A former Indian Army officer, Chandan Kumar Mateti started running in 2013 and over the years participated in events of varying distances including 50 km, stadium runs and both the versions of the Comrades Marathon, an ultra-marathon held annually in South Africa.
In December 2021 the Pune-based runner ran his first 100-kilometre event: The Hell Race-The Border 100. He was not new to ultra-distances but until then, had not touched the magic distance of 100 km.
Chandan writes about how he accomplished his first 100 km-run.
For the first three years my runs were restricted to short distances as my target was to complete a half marathon (21.1 km) in under two hours. This I achieved in due course.
In 2017, my wife Taru decided to run the Comrades Marathon, the ultra-marathon held every year in South Africa. She had been training and had run a number of full marathons by then.
As I was funding the trip and also planning to travel to South Africa, I thought: why not give it a shot? However, I had to run a marathon first and complete it in under five hours to qualify. Just to test myself, in 2017, I participated in Mumbai’s 12-hour run and was able to cover a little over 60 kilometres, far short of expectation. I had some time for the qualifier full marathon (it was due in Dec 2017). So, I decided to attempt one more ultra-event and registered for the 50 km-category at Pune Ultra. I trained with Taru for this run and managed to finish it in 5:55 hours.
With that, I got hooked to ultra-running. I qualified for Comrades in 2018 and went on run both the uphill and downhill versions of the race.
I continued running 50 km distances. But now there was this newfound desire to run a 100 km ultra-distance event, mainly to find out if I can sustain myself for such long hours. To test physical and mental abilities, both of us enrolled for two 12-hour stadium runs (the first of them in February 2021 in Bangalore and the second one in Hyderabad in August of the same year). Having covered a distance of 85 km and 94 km respectively, I was confident that I could survive a 100 km run.
We opted to enrol for the The Hell Race-The Border 100, to run 100 km. Scheduled for 18 and 19 December, 2021 at Jaisalmer, it was an extremely challenging race. One would be running in the desert between Jaisalmer and Ramgarh, with temperatures varying from a maximum of 30 degrees Celsius to a minimum of 6 degrees. It had to be completed within a cut-off of 16 hours.
Preparing for 100 km
Taru had already run a 100K a few years ago. The experience and the training requirements were there for us to work with.
We started by increasing our monthly mileage to around 200-250 km from April 2021 onwards. This was going to help us run the 12-hour stadium run at Hyderabad in August. We also needed to do one ultra-distance training run of 50-60 km every month from August onwards – the first one was built into the 12-hour run at Hyderabad itself. We needed to add afternoon runs in high temperatures, because the Border Ultra was starting at 12 noon (when temperatures were expected to be over 30 degrees). So, we planned a few runs of 3-4 hours on some Sunday afternoons. Next, we would need to run through the night into the early hours of morning; for that, we incorporated some night runs of 5-6 hours, starting late night and going into the wee hours of the next day.
Next on the training agenda was being self-supported (as aid stations during the Border Ultra were 10 kilometres apart), especially for water – so we started training with hydration packs (something we had never done before). As single practice runs beyond 60 km was a major administrative challenge, we started doing back-to-back long runs on Saturdays and Sundays with the aim of getting used to running on tired legs.
As I was into a corporate job (post-retirement), timings and running schedules were getting haphazard. It meant we could not train with other running groups and buddies – so it was mostly me and Taru, running self-supported. This, in a way, helped us to mentally tackle the 100 km run.
My biggest concern was that I had developed vertigo and I had started getting attacks of severe dizziness and nausea during long runs. I had to abandon my 50K ultra in Pune halfway, due to a severe attack of the same. Similar attack during one of the night runs led me to cut down my planned training run from 50 km to 35 km. I realized there was nothing much I could do about it. I just decided to ignore it and stay focussed on training, taking things as they come.
The next concern was staying fit and reaching the start line injury-free. Therefore, alongside long runs, the focus was on strength training, yoga and icing two to three times a day. I always cut corners here. We tried out and realized that compression hoses and bottoms were of great help. We started training in them. I have a problem with my knees; so, I started `Sujok Therapy’ (activation of acupressure points) regularly, which I believe really helped me manage my pain.
For mid-run fuel, we found that dates and oranges (besides gels – we were using Leap Gels) worked for us. So, we started carrying salted dates with us, to consume en route, while oranges would be available at aid stations. Pre-race fuel for us was sweet potatoes and peanut butter sandwiches.
The 100 km-race
A major challenge we were going to face in this run was the weather. The race was starting at a time when temperatures spanned 30 degrees Celsius to six degrees. We would have to start lightly clothed and finish with warm clothing. This meant we had to carry layers of clothing and keep adding as the temperature dropped.
We started in our running Tee and carried a long-sleeved dry fit, one warm over-wear, one windcheater, bandana, mobile and our mid-run fuel. A down jacket, gloves, woollen cap, torch etc was kept in a tote bag which we could access at 50K.
My run strategy was: first 30 km – run 3 km and walk 100 metres. For the next 30 km – run 2 km and walk 100 metres. For the rest of the distance – run 1 km and walk 100 metres and take it as it comes.
I commenced the race well and was cruising along, comfortably maintaining my planned pace, when at the 50 km aid station, what I feared happened. I got an attack of vertigo and I could feel the spinning sensation. I rested for about 10 minutes until the feeling subsided. I had to take a call on what next, as it had turned dark and the runners were scattered across varying distances along the route. I knew I would have to run alone and be on my own. I decided to keep moving slowly. After all, the worst-case scenario would be that I would fall flat and be out of the race. I decided to cross that bridge when it comes and started running again.
My problem was that if I looked down even a bit longer, I would feel the vertigo hitting. Fortunately, we were running on good roads with minimum traffic and that helped me keep my head straight and neck steady.
The experience of running absolutely alone, in the middle of a moonlit desert, with just the seemingly never-ending black road snaking into oblivion in front of you, was an ethereal experience. At around 75 km or so, someone from behind, who was overtaking me, asked me if I was alright. He thought I was kind of weaving while running. While I told him I was fine, I realized I might be looking at another vertigo attack – so I immediately stopped, steadied myself and decided that from then onward, I would walk more and run less. I had sufficient time in my kitty and was pretty confident that I would make the 16 hrs cut-off, provided I didn’t collapse.
My motto during my Special Forces days came to my mind: “ who dares, wins.’’ So, I again decided to go for my planned time of completing the 100 km in 15 hours, and started cutting down on the walks and running more.
I finished my first 100 km in 15:59:04 hours. Now that I have completed my first 100 km, I am looking forward to running a 100 miler by the end of this year.
(The author, Col Chandan Kumar Mateti, is a retired army officer based in Pune.)