Kieren D'souza will go on a recce tour to Deo Tibba peak in Manali in a few days. He is aiming to complete a run to the peak and back after completing his rest period since the 3 x marathons, hosted by Nivea Men 42k, his first ultramarathon run this year since the pandemic hit home. Usually, it takes 10 to 12 days for climbers to complete this distance, Kieran is aiming to do it in a few hours.
The 126+ kms run he completed on 5 September had to be done in 18 hours, and a slightly nervous Kieran did it without any major hassle. He has been running for ten years now, yet his first ultrarun since the lockdown was filled with nerves and excitement.
He has no coach. He has come so far on his own, underlining the loneliness in running, but Kieran isn't too bothered about how lonely a sport running is. He has made many friends on the run. He loves those races where the spectators cheer in the last few kms. It gives him a high.
However, it was not the absolute love of this high in running is why he opted for it, in the first place. He started running because he did not play any other sport in college for a lack of interest in other sports. Running gave him a sense of freedom. It was the only sport he could opt as it did not require anyone. So, he started on his own and even after ten years, he runs on his own, without a coach.
"Running is a simple sport. You just need a pair of shoes and head out of the door."
Kieran completed a 10k the first year of the start and two years later, jumped to 100k, this he did even before his first half-marathon, a move he advises against to others, for this path can cut short careers due to injuries.
"When you start off, don't try to rush into it. I feel a lot of people, and I did the same thing. I started off with a 10k and at end of two years, I ran a 100k. I see a lot of people do that. If you do pick up running, we should take it gradually, not focus on doing it too quickly," he says.
However, the quest to challenge himself has not left Kieran who scaled the trail run on Friendship Peak in June in just 12 hours. The climbers usually take six days to do the same.
After the lockdown was eased at the end of April in Manali, Kieran who had not trained much in the last 45 days or so, started running again and doing some basic training. And in June, he decided to run to the Friendship Peak.
The Deo Tibba peak is his next target and after a couple of more 'lazy' days, he will be out again to topple another record.
As you hear Kieran speak about his successful stints with time and distance, you wonder what does it take to run an ultra marathon? How does a human body endure strength to keep running for days and nights? Is there any strategy in running?
"Strategy of running is very similar to the strategy of life. Trusting yourself, being consistent, and being patient. If you are going into an endurance activity and you are going to rush with it, you are going to make mistakes. If you give up too soon, that also is not good. Keeping in mind that it is going to be a long grind, being patient.
"Knowing that you are not running for half an hour but running for a long time, so pacing yourself and managing speed accordingly. Also, setting small goals in the race. Imagine you are standing at the start line, and thinking I have to run for five long hours. That's a lot to process. So you try to break down the hours. Look at the first hour, second hour, and so on. That is better. These are simple strategies and they are like life," answers Kieran.
At the 2016 Spartathlon, arguably the toughest ultramarathon in the world, Kieran became the first Indian to qualify and finish. He was 23 back then and till 2016, the race had been completed only by 29 runners who were 25 or less.
So what does it take to finish a race in Spartathlon, you may ask.
You are running 246 kms on foot, through different climatic conditions and terrain, and you are running against time. There are 75 checkpoints on the whole post. And you need to make every single checkpoint or you are out of the race. So you are not running 246 kms but you are also running against time because you have to finish it under 36 hours. Barely fifty percent of runners manage to finish the race on time for the same reason.
Kieran has more on the difficulty levels, "The temperatures fluctuate a lot because you go up a mountain path in the night, which usually is cold weather. So you go from 40 degrees to 15 degrees. That makes it hard. You are generally allowed to have your own personal support in other races. In this race, you have very few points where you are allowed to have that. When I went there to race, my mum had come and she met me at one point and then at the finish line. So that is another thing that makes it hard. One of the hard factors is qualification. You need to run 100k in ten hours to qualify for race. There are other race parameters."
The same year, Kieran completed the La Ultra, one of the cruelest races known on earth. He had failed to finish it in 2014 before coming back again in 2016 to win the 111 km version of the race, becoming the first Indian to achieve the feat. La Ultra is quite mean when you read about it: one starts at an altitude of 10,500 feet in the Nubra Valley, before going up to Khardung La, the world's highest motorable pass at 17,700 feet.
The 3 x marathons he just ran was no small challenge itself. 126 kms in 18 hours is no mean feat. A body that has not trained as much as it would have liked this year due to the pandemic may find it difficult to overcome this challenge. Since the lockdown was imposed in March, Kieran had not run in a 100k+ event. His best feat was the Friendship Peak achievement. The nervousness before the event was certain.
"It has been an interesting year because no races have been going on. It had been a year that I had run anything more than 50k and this was a 126+ kms one, so I was quite nervous because it has been very long since I ran such a long distance. Naturally, this year has not been the best for training. So it was a bit of a nervous start."
But when once Kieran started running, he was back to his running best.
"Once I started running, I was back in my elements. Just focussing on getting the job done and not thinking about random things and focussing on getting the project done. Run the whole distance as strong as possible," he said.
A week or so from the race, he has not run a bit. He is eating a lot and resting and planning his next trip.
"In a few days, I will be heading out to the mountains again to do a recce on a six thousand meter peak Deo Tibba. In two weeks, I will be making an attempt on that peak. I will try to do it in a few hours."