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How Indian runner Amar Singh Devanda created a new ultra record

Amar Singh Devanda set a new national time record while winning the gruelling 24-hour Asia & Oceania Championship in Australia. This is how he trained

Amar Singh Devanda won the 24-hour Asia & Oceania Championship in April.
Amar Singh Devanda won the 24-hour Asia & Oceania Championship in April.

The heavens opened up by the time Amar Singh Devanda readied for bed on 5 April. The following day, he was to line up at the start of the IAU 24-hour Asia & Oceania Championship in Canberra. It wasn’t so much about the pressure of going into the race as the defending champion. For Devanda, this was about making the past three months of training count.

“Since the first day of the new year, I had been working only with this race in mind. I just kept thinking about the amount of effort I had put in during training. And just like that, nothing was in my control anymore,” Devanda, 27, recalls.

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The next morning, the downpour only got heavier when the race got underway at 9am. Devanda knew that his pace would be affected considerably in those conditions and his wet shoes would cause blisters sooner than usual. But he also knew that the rain wouldn’t last all through those 24 hours.

In that moment, he decided to embrace everything that came his way and set his mind on putting in a steady effort. And by the end of the race, he was duly rewarded for his persistence with a gold medal and a new national record of 272.537km. His effort, alongside teammates Ullas Narayana (245.574km) and Saurav Ranjan (240.137km), also helped India to the gold in the team event with a combined distance of 758.248km. “Running for 24 hours brings pain. This was just about dealing with more pain,” he says.

The last few IAU competitions have all been about learning from different conditions for Devanda. When he won a gold at the same event in Bengaluru in 2022, he had fallen short on his nutrition in the hot, humid conditions. Then at the World Championship in Taipei last year, he struggled in freezing weather.

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“It’s not like just training hard will help you run a good race. In ultra running, everything needs attention—how much you’re eating and drinking, the gear you’re using and recovery at the end of each day,” he says.

Amar Singh Devanda.
Amar Singh Devanda.

At the synthetic track of the Air Force Station in Jalahalli in Bengaluru, Devanda had started building for his latest race. He revised his entire training routine under coaches Santhosh Padmanabhan and Rajkumar Sharma. While his previous focus was on the daily distance, he now started planning his training based on time. From a maximum of six hours, his routine now involved longer runs of between 8-12 hours.

“While training for my last race, I had logged a maximum of 75km. This time I did a 146km training run in 12 hours and another 10 hour run at night to get used to running in the dark,” he says.

Instead of separate sessions for interval training, Devanda clubbed it as part of his daily mileage.“I would be running at an easy pace for 2-3 hours and would then take on intervals. The pace was a lot slower, but it was really hard and demanding. And then I had to go back to hitting race pace for the rest of the time. This made a lot of difference to my performance,” he says.

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After a long run on Saturdays, the following day was usually reserved for rest. As part of his new routine, he would now take on recovery runs at a slow pace on Sundays. From a weekly mileage of 160km, Devanda took it up to around 265km at his peak.

“The repeated long runs gave me the confidence that I could stay on my feet and come back a few days later to do it all over again,” he says.

Besides working on endurance, the schedule also involved lactic-threshold- and VO2-based training. Once each week, he would take on strength sessions at the gym, while also working on his mobility. Through a round of testing with the energy supplement brand Enerjiva, Devanda figured out his energy needs and the nutrition that he needed to follow during races.

“It was important to study what the data was telling me about my body. I realised that it’s possible to get away with eating and drinking anything that you like during 5-6 hours of training. But it’s after that time that you need to understand how external sources are helping the body to its full potential,” he says.

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Devanda had his mind set on logging 270-280km in 24 hours. By the time the rain finally stopped, he had covered about 50km in 4.5 hours. After a quick change, he realised his body felt good and picked up the pace. When he got to the 100 mile mark (about 161km) in 13 hours 20 minutes, he realised that the record was within reach.

“All the racing experience I’ve gathered so far has given me the maturity and confidence to run my own race. As long as I stick to my plan, I know the results will come,” he says.

Once back in India, Devanda took a well-deserved break back home in Cheethwari near Jaipur. His father, Suresh Kumar Choudhary, is delighted with the progress he’s made with running, a passion that Devanda had discovered only after joining the Indian Air Force in 2014. But his mother, Pappi Devi, has a barrage of complaints each time she sees him.

“At the end of every race cycle, I end up losing a lot of weight and my mother gets really annoyed to see my body structure these days. So, while I’m on holiday, she’ll feed me everything from gond ke laddoo to buttermilk to ensure I put on a few kilos,” Devanda says, laughing.

Shail Desai is a Mumbai-based freelance writer.

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