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How two athletes trained to smash the Indian 100km record

Ultra runners Vipul Kumar and Om Prakash Saran recently set the new Indian time record for a 100km race. They tell Lounge how they trained for the run

Ultra runner Vipul Kumar.
Ultra runner Vipul Kumar.

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The IAU 100km World Championships in August was Vipul Kumar’s first major international race over that distance. There were nerves aplenty at the starting line, but he was also aware that his preparations had been in place. He was now aiming for the 100km national record of 7 hours, 32 minutes and 43 seconds held by Amar Singh Devanda since March 2021.

By the end of his effort, Kumar had smashed that mark after clocking 7 hours, 4 minutes and 52 seconds to finish in 38th position among the men. What was even more encouraging for Indian ultra running was that his teammate, Om Prakash Saran, had also bettered the previous record with a timing of 7 hours, 25 minutes and 55 seconds, finishing in52nd.In the process, both Kumar and Saran improved on their previous personal bests by a substantial margin. And it took specific work in training to make small gains, which over time, led to their success.

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Ultra runner Om Prakash Saran (right) with his coach.
Ultra runner Om Prakash Saran (right) with his coach.

Kumar, 24, a regular on the marathon circuit for the last few years, ran his first 100km as recently as December 2021. He started training specifically for the World Championships towards the end of March. A lot of his work was based on the race pace he had to maintain to achieve his goal of a sub-7 hour timing.

“I figured that I would have to maintain a pace of 4 minutes and 10 seconds (4.10) over every kilometre to attain that mark. To achieve that, all my workouts during training were at a much faster pace. For instance, my speed workouts over 1km were done at 3.20-3.30. And on a long run of say 50km, I would try to maintain 3.40 over the first 40km and then drop it to 4.0 for the last 10km,” he says. “This was a constant over the four months in the run-up to the event. It made it really easy for me to maintain my targeted race pace eventually,” he adds.

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On the other hand, Saran, 31, made drastic changes to his training routine. Since his first 100km in December 2017, the Air Force man had always focussed on mileage, which he later realised didn’t work for him in the long run. In fact, until August last year, his best time was 8 hours and 1 minute, a mark he achieved at the Bengaluru Stadium Run. It wasn’t until he sat down with his coach, Shreyas Karnad, and chalked out a plan that he could achieve the sub-8 hour mark and qualify for the World Championships.

“I’ve always had a lot of mileage in my legs. Until 70km, I would usually be within a 7.30-7.40 hour timing range, but would be unable to maintain speed after that,” Saran says.

He first added two strength training sessions during the week where he worked on his core, besides targeting specific muscle groups such as the calves, thighs and glutes. On alternate days, he introduced tempo runs and interval training to his routine. His mileage increased gradually, peaking at 240km in a week while tapering down to 40km over the last six days before the race.

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Saran added a rest day to the week and regular massage sessions which were also previously missing from his routine. He also focussed on his diet, consuming about 4,000 calories each day over two meals that included grains such asbajraandragi.“All the changes that I made were gradual, whether it was the training or the diet. So my body didn’t really struggle, which made the entire process a lot of fun. Even the week I ran 240km, I didn’t feel any fatigue,” Saran says.

Over 16 weeks before the race, Saran ran six marathons as part of his training, besides a 50km run. Kumar ran two races—the Bengaluru Marathon and the Tata Ultra Marathon in Lonavala—with specific goals in either.

“The Bengaluru run had a lot to do with understanding how comfortable my body was with the pace I was maintaining. My normal marathon pace is 3.37, but for that race I maintained 3.45 and sustained the effort. The 50km run in Lonavala had hill sections, which was critical for my training. I wanted to do that entire race at the pace I was looking to maintain at the World Championships,” Kumar says.

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With the preparations in place, they now turned their attention to planning the main race. Kumar targeted a slower effort over the first 50km, before pushing his pace over the remaining distance. He looked to pack in 350 calories after every 8km to fuel his run. “My coach, Anuj Kumar,insisted I don’t miss a single schedule when it came to nutrition and hydration,” Kumar says.

Saran introduced gels to his race plan for the first time. Besides that, he stuck to supplements for muscle recovery, and cola and watermelon to change his palate. His race seemed to be on track when he ran the first 42km at a faster pace than he had planned. But fatigue eventually caught up, forcing him to take short breaks.

“The 70-90km section is the toughest in a race like this—it’s all a mental game at this point. I took almost 9-10 minutes of break after the 80km mark, which was uncalled for. But you learn from these experiences and it’s something that is going to stay with me during future races,” Saran says. Kumar missed out on his sub-7 hour target, but was content to have broken the national record by a mile.“I would like to target a 6.30 timing and win India a medal in the future,” Kumar says.

Shail Desai is a Mumbai-based freelance writer.

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