From 0 to 50 and beyond..

"Here goes nothing" - Yeah, that sounds a bit cliched but that's the first thought that came to my mind when I started the Bhati Lakes 50k Run. It was 5:20 a.m., pitch dark and cold, and I had just my running buddy(Mauj) and a small Petzl Lamp for company.
The unknown forest trail loomed ahead of me. I had done a practice run at Kant Enclave before, but that was not the trail I was supposed to run on.
"Might as well talk and lighten up the mood. These 50 kms aren't going to be over soon" I told Mauj.

I had to do this, for myself. Not for anyone else but for myself. I've had lots of doubters in life, people who have said that none of my good habits will amount to anything. All of them believed because of my small stature and measly eating habits I won't amount to anything.
"What's the big deal if you can ride a 100 kms on a bicycle ?" Why do you run man, what will you achieve ?"
"or the most favorite question "What are you running from ?"
Sometimes I felt stupid, sharing my passions with people who live half their lives engulfed in a sea of smoke and hard drinks and the rest half infront of a computer doing mind numbing tasks that won't amount to anything but a small sum of cash.

Their questions drive me, and on a lighter note my answer to their favorite question is "I am running away from your stupidity"

I love running. I love riding. I love swimming. For all of them I have had my parents to thank for. They were the providers, the enablers who led me to these passions.
I started swimming in 8th standard as a 13 year old. My mom put me in swimming classes because she didn't want me "standing staring numbly at water when I am out with a group"
Her passion, overcame my laziness and made me swim more and more. I did end up being a very good swimmer but more importantly it increased my endurance and my stamina. It taught me sportsman spirit.
It transformed me from a weak small boy who caught a cold every 2 months to a star kid, who could train and swim 6 kms in the searing July heat for 2 hours.

During my college years, I lost my sports zeal, engulfed by the "college life". And then the typhoid struck.
8 days of headaches, vomiting and 100+ fever taught me one thing, I've wasted enough time. Once I am back on my feet, I won't be going back again.

Enough of the background check, I came to know about the Bhati Lakes Ultra from my idol Arun Bhardawaj. On a random chat he asked me if I wanted to run a 30 mile race, and the very thought excited me. I registered on the same day knowing there would be no turning back.
I had been training quite seriously in the previous months, with swimming and cycling in the forefront but running was never far behind.
After Arun Sir's message, running took the lead. 557 kms of training in 47 training runs followed (including a run through an increasing elevation of 2200 ft ). Every kilometer built confidence, but who knows what will happen during a run.
Yet pretty confident of the fact that I will pull it off, I hit the start line on the cold Sunday morning of the 27th of October.
I was late, because of lack of preparedness ( and that cost me later in the race ) but then it was a part of the learning curve.
My friend, Mr Sanjay Mangla gave us the lamp which became leading light as we hit the trail.

Kilometers 0- 10 :  No light, not even moon light, a broken jungle trail road strewn with thorns and bushes.
"Say whatever, but there is fun in this madness" I told Mauj. Our running speed was decent enough (5'30 / km) but somehow the focus never was the speed but the distance that lay ahead of us.
We shared stories of never giving up, I blabbered everything I knew about Ultra endurance races and of Dean Karnazes and Arun Bhardawaj.
And then my foot slipped. I laughed at the mishap and told Mauj to be careful. Another kilometer passed when a thorny bush got stuck to my left leg. Not the most ideal start if I must say, but then I signed up for this.
The trail got tougher and tougher as the distance progressed, and it was a good thing we couldn't see what horrors lay ahead of us.
As the 8th kilometer approached the sky got brighter, it was past 6 AM. Mauj went for a loo break and I proceeded on the trail.
The trail was surprisingly flat and easy to run, so I picked up my pace and raced to the complete 1/5th of my mission.

Kilometers 10-20 : Mauj caught up with me on the 11 km mark, even as I tried to rub off some of the sludge that had covered my shoe.
Now that it was bright, we realized what a beautiful place this was. There were lakes and hills surrounding the trail.
We picked up the pace a little to make up for the time we had lost due to the dark and then disaster struck.

"Are you sure this is the right way" Mauj asked me. "Don't know man, I didn't see a marker" I replied.
We were running uphill through a rather narrow road which became more and more unpassable after every meter.
"You are going the wrong way, I've been lost here for the past 5 mins " shouted a fellow participant.

We ran downhill searching for a way, and were luck enough to catch up with some of the fellow runners who were on the right trail. "1.2 kms extra, so much for the lead I had gained" I thought.

Surprisingly, I saw my dad at around the 16 km mark. "Has he been walking for the past 6 kms?" I wondered as he clicked our pictures.

By the time we pushed towards the 20 km mark, Mauj was hurting. Funnily enough, 2 kms before we had been talking about finishing the race together.
"We'll cross the finish line like Dean crossed the Gobi March finish line" I had said to Mauj.

This was supposed to be us, yeah right! 

Somehow he was getting cramps in his stomach, and he was in pain. We saw the race organizer, Miss Kavitha and she cheered us on. Boy, that was 1 hell of a needed boost up after running through complete silence. Abhijit Yeole, took our pictures and being the kind of posers that we are, the pictures did come out quite good.

" Hey! We are on camera! Smile! "

1 hour 54 minutes for 21.2 kms and the fun had just begun.

Kilometer 20-30 : Mauj took a break after 20 km as I soldiered on. The distance now began creeping on me with nobody to talk to, and after almost 2 hours 20 mins at the 25 km mark I decided to take a water break. It was the longest I had ever run ( my previous best being the 23 km run I had done on my 23rd birthday).
Stopping for water made me realize I was shaky and as I continued on the toughest part of the trail (5 to 8 km ) things began going downhill. I stumbled twice or thrice and that brought in negativity.
Saw dad at the 7 km mark who told me "In the last round you simply have to take the U turn at the 5 km mark". Ah, the mere mention of the finish line caused the " Finish Line Delusion ", and I began to dream of the finish even with 23 kms still to go.
As I approached the 28th kilometer, the road split two way. With the markers fading I took the "right" turn which apparently wasn't that right. I met Coach Ravinder Singh who informed me that we were on the wrong way. Luckily for me, he met me after only 400 meters and was saved the extra 1.8 kms that he had traveled.

As I reached the 30 km checkpost, the friendly volunteers offered Electrol and Glucose biscuits which I gladly accepted. It was here that I learnt that I was in the 3rd place. And the energy was back.
Even with fading strength and a 20 min late start, to be in the top 3 gave me confidence.

" It's the last time we'll be seeing you, so all the best " were the parting words from the volunteers as I started the return leg to 40 km checkpost.

Kilometer 30-40  Mauj hobbled by, as I crossed the  32nd kilometer. "C'mon man, let's finish this " I shouted to him. He was visibly in pain. So was I. Running in road shoes on a jungle trail was a very bad idea.
The rocks and pebbles had dented my feet and the dried up mud on my socks was causing blisters.
The boost of being in the 3rd place drove me as I reached the 35 km point. "Just 15 kms more, that's easy " I thought. Boy was I wrong.
The next 5 kilometers were a major source of tragedy. "Hitting the wall" is a term used in running which describes a condition caused by the depletion of glycogen stores in the liver and muscles, which manifests itself by sudden fatigue and loss of energy. And I hit it hard, very hard that too while running uphill.

Every step became painful, I became angrier with each step. My pace dropped and when my GPS did not show another completed kilometer, I cussed at it. I cussed at the adventure cyclists who were out on the trail to have some fun.

"This route isn't familiar, why isn't the gate coming " I said angrily thinking about the gate which was the landmark for the 2.5 kilometer point.
I wanted to walk, I wanted to fall down and sleep but I had read enough running stories to know quitting is not the answer. Plus, my competitive spirit wanted to keep the 3rd place. So I screamed at myself and continued.

I saw Dad walking by, meters after I had passed the gate. "Why are you not near the car, i need the supplies " I shouted. Looking back,I regret my anger but at that point everything I saw was wrong from my point of view. The wall had my body, all I had left was my soul.
I took the car keys from my dad and struggled towards the 40 km point. 4 hours had passed and I had covered more than 41 kms ( due to my extra work earlier ).

40 kilometer turn :  I opened the car doors, took off my shoes and got the gravel out.
I opened my bag, and took out a can of Red Bull and gulped it all down in 1 go. "Still thirsty" went my brain as I opened a second can and gulped it down.
I wore my shoes, checked my GPS which read "41.1  km" and thought "Time to test the wings"

Kilometer 40 -45 :  The wings worked as I was freed from the wall. I settled into a more comfortable rhythm as I crossed the marathon mark (42.2 kms) where I was passed by the eventual champion Anil Kumar.
I gave the car keys to my dad and continued. Mauj came walking from the other end. "It's over for me, I'm stopping at the 40 km mark and sleeping " he told me.

I passed a couple of other runner who cheered me on. By this time I knew one thing, I'm going to make it.
I reached the 45 km checkpoint in 4 hours and 48 minutes, but by then I had done 47 kilometers.

"This is your last checkpoint right? " asked the volunteer smiling. I smiled back realizing the enormity of his question.

Kilometer 45-50 : I felt like racing, I wanted to finish the distance as quickly as I could. "This was fun" I thought to myself thinking about the melange of emotions that I had encountered through the race.

I saw dad near the gate again, this time with my DSLR camera. "How much will he walk!" I thought as I ran past him as he clicked pictures.

50 kms were done in 5 hours 9 minutes, but still over a mile was left. "So that's what people talk about when they say the last 0.2 miles of a marathon" I thought and smiled.

I saw the checkpoint in the distance and I sprinted. I wanted to showboat across the finish line.
I saw Mauj standing there, smiling. I gave him a high-five as I crossed the finished line, in 3rd place after 5 hours and 21 minutes.

PS : Dad ended up walking 25 kms !

I always cry when I achieve something big, but this time I didn't. Because this "something big" was not the culmination, but the beginning of something new.

A lot is yet to come and these 50 kilometers are just the road to the start line.


  1. :) Arunaabh. Yes, there is a lot to come. Cheers athlete. Your passion is ignited. Pass it on and let yours burn bright.

  2. Awesome Arunaabh... Not just have you found something you love, but also described it very well.. Keep it up and there sure is lot more to come! All the best!

  3. By your free flowing blog, you have proved that you are as well a good writer besides a strong will powered runner.

  4. One word really u deserve Arunaabh, RUNNER

  5. Congratulations.keep it up..hats off for the ultra

  6. Congratulations arunaabh.. keep it up.. stay blessed.. :)

  7. Good impression. Keep it up!

  8. Congratulations Arunaabh...Very Motivating & well written....


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