Pacing the 5:30 Bus

To be a pacer in a marathon is an unique challenge, for it comes with a great deal of responsibility. You not only run your race but also help someone to run their race. My only experience as a pacer was during the Hyderabad Marathon in 2011, when I and KP tagged along for the 5-hr bus. Thanks to KP, we were able to ensure that the bus reached 2 minutes within the 5-hr mark (a detailed report in KP’s Blog). Four years later, I am all set for a different challenge – pacing the 5:30 Bus and sadly, no KP to help me out with the “Strategic Plan” of pacing. More than the goal of finishing the marathon in 5:30, the real difficulty is in explaining the strategy for the race. As I set to outline my proposed plan, I would also like to draw some lessons from a similar experience – running Comrades in an imaginary 12-hour bus and finishing 2 minutes to spare (the actual 12-hour bus went past me at the 6-hour mark and not to be found again!).

Who can join the 5:30 bus?

My simple answer is anyone who do not intend to finish the run under 5 hours and would like to get the best out of the entry fee they paid. On a more technical note, I would suggest that anyone who can run a half-marathon “comfortably” under 2 hours 40 minutes or “less comfortably” under 2 hours 30 minutes can join the bus to get their sub-5:30 timing for the marathon. Runners who lost their way with the 4:30 Bus or 5:00 Bus are always welcome on the run as long as they don’t wonder why we are running slow!

How do you train for the run?

I would go for something less technical and less mathematical approach. Take the event as a limited overs cricket match – you have to cover 43K (to factor the start line hiccups, GPS faults in route marking and to be on safe side) and you have 330 minutes to cover that distance. In other words, you have to cover 29K at 8 minutes per Km and 14K at 7 minutes per Km. During your training runs, find out yourself how do you feel when you run a Km in 8 minutes and 7 minutes respectively (preferably without music). This will help you to be mentally prepared for the race day. CAUTION: Do remember, you have only one wicket and there is no Duckworth-Lewis method applicable in case of rain!

The Race Day Plan

No matter what you plan or no matter how you train, all that matters is how you react to the challenges on the race day. Training and race-day plans at best helps you to be mentally and physically strong to overcome these challenges. Importantly, always prioritise safety over your goals! Your goals can wait for another day and marathons happen every month. So, make sure you don’t push yourself beyond the limits.

Pacers are normally expected to have their targets set for every Km, factored for aid-station breaks and other contingencies. This approach has its own merits and limitations. However, the objective of running the marathon is not just achieving the goals but also enjoying the run and such pedantry often takes the joy out of running. Losing an extra minute for a photograph with volunteers or dear ones on the run is more enjoyable even if it makes us finish a minute after 5:30!

I normally prefer to set hourly targets and ensuring that they are met at the end of each hour:

Hour 1 – Target 8.5K – 9K

The early morning weather of the Hyderabad, the empty roads and importantly, flat roads, must help us to run better. The humidity is often a challenge and there will always be temptation to run faster. (Average speed – 7 minutes per KM)

Hour 2 – Target 16.5K – 17K

The biggest challenge in the second hour is that the full marathon runners run into the half-marathon crowd. The road is expected to be completely blocked by the “walkers” and we need to find ways to run through them without disturbing them. If you are getting frustrated by the slow runners, do remember you were amongst them, not long ago!

Hour 3 – Target 24.5K – 25K

It is here where you start feeling the ‘hills’ of Hyderabad. For all the “elevation profiles” shared, I don’t think it would matter much impact in this stretch. If you are feeling it, it would be best to slow down and target the 6:00 Hour cut-off.

Hour 4 – Target 32K – 32.5K

This is the phase leading to the proverbial ‘wall’ of marathon. Keeping some “minutes” in hand will be useful at this phase. Walks will start featuring more in our routine.

Hour 5 – Target 39K – 39.5K

Actually, not many really knows what happens here. Let’s leave it for the race day!

The final few Kms

The exuberance of finishing will take you all the way to the finish. The last few Kms are possibly the best stretch of the route under the tree covered avenues of the HCU and the road leading to the stadium. As you enter the stadium, the early finishers of marathon and finishers of Half-marathon will be on their way back home. Some may possibly cheer and some others will give you the typical non-runners look of ‘why are you doing this?’ Ignore! This is your race and you alone is the winner!


Run-Walk is for me the way to run a marathon or any distance for runners. It is a myth that it slows our running or one cannot achieve their ‘personal bests’ and so on. The key for an efficient run-walk is consistency of application. I normally choose a 4:1 split and maintain it from the 9th minute onwards (the first walk break is avoided as it will cause disturbance to other runners). If we find ourselves having sufficient time, we may slow down to 3:1 and on the hills, we may opt to shuffle between running and walking for a short duration.

Motivational Talks!

Another feature of pacers is that they are responsible to motivate. Now, that’s the challenge I am willing to be up for! If some wants motivation, just record the video and keep! It is difficult to emulate this ‘dude’.

Run for Team ASHA in Bengaluru Marathon

Running a marathon is not just about running the 42.195 Km on the race day. It is more about the training for the event. The discipline required for the training brings out the best in oneself and is the real learning from the endeavour. It is not just about one’s physical ability but more about the mental determination to see oneself through the distance. Training and running marathons have been one of the memorable experiences of my life. I have decided to run the Bengaluru Marathon on October 18, 2015, and this time, it is with a difference. I will be running for Team ASHA – Bangalore.

Asha-Bangalore is a completely volunteer driven group where individuals put in time (without compensation) to support initiatives that help the underprivileged. Asha-Bangalore efforts focus on education, though are not limited to it. Asha ensures that 100% of donations go to support projects. Volunteers of Asha-Bangalore meet all administrative expenses with running the chapter. Currently, we support 6 Projects in Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Running marathons and fund-raising through marathon have been a routine feature amongst our volunteers, in USA as well as India.

I have been associated with ASHA for over 6 years and have found it to be more than just a fund-raising organisation. Apart from raising and disbursing funds, we also monitor the activities funded by us. Each of the projects have a ‘Steward,’ who voluntarily spends time with the projects and reports regularly on the activities of the Project. I am currently holding the Stewardship for Thulir – An Education Resource Center for children and young adults at Sittilingi, a tribal village in Dharmapuri District, Tamil Nadu. The goal of Thulir is to provide a place where children are in the presence of adults who can motivate them and provide support for learning, and can access basic learning resources that are not available to them in their homes or schools. My interaction (as well as the previous stewards) with the project, the annual disbursement of grants and the utilisation reports can be found here –

Zero-Overheads – Although, we do have to charge for the payment gateway, where applicable and other incidental charges, Overheads incurred by volunteers are never funded out of the donations we receive. The travel and stay expenses incurred on our site visits are usually those of volunteers and there are no meeting expenses – Yes, we meet in Lalbagh, Bengaluru on 1st and 3rd Sundays and meetings are open for everyone to attend (although Lalbagh will still charge you Rs. 10 as entry fee!).

ASHA for Education has been chosen as one of the Charity partners for the upcoming Bengaluru Marathon to be held on October 18, 2015. By registering for the half/full marathon through us, you not only have the joy of finishing the Half/Full Marathon, but also the satisfaction of contributing towards the education of underprivileged children. Contributions to ASHA (after deducting payment gateway charges) are exempt from Income Tax under section 80(G). Register now for Bengaluru Marathon here –

Feel free to write to me for more details.

Running and Environmentalism

After Religion, if there exists a social group that breeds more hypocrites, it must be Environmentalism. Although, my friend Rajesh does not see much difference between the two as he considers environmentalism as just another new age Religion.

We still do not know where the green brigade stand on iconoclasm, whether they will fight crusades, or create backstories to fill out the mythology. But make no mistake, this is a religion alright. Across national boundaries, never have a group of people been so singularly driven by a single ideology

Environmentalists are everywhere… To begin with, in those places where they can be more visible and attract adequate attention. They find every human activity as a potential threat and at times, they even find the mere existence of humans threatening to the environment. Apparently some scientific study told them that Earth existed before human beings and hence, it should continue to exist even without them. With more people taking up running and participating in running events, it has started becoming an issue of concern for these saviours of Earth. Believe it or not, in the eyes of environmentalists, Running is becoming a major threat to environment and can potentially damage the Earth, giving it only a few days to survive!

Take the example of this scintillating piece of ‘research‘  with this sensational finding…

A new pair of synthetic running shoes typically generates 30lbs of carbon dioxide emissions, the researchers found. That’s an unusually high carbon footprint for a product that does not use electricity, or require sophisticated components. The researchers said it was equivalent to leaving a 100-watt bulb burning for an entire week.

Mind you, if you leave 100-watt bulb burning for an entire week, you will end up writing cr@p research work like above which is more harmful to the society than running!

The major area of moral hazard that environmentalists care for is that of running events. Running events are increasing and the participation in these events are always on rise. Apart from the increased emissions of carbon di oxide, there are two areas of concern for these ‘morally upright,’ ‘socially conscious’ folks.

1. Increased carbon emissions due to increased travel to and from start points of running events as well as morning runs – Yes, but for running events, most people would prefer to lock themselves in their homes on a Sunday morning and pray that the Earth should be protected by evil forces!

2. Increased levels of Garbage – This is a single most sensitive issue for many environmentalists. Even if a runner generates far less per-capita garbage compared to a Saturday night party goer (you might see some of the environmentalists there, as they need a breather from their busy schedule to save the world!), it still matters the most. Potential areas are in the water stations and breakfast areas. Forget the fact that many of them carry loads of water during their training run, they should not be entitled to drink water on a race day from a paper cup as it will end up generating garbage. Also, the post run breakfast must be discarded in favour of runners going back home and preparing their breakfast. I was once advised by a chain-smoking, air-miles chasing, beer-drinking environmentalist that water stations in running events must have re-usable cups that can be cleaned after each runner uses it. Keeping the difficulties (I have once been in such aid station and cleaned a few cups) and hygiene factors aside, such a suggestion coming from a person who employs a maid servant to wash their own tea cup, was ironical, to say the least!

There is no harm in being a environmentalist or preaching about it (if you have people willing to listen to them). I don’t intend to discredit the work of environmentalists in general or the runners who are sincere in their attempts to do their bit for the environment. There are some fine work done by both these groups which indeed serve as a model for rest of us to emulate. It is the so-called ‘environmentalists,’ having to eke out their living by mere preaching, that annoys me the most. One such ‘voluntary’ group managed to squeeze out a sizable amount in terms of TA/DA bills from a running event and another group pulled out after their pitch on ‘run to save the Earth’ on realising that they cannot make money from the event! So much for ‘caring’ about the Earth.

All said and done, someone who runs on the road day-in and day-out is definitely more connected with the environment and aware of the issues than those sitting in comfy air-conditioned rooms and typing pages on “How to Save the Earth for dummies”

Mumbai Marathon

During the run-up to the Mumbai Marathon this year, the Race Director, Hugh Jones said,

“This is where the running movement started in India. People in urban India have taken to street running,’’

Tall claims! Nevertheless, one has to agree with the fact that it is one of the well established running event in India. The Pune International Marathon can claim to be the oldest but has never seen the light of the day in terms of its popularity or number of runners. The Mumbai Marathon is also the only Marathon event in India that is recognised as a ‘Gold Label’ road race by the IAAF, (even if many, including me, do not understand what it means). It registers the highest number of finishers in the full marathon category in this country as one can see from the chart below.Mumbai marathonThere are many aspects to the event that keeps attracting a large number of events – The crowd support, the route through Marine Drive and the sea-link bridge, qualifier for many international events like the Boston Marathon, Comrades marathon and even Olympics;  And there is always the indomitable spirit of Mumbai that adds to the allure of the event. Yet, if there is one question that often lingers in my mind, it is, ‘Having recognised as a world class event, is this the best India can offer?’ Sadly, the answer is “No’ and here’s why,

First, the lack of attention towards the basics. The current edition is the twelfth edition of the event and it still lacks some of the essential requirements. Some of the issues highlighted from this year’s event by my friend, TR Kumar,

1. There was no clear identification of Finish Line  No Celebration, No Cheering as one gets to the finish line. The finish line was a complete fizzle out
2. There were No Clear Water Points after the finish. One needs at least plenty of water stations to hydrate and one had to walk on for ever to find some water
3. It was not clear where Medals and Refreshments were provided. It was a complete mess after the finish
4. There was No Demarcation for Full Marathon Finish (for the Last Two Kms) as was mentioned by the organizers
5. Overcrowding of Half Marathon Participants all along after 35 Kms mark. One had to do zig zag to get past the casual strollers doing Fun Half Marathon
7. Very Long Queues after Finish Line
8. There was a Ramp with Steps to Walk up After Finish to get to the relaxing zone. Was this meant to be a joke to test the endurance of the runners?
9. Medical Tents were not available after the run to get a spray or get some medical attention.
10. No Breakfast Provided at the end of the run. For all the exorbitant money charged for the event, and also the huge sponsors, a simple breakfast was at least welcome.

Most of these issues were present when I ran for the first time in 2006 and also each of the 4 times until 2013. It is sad that the organisers continue to ignore these basics. With more and more runners gaining experience of running quality events abroad, the organisers do not step up their quality of service to match runners’ expectations.

Second, the ever rising entry costs. The entry fee for the marathon has been increasing exponentially, from the paltry Rs.200 in 2006 edition to Rs. 1400 in the current edition as the chart below would show.


It would be fair to point out that the cost of living in India during that time period was also on the rise, even if not in the same proportion as the cost of entry fee. There has also been increase in the sponsorship for the event which must have taken significant burden of the inflation. Moreover, in my personal experience, there are significant economies of scale in marathon events which leads to less marginal costs for every additional entry and also the benefit of experience in the subsequent events. The flip side to the higher entry fee, as my friend Dr. Ram said “it has become the rich man’s preserve.” It has become prohibitively expensive for vast majority in this country to even dream about the marathon.

Third, the lack of importance for the ‘Marathon.’ Most marathons in India are no more than a ‘Running festival’ with events of all distances, yet titled ‘Marathon.’ Marathon is strictly 42.195K; distance below and above that has its own lexicon and not to be confused with the Marathon. Sadly, there are very initiatives that encourage people to go ahead and try that distance. The most recent Singapore Marathon attracted over 10,900 finishers in the marathon category and the number of finishers in Mumbai did not cross 3000. The organisers seems to be content organising the ‘masala’ runs that fills their coffers and get due media attention through celebrity participation.

Finally, most events in India benchmarks themselves with Mumbai Marathon, which sadly ranks very poor in comparison with international standards. As Gautam Bhatia writes in his piece titled When the second rate sets the standards,

The history of being second rate has been so deeply ground into the Indian psyche; it is now part of the real character of being Indian. There is an implicit mistrust of something that works, does not fall apart, is efficient and is visibly differentiated in its design and presentation.

For all its hype, Mumbai Marathon, for me, is still a second rate event. Where it sets a standard, it only harms the development of running events in India.

Disclaimer: I have been involved in organising many running events. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are my own and do not represent the views of my fellow organisers or the events. I undertake to write the blog only because of my present status as a ‘retired’ organiser and also that I have run Mumbai Marathon for 5 times.

Tirunelveli Halwa-Marathon

In the blog for upcoming Chennai Marathon, Ram Viswanathan wrote an interesting post entitled ‘Running Takes You Places.’ Reflecting on the article, I realised that there are many places that running has taken me – both in India as well as outside of it. However, in all these trips, running the marathon has been the primary activity leaving very little time to experience those places. For instance, I have never visited Gateway of India during my five visits to Mumbai for running the marathon. The first edition of South Tamil Nadu (Half) Marathon presented me with an opportunity to visit a place more than just participating in another half-marathon.

Nearing the finish line. Photo by Gopal

Nearing the finish line. Photo by Gopal

Travelling for the purpose for running a half-marathon has not excited me in the past. The two occasions when I have travelled before for a half-marathon were to Auroville in 2008 for the first edition of Auroville Marathon and to Konganapuram in 2011 to run the Mutthu Marathon (strangely ended up in their organising teams in subsequent years). Travelling to Tirunelveli wasn’t exactly in my mind until Srini tempted me with a text message that he has a hotel room booking and a place available for sharing. Also, in his mind was a casual visit to Tirunelveli with marathon as an excuse. With an entry fee of Rs.500 for half-marathon, it prompted me to undertake a trip to Tirunelveli, a place I have never visited before.

Photo by Srini

Photo by Srini

For the better or for worse, Tirunelveli has become synonymous with one food item – Halwa and the shop that makes the authentic one – Iruttu Kadai. Located close to the Nellaiappar Temple, the shop has an illustrious history featured well in The Hindu magazine, a year ago. The best of our intentions was to pay our obeisance to the Nellaiappar and Gandhimathi Amman first, before indulging in the Halwa. The sight of Iruttu Kadai (which, according to ‘an architect friend’ of mine wasn’t any different from a TASMAC shop) pulled us towards it. It wasn’t a pleasant crowd to deal with and ninety-nine out of hundred times, I would have preferred to forego the benefits over facing the challenge to negotiate with such a crowd. In hindsight, the chaos seemed to be completely unnecessary. An orderly crowd would have ensured that 99% of those who came to buy the halwa would have managed to do so; but, everyone seemed to be gripped in the fear of falling in the remaining 1%. I wasn’t left with much choice between my ever present desire to become civilised versus yielding to the Halwa.

Game on! Ready, steady, go… Barged into the crowd. Showed the men folk that I am the man amongst the men; The long hands came to be put for the best of its uses; my mathematical skills helped me to figure out how I can procure different packets of Halwa for three hundred rupees. In the blink of the eye, three hundred-rupee notes were flashed right in front of the person handing out the halwa. Yelled at the top of my voice ‘1 1kg, 1 half-kg and 3 Rs.10 packet’. I was attacked on all sides but my legs held strong and my will-power to get the Halwa even stronger. I was soon attended to and the victory was nearing…

Photo by Srini

Photo by Srini

The money was taken and in return came a plastic cover and three small packets in banana leaf. The mission was accomplished!


Photo by Srini

It was an achievement like none other and the purpose of visiting Tirunelveli has been fulfilled. To celebrate the achievement, we visited the nearby restaurant and enjoyed the Halwa with delicious cups of filter kaapi. It was one of those moments that sometimes makes us feel so grateful for the life we live. The Nellaiappar temple subsequently got its due attention and it was as impressive as the events leading to the temple. You could see a selection of images from Srini’s camera.

Photo by Srini

Photo by Srini

Photo by Srini

Photo by Srini

With the halwa getting its due attention, the half-marathon event was unfortunately pushed to the back burner. The event deserves as much attention as the halwa or possibly even more. The organisers put up an excellent show starting from the pre-race communication to runners. All runners were communicated about their bib number (1041, which was also my number in 2009 Mumbai Marathon) and the collection process through e-mails and text messages. The bib distribution process was simple, efficient and smooth. A good number of volunteers happen to be from Chennai Runners with their hometown being in and around Tirunelveli. It seems to be a norm for everyone in Chennai Runners to don the mantle of organiser or volunteer at some point of time. With familiar faces around, it was like a friendly get-together and the ample space in the venue helped us to make most of it.

With Manu. Photo by Srini

With Manu. Photo by Srini

The race started promptly at 5:30 AM as scheduled. The route was fairly simple – out and back – with no confusions as to where to turn or not. Being an important feeder road, it wasn’t possible for the organisers to obtain a total road closure on the route. The route marshalls and policemen did a good job of regulating the traffic despite the initial hiccups. The aid stations were well stocked with cheerful volunteers staffing the stations. The best part of the event must be the sumptuous post-run breakfast – idlis, pongal, vadai and not to miss out, a serving of Halwa! I feel that every running event needs three basic ingredients – punctuality in start times, well-stocked aid stations (water, electrolytes to start with) and a freshly prepared post-run breakfast. The first edition of the South Tamil Nadu Marathon has essentially got all the three ingredients right and I am sure they would get better with years to come.
The promo tees of the event gave the perfect itinerary for all participants to follow.

Photo by Srini

Photo by Srini

So, after completing the first two tasks, I and Srini (who unfortunately could not run due to poor health) continued to accomplish the fourth task – ‘Chill at Coutrallam.’ After a tedious journey involving two buses, we reached Coutrallam and headed to the ‘main falls.’ It seemed to be relatively well maintained with strict orders on use of soaps and plastic sachets. However, the behaviour of the crowd was deplorable leaving the limited space under the falls for the ‘fattest’ of the lot. Almost every man out there seems to show the rest of the crowd about the supreme prowess of their masculinity. Given that the battle was for spaces, my slender frame was clearly not made for such a battle. We conceded our defeat and headed back to Tirunelveli and spent the rest of the day at the District Science Centre, which seemed to be an interesting discovery on the tour. The science centre is part of the National Council of Science Museums  and has some interesting science experiments suitable for learning by all ages.

Although the event was an excuse for visiting Tirunelveli, the good work by the organisers and volunteers will ensure that the event will soon attract more people and will find its place along the lines of Halwa, Nellaiappar temple and Coutralam in the annals of Tirunelveli.

The Ahimsa Run

Ahimsa Paramo Dharma (अहिंसा परमॊ धर्मः)

On March 30, 2014, the Jains and Marwaris of Pondicherry organised a 7Km run to promote running amongst their community members.The theme of the run was centred around the basic tenets of Jainism. The run was aptly named as the Ahimsa Run, the key principle of those following the religion. They had two categories of the run – a 7 Km run for adults above 14 years and a 4 Km for children under 14 years. The route was fairly simple – started and finished at Vel. Chokkanatha Kalayana Mandapam at Vallalar Salai and the run was on the boulevard around the Pondy town.

The genesis of the run was in the participation of some of its members in the Seventh Auroville Marathon in February 2014. Many of them were running their first half marathon. They formed a group called ‘Marathon Runners’ and trained for the event. Following their experience of training for a marathon and the joy of running one, they wished to offer a similar experience for their entire community. The participants were largely from their community which helped the organisers to ease their concerns about organising a running event. They also invited students from Sathya Special School, Pondicherry.

The Organising team has toiled for more than a month to put together an event that would be memorable for the participants and encourage them to take up a more active life. They also had  a good representation from the women members and children of their community. Many of them have undergone rigorous practice for over a month leading to the run. In total, over 500 runners participated in the event. Even if restricted from their community, the diversity in the age group of the participants made it a spectacle to watch.

The event concluded with a sumptuous breakfast for all participants and a felicitation ceremony for the winners as well all those who worked for the event. Kudos to the Marathon Runners for their efforts in adopting Running event as an occasion to get their community folks together. I am sure that this experience will encourage them to organise similar events involving the entire town of Pondicherry.

The Servarayan Hills Ultra

In the middle of the night, Aravind wakes up and yells, ‘Praveen…. It’s 3:30 and no one has got up.’ Checked my phone and the time read 11:59. Praveen jumps out of his bed to confirm the same. Aravind quickly realises that it is the second time of the dual time on his phone screen. Those were the scenes ahead of the inaugural Yercaud Ultra, later renamed as Shevaroy hills ultra before finalising the name as ‘Servarayan Hills Ultra’ (SHU) in sync with the original name of the hills.


Photo by Ram. From left, Ramani, myself, Aravind, Bala, Praveen, Mani and Kannan

Aravind has signed up to run the Comrades Marathon on June 1, 2014 and it was natural for him to be anxious about every run until his Comrades. He was not the lone Comrades participant in the trip; Shahid, Ram and Kannan were also gearing up for their Comrades experience. The SHU has been intricately connected with Comrades marathon in many ways. Back in 2012, a month after (miraculously) finishing my first, (only as well as last) Comrades marathon, I joined the Tamil Nadu Cycling Club (TCC) Weekend Ride in Yercaud. The ride captain was Vaz a.k.a. Vasanth who seems to know the roads in Yercaud in and out. He introduced me to the beautiful ~34K loop road starting from and finishing at Yercaud.


Elevation profile recorded by Shahid’s GPS on the run. Ah! The obsession over miles and feet!

As we rode on the loop road, the frequent recurrence of peaks and troughs reminded me of the early stages of Comrades route with similar terrain. At the end of the ride, I was really eager to run the route sometime in the future. Few months back, Shahid and Paul were discussing about Shahid’s plan for Comrades training and was keen on running in Ooty. I discouraged him as neither the route profile nor the altitude suits a perfect training. A year back, few of us ran all the way up to Kothagiri from Mettupalayam and the route was inclined upwards from the start till the finish. It did look like a challenging uphill run but not the right kind of run for practicing hill running.

Source: The map is only indicative and does not explain the actual peaks and troughs!

Training for Comrades is a challenge by itself and poses many hurdles. I had tried to summarise some of my thoughts in my earlier blog on Training for Comrades. The loop in Yercaud presented us with an ideal terrain for hill training. It had ample peaks and troughs with the elevation no more than 100m at a stretch. I shared the maps (courtesy: Vaz) with Paul and Shahid suggesting the loop and in addition, a downhill towards Kuppanur would resemble Comrades route. The ~26K downhill run features a steep climb of ~4K sandwiched between downhill run of ~11K each. At first, it felt like the challenge of running the Botha Hill in Comrades but later turned out to be a bad idea because of the steep inclinations and declines.

Apart from the Comrades participants, the idea was thrown open to a small group of select runners (chosen based on the familiarity. Given the risks involved, it was decided not to open to a wider group). Among the takers includes Manivannan, Praveen, Bala, Ramani, Paul and by default, myself! It was a no-frills run and very minimal effort was taken to organise the run. It was self-organised and self-directed by each of the participants. I reached out to Vaz for assistance in Yercaud and he took the risk of introducing me to Yeshwin. Yeshwin, originally from Chennai, has relocated to Yercaud and dabbles in many activities, notably, cycling. On explaining my requirements, he suggested me a nice house for all of us to stay. The food was to be taken care by his wife, Kavitha, who runs The Pear Tree Café at Yercaud. Thanks to their assistance, we managed to have a pleasant stay and wonderful food for those two days.


Dinner at The Pear Tree Cafe

Our plan was to start the run at 4:00 AM and had a cut-off of 10 hours to cover the total distance with an intermediate cut-off of 6 hours for the loop (later reversed to 5 hours and it still didn’t matter). Our route reconnaissance (recce in common language) on the previous day didn’t give us a good preview of what was in store, the following day. Moreover, with 7 of us cramped on a single car (and me getting the ‘business class’ front row by the virtue of having tall legs), it was difficult to feel the elevations and troughs on the route. We retired to bed early after a delicious dinner of sandwich, curd rice and chocolate truffle. It could possibly be the only event where all runners had the same dinner and stayed together. Guess, IAAF can take some lessons from us to avoid pre-race doping!

Photo by Ramani (No. 9). Thanks to Preeti and Anurag, we had those beautiful cloth bibs!

Photo by Ramani (No. 9). Thanks to Preeti and Anurag, we had those beautiful cloth bibs!

We got ready for the run in time at 3:45 AM. The two car drivers – Pervez and Abdul – reported in time at 3:30 AM. Their assistance on the run was immense. It was also decided to run in groups until the day-break for safety reasons. Running in the dark is a challenge and also a memorable experience. The challenge is of two fold – not to get lost on the route and not to trip down. The first challenge did not exist in this run. The route directions was just simple – Keep left always! The second challenge – well, only the medicines for bruises were available.

Route info

Giving route directions on the previous day

It seems to be an unwritten law that tripping in an integral part of Ultra-marathons. Every year, I am sure there are at least 100 runners who trip themselves over the cats-eye in Comrades. Although I was lucky to escape it in my comrades run, I suffered it at Coimbatore, two months after the Comrades! The honours on this run went to Shahid who had a nasty fall suffering bruises on his elbow. It looked distressful on the first sight but Shahid was not the one to be let down by it. He quickly recovered to continue with the run.

The beauty of running in the dark is realised when the day breaks. The joy of watching the day break is unsurpassable. For those living in the cities, their day break is often spoiled by the street lights or the lights from vehicles. One can never watch a true break until they get themselves in a totally dark place. The first two hours of the run was a very pleasant experience except for the presence the street dogs. There were more ferocious ones inside many fenced residences but the ones on the street troubled us by pacing us on the run. Living in a street where there are more dogs than humans, I found it easier to tackle them.

I had chosen to play the sweeper role on the run and the drivers were instructed that I will be the last runner. The loop looked like a dream route for every runner – very little traffic, no confusion about the routes, perfect blend of elevation and declines and a pleasant weather. Our original plan was to have a cut-off time of 6 hours for the loop which looked very easy to achieve. In hindsight, I thought a four and half hours cut-off (corresponds to 8:30 AM) with an added of incentive of getting a cup of coffee for 10 bucks at Sree Saravana Bhavan, Yercaud could have been a better challenge (The price of coffee goes up to Rs. 25 after 8:30 AM).

All the runners completed the loop with ease. Bala was keeping unwell and has to opt out before the end of the loop. It was a steep climb from the end of the loop (which was at the lake) to the start of the road leading to Kuppanur. While I was enjoying the running uphill, it was getting really tough running downhill. After running about 10Kms on the steep downhill road towards Kuppanur, I have to call my run off. This was the route I enjoyed riding a lot during the Tour of Tamil Nadu 2010. Little did I realise that it would such a bad route for runners. The steep declines were absolute killers and I neither had he physical strength to run down nor the mental strength to pull trough with the run. I was also scared that most of the other runners would curse me for such a horrible route. It gets worse in the last 10 Kms which was no more than a barren hill. Strangely, all those who finished took it up as a challenge and accomplished with ease.


I was happy for the Comrades participants – Ram, Aravind, Shahid for finishing the entire stretch. This was definitely a confidence booster ahead of the Comrades. The downhill run in Comrades is lot more easier than this run even if the route has another 28Kms to cover. Also glad for Kannan for finishing the difficult stretch of the route, even if he didn’t run the last few Kilometers.