Velu Perumal (Photo: Flashbulbzz Photography)

Ultra-marathoner, Velu Perumal, won the 90 km-OotyUltra road race held on April 3, 2022 in Tamil Nadu.

The ultra-marathon, held on the streets of Ooty, was challenging with substantial elevation gain and long stretches of downhill. But it was supported well by race organisers and volunteers, runners this blog spoke to, said.

Of the six runners at the start line of OotyUltra’s 90 kilometre-race, held on April 3, 2022, three finished the race. Velu Perumal was the winner followed by Preeti Lala from Mumbai and Vijayan Pillai from Kerala.

OotyUltra has four events – 90 km, 60 km, 30 km and 15 km. The 90 km race, which was by invitation, has a cumulative elevation gain of 2600 metres. There are extended sections of uphill and downhill, with the route touching Dodabetta Peak, winding through Kothagiri and ending at Tea Park.

The event was organised by KaysFIT Academy, founded by Kannan Sundarajan, known as Coach Kay in running circles; it was its fifth edition. In its physical form, Ooty Ultra was in its third edition, having lost two years to the coronavirus pandemic. Coach Kay, originally from Ooty, commenced running in 2011, starting with marathons. He later moved to ultra-marathons.

“It was quite a tough route, quite challenging, requiring us to put in a lot of effort,” Velu, the winner of the 90 km-race, said. He finished it in ten hours, 48 minutes and 31 seconds. Velu is a regular participant and podium finisher in many ultra-running events. He has also represented India in ultra-running events overseas held by IAU. The 31-year-old, who works with the Indian Army, has been coached by Subedar Pawan Kumar from Army Medical Corps.

Mumbai-based Preeti, who placed second among the three finishers, refers to the 90 km-race at Ooty Ultra as “ Indian Comrades.’’ Comrades Marathon is an ultra-marathon held every year in South Africa. “This is a must-do event for those running the Comrades Marathon,” she said. She finished the race in 11:38:27. She was the only woman participant in the 90 km-category. Preeti is due to go to South Africa to take part in the Comrades Marathon, scheduled to be held in August 2022.

Vijayan Pillai, who came in third, managed to finish within the 12-hour cut-off; he clocked 11:52:55. Preeti and Vijayan ran together for a long distance but somewhere around the 84 km- mark Vijayan started to develop cramps and had to slow down. His first time at OotyUltra, Vijayan found the event well organised. According to him, the first part of the run led to Dodabetta Peak and on the return, took a deviation to Tea Park (also the eventual finish point). The second and third parts, “ followed a different loop but in opposite directions.” “The aid stations were well-placed and the volunteering was great. The youngsters, who were recruited to do the volunteering, did a great job,” he said. Vijayan commenced running eight years ago and over time got interested in ultra-running, particularly trail running.

Weather was quite good at the start of the race in Ooty but the afternoon stretch turned quite warm. “The hydration and nutrition support by the organisers and the villagers helped us get by during this tough period,” Preeti said. On offer were watermelons, energy drinks, curds, jaggery, bread and butter. The hydration points were positioned at intervals of 3-4 km along the route.

Vijayan Pillai and Preeti Lala (Photo: Flashbulbzz Photography)

Preeti has finished on the podium before, at ultra-running events. Running the 24-hour race at NEB Sports Mumbai Stadium Run in February 2021, she had emerged the overall winner with a distance of 193.60 km covered. It was the second best by an Indian woman in the category.

At OotyUltra, Dr C. Selvaraj chose to run the 60 km-race. He did it barefoot. This was his second ultra-running event, the first one being the Yercaud Hills Ultra, where he completed the 50 km-race.

“Running barefoot was tough during the hot, sunny hours. I had to run by the side of the road,” he said. Overall, the race was tough with a total elevation gain of 2000 metres, he said. A neurologist, Dr Selvaraj started running for health reasons. Over time, he grew more and more interested in long-distance running.

(The author, Latha Venkatraman, is an independent journalist based in Mumbai.)