Sunday, 15 April 2012

Marathon in a Kamandalam…

Abrupt transition to barefoot running and the painful consequences have been shared with my readers without sparing any of the gory details. Looking in retrospect on my running career so far, my decisions have always been abrupt. I ran my first Ultra of 50K in my alma mater when I was only one Half Marathon ripe. I have now started believing that there is a divine plan in this and I trustingly take each step without much thought.
            When I started running on the highway on a regular basis after the Bangalore Ultra in November last year, forsaking the Gym’s treadmill for good, plan was to increase distances gradually. As I have chronicled earlier, the only disadvantage in running on highway is choosing the mid-point from where to turn back. Wherever you decide to turn back, you still have that much distance to cover to reach base. There is also the issue of carrying supplies like water and eatables. These two factors, largely, impact the planning for increasing distances. As a result, I have been stagnating at 30K for a long time, so much so, the distance was in the danger of being named ‘Vishy’s constant’. While I was experimenting on barefoot, knee guard shedding and like, the distance was stuck at 30.
Today I attempted what should rate as foolhardy even by my standards, having read about my friend and partner in crime in the Ahmedabad to Dakor run, Piyush Shah, running a marathon every week, I decided to attempt the 42K barefoot on one ‘Kamandalam’(it is a name for the utensil holy men used to carry for water, empty 500ml Gatorade bottle from SCMM 2012 in my case) full of precious water. Looking back now after having done the run successfully, the attempt was not without backups, I could always trust the highway driver friends of KSRTC buses to give me a lift if I am stranded with injury. As for running out of water, I could recoup at Temple at KM7 or the Masjid at KM10 or the village at KM10 and KM 21 the mid-point. Even though these areas are reeling under severe drought and water shortage, I could trust the famed land of milk and honey and known for its ‘Atithi Satkar’ to at least refill my water bottle, even if the quality of water could be suspect. I can’t say I had all this planned out before starting.
I started at the usual hour of 05:30 after Biscuit (my four year old Labrador for the uninitiated) had been given his leash-less morning walk. I felt good as the right foot, even if slightly painful, was matching the left foot stride for stride. I completed the first 3 KM of the minefield for bare-foot without many pokes to my tender sole. I met the usual morning walkers coming from the opposite side. While taking the biological break at KM3, I rationalized that I could decide whether to go to the 21K mark after I reached the usual 15K distance and after taking stock of my physical condition at that point. The slight stitch in my right bum had eased out by now. I mentally promised myself not to stop for picking cotton as the longer run would get me in trouble with the Sun while returning. After KM6, I could not resist a white ball of inviting cotton almost at the edge of the highway; I broke my pledge and pocketed it, and like an inveterate drunkard promised myself not to slip again. The line of coloured pots between KM 8 and 9 was unusually long today and it saddened me no end as usual. The hollowness of all the economic prosperity and ‘India Shining’, when we can’t afford to provide clean drinking water to a large part of our population makes you feel impotent.
I crossed the Masjid with a wave at the Moulvi, Peerzada with a wave of the hand which was promptly and cheerfully reciprocated. I was itching to tell him that I was attempting a full marathon today. Kusugal village at KM 10 was deserted today and I missed my young friends. The loiterers outside the Petrol bunk beyond KM 10 waved to me. I did not find Gangadhar or the bunch of talkative old women today. I took my second biological break at KM 11. Sun peeped out from behind a cloud threateningly. Still no water break, can I stretch it to the half-way mark of KM 21 like I do at KM15, fingers and toes crossed! My feet were holding fine despite encountering a few oversized pebbles on the way. The right sole was a little tender. Could this be my Achilles heel for the attempt?
While approaching KM15, I was running in a zone and did not think twice before crossing the usual half-way mark. The die was cast. I crossed the bridge after KM15 after a rough stretch of road strewn with pebbles. I remembered by earlier failure of locating KM 16 stone. Missing a KM stone makes you realize how important the encouragement of each KM mark in a long run. The road after the bridge was narrower but more importantly smooth on the soles. After what seemed an eternity, I crossed KM 17. I met a few buses with enthusiastic drivers waving at me. I was itching to tell them that I was doing an FM today. You really miss crowd support on such solo runs. I took a walking break at KM 18, still no water break. I crossed the fork announcing the way to Hebsur Railway station after KM 18. I marked this place for giving up and catching a train if I did not feel good on the way back. I crossed from under the narrow Road Over Bridge with trucks forcing me to take a walking break on the edge of the road. There was no kilometer stone after a long time of crossing KM 19. I crossed a bridge on a culvert and I could see sign of village life with men proceeding for their morning constitutional. KM 20 was missing, I entered the village square having a mandapam with a Gandhi statute with the KM stone announcing Hubli KM 21. I took a long swig after capturing both the pictures (Gandhiji and KM 21) for posterity. I took a long swig of water and walked back for sometime much to the curiosity of the people in the square, but, knowing from my earlier experience of people of Kusugal at KM 10, I can say that it’s better not to approach them for a few times. I will interact with them after they get used to me over next few Sundays (Yes, I had made a promise to repeat this madness every Sunday!).
 The Sun was out in full glory and I dreaded the prospect of a HM in the sun. My first target was to reach the familiar point of KM 15, somehow I felt that the distance after 15K would be manageable. I met a man waiting for a lift from some private carrier at a little distance from KM21 on the way back. He asked me if I was coming from Hubli, when I said Yes, he sought to know if I came from ‘Madhura colony’ (KM 2). I could not resist gloating Keshwapur (a full 2 KM further). He must have crossed me earlier in so many vehicles whose drivers are on waving terms with me. There was no traffic when I crossed the ROB after KM 19. I met the family of KM 10, who used to enthusiastically greet me on many days and who was missing today, crossing me in a vehicle beyond KM 18 after the fork in the road leading to Hebsur station. I did not even think of the option of giving up the run and taking a train. The children greeted me enthusiastically. I kept running looking for the bridge after KM 16. I wanted to reach KM 15 without a break. I crossed many horses grazing between KM 16 and KM 15, they must belong to the sheep farmer who were camping in a field nearby.
Presently, I reached the familiar point of KM15, much to my relief and to a welcome long walking break. Liberal swigs had brought the water to the halfway mark in the bottle, I had to run the balance 15K with fuel on reserve switch. I had completed 27K in a little over three hours. I was on course for a 5 hour finish. I stopped once more to pick up another boll of cotton between KM 14 and 13. The climb between KM 13 and KM 12 was a bit tough on my feet, I was tiring. After the continuing climb even after KM 12 (my original distance of 30K done) I felt drained. I continued to goad myself to use the slope into KM 11 and promised myself a water break at my original sunrise point on the bridge after KM 11. I had to cross the cart (bullocks of which were originally scared of my red cap) which I found very bothersome as it involved change of direction. I took a biological break, a water break and a longish walking break after KM 11. I was not very enthusiastic in reaching KM 10 as my friends would surely not be there to greet me. I was running low on water but crossed the Masjid in a breeze. I did not want to break my rhythm. I would take a call at the temple about recouping water. Some part of my brain kept challenging me to try and complete the run without a water recharge. I took a sip of water at KM 8. I could afford two more breaks with the available water if I drank miserly. The straight stretch between KM 8 and 7 dragged on interminably. My next promised water break was at KM5. I reached KM5 with a lot of struggle, I took a biological break and took a small gulp of water. I was now on my last two gulps and more than almost 35 minutes of run left. The downward slope for the next 2 kilometers was welcome, but, being a Sunday the tonic of school kids (I was not even sure if summer vacations had started) would be sorely missed. I ran in strongly to the HDMC limit at KM3. Now was the home stretch, even if, pebbly. I walked a little stretch after KM 3 which had lot of pebbles and forced myself away from thinking of a water break. I wanted the last gulp to be a safety reserve till I finished the run. I crossed the Gym with headless chickens and Reliance Fresh in a breeze. Now I was into my last kilometer. The dairy stores owners welcomed me with a wave. I finished the last half a kilometer strongly, but, I could not beat my watch to the 04:45 mark. I finished the run in 4:45:24. I gulped down the last swig as soon as I reached the gate of my colony. I drank 3 bottles (2.25 ltr) of water on reaching home. I played 20 questions with my wife on the distance run, she guessed it on the 7th question. I ran into the bath to avoid her murderous glare. I hope I can do the next Sunday run in my new top! So another milestone breached, I can’t wait to post it on Dailymile and invite concern and wrath of Bib-Bala.


  1. I salute your determination and grit vishy sir! Surviving a marathon on 500ML water is out of the world and only you can do it :) Can you share something about the state of soles after the run.

  2. The soles took it in the stride. It just took a longer rest and the right foot took longer. All in all the battering the body took was much less in barefoot run than with shod foot. The recovery was much faster. I dread to go back to shoes now. I guess they are unavoidable for a trail run.

  3. As always, a very inspiring run and account of the run in your disarmingly fluid and familiar style...loved it! You are truly living your motto of constantly 'challenging yourself' :) Here's to more power to you and your legs!