September 2018 | 861 words | 4-min read
My journey as an ultra-runner began in 2010. A childhood friend who had competed in marathons was my inspiration. I felt this was something I could do too. Suitably inspired, I got to work.
I wasn’t super fit at that time, weighing eight to nine kg more than what I am now, and by my own admission was completely clueless about fitness and training. I did some online research and drew up a detailed plan for myself, complete with milestones to be achieved within five short months — just in time for the next marathon.
At this first hurdle, my plans bounced, and I didn’t reach any of my targets. But I learned a crucial lesson in my journey. Physical training is not a project with milestones to be met. What we have to do is understand ourselves first — including our fitness levels, endurance limits and mental toughness.
Taking stock of my capabilities, I returned to the marathon circuit in 2011 by completing the TCS Amsterdam Marathon. After this initial success, I set out to challenge myself further. I read up on ultrarunning and felt motivated to run a 50-km race. Since then, I have climbed up the ranks to become a successful ultra-runner. As part of my ongoing training, I run a marathon every week in preparation for the 200+ km ultra-races. To date, I have run over 100 marathons. Since 2012, I have completed over 20 official marathons.
As surprising as it may sound, running marathons is not my real goal. In fact, I’m not even that good at running marathons. What drives me is competing in the longer ultra-races which focus on distances ranging between 200-250kms. I’m one of the best ultra-marathon competitors in the 24-hour race category.
My biggest achievements include completing the Spartathlon in Greece (three times) and the Sakura Michi race (250km across Japan from Nagoya on the south coast to Kanazawa on the north coast over the Japanese Alps). I finished in the 11th place overall at Sakura Michi and was the best non-Japanese runner!
A mountain to climb
When I took up the Spartathlon, an ultra-marathon of 246km held between Athens and Sparti (a modern town on the ancient site of Sparta) in Greece, I could barely imagine the difficulties involved. The race is unbelievably challenging in that runners have to cover a distance of six marathons in a stretch. The race starts at 7am on a Friday and runners have to complete it within the next 36 hours — without any rest in between.
After covering the distance of four marathons, there is also a mountain to climb as part of the trajectory! It’s usually quite hot and we have to pass a checkpoint at every 3km at particular times. This means that we have to keep running without any breaks.
Fatigue sets in, your legs are tired, sleep overtakes and it’s difficult to eat or digest anything. There is a lot of self-doubt at this stage along with a strong urge to put an end to this madness.
At this decisive moment, only those with the strongest state of mind will survive. Ultimately, it is not about fitness but more about knowing your body and mind intimately enough to take control of the situation and plod on till the very end.
To my immense satisfaction, I have now completed the Spartathlon three times: in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Even though I have been successful in this race three times, I am yet to reach my goal of completing the race in less than 30 hours.
Looking back at it, Spartathlon was a spectacular but painful race. It’s somewhat like childbirth, where the finish line brings extreme happiness to blur the memory of pain and misery faced during the event.
Running and training for the ultra-marathon has taught me perseverance, something I apply to my life each day. Running is an innately personal experience, where I constantly experiment and test myself. In the end, it’s about knowing one’s self and being able to link the body with the mind.
Often, we lose this ability to connect our body and mind in our sedentary lives, alternating between the bed, chair and the sofa. Running daily, I am fortunate to be able to make that crucial connection, which is what completes me.
Going forward, I want to continue running and help others train for ultra-marathons. I am a trainer certified by the Dutch Athletics Foundation and I coach ultra-runners. I enjoy getting to know others and motivating them to achieve their goals.
A tool to happiness
Just like my community of ultrarunners has inspired me, I would also like to urge my colleagues to make fitness a priority. I have learnt from my father’s untimely death that we must take care of ourselves before our health starts failing. Or else, it will be a grave mistake and a terrible injustice done to ourselves and our loved ones.
Through this journey, I have understood running to be my tool to happiness. I believe I was born to run!