India, Feb. 18 -- Life has often been compared to running a marathon. I disagree. Life is like running an ultra-marathon. Widely, 50km is regarded as the shortest ultra-marathon distance, and then it could go up to any distance. Yes. Any distance. There are 1000km events and some even attempt running around the globe, with consecutive days' running. Also, they can be staged, as in, run over days, where the participants have to cover a certain distance everyday. Then, there are non-stop events, where the clock only stops when you cross the finish line. You can rest, but you are losing time.
Hitting the wall
The runners who say that marathon is only double of half-marathon are completely mistaken. In marathon, there is a popular term called "hitting the wall". When untrained runners get to 32-36km, suddenly there is a rapid drainage of energy and they feel like they can't move anymore. The energy stores in our bodies get close to depleted when we cross this distance and need an external source to carry on. Ultra running is a very different animal altogether. For running half or full marathon, physically you need to be at a decent level. Of course, being psychologically strong is also very important. For ultra running, physical fitness of a particular level is important, and after that it's all mental. As a certain friend would say, "you have to be mental to do it".
Ultra-marathon running in India is very new. There had been ultra events earlier with small participation, but it was only in 2007 that India saw the first organised ultra-marathon with a decent participant size called Bangalore Ultra. People weren't sure what it would take to run more than a marathon. Back then, even a marathon was considered a big deal.
The longest distance the organisers had kept was 76km. They also had a category of longest distance covered. I ran 100km there, but somehow it didn't register on their results. It reminded me of Nadia Comaneci, who in the 1976 Olympics scored a perfect 10, but the scoreboard showed 0, as no one ever exspected that. The scoreboards were designed to only show scores in single units. Ultra running shows that there are no limits to what human bodies can achieve. Bangalore Ultra and others that followed were tough only because of the distance. In ultra running world, they were like baby ultras. There are ultras out there, which are run in extreme weather conditions.
In some, temperatures can go below minus 40 degree, while on the other hand, it could be a scorching 50 degrees. In 2010, India hosted the highest, and probably the toughest ultra marathon, La Ultra - The High. It is held in the cold desert of Leh-Ladakh region in Jammu & Kashmir over a distance of 222km. This one event has brought India on the global ultra running calendar. Keep miling and smiling.
The writer is a sports-exercise & musculoskeletal medicine physician
Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.