March 3rd, 2010. Nainital. 56K run (second of the 3rd ultra for Comrades 2010).
Finish: 7 hr 38 mins (42K in 5:23)
Prelude – Coming back from Injury
Its been some really bad time for me over the last few weeks. After doing the 50K at IITK, when everything was roses, I was stuck by another of those “attack of the calfs”, which basically had my hobbling the moment I tried to get dirty with my running. This went on, and on, and on for three weeks, starting March 1st, and took out two marathons from my Comrades training schedule.
Comrades Training: 2 Marathons + 3 Ultras
By the time I was back on the road in the fourth week of March, it was catch up time, and the 56K was already too close for comfort, and going to do that without any significant long run in a month was a serious issue. For the newcomers to Comrades training, the Don Oliver plan I follow has 2 marathons and 3 ultra marathons as the essential component around which the entire training is built up. Do these, and you are good to go for Comrades. The 3 ultra marathons range from 50K to 65K, and I had settled for a 50K followed by 56K and finally a 65K.
Getting ready for the 2nd Ultra
Okay, back to topic. After all the mess I had created, it was time to pick up the bones and get the ass moving. The week prior to the 56K targeted for Apr 3rd (coinciding with Two Oceans date) was a normal Don Oliver week with 30K weekday mileage followed by the 56K on Saturday. I went with a couple of Comrades friends to Nainital to run, since I have been woefully short of any hill experience, and Comrades needs it in large doses.
The Route at Bhimtal-Naukuchiatal
We decided to start the run at the break of dawn, and we were off by 5:30 from Bhimtal lake, where we were staying. The route was essentially a loop of Bhimtal (4K), taking the connecting road to Naukuchiatal (5K), and then doing one side of Naukuchiatal (1K), and then come back to base via the connecting road (another 5K), making this a 15K loop.
The terrain is essentially up and down, but the climbs and descents are never long, mostly less than 100 meters. So, basically you are going up or down all the time with very little flat patches. The sections around the lakes were probably the most flat, while the interconnecting road between the lakes the most hilly.
Start – Slow and Steady
I started running at the pace of about 7 min/km, at the back of the pack. It was important not to commit any mistakes in tactics when you are talking about distances like 56K, since any wrong step can come to haunt you later, at 30K, or 40K, or 50K. Being conservative was the essence for me, and I had one eye on my calf situation all the time… looking out for any signs which may indicate a recurrence. At IITK 50K, the calf started troubling me from 15K onwards, so I was worried if this may strike again later in the day.
The first two loops were basically about trying to get the initial distance of about 35KM out of the way and then get to the meaty part of the race, the real challenge, the main course of this ultra. Thats when the real race begins. Before that its mostly about putting one foot after another, the starters, going through the essential motions before the mind games begin.
Hills need Respect, and Preparation
Once thing which I learnt at the run was that my body was definitely not comfortable with the hills. Flats were fun, downhills were double fun, but uphills were proving killers. Even short stretches of climbs was leaving me panting and with my heart rate going crazy. I was thinking about the several tempo runs I have missed, which can probably get your cardio system into better shape (note for self: plan for one tempo run a week from now on, except on ultra weeks).
Hurt starts after 42K
It started hurting after 42K, and there was still a good 14K to go. The marathon distance was over at 5:22, reasonably good for a marathon which is being run in the hills all the way (reasonably good by my standards of course). The sun was up, it was getting quite warm, even by Nainital standards. Our hydration logistics were not going too well, since there was a 5K gap between two points, and at these late hours of the run, that was quite a gap for a drink, something like 40 minutes!
It was hard labour for the last 14K. Legs were cramping, and I had to stretch them out at every 4-5KM to make them go further. Stretching really helps, no stretching probably would have meant an early end of my run. Any uphill sections, I had to walk. Every few hundred meters, the legs begged for some walking. However, I limited my walking to just about 100-200 meters at one time, and running 1-2K, though I did once walk an entire 500 meter stretch when it was looking really bad, but it was better from than point onwards.
Finish – Slow, but Good
I finished the 56K at the place we were putting up, which is a 500 meter long steep uphill segment of about 4% incline overlooking Bhimtal lake. Finish time – 7 hr 38 mins. There were mixed emotions after finishing. On one hand, it was a pretty slow run, averaging at about 8 min/km (which is actually the pace at which you can run the Comrades Marathon within 12 hours, the cutoff time). On the other hand, I felt good about putting some serious time under my legs after a long time. This is just 4:30 short of the 12 hours of running I will need to do at Comrades.
Coming up next: 65K on May 2nd
The next big one is the 65K run on May 2nd. Still need to decide where to do this onc, since even Nainital would be getting hot by that time since that run would probably extend to much later in the day.