27th September 2015
“Since I am in India for a while, I decided that I should do something more constructive on my weekends, besides wasting half a day in the office on Saturdays and relaxing in the hotel on Sundays.
Since my back pain is long gone and I am frequently running again, (2 marathons and two half marathons in May-June) why not running long distances again, even if I am in India at the moment. It’s one of the best ways to mix all the benefits of traveling and running.
So I googled it. “Running events in India.” Shortly I reached a website with all the events in the calendar, for all the Indian states. The closest one was in Shimla, The Ultra Half Marathon.
To be honest, I wasn’t impressed at all when I read “one of the toughest in India.” I didn’t quite understand why they called it “Ultra Half Marathon” since the longest distance available of the event was of 25k.
I started training again for long distance running. I ran, but only on the treadmill, I kept doing the exercise for my back, tinkered the nutrition a little bit, lost some weight, took magnesium, calcium, other minerals, and so on. I’ve been a good boy.
But it was something tricky about this event. Running at high altitudes, since Shimla is located at 2,200 m (7,238 ft), and the organizers wrote in the description of the event, that recommend the runners to arrive in the city a couple of days before the event to acclimatize and run a bit on Shimla’s steep hills.
Getting to Shimla helped me forget all the concerns I had. The serpentine crowded roads, with the specific Indian style of driving, convinced me that I have more serious reasons to worry about than the 25k. Being worried that, maybe, I won’t arrive there in one piece is a good example.
I was more than happy to set foot in Shimla. It was evening when we reached, and we started looking for accommodation. After we checked-in, we decided to go for a walk and begin the acclimatization process.
I panicked. It took me just about 5 minutes. It required more oxygen to do anything. In my case, climbing some stairs was exhausting. 25km seemed an impossible thing to do.
The next day was somehow better. We chose to walk a course of 10km, with a 6km/h pace. When we got back, we looked for some energy bars or gels for the half marathon, but without any luck. I had some pasta and a Greek salad throughout the day.
As my routine before running is to wake up 3 hours before the start, have a light breakfast, and drink a cup of coffee, I had to wake up at 3 AM. Bananas, almonds, dry fruits, muesli, two snickers, but no coffee.
For me, coffee is the key to a shit-free race. After all, a shitty race is a shitty race. But, even without my beloved coffee, I managed to “feed the sharks” before leaving the hotel.
We headed towards the main square. Slightly cold, 9 °C. Small groups of runners were heading the same way. I was excited, while my friend was overconfident. His remark “there are no professional runners here” said it all. But it was his first half marathon. It’s always fun to see somebody’s first long distance run and see how they cope with it.
Around 100 runners were gathered at the start line. 13km, 21.1km, and 25km were the available lengths. And the sunrise was about to make its appearance.
Theoretically, I had to know what was about to come. I checked that altitude diagram, but I didn’t understand that much out of it. And even if I did, it’s not like I had when to change the fact that I wasn’t well prepared for uphill running.
After the start, I was flying. It was downhill, and, apparently, I love downhills. They make running feel so easy to do.
After the first 200m, I was in the first 3. Then I passed the 2nd. I was afraid that I would miss the course, so I stood neck in neck with the 1st. When I saw that the track is in fact well marked, I went full speed ahead and took the lead.
That was my fastest run. 4min/h and my knees handled the situation very well. What an adrenaline rush. I was all excited and pumped. I tried to calm down and control my breathing. From time to time I was looking behind. No one was around, yet.
It all lasted about 20min. The first water point was after 5km, where the downhill turned into a very steep uphill. One of the shoelaces was untied. My hands were shaky, so it took me a while to solve this small problem.
3 km of hell. Everybody climbed that hill at a slow walking pace. I had problems doing even that, so I was falling behind. On the flat surface, my muscles didn’t want to follow any other commands. Running was out of the question, and I had to re-evaluate my position. Instead of hoping for a good time, now I was hoping to finish in time.
It was a sad picture. I had to walk. I did my best not to think about giving up. From time to time I tried to run some short distances, but eventually, I was back at walking.
After the 10th km, the course got us through the start area. Here, the organizer told me that the hard part was over. I knew that it wasn’t true. 15 more kilometers to go and I was in trouble. Two more steep uphills, of 2-3km. I approach them slowly. There was no other way for me. It took me a while, but soon I felt that I am recovering.
For Shimla, it was a lazy Sunday, but a bunch of people was challenging its hills. The landscape was refreshing, and slowly the town was waking up. Too bad I didn’t have the camera with me. Since running looked more like fast walking, at least I would had some memories of those hills seen under the sunrise lighting.
There were other runners as well who had problems handling the hills. Now and then I was meeting one. Either they were passing me, or I was passing them, but I was sure that the best already passed the finish line. It didn’t matter anyway. But for one second there, when I was flying in the first 5km, I envisioned myself winning. It felt good, leading for a change, but it was too soon.
The last uphill. All the way up to the Hanuman Statue that’s guarding Shimla. The orange statue is 33m (108 ft) tall, its featured on Wikipedia’s list of the highest statues in the world, ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_the_highest_statues ), and is located at 2600m (8500 ft) above the sea level.
Hanuman, The Monkey God and Hero of The Ramayana. Who else could better guard the path to its statue rather than dozens of monkeys? From the technical meeting, we were instructed to avoid any eye contact and smiling because the monkeys find that to be offensive. I looked down, and I sprinted up on the dirt path towards the tallest point of the course, with monkeys on my left and right sitting on a handrail.
The encounter with the monkeys and the downhill sprint woke me up. Just now I was sure that the hard part was over. I was gaining speed and confidence. I managed to finish in 3:01.
I had a T-shirt with “Romania” written in big letters on the front. From a different marathon. A fellow runner recognized me at the finish line.
-What happened to you? You were 1st. Have you lost the track?
-No. The hills. That’s what happened…”