I always thought that I loved long walks. Until today that is - the well planned and superbly organized 45K Ultra walkathon by Hyderabad Runners was a reality check of sorts!
The first time I read about the novel idea on the group, I thought it wouldn't be a big deal. Well, if running 42K in Auroville last month seemed manageable, walking a few kilometres more would be far easier, right? Wrong!
True to the numerous responses to Sunita garu's mail inviting participation in the event, the turnout today morning outside KBR Park at 3:45 AM was huge. Amazing part, as Praveen garu mentioned, was that hardly a handful in the gathering were regular runners with HR, all others being friends and relatives of theirs. It was funny how partygoers who were in the last leg of their Saturday night revelry slowed down their speeding cars to gawk at our gathering!
The first leg of the journey, the 21K walk from KBR to Gandipet via Outer Ring Road, started off in the darkness and then as we trudged along, dawn took over. It was a beautiful morning and the weather was very pleasant. Rajesh garu accompanying me all the way till CBIT was a big plus and he tirelessly set the pace for us to complete the half walkathon in a little less than 3.5 hours! The ageless Hariharan garu, Dr. Praveen and Krishna had already reached before us, and all of us devoured the yummy idlis arranged for breakfast by the team. The break lasted for about 30 minutes, and by the time we were ready to set off, it was 7:50 AM. So far so good.
I guess the best thing we did was to resume the walk early. Remarkable was Ravi garu’s walking with a 16 kgs heavy backpack to prepare for HMI base camp one month later. The first 4K after breakfast seemed pretty long, and once we hit the Pepsi sign landmark, the trails began. We had to walk 8K one way and then retrace our steps. I somehow always feel that each kilometre is longer in a trail route as compared to that on a tarmac, and the feeling persisted today too. The first 8K on the trail was never ending, but luckily the sun hadn’t started to punish us that severely yet. The worst was yet to come.
The return walk on the trails was taxing to the core, the sun relentlessly beating down on us, and it started to dawn on me why marathons are easier than walkathons – in the former, you can run and get over with the trauma faster than in the latter. No wonder Sunita garu has specifically mentioned the “No running, compulsorily walking” condition for the walkathon. It was mind over body from then on, if finishing was on the agenda.
The best part of the ending 12K of the walk, and for that matter the whole ultra walkathon, was Hariharan (or HH Ran) garu accompanying me, motivating me and narrating some fantastic anecdotes from his past. All of 63, he’s a bundle of energy, an inspiration for one and all, and much more in addition to being the youngest member of HR! We had some wonderful conversations which shifted our focus from the scorching hot sun, the endless trails and the speedily evaporating supply of water. Crossing many of the other walkers on our way back got us concerned about how they’ll cope in the crazy heat – with each passing hour, the test got more gruelling.
I cannot explain the joy when finally HH Ran garu and I spotted the Pepsi sign, which signaled the end of the trails. Phewwwwww. Just 4K more to finish the Ultra Walkathon!! While Krishna garu, Rajesh garu and Dr. Praveen had vanished off way ahead, Krishna’s never-say-die spirit was commendable as he fought against an upset tummy too to race ahead of us. Ravi garu with his huge backpack too continued walking tirelessly a few paces behind HH Ran garu and myself. The last couple of kilometres seemed to stretch forever, and it require lots of willpower to hold myself back from running then. Also, we kept hallucinating about the finishing point being a few strides away when in fact it materialized after ages!
Finally at 12:17 PM, I followed Hariharan garu in touching base. Yippee!! What a feeling of genuine happiness and relief! It was time for cheering each other before heading home to rest – no one was keen on waiting any longer.
And rest I did. Slept for the remainder of the day as if I were drugged, and shook of the grogginess a short while ago. The body, as always, is protesting the ill-treatment that it was subject to. Family and friends are protesting the craziness that they feel I’ve been exhibiting since last year, though I furnish examples of people far more accomplished in this regard :) Sighs.
All in all, this was one long walk that I’m not going to forget. Truly, a walk to remember :)