There are those who celebrate their birthday for a day, still others who believe in a birthday week. Then, there’s Ashish Kasodekar, who likes to make it a year-long celebration in his own inimitable style. As part of his 50th birthday festivities, which was on 26 September, the Pune-based long distance runner decided to run a marathon every day for two consecutive months. The initial plan to attempt it earlier this year was disrupted due to the uncertainties surrounding the covid-19 pandemic. Finally on 28 November, he ran his first marathon at the Savitribai Phule Pune University campus.
“I was ready in the month of April, but had to change plans and start training again around August. This attempt is all about how the body recovers at the end of each day to prepare itself for the next run,” he says. Kasodekar is no stranger to long distances, having run the Comrades Marathon (89km) in 2017 and the Hennur Bamboo Ultra (210km) two years later. He is also the first and only Indian to have finished 555km at La Ultra - The High in Ladakh in 2019.
The training for his latest project was essentially about staying on his feet, while tackling different distances to see how his body felt the following day. Over the three months before beginning the project, Kasodekar ran 20 full marathons, seven of which were on consecutive days. He also took on 25 runs of 35km each, besides another 20 half marathons as part of his preparations.
“There was no fixed weekly mileage that I was looking at as part of training. I wasn’t sure how I could practice for something that needs a consistent effort on a daily basis. And I still don’t know what is going to happen after a month,” he says.
During all his runs, Kasodekar has never focussed on timing. His intent has always been to enjoy the run at a pace that he’s most comfortable, while soaking in the atmosphere around him. “I’m just being careful at present, talking to a lot of people and over time, trying to understand my body. Instead of looking at 60 days of running, I’m just focusing on the next two days,” he adds.
A lot of his attention is on the recovery process, considering he burns close to 3,000 calories each day. It begins as early as the last few kilometres of his run, when he drops his pace and focuses on hydration. After finishing, he adheres to a diet that has been planned keeping in mind his needs. It starts with boiled eggs, sattu and a laddoo made of aliv or garden cress seeds, followed by lunch comprising buttermilk, jowar bhakri and veggies. After a light evening snack of egg and a chapati, dinner is chicken soup, boiled potatoes and rice. “I stick to natural foods for my nutrition as compared to protein bars, gels or whey protein,” he says.
The day starts at 4.30am with warm water, soaked peanuts and amla (Indian gooseberry), and after starting the run at 6am, he tucks into oranges, enerzal and salted dates over the distance. He maintains a pace that would allow him to finish anywhere under six hours.
A team of students from the physiotherapy department of Fergusson College help him with stretches at the finish. There is foam rolling that happens on a daily basis to tackle muscle stiffness, besides dipping his feet in warm water loaded with epsom salt, which he says helps relieve soreness. “The most important aspect of recovery is quality sleep, which is something I have learnt from my previous runs,” he says.
Each morning starts with measuring his pulse rate to analyse how his body has recovered. Every 10 days, the team critically evaluates his condition through medical tests to understand how he’s faring. The only niggle after two weeks of running is pain in the shins that they are currently trying to resolve. The diet is also modified regularly to cater to his palate. A dedicated set of friends tend to his needs on the run, besides documenting every aspect of it. “I’m addicted to chai and post run, I drag one of my buddies to the college canteen. It’s also where I can tuck into some hot batawade, which is a welcome relief to beat the monotony of the same diet. Distance runners have the luxury of eating what they like,” he says, chuckling.
If his body holds up, Kasodekar will finish his run on Republic Day next year. Through his effort, he hopes to create a Guinness World Record. But he prefers to call it a festival of running, rather than an individual attempt. Each day, he invites a new set of friends to join him and tackle a distance that they are comfortable with as part of the event called Ultra Dynamo. He’s had a seven-year-old celebrate her birthday with a 5km run and hockey players from two local clubs dribble along the route. So far, 49 runners have run a marathon with him. “It’s funny how I used to train on my own all the time, but since starting out, there hasn’t been a single day when I’ve run alone. My friends step out every morning so that they can support me. So many people getting involved is enough motivation for me to don my shoes and hit the road each day. Their energy is infectious,” he says. “A few of them have mentioned how crazy an attempt this is, of course, out of concern. But when someone calls you mad, you know you’re on the right track.”
Shail Desai is a Mumbai-based freelance writer.