“It’s not because things are difficult that we dare not venture. It’s because we dare not venture that they are difficult.” — Seneca

Should I or shouldn’t I?
Just 10 days ago it was during the 9dragons race, I had some thoughts about this race. I had promised myself there, I’m going to give my all. Doesn’t matter if I get injured. Screw Deccan ultra. Let me smash my knees. And smashed they certainly were. Battered, I limped my way across 50 k to finish on the second day after a 50 miler the day before.
Not long ago, elite runners Jo Meek and Hayden Hawks had advised me – In running, recovery is paramount. It takes time. The body balance is sort of disrupted after a long race. It’s not just physical recovery. Hormones take time too. I understood what they meant. Very true. 
Still reached the venue with hopes. Some 40hrs journey which included motorbikes, trains, auto and even the top of a jeep.


The eternal optimist in me believed everything’s going to be all right. Next day saw runner’s trickling in. Welcomed them by serving food while the team was busy with course marking and other work.

Afternoon I felt like going for a shakeout run and Kiran (volunteer from Maharashtra) dropped me to Uddhavni- about 15k  away. 

Slowly, as I traversed the last section of the course, the twitching started in my left knee. It morphed into pricking until it was permanent hurting. Like a knife stabbing there with every stride. The dreaded IT band syndrome reared its ugly head. It has resurfaced after the Hong Kong race. Shucks man, I have not recovered. How am I gonna run tomorrow? Doubts cloud my head as I decide to walk the remaining course with locals who were marking it with chuna(limestone paste). When a man in his 50s can mark the trails barefoot, what’s your problem in running? I questioned myself. After dusk, I returned to base camp to find the race briefing going on at the runner’s village. A fine concept by the Hell race team to foster friendship and camaraderie within the ultrarunning community. After dinner, I sleep with pain in my knees and doubts in my head.
Raceday – Woke at 4am, thanks to the rooster. Ate some bananas and an apple. 50k starts at 06.30, not 05.30, I’m informed. Since I’m up ready, I warm up by jogging for a few minutes over the dam. A painful jog. Then I take my final decision – It’s just 50k. I should be able to bear the pain and hobble. I’ve been through worse(maybe). Suck it up. I would look like a pussy if I backed out now. Let me confess something that I have done only once before (during the 24 HR stadium run). I popped a pill. Ibuprofen 400mg is considered a pain killer which masks the pain. It does not treat the root cause. And the effect wanes off after a while. I do not advocate this as I have read that excessive dosage can harm one’s liver. Whatever, I shrugged and headed towards the start line. The sun was about to rise above the Bhandardara dam so the 06.35 start did not require a headlight. Started slowly over the dam. The fast guns shot off. Especially Kieren, Sandeep and Raja Shekar. I couldn’t go even if I wanted to due my dodgy knee. So I stuck to the middle. I had Sunil Sharma (30k) for the company – Dude is the fastest Indian finisher in the history of BadWater135. He claimed that he was down with viral fever and he too hadn’t recovered. We chatted as we ran through the villages fields and some narrow roads. The much spoken Kalsubai peak was visible – the highest mountain in Maharashtra state at about  1600mts. As the climbing started, I took the lead over Sunil. When I employ the hand-over-knees method to climb, I simply do not stop. Being a Sunday, there were trekkers along the way, curious what was the hurry. I replied that I’m running a race- 50k. Some were amazed, some cheered, spurring me further. Towards the top, it got tricky with some metal ladders to climb. A quick glug of water at the top and the descent started. Behind the peak sans the trekker’s traffic jam. The sun was out by now in full glory. The trail got technical here and I got careful. I observed – The slower we descend, the more we brake on our heels causing us to skid and slip over the tiny pebbles. This terrain needs practice, I thought. The views though were spectacular over these narrow trails. Nupur had perched there to capture some amazing shots. I tried hard not to limp. 

The trail gradually eased out and got runnable. Sunil blazed past and I never saw him again. I was all alone as I reached a water station in the woods manned by local boys. I met his guy from Indore and I urge him on. The dude had a fall earlier and was not in the best of mood. Climbed another mountain – Alang and descended through the woods.
The heat at noon was scorching. More salts and coke were dehydrating my body. Downed a litre of water and filled my two soft flasks. Indore boy dropped behind. I put on some peppy music as I cruised through shaded jungle sections. Reached the road near Uddhavni and kept moving after a quick swig. I knew the route from here till the finish. Had run it the previous evening. Pushed a little further and saw Vishwas and gang at the next aid station. Was toast by the heat. Doused my head with water as suggested by them.
Took off and hit the trails again. At the next (final) aid station,  runners had to sign a sheet of paper. There I couldn’t help but notice that the runner before me had crossed it about 40 minutes ago. Closing that gap over 6km was a far cry out so my motivation waned a bit. Regardless, I pushed on towards village Bari and hit the route back to the finish. As I approached the dam, I spotted two kind souls braving the heat at the finish line. Kieren’s mom was manually noting the timings while Kiran clicked pics. Hobbled over ignoring the pain and exhaustion. Done. No hollering about. Was simply spent. In utter disbelief, I shed a few tears. I managed to do something I never thought of possible 7hrs ago. 4th place. Nothing fancy numbers wise, but internally a sense of satisfaction engulfed me. Phew!
Post race- Hung around the finish line and took over the photography duties. Such an inspiration to see the speedster Radhe kill the 75k in 9hrs 13mins. FYI, he is a 2.24 marathoner from BSF. Sumit finished later within the 10 the cutoff and I was genuinely happy for him. Lingered around chatting with Sunil, Kieren (30k winner timing 3.19)and Rajasekar (50 k winner timing 5.44) and had some rice. It was time for the much-awaited dip in the water. The cool water relaxed our muscles as we watch the sunset. What a way to wrap a memorable day 😀.

Many thanks to the Hell race team – Vishwas Bhai, thanks for having me over. HRTS is pioneering the actual trail running scene in India and it’s a boon for trail runners. Rohit Baba- keep designing more such courses. Don’t listen to others. Nupur- fantastic photography besides your relentless pre and post race efforts. Kudos!
A special thanks to Raghu bhai at AkoleMaza base camp. No tension, you made it happen. Loved the boat ride too.
And your wife (Bhabhi) is the real star of this event. Cooking Bhakri for nearly 100 hungry runners is no mean feat. Running ultras is much easier on two feet 😀.

About the Author : Shashwat Rao

Shashwat Rao, is a vegan ultrarunner from Bangalore. Before it all, he sold all his belongings, TV, computer, quit his cushy job, and went on a motorbike journey around the country. Traversing through 29 states and thousands of kms, he understood the endurance element that has crept into his personality. His ultrarunning career started in 2015 and he is the only Indian runner to have finished UTMB in 2018. He is currently staying in Solang, and trains in temp as low as -5deg wearing just a thin running jersey.