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How athlete TimTim Sharma trained to set a new ultramarathon record

TimTim Sharma recently set the new women's time record at the tough Ooty Ultra ultramarathon. She tells Lounge how she trained to prepare for the race

Athlete TimTim Sharma.
Athlete TimTim Sharma. (Courtesy Flashbulbzzz)

After the National Road Cycling Championships in January, athlete TimTim Sharma was looking to transition to training for triathlons, with an eye on the Ironman 70.3 Bahrain in December this year. She now wanted to structure her training in order to get back to competing at her best. 

“For the cycling Nationals, I had to change my entire training routine for about six weeks. So, I gradually wanted to introduce running and swimming again to the schedule before getting back to racing,” Sharma, 39, says. 

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By the time she signed up for the Ooty Ultra, she had six weeks to prepare for the 30km race, which featured an elevation gain of 1,053 metres. The time was short, but her efforts paid off when she smashed the previous women’s course record (3:07:07) with her timing of 2:48:48.

“My goal was to finish around the three hour mark, so the record was always on my mind. But my performance came as a pleasant surprise, considering it’s just seven minutes short of the men’s course record,” she says. 

Sharma started out by shedding the excess kilos she had gained during her time off through aerobic training and a controlled diet. She tested the waters at the Mangaluru Triathlon in February, which helped create a baseline for her training. Once back home, she took on a regimented approach to gearing up for the hill run.

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“My running mileage had been really low for a few months, so even that ramp up had to be structured. And though I have a plan in place, I tend to load each day of training based on how well I’ve recovered come morning,” she says. 

During the first week, she took on slow, easy runs that added up to about 35km in all, and included a kilometre of swimming, thrice each week, to aid with recovery. In addition to reducing her cycling mileage, she also started working on an indoor trainer instead of setting off on outdoor rides. 

“An indoor trainer allows you to do very focussed workouts and is a very efficient utilisation of time. What I achieve in 1-1.5 hours on a trainer can take me about three hours outside,” she says. 

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During the next week, she pushed her weekly mileage up to about 80km. On alternate days, Sharma would put in strength sessions that featured explosive workouts, and follow it up with a short run to get her body used to training on tired legs. 

Two weeks before her race, she was part of a 64km cycling road race in Hassan where she took top spot. Once back home in Bengaluru, she put in a session of elevation training at Nandi Hills that featured a 450 metres of elevation gain over 7.5km. Most of the taper phrase during the last week was dedicated to short runs, rides on the trainer and recovery sessions in the pool.

“I’ve been training and competing for a decade now and a lot of what I’m able to achieve is because of the specific work that I’ve put in over this time. For instance, I can really push and cover time on downhills without getting injured because of the strength I’ve built in my knees and hamstrings to handle the load. A lot of what looks like a rash decision during the race is a calculated call because I know how much my body can take,” she says. 

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A day before the race, Sharma went on a course recce and took on a short 5km run to get a feel of the terrain. Through the rest of the day, she sipped on electrolytes to hydrate. The weather was nippy on race day, but she felt good and got off to a flying start. On the first big climb to Doddabetta, an elevation gain of about 500 metres over 8km, she walked the steeper sections to conserve energy while enjoying the breath-taking views, at the expense of the competition catching up and even going past her at times. But she made up time on the downhills and soon settled into a comfortable pace to widen the gap. 

“The thing about this race is that once it starts climbing, it’s just relentless. There’s no breather on the course and it can get really demotivating. The mind perpetually talks about indulging in a little bit of rest. And this is what you have to keep fighting all the time, keep distracting yourself in spite of the suffering,” Sharma says. 

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By the 20km mark, it was evident that the race was hers for the taking and she now set off in search of the course record, egged on by vociferous volunteers. At the risk of a tumble, she stormed down the patchy downhills and set goals for herself on the steep uphill bits to continue her push. Her conservative approach during the first half of the race paid off on the final climb towards the finish line. “A race like this needs a lot of maturity to finish it well. The physical ability is just a part of it,” she says. 

Shail Desai is a Mumbai-based freelance writer.

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