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Fitness: How a Mumbai doctor aced the art of finishing ultramarathons

At sixty, Mumbai's Anand Patil demostrates that age is just a number by particiating in, and finishing, ultramarathon races around the world

Anand Patil (left) after finishing his Comrades Marathon.
Anand Patil (left) after finishing his Comrades Marathon.

On an assignment in Aurangabad last month, Dr. Anand Patil, 60, visited the gym in his hotel. He wanted to get his daily workout in, an integral part of the routinethat he rarely misses even on the most hectic days. Midway through the session, another guest noticed his jersey that read ‘Comrades Marathon’ and asked Patil if he had participated the race.

“The gentleman was an Ironman finisher with an Ironman kind of body and the Comrades was on his wish list. He was quite taken aback when I told him that I had finished Comrades on ten occasions,” Patil says.

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It’s a reaction that the doctor from Mumbai admits he often gets due to his stocky frame. But as he unassumingly rambles away on his endurance resume, which features everything from testing ultra-cycling races to the gruelling Ultraman (a 515km race that involves running, cycling and swimming), there can only be admiration for all that he has achieved. The ten Comrades Marathons, the last of which he finished on 11 June, is just another feather in his decorated cap.

“I’ve always tried to understand the trade-off between health and fitness. A healthy person may not be fit and a fit person may not be healthy. I knew I was healthy, but I started running at first to test my fitness levels,” he says.

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Anand Patil participating in the Comrades Marathon.
Anand Patil participating in the Comrades Marathon.

During the early years of the Mumbai Marathon, Patil was a part of the medical team that tended to the runners. In 2008, he decided to participate and ran his first half marathon. He returned the following year to pull off the marathon distance. But after finishing the with relative ease, he realised he wanted to test his body further.

When he heard of the Comrades, an 89km race between Durban and Pietermaritzburg in South Africa, he knew he had to sign up for the challenge. Ever since his first Comrades in 2012, he has participated at every single edition. Patil has also picked up a bronze medal on each of the occasions, awarded to runners who finish under 11 hours. His latest run landed him the Green Number, a commemoration for those runners who’ve picked up 10 medals at the Comrades. “To be there alongside other runners who also had the Green Number was special,” he says.

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A lot of the foundation for his performance was laid out during the early races. Back then, the focus was on understanding his body and how it performed in various situations. He kept collecting data from his physical activities, whether running, cycling or swimming, to help him design his training regime. For instance, over the three months leading up to any event, Patil chooses to run ten times the distance he plans on attempting on D-Day.

“What I’ve been able to achieve over the years is not a result of training or coaching, which I feel can give temporary results based on the target you have in mind. I choose to call it a lifestyle, where my daily workouts are sufficient to go finish a race,” he says.

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That first Comrades run had him hooked to the world of endurance sport. Since then, he’s gone on to finish all six World Marathon Majors, 23 Ironmans and triathlons, over 50 ultra marathons and eight ultra-cycling races in India.

“These have all been lovely opportunities to be amid nature, whether it’s soaking in the vastness of the Arabian Sea or enjoying the cool air while riding up a slope. It really energises me. This is why I never get tired during a race and always finish really satisfied,” he says.

Much of Patil’s preparatory work before the Comrades is a combination of endurance, strength, power and speed. His fuelling came from natural foods, half of which consisted of complex carbs, while the rest was derived from proteins or fats. While gearing up for Comrades, he did three long runs: the Tata Ultra in Lonavala (50km), the Kaas Ultra Marathon (65km) and a 53km run in Lavasa. Well aware of what the course features are, after multiple attempts over the years, he knew when to walk, rather than run, on the uphill stretches and the points where he could really push himself.

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“There are at least 12 hills on the course, five of which are major ones. The hard climbing was close to 35km this year,” he says.

A week before his Comrades, Patil also finished the Ironman 70.3 Durban in a time of 7 hours 49 minutes. He used that race to analysed his caloric intake, based on the prevalent conditions, and settled in on around 8,000 calories for the Comrades run.

After rising a few hours before the 5.30am start, he tucked into a few sandwiches and coffee. At the start line, he felt like it was just another training day, as he soaked in the energy of his surroundings. During the run, he consumed the isotonic water on offer and refrained from solid foods. The run panned out without any glitches and though close to an hour slower than his fastest time on the Comrades (9 hours 55 minutes in 2016), Patil was satisfied with his effort of 10 hours 51 minutes.

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“My wife, Vaishali, was really concerned because I had done a half Ironman just a week before. Of course, I was delighted to finish my tenth Comrades, but the joy on her face made it special,” Patil says.“And I celebrated by signing up for the Great Himalayan Ultra, an ultra-cycling race in Ladakh, in August,” he says, laughing.

Shail Desai is a Mumbai-based writer.

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