supposed to last for around 24 hrs with 2 AA batteries.
As it got dark, most runners formed small groups which greatly helped in negotiating the darkness and sparsely marked route. One of the biggest lessons from this course was that even if the route marking is not as frequent as you might expect, still runners should look for the next available indication and always move forward. Also, when in doubt about the route, it’s better to trust our fellow runners and move along. Teamwork is an integral part of the trail runs At around 76 km I was thrilled to find the tar road section and I was thrilled to reach the finish point sooner. After a long day of running and walking in the toughest Malnad Ultra course, I finally crossed the finish line well within the cut-off with the timing of 12:38:30. It was a proud moment to receive the medal from my own mentor Coach Kay. This was an amazing moment of accomplishment and gratitude at the same time as the difficulty level of the run was much higher than I had perceived.
Top 6 reasons for me to crack the Malnad Ultra
- Right training & pacing: The build-up to the race was very important and also exciting. Pacing and holding back during the training and also during the race proved to have certainly helped me in achieving my results. Not going faster in downhills and not trying to run at all in the uphills. I was able to appreciate power walks in the uphills and slow jogs in downhills till the end of the race.
- Fuel: Had fulfilling breakfast both before the race and at 20 km point. Also, a good lunch at the 50 km point. I never skipped any aid station and enjoyed all the delicacies on offer. Ensured that I took enough salt with lemon. Took one salt capsule at around 35 km mark as a precautionary measure against cramps.
- Patiently negotiating the hills: The most killing part of this run is the cruel uphills which can make even very strong road runners take a bow and exit. I was to find the stretch between 20-30 km a bit difficult to cover due to steep gradients. Then I decided to take small steps and most importantly not to look till the end and get astonished by the hills but just focus on my next step with all the physical and mental strength. This really helped me quickly negotiate the hills without getting exhausted psychologically.
- Positive visualization: I was continuously telling myself about successfully finishing my distance and then informing my family and friends about it. This generated positive vibes which helped a lot.
- Talking and mingling with fellow runners: Ultra runs involve meeting and talking to other runners on-the-go. We get so much to learn and unlearn with this experience. Was very happy to share my fuel stock with some of them. It also helped a few runners struggling with cramps by giving them salt capsules.
- Proper gear: Used full sleeves compression tights, Kalenji micro shorts, Kalenji calf sleeves, Kalenji XT7 trail running shoes with Adidas socks and my newly acquired Adidas Running cap, Kalenji running goggles kept the sun at bay and Decathlon headlight powered by 2 AA batteries. I had applied lot of vaseline at relevant body parts to avoid chaffing which really worked well.
And the biggest credits to..
My wife Noopur K Bhalla has been with me in this ultra journey by providing me with constant encouragement and push without which this achievement wouldn’t have been possible. She always stood by and supported me immensely throughout my training. Hats off to her. I hope to see her at the starting line-up of Malnad in the coming years.
Though a runner sets eyes on many races for the future but, realizing these targets depends on the physical fitness levels and being injury-free. My running bucket-list includes TMM 2020, The OOTYULTRA 60k (or preferably 90K, if allowed by my coach), Khardungla Challenge and finally Malnad Ultra 110K in 2020. I feel I can achieve this by not pushing too hard during these races and just enjoying being part of all these events.
Signing off with my favorite line
Don’t be afraid to fail, be afraid NOT to try…..