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Ultribe Paderu Marathon ’21 - Heels and Souls vs. Hills and Slopes

M K Chakravarthy Bib No. 1057 Ultribe Paderu 2021

It was exciting to know that a world class event was about to take place in our vicinity and there is a fair chance of successfully participating in it. Besides, it looked like a heady mix of nature and adventure within reach.

Reached out to the organizing team of VTRA for entry, immediately after reading the coverage in The Hindu about Ultribe-21, trail running ultramarathon event slated for 12.12.21. But, we were kept on tenterhooks, as the registrations for participation had almost reached the set limit. In spite of not being sure of our readiness for participation, persisted with VTRA for entry via waiting list. It was a relief to know that entry was confirmed, after a few days. Time was just enough to scramble for a bit of practice. In spite of going ahead with the registration, indecisiveness still lingered on. Neither me nor my wife were regular runners. She is a seasoned walker and I am an occasional jogger. Pandemic lockdown forced me to shift from badminton to jogging. We prepared ourselves to treat it as adventure tourism, rather than as a sports event. The target was to beat the cut-off period. Nearly 2 weeks before the event, I stopped my regular badminton sessions and asked my wife to join me for the morning long distance sessions skipping her yoga practice. In spite of Visakhapatnam being situated among hills and hillocks, we could not find a nearby convenient track suitable for trailing. So, we stuck to our sea level routine on a flat track. Started jogging on alternate days for 5-6 km. Actually well before Ultribe-21, our first brush with long distance movement was during Vizag Bay Marathon 2018, where we could complete the event with quite some effort, but bypassing the RFID reader at the starting point! We were just unaware of it! That experience was a reminder that different kinds of activities need different kinds of fitness and practice. We booked a tent for Saturday stay in the back packers base camp, the starting point of the event, which was another new experience for us. We started after brunch, targeting to reach our destination before sunset. The drive on the Paderu ghat road itself was an experience to cherish. Hilly terrain, tall trees, exotic flowers, coffee gardens, serpentine curves, misty clouds and sudden flat lands were all feast to eyes. Driving effort was negligible in such pleasant atmosphere, if time is not a constraint. The excitement of facing the unknown and meeting the target was tempered by the journey itself. But the ambience at the base camp was a stunner. We were bowled over the by the ambience, atmosphere, rows of tents on a slant terrain and the ongoing activities at the camp. Team VTRA was an example for team work and efficiency. Each member of the team had a well-defined role to play. They were a friendly and professional lot. After completion of registration formalities, we were allotted a tent by the facility manager. Evening drizzle threatened to be a spoil sport, but it kept the winter cold under check. Participants, who decided to stay at the base camp arrived from different parts of the country. Then only we could fully appreciate the stature and popularity of the event among ultra-runners. VTRA guys gave the race briefing about the course, the terrain and other salient points to remember. Those who stayed outside base camp, left for their night stays at Paderu. Participants were predominantly youth and hungry for success. However, there was a generous mix of all age groups, not to make us feel out of place! The participants in general were disciplined, unassuming, friendly, confident, brimming with energy and sportive to the core. The pre-race dinner was a bit delayed, perhaps due to incessant drizzle and logistics. But, no body complained. Someone offered a few bananas to the co-participants in his vicinity. One young man started distributing stock of soaked peanuts brought with him. It was a delight to watch that everyone took not more than a spoonful, seeing the total quantity being shared. Pre-race dinner was simple but sufficient – rice and roti with curry and dal. The whole lot disappeared into their tents soon after the dinner for much needed rest. The drizzle tapered off and the tent was dry dispelling our fears. I could not sleep well due to new environment and being a light sleeper. I could hear the distant shouts of youth, a group of tourists camping nearby, enjoying around their camp fire into early hours. The base camp woke up by the time the tourists went to sleep. Two opposite life styles in pursuit of a single goal – happiness! It was a great relief to observe that there was no drizzle on race day. Morning breakfast was ready by 4 am. Breakfast consisted of bananas, oranges, dates, bread, peanut butter and idlis. I preferred my old Sketchers to new Nikes, betting on comfort over conditions. It was a gamble on race conditions, as 10K run was termed by the organizers as ‘trail debut’! By the time our 10K category assembled at the start line on hearing the bell, the 50K and 25K participants were well into their races as per their early starting schedules. Female contestants among us were requested to flag off the race as per the custom and they obliged cheerfully. The initial plan was to start with a jog and break into a quick walk to catch breath whenever required. But as tipped during the pre-race briefing, trail run in an ultramarathon may include walking, climbing and crawling. From the word go, the gradient of the terrain made it impossible to jog, but allowed only a walk at an average pace. Lack of terrain training was evident right from the beginning. I could jog only on a few flatter stretches. I decided not to stop for a break, but to keep moving however slow the progress may be. An uphill task in real sense! Though the climb was all guts and sweat, the locations on the way were a glorious combination of valleys and mist on one side and slopes and trees on the other. Climbing the hill up to Vanjangi view point, our halfway checkpoint, may not be a big deal for an average fit person, if time is not a constraint. But, climbing the same terrain under time pressure was a different ball game altogether. The only irritant during the trail run was the need to wade through the crowds of winter tourists on a Sunday. In particular, the final leg of the trek to the peak involved tackling of bustling crowds chocking the way up and down. Deferring detailed sightseeing to some other trip, I checked time for the first time during the race after crossing the mat at the top. As uphill climb took less than one hour from the starting point assuring that the event could be finished within cut-off period, focus shifted to completing the race at the earliest. Climbing down was a different kind of challenge. Knees and balance were the points of focus, while keeping the gravity assisted momentum in check. Finally, a timing of 1:27:15 was recorded securing 4 th place. Now the wait was to see my wife finish the race within cut-off time. Anxiety was escalating as the clock was ticking relentlessly. It was a big relief to see her tired but triumphant face as she crossed the finish line. The delight is doubled when your partner becomes a part of your success. Otherwise, it is like getting the man of the match award, when your team loses! And icing on the cake was that she stood 5th in female finishers! Thanks to team VTRA for making the event a memorable one for us.

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