Part 2 – The Ultra Runners

It is the most distant course that comes nearest to thyself, and that training is the most intricate which leads to the utter simplicity of a tune.

Ultra marathon runners – “Fat people who just can’t run very fast; but have a high tolerance for boredom.” My personal experience of meeting Ultra marathon runners tells me that they aren’t ‘fat’ but they definitely have a high tolerance for boredom (not just in their conversation with me)! I would like to make a special mention of couple of such runners.

With Santhosh and Jacob
With Santhosh and Jacob

My first meeting with an Ultra runner was Jacob Boopalan, on the eve of Auroville Marathon 2008. I was attempting a half-marathon the following morning and was quite nervous about it. Jacob, on the other hand, was running a full marathon and was totally relaxed. He makes ultra running look so simple in the way he talks about it. It was then, I learned that marathons are just another Sunday morning runs. When I asked him what keeps him going on an ultra, he casually replied, “The food! You get a chance to eat a lot.” The following day, Jacob came first in the marathon event and looked less tired than most of the half-marathon finishers, including me. Jacob completed the Comrades marathon 2011. In 2014, he ran all the way from Chennai to Auroville to participate in the Auroville marathon.

Jacob Completing Comrades 2011 (From his Facebook page)

The next ultra runner that I was introduced was Santhosh Padmanabhan, a techie then, at Bangalore. It was a week before the Bangalore Ultra 2008 in which he was attempting a 24-hour run, a ‘crazy stuff’ indeed. On the same day, I was scheduled to do my final practice run of 35K for Singapore marathon, which did look really small after I heard about his attempt to do a 24-hour run. In October 2009, I had my first opportunity to crew and run with him. Santhosh was now in his new avatar as Guruji – He has become a full fledged running coach with Runners High. I was also part of the Crazy crew for Bangalore Ultra 2009. Accompanied him on the run for 2 laps and on cycle for another 2 laps all through the night from 10:00 PM to 5:00 AM clocking a distance of 50K. For someone, who was dead against the night shift culture, it was an experience of its kind doing those nocturnal runs. Sadly, Santhosh had to abort his attempt much earlier than the 24 hour target due to the contrasting weather conditions between the night and the day. However, he returned in 2010 to complete the 24-hour run at Bangalore Ultra.

Another intersting outing with Santhosh was the Strides of Hope in 2010. An innovative 48-hour effort organised with a combined effort of the running communities of Bangalore, it was aimed to promote the cause of running and physical exercise for better health and raise funds for Asha Bangalore chapter. Staying with him over the night, feasting on the tamarind rice and curd rice prepared by his mom and the jocular company of various others, is an experience by itself and sure, can fill another blog.
Santhosh may not have run the Comrades marathon but a true Comrade at heart and in his life. His approach to running (which his extends to his life) is simple, egalitarian and helps people to think about running more than just an act of physical exercise. He introduced me to the Asha Bangalore team and field of alternative education in which running finds itself an active place. Currently, he volunteers actively at Sita School, Ananya School, and the Spastics Society in Bangalore and has brought a remarkable change in the outlook of many students. The students of Ananya school and Thulir, an educational resource centre based out of Sittling, Dharmapuri District, Tamil Nadu, actively take part in various running events and some of them even finish in the top 10 in the half-marathon category in such events. Running is often used as an instrument of punishment in most schools. Santhosh uses running as an instrument of fun, bonding and learning experience in these schools. It also enabled me to find some place in getting associated with these institutions. More about those activities in his less frequently updated blog here – http://www.runnershighkids.blogspot.in/. He is not just a long distance runner but also a versatile writer of ‘long e-mails’! While only a few are privileged to receive his mails, others can check his blog – http://teamasharunner.blogspot.in/ Not updated in the recent past but the old posts still make it a great blog to read.

Santhosh was also my virtual coach in my attempt at Comrades. Early May, I wasn’t sure of taking a shot at the comrades. His final piece of advice, “Don’t worry about anything else now – just stay positive and visualize yourself getting there every day.” Took extra effort to visualise myself finishing in the Kingsmead stadium wearing the green shirt of Team ASHA/Runners High every day during training and all through the Comrades run, until I really accomplished it. However, the atmosphere at the finish line was way too intimidating than I ever imagined! He continues to inspire many, not just to take up running but also to become a running coach themselves and inspire others.

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