WRITTEN BY KIEREN D'SOUZA | 15TH MARCH 2019

What I enjoy about trail running is the opportunity to travel to beautiful locations. Running in the Sahyadris at the Deccan Ultra race on the 17th of Feb did not disappoint one bit. The dry arid hot landscape holds such beauty, it is amazing.

A couple of sections were so exposed and steep, it was beautiful and thrilling at the same time. I sometimes wish I was not in a race and just slowly jogging along soaking in all the views, hopping along from rock to rock.

Getting there was a bit of an adventure in itself. I came from Manali where the temperature touched to about -10 degrees Celsius, and Mumbai was hot and humid. I could hardly imagine running around 2 days later. My mom and I caught a train and headed to Igatpuri. I have a connection with this little town with one road going across it. My great grandfather was from here and is buried here. We had never been to Igatpuri before and were hoping to find my great granddads grave. We walked over to the nearby church (everything is nearby, it is such a small place), this walk for some reason looked all black and white in my head, this town did not look like it had undergone much change probably since my great granddad was around. All the houses looked really old, tiled roofs run down and vegetation growing all over them. We found the grave, placed some flowers, prayed and headed off. Next day, we took a rickshaw ride, bus ride and another bus ride and then a car to get to the Bhandardara dam – our stay for the next two days and the race’s flag-off point.

I ran the 30km category, the other categories were 50km and 75km. The 30km and 50km started at 6:35, perfect, I got a good night’s sleep. The 75km category had the 4 am start. The race started just when it was a little bright, with a nice cool breeze. This being my first race of the year, I wanted to go decently hard to get a fair idea of where my fitness was and how to build-up for the rest of the year. 6:35 am on the dot, we were flagged off. I ran up ahead. The guy who finished 3rd in the 50km category was running with me. We had a little chat here and there. The first 8km was fairly flat, going in and out of the fields and heading towards Kalsubai Peak. This is the highest point in Maharashtra. After about 8kms, we hit the climb. From here on for the next 4kms, it was quite steep all the way to the top, gaining about 1000m. The climb was pretty hard, lots of steps, a number of ladders going up. 

I was pleasantly surprised to see so many people young and old, obese and skinny all hiking up to the top. Some folks tried to have a chat with me before I would pass them. They would ask me what was going on, I answered some of them but mostly grunted my way past them. I was running alone. I caught up with some of the guys who were doing the 75kms.  Got to the top a little before 8am, and it was so hot, the sun was out full blast. From the top, at about 12km, it was a downhill run. I caught a glimpse of the view around, all that hard work getting to the top was so worth it, the view was so beautiful. 

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The downhill was really fun. The soil was so dry and full of tiny marble sort of stones, really slippery. I had to run carefully. I did scare some of the hikers who thought I would slip and fall and probably take them along rolling down the mountain. A couple of sections were so exposed and steep, it was beautiful and thrilling at the same time. I am sure it demanded courage and skills to navigate that section and have some decent speed as well.
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I sometimes wish I was not in a race and just slowly jogging along soaking in all the views. Hopping along from rock to rock, I got down to the aid station at 18km. Ah! it was really hot by then. I was running with a litre of water on me with RRUNN During in one bottle, also had two gels. So, I just had a few sips of cold water and coke and went off. This bit was also where the 30km and 50k guys parted ways.

The last 12k, while comparatively flat had these annoying little climbs every little while. We meandered through villages, saw the villagers working away in the fields looked at me running past, probably wondering what this guy was up to. The last 2 odd kms were the same as the start, and this is where I got lost. I was clearly running blind, missed the markers at such and obvious turn and kept running. I did not even realize I was on the wrong course. After a little while, I realized my mistake, turned around and got to the finish line 1st. I was happy with my run. I was so glad it was over because that meant I could go straight for a swim, probably the one thing on my mind that made me want to get to the finish line faster.

It was a good day on the trails, and I look forward to running at the other beautiful locations on The Hell Race Trail Series this year. Next up is The Buddha Trails, in the Sandakphu region of West Bengal. 

About the Author : Kieren D'souza

Kieren is an ultra runner from India, who stays in Manali and has represented the country at Ultra Trail World Championships.