Sunday, February 4, 2018

KHU 2018 130km - Race Report

I wrote my brief summary of the run earlier on at

But a 130km and 26 hours can not be summarized. So here are the details of the run, checkpoint to check point. It should also help anyone who is planning to do this run, get an idea of what the route is like.

Event : The event had about 60 runners each for 130km and 80km run, another 125 odd for the 50k and about 2000 runners for the shorter distances of 21k/10k/5k. The elevation gain for the 130km run was 3500m i.e it was a super hilly run. But this was known, it was the additional information at the expo that had me worried.

Race Organisation - A race is made by its volunteers and an ultra race all the more so. To climb up those hills with water and food for us runners, to be out in the sun clicking pictures, to brave the cold and the wild animals and keep that fire burning  - this race is also as much our story as it is of those volunteers. The warmth and support from each one of those volunteers - the smiling faces that greeted us after a grueling 6km or a 10km climbs were so energizing. Keep doing the good work.

Expo : My assigned bib U119 got misplaced at the expo and I was given a replacement bib, U164. It was the least of my bother - just that at each Check Point I had to give both my bib numbers for records - because the big bother happened when I met the CTC runners, who had done the recce and learned  
1.      The area around Kodai was largely uninhabited jungle area and that all of the night running till we hit Kodai, which would be about 8-9km from finish is through the jungle. As I mentioned earlier, running in the night is not something I prefer and that too, through quiet jungle areas, well all I could say was “Bring it On” till we were warned …..
2.      To be careful around “Bisons”. From memory I knew that Bisons were huge buffalo-kind animals but when I googled to see what it actually looks like, I was nervous and I was scared!!!

More on this later.......

KHU2018 – 130km :
The Start - The run started at 3am on Saturday morning with both the 130k and 80k runners starting together. The 130k distance had a cut off of 28 hours. In the pre race briefing, organisers requested runners to stay in groups, especially in the night and to be careful if we see any Bisons - which was simply switch out the headlights, no looking in the eye, stay put and wait for the mighty animal to move. Finally at 3.15 am, we left the grounds of KIS for a 24hr adventure in the hills of Kodai.

Ultra Scene in South  - Within 1km, we had formed a small group of ours which kept breaking and coming together but I had Vijay and Vikram, who were both doing the 130km, as my constant companion till about 30km. The first 18km till Poomparai was mostly downhill. The legs were fresh and so we decided to hold ourselves back. Under the star spangled sky and the full moon, running through the winding roads of Kodai in the dark was exciting. We even switched off our headlights in many parts.  I learnt a lot about the ultra scene down South – the various races, the love for trail running and the ultra running community there. There was an endurance story that each of my fellow runners had to tell and I was just pure mesmerized with their feats. I have a few ultras on my bucket list, now, for next year J. As we left Poomparai towards Puthupootur, the next 12km was rolling hills on loose gravel road. The valley and the fields looked beautiful as the sun rose from the hills surrounding them. At around 30km I took a small lead and both Vijay and Vikram got left behind. I met Srivatsal at the 35km check point (Puthupootur) and we ran together towards the most awesomest location on the route.
Palar View Point – This was the high point of the race, both in altitude and beauty. We ran up some mud tracks for about 3-4km to reach a view point overlooking a valley. And then we were told we need to trek about 300-400m up the rocks, to reach the view point and the next check point. It was breathtakingly beautiful - high up on the rocks, looking down at the valley – totally worth the climb. Kudos to the volunteers at that aid station for being there, not only to ensure we got the food and water but to take our pictures as well. We ran down some more muddy and rocky tracks to get back to Puthupootur and started our journey towards the next check point at Kookal Lake.

Trick to run an Ultra – I still had Srivatsal for company and we were joined by Abhishek as we started climbing the hills towards Kookal Lake. The race briefing had mentioned this stretch to be largely downhill and the uphills at the start of this stretch were not encouraging. We did get some downhills as we neared Kookal and my experienced companions made sure we ran all downhills and walked all uphills. We also met a fellow runner doing the 80K distance who was power walking – whether it was a downhill or an uphill; and he would catch up with us eventually even if ran the downhills. Each to his own trick for an ultra.
Uphills are Uphills – Kookal Lake at 54km was a pleasant sight as we prepared for the next 6km uphill stretch – a nice winding fully tree lined road leading us to Mannavannur. But the sights could not take away the pain of walking up the never ending hill. I walked this stretch mostly alone but struck up conversation with Satish, who later became my partner in crime and stayed with me from about 60km till the finish. The tall eucalyptus trees, the small pond on the side, the deep valley in some parts could not take away the focus from the job to be done – reach the next check point, which was also where the 80km runners turned back and us 130km runners took a right towards Mannavannur.

Finally it was Downhill - I joined Satish at this check point and he was my constant companion till the finish. We ran the 6km downhill stretch towards Mannavannur. From Mannavannur, it was a 28km loop, to bring us back to Mannavannur and start of our journey back to Kodai. We were supposed to get our drop bags here which had my nutrition for the loop and more, but we reached before our bags did !!! And so relying on what was in the bag and on the food at the aid stations, we started the loop with a downhill stretch of 7km towards Kumbur. Of the entire run, this was the only boring and dull stretch, mostly through the village. But for the locals, we were definitely a reason for excitement J
Beyond words – This next stretch is something that has to be seen and experienced to understand and that's why beyond words. But let me try. The volunteers at Kumbur, told us that the next check point was 7km away. I thought I had sufficient water to last me for that distance and so did not refill the bottles fully. I later paid the price for the time I thought I had saved at this aid station. Satish and I, still together, chatting and sharing our life stories, left the aid station and started climbing through some really beautiful hill side - on soft grassy patches, with beautiful flowers on the sides, crossing a stream over a bridge made from tree trunks, small waterfalls and ponds on the way. But these beautiful sights soon gave way to a muddy and rocky part of that hill where even finding the next step needed us to pause and carefully move forward. In total we climbed 10km on that stretch, a never ending uphill, pure 10kms of torture under the sun. The climb and the sun meant, we ran out of water midway but managed to refill the bottles at a forest officer’s house enroute. We caught up with two Rams and Satpal in this stretch and all of us reached Killavarai almost together – happy in our minds that now it should be all downhill to Mannavannur. It wasn’t to be. Atleast, I don’t remember that it was all downhill. We did get some downhill sections but it still was mostly uphill. Thankfully this entire stretch was on road and hence as the sun was setting, it made an easy run / walk back to Mannavannur. Our target, when we left Mannavannur, was to get back before 6pm, restock, dress up for the night and leave immediately for our return journey. But the uphills which we did not know of fully, meant we finally reached at 7pm. It was dark by now so the 5 of us decided to stay together on our return journey and without wasting too much time here started the 6km climb towards the next aid station. We were also told we will get a bike or a gypsy support at the next aid station as the rest of the run was all through the jungles. We remembered the warning about being careful of bisons and walked fast to quickly get our support vehicle at the next aid station. 
Z++ Security – However, at the next aid station, the volunteers told us that with five in the group, it was perfectly safe and there was no need for an escort vehicle. Now, I am not the one to throw tantrums but remember its me – who doesn’t like running in the dark and who also now had the word “bison” stuck in her head – and so I became “that girl” who refused to budge….till we got an escort vehicle. And so 15 mins later, with me in the middle and a bike escort with us (which became two bike escorts a few kms later), it did seem like Z++ security cover for me as we started walking the 8km mostly uphill stretch towards Poomparai. This was the stretch which had the most chances of sighting a bison but for us it was an uneventful 1-1/2 hours and we were glad to see the village lights from far.

Is it 18km more or 28km more – At this check point we were told its 8km to the next checkpoint and just 18km to the finish. The maths didn’t work but then 10k less to run was good news !!! We were four of us who started from here – Ram dropped out due to some emergency and the bike volunteers stopped here as they had to head straight back to Kodai and anyways had already helped us cross the difficult stretch.
Is that a bison – With our headlights on, we must have walked just about 3kms when we met a forest officer on his jeep who warned us that there is a bison sighting nearby and to be careful. Well, I don’t know about others, but I froze and refused to move. And that’s when the same two escort bikes came to our rescue again. They were on their way back to Kodai and agreed to have one of them stay with us till the other gets the volunteers from the next check point to come and escort us. With the bike in the front and stopping every 200m, we started walking this section. We must have walked just about 2-2.5kms, when we heard  - heavy breathing and a big rustle of the leaves – and that too some 20m from us. And that was our fastest 100m of the day, to the bike !!!  Saved was all we could think !!
Guide for Dummies on How to walk in the Jungle in the night – Anyways, some distance later, we met the bike volunteers from the next check point and were told that the aid station was another 6km away. Shouldn’t it be 2km ?? But who are we to argue in the middle of the night with the man who is supposed to take us safely to the next aid station especially when he sends the bike back and starts walking with us. Well, as per him, having a bike with headlights on in front was a sure invitation to a passing by bison. The trick was to switch off the lights, keep walking, if you see a bison, stay calm and let the bison pass. With him in the lead and all of us huddled together we started walking the uphill to the last aid station, praying that we don’t get to test this knowledge !!!

Finally a green signal that all’s good – At the aid station, it was so encouraging to hear that now its only 12km to the finish and that a Forest Officers gypsy would accompany us for the next 3kms as we would now be entering the forest reserve area. Good news also was that once we cross this area, no more bisons !!! We were also joined by Sandeep here as we waited for over 30mins for the gypsy which had gone to drop off the runners before us. But getting impatient, we all agreed to a bike escort for the 3km distance to the Forest Check Point. Uneventful walk / run – mostly rolling hills – we were dropped off half km from the Forest Check Post and told to switch on our headlights and run to the finish !!!
But it was a joy short lived – We crossed the Check Post with the four of us chatting and planning our next day and Sandeep about 100m ahead of us walking fast. It must have been just 200m from the Check Post when we heard Sandeep shout in front of us “Lights Out” “Watch out”. And there, finally, we met the mighty beast !!!! 24kms of escorted running for a safe passage and not even a km had passed and there we were watching a mighty animal slowly crossing the road and sitting down on the right side of the road !!! How Sandeep escaped and warned us at the same time is another matter. With lights switched off and slowly without making a noise, prayers in our heart, we started walking back to quietly sit at one of the stone bench. And then began our wait for the animal to move… But half an hour later and shivering from the cold and also scared that sitting here we are more exposed to another one, we decided to make an attempt to cross the animal. Gathering our strength, in a line, we slowly started moving towards it when suddenly one of us whispered “It just looked this way” and back we came running. And this time all the way to the small hut at the Check Post, where we hoped the forest guard was there. Well he was there but he too refused to help us cross !!! It was time to call the organisers to send a vehicle. In the meanwhile, the next group of runners had been dropped off half a km near the Check Post and joined us to wait for the vehicle. Finally 1-1/2 hours later, with a vehicle in front of us, the cautious and tired gang of 9 started the run / walk for the final stretch to the finish line.

Finish – The next 10-11km or whatever the distance was seemed never ending. We circled the lake before we reached back in the school grounds. The finish line of a race is the most awesome place on earth esp in an ultra run !! 26hrs from when I started I was back in the school grounds, with memories that will stay with me forever!!!

But this report can not end till I talk about what happened with Sandeep. At that slight bend in the road, 100m ahead of us, Sandeep encountered the bison – had the presence of mind to immediately cover his headlight with his hand, move further left into the bushes, warn us and just run !!!!

Its a run I would recommend for the sheer challenge and the beauty of the kodai hills that you get to see up close. While our group because of me had an escort for the entire stretch we ran in the night, there were some who ran even alone through the jungles. Its a bit unnerving to think of what can happen given the wild life in that area (and not to forget the chase that some 5-6 dogs gave us in one of the stretches). So as long as one does it in a group and is careful, go for it !!!


Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Kodaikanal Hills Ultra 130km

"Behind every woman who finishes an ultra are many men who support her in that journey!!"

This post would start by thanking each one of those – Deepayan for the strength he gives me with his strong belief that his wife can complete any epic challenge she takes up and to bear with the boredom and nervousness when I am out running, my running buddies who encourage and support me in my training esp Shshank and Princy, to the ultra runners, all of whom I met for the first time during the run, and who ensured that I had company all through the run especially as large part of the run was through desolate quiet jungle areas – Sathish from Trichy, Vijay, Srivatsal & Ram from Banglore, Vikram from Chennai, Satpal from Chandigarh and Ram from Jaipur.

I am not getting into the whys of doing this run, of taking a 5hr flight and then driving 4hours for the 130kms from Madurai to Kodai for a 130km Ultra run, it was just meant to be. This was a CTC event and having heard good things about the many events they organize, I was looking forward to the experience.

The run had a lot of “firsts” for me. 1. This was my first 100k + run. 2. It was my first self-supported run (with aid stations 7-12km apart and drop bag available at 60k I had to carry things for the way). 3. It was my first ultra with a night leg on the roads (for those who know me, know that I am just not comfortable running in the dark). So this was not just unchartered territory but uncomfortable territory as well.
But there I was, at 3 am on a cold Saturday morning, at Kodaikanal International School, under a star spangled sky with a full moon, along with 110+ more runners to start my 24 hr journey in the hills of Kodai. The 130km distance had an elevation gain of 3500m+ and that by then was not my major worry. At the expo, group of CTC runners who had done the recee, asked us to also watch out for the bisons. I remembered them as wild buffalos but subsequent googling and looking at pictures of that animal had me quite disturbed !!!! Anyways, at the start we were all requested to stay in groups and given instructions on what to do if we spot a bison – lights out, stay Calm and let the animal pass – easy said than done !!
I covered the 130km distance in 26 hours but in those hours I collected memories for the lifetime. I will post my detailed race report later withh full details on check Point to check point stretch, but let me summarise my race as follows :
1.      Long Uphill Stretches – This run has only uphill sections. You will say what? Okay some downhill stretches as well. But I will remember this run for its long uphill stretches – 6km, 8km, 10km of long, continuous, torturous and never ending climbs up the hill some part of it over rocky, hard muddy paths. This was besides the many smaller inclines on teh rolling hills. The beauty around – the soft grassy patches, the streams, the tall eucalyptus tree lined roads, the greenery – could not make me forget the pain of climbing those inclines. For sure there were no flat sections – so it was either walk up the hills or run down on the hills and which in the second half of the run was only walking whether up or down. The 3500m+ of elevation gain was clearly felt by my legs !! 

2.   Ultra running community – The most selfless and grounded set of people are the ultra runners. They may be in pain themselves but would stop and check on you if you so much as even sit and rest by the roadside, share the last gulp of their water when you finish yours, forget their own timing targets and pace to accompany you for the entire stretch. I have run all my ultras alone so far and that day I had someone or the other for company for the entire 130km / 26hrs on the track. It was fun. We laughed, we cursed, we enjoyed the scenery around and also prayed together (though each silently) to be rescued !!! I met some great ultra runners from Chennai, Bangalore and Pune and learnt about the ultra running scene down south.
3.      Beauty of the jungles – We ran the first 25km and the last 40km in the dark. To be running / walking in those jungles under a star spangled sky on a full moon night is an experience in itself. One minute you may be in your own thoughts and enjoying the silence and then suddenly a slight rustle of the leaves and you would skip many heart beats together!!! Not a soul for the many kms ahead or behind you. And then, to watch those wide green valleys in the rising and the setting sun is breathtaking. I prefer road running and since most of this run (about 80%) was on tarmac for me it was the best of the world – getting to see the nature so up close and yet not be on a trail.

4.      Murphy’s Law always works – This whole “be careful around a bison” thing had me very nervous. And because of my tantrums that I will not move till we get some volunteers to accompany us, we were the only group who got an escort for almost 25km through the jungle area in the night. The others did too but for much shorter stretches of 3-4km which were through the Forest reserve area. And the law never fails – as soon as the last of those escorts left us, gave us a green signal to go ahead that no more bisons, we met the mighty beast !!!!!!!!
5.      Meeting the bison – Its an encounter you don’t want when you have been running for almost 23 hours, in the middle of nowhere on a cold night and don’t have a network signal on your phone (we did finally get a BSNL phone to work – so a learning that if you are in the jungles carry a phone with a BSNL network). This was just 500m from where the last of our bike escort left us. One of the 5 in our group was walking fast and about 100m ahead of us and at a slight bend in the road we heard him shout “Lights out”, “Watch out” and we knew we have some special company, and saw the mighty animal slowly crossing the road and sitting down on the right side of the road !!! How our friend escaped and warned us at the same time is another matter. With lights switched off and slowly without making a noise, prayers in our heart, we walked back to quietly sit at one of the stone bench and began our wait for the animal to move… But half an hour later and shivering from the cold and also scared that sitting here we are more exposed to another one, we decided to make an attempt to cross the animal. Gathering our strength, in a line, we slowly started moving towards it when suddenly one of us whispered “It just looked this way” and back we came running. And this time all the way to a small hut, where we expected a forest guard to be there. He was there but refused to help us cross !!! And so with that saviour BSNL Phone we finally called the organisers to send a vehicle. In the meanwhile, the next group of runners joined us to wait for the vehicle. Finally 1-1/2 hours later, with a vehicle in front of us, the cautious and tired gang of 9 started the run / walk for the final stretch to the finish line. What a story to remember for the life time. (The organsiers agreed to adjust our timing for this 1-1/2hr spent here!!)
6.      Finish – The finish line in a race is the most awesomest place on earth esp in an ultra run !! 26hrs from when I started I was back in the school grounds, but with memories that will stay with me forever!!!
In the end, what changed - I am more confident of doing a self supported run but I still don’t like running in the dark, I have lived to tell the tales of my first 130km run in the hills of Kodai but will have to spend more time convincing the hubby to let me go for another adventure !!
But I know I will…….

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Score reads 100*

Its been more than two years that I completed my second Comrades Ultramarathon. Yes, second and that is what got me that back to back medal in 2015. It is definitely something to brag about and I have used every opportunity to remind people of this accomplishment. It wasnt until when I was introducing myself as an ultramarathoner and was asked - "So whats the longest distance you have run ?" that the 89km of Comrades Run just didn't sound perfect enough. 

I am a numbers person - I record every run of mine to track my mileage for each training program, I look up the log to analyse the paces (and now the HR for those paces) post each run. 

And thats not enough - I also like those numbers in the log to be whole numbers - Yes I am the one who runs up and down the street to get that round 10.0 or a 23.0 on the Garmin. It isnt weird - is it?

Anyways, you get the drift - the 89 had to be taken upto a 100 - a wholesome number in itself !!

I was training for the Berlin Marathon in Sep 2016 and drew up a plan to amp up the mileage post the marathon and register for the Bangalore Ultra 100k in November 2016. I had a great run with a PB at 4:06. However, work, family commitments and the sheer exhaustion of training seriously, for the very first time for a marathon distance, meant the 100k plan was pushed to 2017. 

This year I was running the Chicago Marathon in October and so the same plan was pulled out to aim for the Bangalore Ultra 100k in November 2017. I knew I just had 4 weeks to move from a marathon race to be ready for the 100k. And heres what happened in those four weeks :
  • I somehow very beautifully messed up my Chicago marathon. Against a target of 4:10, I finished it in 4:25 loosing it big time in the mind at 32k. Some niggles that I was experiencing before the race came in to join the party and the pain from those in the last 10k left me very scared to even think of a 100k. 
  • I still put my plan into motion. I knew I wont be able to do any 50-60k long runs so the plan was simple - simple on the excel file that had the plan but it was challenging to execute - do a lot of back to back runs and get used to running on tired legs. I did a 10 day streak doing a total distance of 145km, took a 3 day rest and then over a Friday to Monday did back to back runs with a 70km over the weekend. A 42km in 4:30hrs at MCM 2017, after having done a 28km on Saturday gave me some confidence. 
  • But I was still not being able to mentally commit to the distance. Sharing my plan and my target with friends helped as they nudged me but that wasnt enough. I was scared of the pain that such a long distance run would bring, I was scared of a DNF, I was scared of the run to drag on and so the running in the night (which I am just not comfortable with). I needed some inspiration and some strength. And thats when I picked up a few books written by ultra marathoners. And one of those books did the trick - "Nowhere Near First" by Cory Reese, a middle of the pack ultramarathoner. It completely changed the way I was thinking about the run !!!! I recommend that book to all of you, irrespective of the distance you run.  
  • Bangalore Ultra is run on a 25km out and back loop except for the stretch run at night - which is a 1km up and down loop on loose gravel. It has aid stations every 2-2.5km and so logistically an easy one compared to some other ultras which have to be self supported for upto 5-10km. All I had to ensure was I eat and hydrate well and just run!!! And so in the last few days I prepared a checklist of things to carry with me and finalised my nutrition and run plan. 

And before I knew (but not before some added excitement because of work related issues which I will skip for this post) I was at the start line of the run. It was a good day and it remained a good day !!! I started slow, conservative with a plan to finish the first loop in 3hrs and run 5k and walk 0.5k for the second loop. For the second 50km - it was "We will see!!!"

When I started training for the run, I had no timing targets and the aim was just to finish, but by the time I reached the start line - with a much stronger approach to the race I wanted to finish the run in under 14 hours. I completed my 50km along with many of the strong 50km runners and knew the target is very much doable. At 75km, I revised the target to 13:30hrs and at 90km (because I was still running most of the distance) I revised it to under 13hrs and finally crossed the finish line in 12:55:08 hrs !!!

And so the score reads 100 and very nervously I add - Not Out !!!!! 

My takeaways :
  • Ultra distance runs and even a marathon is run with your mind and if your mind isnt prepared your body isn't, even if you keep clocking your training miles.
  • During the run - Smile !! I dont know if it actually releases endorphins or its just the placebo effect, it works. I know its difficult so "Fake it till you make it !!". 
  • You dont need to do very long distance runs while training. What is important is to train your body to run on tired legs and train your mind to get up the day after a long run day and push the body for another long run. 
  • Plan out the entire race from what you will wear to whats in the drop bags to walking breaks to nutrition (I skipped my nutrition at 85km and by 89km I hit a very low point and then at 90km with that food in my stomach I had revised my target timing !!)
  • And read and watch some videos to get that inspiration and get on that track to inspire others !!

Saturday, March 18, 2017

The Year that was..

The season has come to an end for all. The long dry days of summer will soon be upon us followed by the humid months of July and August. And with that most of us will move into a low mileage or a break mode. But for now Coach Ravinder has sent out a note seeking nominations for the Runner of the Year award and so its time to assess this running season. And here is my assessment of the good and the bad :
+ Each of the previous years, I have usually gone low mileage and slow between May and Aug, picking up with a training plan for the Autumn / Winter races. This season was different. I came back from a hiatus in April by joining Tanvir’s 100 day running challenge. At that time, I didn’t realize the big difference it will make to my marathon training (more about it below). But those 3k-10k runs all through the months of May-July helped. I had to stop at the 86th day due to a personal emergency but by that time I had built up a solid mileage to take me into my training plan for the Berlin marathon.
+ With the 100 day running challenge, I also joined the 100 day no-sugar challenge. It was a little difficult at the start, but 10 days into the challenge, I had given up all sources of processed sugar and was feasting on the summer fruits of mangoes and melons. This definitely helped in boosting my fitness level. And btw, I am still continuing with no sugar Tea and Coffee.
+ The low mileage was supplemented with many strength training exercises – Planks, Squats, Lunges, Dead Lifts etc. in the base building period and so for once, I had followed a slow yet an efficient way of improving my fitness and strength.
+ And with all of the above, I had a good 3 months of base building period, and was able to transition a much stronger me into the marathon training plan for the Berlin Marathon in September. This was my A race for the year and bettering my marathon PB by 22 mins for a finish time of 4:06 was a result I am very happy with.
+I was happy to have maintained my timings for the shorter distances all through the year. So here’s the report card.
NYRR Mini 10K Women’s Run         54.19
Artemis Day Breaker 21k                 2:09:37
Manger Trail Run 25km                   2:58:49
Pinkathon 21km                               1:57:41
Dwarka Half Marathon                     2:05:17
Hero Sunrise HM 21km                   1:58:32
Berlin Marathon 42km                     4:06:32
Airtel HM 21Km                                1:55:00
Muskaan Run 10km                         52:37
Super Sikh Run 10km                       52:53
And now to the misses
- The strong marathon training was to be used for an ultra or a faster HM in November – never attempted the Ultra and just maintained a decent time for the HM
- I was supposed to chronicle my training on the blog but the training, recovery and life in general did not leave anytime for the blog.
- Sugar binge – it started with small and not so frequent portions but the winter comfort food of chikkis and sandesh and other sweets had me crave for the sugar big time.
- December till date have been little or no running and with all events registered for being a No Show.
“Do not wait until the conditions are perfect to begin. Beginnings make the conditions perfect” – Alan Cohen
So though life in general is still busy, its time for a fresh start, a reboot…..
And you will see more of me on the roads and more of my running rants here.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Fartlek Training : Methods and Benefits

(This post originally appeared at
I hate interval training – I just cannot understand the logic of running your heart out for those 2-5mins (depending on how long the interval is). My friends swear by it and have also dragged my reluctant self out for some of those sessions. There have been enough discussions on the merits and demerits of the same between us but I have this big phobia – the phobia of “I-will-die-doing-intervals”. And so any group runs planned with interval training as the theme sees me at my creative best – of coming up with excuses to skip the session.
I hate intervals but there is one thing that I completely agree with – the result you get with interval training :
  • an improved cardiovascular system – increases lung capacity which is what builds stamina and endurance
  • trains the muscles to tolerate lactic acid build-up significantly – gets the body used to working even with some fatigue
And so basically, it improves the overall aerobic power and fitness levels.
Now if you are like me and have the “do-not-want-to-die-while-interval training” phobia, what can you do as an alternative to get the above results? One of the ways to get this kind of training is doing Fartleks. Infact Interval training is nothing but a formal and more structured form of fartleks. And I am happy with the rudimentary way of building up my cardiovascular capacity.
What are Fartleks ?
Fartlek is a Swedish term which means speed play. Fartlek running involves varying the pace throughout the run, alternating between fast segments and slow jogs and these segments can be based on how the body feels.
How do I use fartleks in my runs?
Training Runs: I use the fartlek workouts in two ways during my training runs:

1. I do short periods of slightly higher pace run as part of my normal run. I maintain the faster pace for a short distance or time intervals, such as 200m or 30 seconds and then get back to my normal running pace. Sometimes, I race a cycle or a rickshaw for that small stretch – and you should see the competitiveness in the riders facesJ. On some occasions, I have tried to catch some fast runners – and failed L. But what it helps in is that it simulates what is possible for you to do on a race day. On a race day you will have opportunities to speed up, but then you will have to settle back to a normal pace. You can’t stop, walk or bend over double panting and huffing trying to get your breath back during the race after a speedy stretch.

2. My last km irrespective of the distance I have run that day is the fastest. It not only helps getting used to running fast on tired legs, it’s a big confidence booster and these muscle memories help me speed up anytime during the race.

The one important thing is that I do not run my heart out, its fast – way faster than my target speed for the day, but easy enough that I can get back to my normal pace easily. And also what’s important is to have the discipline to add these stretches at regular intervals during the run.

Races: I have very successfully used fartleks during my races – my A Races and also races being run as part of the training. I speed up to overtake the runner in the front, sometimes leaving a big gap between us and sometimes leaving a runner between us J This is so that I am not made to do unnecessary big swings in my pace and after each such attempt can find enough time and distance to get my breath back by running at a normal pace.

I am a big fan of these – my unstructured mind loves these compared to the formal interval training where I keep looking at the watch to check – how much more distance to cover ???
Go ahead try it… and Good Luck !!!!
By Rashmi Mohanty for
About Rashmi (In her own words)
I am senior finance professional working for a global company. A mother of two, I took up long distance running six years back to get away from the stress of increased demands in managing a career, a family and other worldly duties. It gave me “my-me-time” and a great set of friends. What started as a stress buster, has also seen me do some crazy stuff besides the usual HMs and FMs (which I have run many) – trail ultras at Bhatti, Comrades twice over, travel domestic and internationally to run a race !!!
I enjoy both the pleasures and the pain running brings into my life and can say that I am hooked.