Run of Kutch – As experienced by Atul Karwal
A captivating account of the Globeracers’ Run of Kutch ultratrail race by Atul Karwal who ran 100kms in the second edition of the race on February 06, 2015.
This was the 100 km Kutch ultra-marathon organized by Globeracers that I had enrolled in and prepared for – for the past several months. Aside from the training schedule of a training load of 70-80 km per week (that I never really could do fully, except for the long runs), what helped me prepare mentally were some truly inspiring books on running – Eat and Run, Born to Run and the Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei. These monks actually carry a knife around their waist, on a ”cord of death” to kill themselves if they cannot complete the run of the day, which is sometimes 84 kms every day for 100 consecutive days!! If only I could bring this commitment to my run!! The target was to complete in qualifying time of 21 hours without collapsing and that required me to pace myself and keep the old legs going.
My wife and I reached Lakhpat Gurudwara in Kutch, to report for the run at the appointed time and date – Feb 5, 1700 hrs. She was there to lend me moral support, apprehensive that I had bitten off more than I could chew. There were 4 other 100 km participants, the oldest being 37 years, 15 years younger to me. I was looking for company from a similarly paced runner and thought I had found one who had completed a training run of 85 km in 20 hours. It was only later I learnt, during the run that this guy, Ashish, was a 3 hr 49 minute full marathoner and a much stronger runner! Briefing for the day over, we had darshan in the Gurudwara, which dates back to Guru Nanak days and is a UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Site and a tour of this quaint town. Dinner of Sarson da saag and bajre di roti in the langar there and off for the night. It was agreed that the 160 km and the 100 km runs would start together at 7 am in the morning. The 160 km run also had only 5 participants, one of them a renowned female runner, Aparna Choudhary. For the 100 km runners, the cut offs were as follows- first 20 km 3 hours, next 20 km 4 hours, next 20 km 4 hours, next 20 km 5 hours, last 20 km 5 hours – a total of 21 hours.
We assembled at Lakhpat Gurudwara at 0630 hrs in the morning, had our medical check-up, breakfast, pictures and the run started at precisely 0725 hrs. My wife went off ahead to Dhorodo, the finish point. Mohit, my friend had lent me his Suunto and I was carrying a hydration bag with 2 litres of fluid ( a dilute solution of Accelerade), a hydration belt with two small bottles of plain water, headlamp, spare socks, sachets of Accelerade, light jacket, dry fruits, chana (provided by Globeracers), chocolates, Odomos and 10 Gu Gels – a total weight of about 5 to 6 kgs. We started as a group and remained within sight of each other for the first 5-8 kms, before we spread out more, with me bringing up the rear! The terrain for the first 10 kms or so was along a ridge, undulating, rocky and through thorny bushes (Ganda Baawal). This afforded stunning early morning views of the vast featureless expanse of the Runn to our left. The pace was relaxed, 7.5 to 8 kms an hour. My target was to complete the first 20 kms in just under the cut off of 3 hours. And slow down even further to conserve my energies after that, not being certain of my staying power for 100 km. Mentally I was sure if I just kept on, I would be able to complete. I had almost decided to carry a small knife (rubber knife) with me to remind me of the Marathon Monks, who kill themselves if they cannot complete the run for the day, but decided against it. I was carrying a real knife inside my head!
The average pace worked out to 7.5 km to begin with and I did the first 30 km in about 4 hours – a satisfactory pace. Two other runners were more or less with me – Dr Nehal and a Physio, Ashish, from Surat, both younger and stronger. Wanting company, I was able to hang on but the pace was more than I would have wanted to run at. Lunch was organised at the BSF (Border Security Force) Post of Jhara. Good lunch – bataka poha, parantha, curd, sandwiches etc. Excellent hospitality and support by the BSF Posts all along the way that included clapping when we shambled past, hydration and even some eats. I was already tired after running 30 kms in the soft sand and rocky terrain. Legs had not recovered completely from my training runs and there had been a lingering soreness even before the race started. This was more now and the day and the heat of the desert were just beginning. The three of us stuck more or less together after this – and the next 28 kms were done in the rising heat of the Runn. Nehal had multiple blisters and Ashish kept getting cramps in his hamstring but it didn’t slow them down much. Fortunately, I had no problems at all except getting fatigued. Hydrate as we might, passing urine was infrequent and bright yellow when it happened – a warning to hydrate more.
Globeracres had vehicular support wherever their vehicles were allowed in the area and eats, water, enerzal and juice were available in plenty. Most of these 58 kms were run along the Harrow line – a 10 foot wide strip of land ploughed up by the BSF Harrow tractors, parallel to the IB, which is done to see if any footsteps cross it. BSF investigates all such transgressions as the locals are not allowed to cross it as ahead lies the International Border. We were advised to keep to the right of it and not cross it. The terrain changed from marshy to sandy, to hard packed clay and the White Runn – the salt encrusted plains. The salt crystals were sharp and crunchy, the clay mud clung in clumps to the soles of our shoes and the sandy patches sucked up the meagre remaining energy. At a point in time, we three had to assist the BSF jawans in pushing out the Assistant Commandant’s Gypsy stuck in deep mud. A laborious cleaning of the soles of our shoes had to be undertaken thereafter to remove all the clumps of clay which made me feel as if I were running on platform heels! We reached Amar Post after 58 kms in 10 hours. The average had dropped down from 7.5 for the first 30 km to 5 km per hour for the next 30 kms. We were still on target for completing within 21 hours with a comfortable margin, or so we thought. Reached Amar Post at 5 pm and had a good break, change of socks and plenty of hydration. Only 42 more to go – just a full marathon; in a burst of optimism I told my wife that I would take 7 more hours and will be in Dhorodo my midnight…
Anand, the Assistant Commandant BSF of Amar Post, a poet-soldier ran/walked with us for 5 km on the tar road before we peeled off into the dirt trail again to reach the side road. So did the young police constables who had met me at Amar post to keep me company for the rest of the way. We stopped for a make-shift dinner where the dirt track went away from the road and took stock of the food we had. As told to us, dinner was at Udma Post, which we might take hours to reach. Fortunately for me, Nehal and Ashish were carrying Theplas, a typical Gujarati roti, staple diet of Gujaratis travelling abroad. We had a leisurely meal in the police gypsy accompanying us and took off into the gathering dark. We also caught up with Kanishka, a young 25 year old marathoner who was attempting the 100 for the first time, like all of us. He had paced himself badly, ignoring nutrition and hydration and was near collapse. For the next six hours, all of us took care to help him recover, which he finally did, to beat all three of us to the finish line!
It was a tarred village road for the first 10 kms or so. We felt we would be able to complete now, with a comfortable margin, so we slowed down. The night sky, before the near full moon rose was amazingly lit with the stars and constellations, most of which Ashish knew about. Valuable time was lost lying down on the road, looking up at the sky while Ashish told us all he knew about stargazing. Then he being a physio, helped us stretch and even gave all of us calf massages. It was as if we didn’t want it to end! Then he had an urge to have hot tea! Considering all he had done for us, a police jeep was despatched to wake up the nearest village and get tea made. Sure enough, 3 kms down the road, we had hot tea served by a sleepy Maaldhari, confused by the madness of this group of runners clad in shorts and tights, being escorted by police! Sundry vehicles passing on this road were stopped to ensure we had our tea in peace and then we went on again. The temperature had dipped with sunset and for the first time I felt I should have worn tights instead of my shorts. I took out my thin jacket and that being inadequate, wore a fleece on top.
The tarred road ended and we were on a dirt and metalled track for the last 30 kms. The track was too rough at most places even to sit down and rest. We were getting tired and slowing down. Reached Udma Post at 3 am on Feb 7th, with an hour and a half to go. Our Suunto watches showed we had done 96 kms – 4 to go! But the volunteer and the BSF sentry at Udma told us that the finish point – Tower Post was 7 kms away still! S***! Nehal and Ashish had lagged behind to bandage Nehal’s blisters. I didn’t want to walk the rest of the way and finish just within the time limit of 21 hours. Surprisingly, I had felt the ups and downs of energy all through the run and had experienced 2nd, 3rd and 4th winds. Now after 96 kms, I was feeling fresh. So I checked with Kanishka and we ran the rest of the way. He shot off ahead, leaving me struggling to catch up. We had only done about two kms when my headlamp gave out! The headlights of the police gypsy following us lit up the ground, leaving all the pits pitch dark. But now we were too eager to finish and ran presuming it was too late in the run to worry about a twisted ankle. The lights of Tower Post glimmered ahead at an uncertain distance but gradually drew nearer. Finally, Kanishka and I finished the run in 20 hours and 30 minutes, Nehal and Ashish came in half an hour later. I stretched a bit, donned a dry t-shirt and warm jacket and waited for my wife to come and pick me up. My Suunto showed 102.7 kms in 20 hours and 31 minutes.
I was feeling cold because of exhaustion but was jubilant with the inner warmth of a difficult challenge overcome.