It is the most distant course that comes nearest to thyself, and that training is the most intricate which leads to the utter simplicity of a tune.
Ultra marathon runners – “Fat people who just can’t run very fast; but have a high tolerance for boredom.” My personal experience of meeting Ultra marathon runners have not been that they are ‘fat’ but they definitely have a high tolerance for boredom (not just in their conversation with me)! I would like to make a special mention of couple of such runners.
My first meeting with an Ultra marathon runner was Jacob Boopalan on the eve of Auroville Marathon 2008. He makes ultra running look so simple when he talks about it. I was attempting a half-marathon the following morning and was quite nervous about it. Jacob, on the other hand, was running a full marathon and was totally relaxed. It was then, I was introduced to him as someone who is doing just another Sunday run of 42.195K. When I asked him what keeps him going on an ultra, he casually replied, “The food! You get a chance to eat a lot.” The following day, Jacob came first in the marathon event and looked less tired than most of the half-marathon finishers including me. Jacob completed the Comrades marathon 2011.
The next ultra marathon runner that I was introduced was Santhosh Padmanabhan, a techie then, at Bangalore. It was a week before the Bangalore Ultra 2008 in which he was attempting a 24-hour run, a ‘crazy stuff’ indeed. On the same day, I was scheduled to do my final practice run for Singapore marathon. The 35K looked really small when I heard about his attempt to do a 24-hour run.
The first opportunity to get a live exposure to his “crazy runs” was during October 2009. Now, Santhosh with his new avatar as Guruji, had become a full fledged running coach with Runners High. In his next attempt at the 24-hour run at Bangalore Ultra 2009, he need to do one ‘night’ run. Manjula suggested Jain Farms at Bagalore as the venue for the night run. Besides Manjula, the support crew included Kavitha, Chandra and Steve. It was my first experience to run in the night. Santhosh had marked a route of 5K one way and was likely to run up and down for at least 6 laps. I managed to accompany him on his run for 2 laps and cycled with him for another 2 laps.
I was also part of the Crazy crew for Bangalore Ultra 2009. Accompanied him on the run for 2 laps and on cycle for another 2 laps all through the night from 10:00 PM to 5:00 AM clocking a distance of 50K. For someone, who was dead against the night shift culture, it was an experience of its kind doing those nocturnal runs. Sadly, Santhosh had to abort his attempt much earlier than the 24 hour target due to the contrasting weather conditions between the night and the day. However, he returned in 2010 to complete the 24-hour run at Bangalore Ultra.
My next outing with Santhosh was the Strides of Hope in 2010. An innovative 48-hour effort organised with a combined effort of the running communities of Bangalore, it was aimed to promote the cause of running and physical exercise for better health and raise funds for Asha Bangalore chapter. Another unique experience of staying with him over the night, feasting on the tamarind rice and curd rice prepared by his mom and the jocular company of various others whose list can fill another blog.
Santhosh may not have run the Comrades marathon but a true Comrade at heart and in his life. His approach to running (which his extends to his life) is simple, egalitarian and helps people to think about running more than just an act of physical exercise. He introduced me to the Asha Bangalore team and field of alternative education in which running finds itself an active place. Currently, he volunteers actively at Sita School, Ananya School and the Spastics Society in Bangalore and has brought a remarkable change in the outlook of many students. The students of Ananya school and Thulir, an educational resource centre based out of Sittling, Dharmapuri District, Tamil Nadu, actively take part in various running events and some of them even finish in the top 10 in the half-marathon category in such events. Running is often used as an instrument of punishment in most schools. Santhosh uses running as an instrument of fun, bonding and learning experience in these schools. It also enabled me to find some place in getting associated with these institutions. More about those activities in his less frequently updated blog here – http://www.runnershighkids.blogspot.in/. He is not just a long distance runner but also a versatile writer of ‘long e-mails’! While only a few are privileged to receive his mails, others can check his blog – http://teamasharunner.blogspot.in/ Not updated in the recent past but the old posts still make it a great blog to read.
Santhosh was also my virtual coach in my attempt at Comrades. Early May, I wasn’t sure of taking a shot at the comrades. His final piece of advice then was classic, “Don’t worry about anything else now – just stay positive and visualize yourself getting there every day.” Took extra effort to visualise myself finishing in the Kingsmead stadium wearing the green shirt of Team ASHA/Runners High every day during training and all through the Comrades run, until I really accomplished it. However, the atmosphere at the finish line was way too intimidating than I ever imagined! He continues to inspire many, not just to take up running but also to become a running coach themselves and inspire others.