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How Indian ultrarunners are training for the IAU 100km World Championships

The IAU 100km World Championships is one of the toughest races in the world. Lounge speaks to some of India's top ultrarunners about how they are training

Ultrarunner Vipul Kumar.
Ultrarunner Vipul Kumar.

The International Association of Ultrarunners (IAU) 100km World Championships in Bernau and Berlin, Germany, in August last year was momentous for India. In the women’s category, Jyoti Gawate (8hr 20 min 2 seconds) bettered Nupur Singh’s previous national record(8.44.27), while Vipul Kumar (7.04.52) eclipsed the men’s mark set by Amar Singh Devanda (7.32.43) the previous year.

It was a promising sign of the rapidly evolving ultra running scene in the country, even though it remains far from the world’s best. And last year’s run has raised the bar for Indian runners at the IAU 100km Asia and Oceania Championships in Bengaluru on 30 July.

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Gawate and Kumar will be back at the start line, alongside Gunjan Khurana and Shashi Mehta (in the women’s category), and Om Prakash Saran, Saurav Kumar Ranjan, Nishu Kumar and Kartik Joshi (in the men’s category). And they will be favourites of sorts as they look to make the most of their familiarity with home conditions.

Ultrarunner Nishu Kumar.
Ultrarunner Nishu Kumar.

When Kumar rewrote the national record last year, one of the things that worked for him was a new fuelling routine. He’s stuck with it ever since.“My coach, Rakesh Yadav, asked me to consume 100-150 calories every 30-40 minutes. And that I shouldn’t miss any of the water stations. My body didn’t feel as fatigued as a result of it. The weather was also perfect for a race like this. Then of course, it’s all very different when you are running for India,” he says.

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“For the race in Bengaluru, I want to continue with the same strategy, alternating between water and electrolytes. I don’t plan on consuming any solids for the first 80km, after which I’ll probably eat a banana or jaggery,” he adds. Kumar also introduced swimming and yoga as part of the recovery routine, which he says has worked well for him. Over the last few months, his focus has been on his mileage, logging 120-140km each week.

“Almost 80% of the training was dedicated to mileage and 20% was based on speed work. I plan on doing the first 80km at a really fast pace and then run the rest based on how my body is feeling at that time,” he says.

Ultrarunner Kartik Joshi.
Ultrarunner Kartik Joshi.

After picking up an injury last year, Nishu Kumar had to be patient when he resumed training in January. What aided his progress were the tools at his disposal at the Army Sports Institute in Pune, where he is employed as part of the biomechanics faculty. He constantly monitored his progress over the first few weeks, and eventually got back to taking on a full load during training.

Nishu planned important workouts on alternate days. The weekend was dedicated to a long run of 30-50km. Midweek, he would plan a tempo run of 20-30km, where he progressively increased his pace over time to eventually hit his marathon pace of 3 minutes 30 seconds per kilometre. On other days, he would schedule an interval training session, two strength workouts and a slower recovery run of around 15km.

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“During the long runs, I would stick to the same pace and fuelling pattern that I plan on maintaining during the race. I’ve had to be consistent while trying to get back to peak performance and I feel like it’s worked out quite well for me. My target will be to get a personal best at the event in Bengaluru,” says Nishu, who clocked his fastest 100km in 7 hours 37 minutes in 2001.

Kartik Joshi comes to the race on the back of a stellar performance at the Comrades Marathon in South Africa last month, where he was the fastest Indian and the first to bag the prestigious silver medal. However, he sees the IAU race presenting a different challenge.

“It starts with the course, which is a 10km loop as compared to a route with a different start and end point. So it can get quite taxing mentally as you count down the distance with each loop. Then, there’s the Bengaluru weather, which can be cold in the morning, hot in the afternoon and where you can expect rainfall by evening. You always have to keep these things in mind and plan the race accordingly,” he says.

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Over the last couple of weeks, Joshi has been maintaining a consistent schedule. He starts his day with a pre-dawn swim, which he says is the perfect activation for his muscles. The daily mileage of 45km is split into three sessions, interspersed with yoga and gym workouts. The sleep cycle of eight hours is also spread out across three times of the day, while Sundays are reserved for rest.

“Starting the day with a swim serves a dual purpose—it reduces soreness in the body and also warms it up for the run session that follows it immediately. But even before hitting the pool, I take 30 minutes out to analyse the things that I’ve done wrong, set them right and chalk out my plan for the next few days. There are few distractions during thosepredawn hours and it really helps me structure my training,” he says.

Vipul Kumar too prefers to rise early in the morning and visualise the day’s session.“For instance, if the next day is a speed workout, I go to sleep with the session in my mind—what I plan on doing, my goal and how I will put in my best effort to finish it well. And I wake up with the same thought. Once I’m through with it, I analyse how my body has responded to it. All these things make you believe in your training,” he says.

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He has incorporated a diet which has 60% carbs and 40% protein to help with recovery. The daily hydration is equally important, where he consumes 6-7 litres of fluids that include electrolytes.

Nishu Kumar has stuck with the nutritious meal options at the Army institute, which also caters to a number of Olympians. Besides regular home cooked food, Joshi has depends on micronutrients to cover the deficiencies of his regular diet. “The food we consume each day isn’t enough to sustain the effort of ultra running, so I also look at things like hydro fibre and multi vitamins. The medication is also well planned based on what I need at a particular time of the day,” Joshi says.

In the run-up to the race, Joshi finished two long runs of 54km and 39km, before dropping the mileage. He wants to continue swimming to reduce the soreness in his body. Vipul logged a weekly mileage of around 90km, with one long run of 30km. A day before the race, he wants to take on light stretches and work with a resistance band on specific muscle groups such as his glutes.

“I’ll tuck into a heavy breakfast and lunch and finish an early dinner. A lot of the focus will be on hydrating well. I want to target my own national record and I hope to clock a sub-6.45 timing,” he says.

Shail Desai is a Mumbai-based writer.

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