[Written by Pudhuma]
Thanks to Peter and team for this memorable first ultra hill run!
I am so glad I survived it! I was really eager to participate in one of these after seeing the amazing photos/ videos from previous hill runs. But I am a newbie to running, too lazy to run and had only done 21k. But I wanted to try some new activities in CTC many of which I have not been to yet. I wrote to Peter seeking advice how to prepare for a hill run and hoping to participate in one in 6-12 months atleast, but he replied saying I can join this one!!! yay...I was so excited!! I sought CTC friend Niranjan's advice and asked about his past hill running experience (had seen him in the pictures).... he said I will be fine,..there will be rest breaks and all, so it wont be so intense and he encouraged me to participate. I was very eager to see the scenic hills, the villages, their beautiful people and houses...
I went through the names in the group list. ayyayo.... ivanga ellarum seasoned ultra runners madhiri theriyudhe.. setthom po.( all these people look like seasoned ultra runners- I am going to die!) But then Vipul and Varatha Raja are coming... means lots of fun for sure .. hahha :-) I ditched my comfy cotton salwar kameez which I usually like to run in, and tried dry fit T shirt & pant.. felt awkward and uncomfortable in that, but probably worth it, I thought..last minute shopping, packing and all set for friday evening. It was not so difficult to spot our car at Perungalathur- for it was the only one with a cycle mounted on it :). It was inspiring to meet Durai sir and listen to his amazing stories from ultra runs, triathlons with MTB and his energy drink- koozh (ragi porridge).We reached Kariyalur aroundmidnight and found a warm cozy corner to sleep in the windy campsite.
I had opted for both cycling and running, but since I don't have a cycle nor hill cycling experience, was not sure what to expect.Peter was kind to offer his cycle to share and he said he would also like to run and cycle about 50-50 since he was ''out of shape'' ..!! Whhaaat?!!, he must be joking, I thought. Peteraavadhu out of shapeaavadhu. After breakfast at Vellimalai, Peter asked me if we shall ditch the cycle, and so I got the cue that he was not going to cycle and agreed ;). Planned to share with Manoj, but was later glad after actually getting on the trail that I was on my two feet and not on wheels hahhaa :D .Poor cyclists, so hilarious...observing 4 min silence for the cyclists at the trail turning and off we went running over the gravely trails, jumping over the fields, and climbing the steep terraces of the hills. We stopped to make arrows with small stones at every turn, sometimes Peter drew it on the rocks. Very often we had to retrace our path as it was a dead end !! Sometimes he drew a teasing smiley with a heart or cycle :D
The weather was very pleasant- partly sunny and partly cloudy and now and then a gust of cool wind would bring relief and freshness to our sweaty faces. The smells were so rustic and refreshing- could smell the fragrant herbal plants, the smell of cowdung as we crossed the fields and houses, the smell of smoke from firewood. Loved running in the rocky trails, uphills were challenging to keep running, had to stop and walk steep slopes. It was so beautiful to see the terraced rolling hill slopes.. for most part dry, whereas foothills and some lower slopes fertile and green with Sugarcane, Tapioca, vegetables, ragi, etc. We got fresh lemons, sugarcane and yummy fruits from the trails! The villagers must have thought we were crazy to be running around. The women in the fields draped their saris in a different style. It was nice to see many of the children out in the fields waving at us cheerfully. Women in their homes and were kind to offer us water even though they had to fetch water from far away. In one place the girl got scared and hid at "amma thanni" :D One of the men working in the fields seeing us running asked if we like to do some farm work.Many of the villages were small- just a street or two of row houses. I saw the beautifully constructed bamboo structures for the goats, hens, and the beautiful mud houses with clay tiles and thatch and missed my camera very much- I had left it in the car to keep my bag light :(
Afternoon 1pm snack, we had much awaited power nap under the huge mango tree on a square stone platform. I could not sleep. It was too windy and cold. But rested the legs. As we waited slowly the cyclists joined us one by one.. some more survivors! yay! I slowly learnt all the names of the runners and cyclists, atleast most of them. There was this little boy who looked like a school kid. I hadn't met him before. We introduced ourselves and were so thrilled to know that we were from the same hometown... ada! namma ooru payyana??!! Ranjith slowed down his pace and gave me company for a good part of the rest of the day, as we chatted away.
Then we saw Peter stop for a dip at a stream, we also saw the road ahead led to Vellimalai and without stopping lest Peter changed the plan to some loops and tough trails, stuck to the main road and kept going till we reached Vellimalai. We quenched our thirst with refreshing lemon juice at the juice shop. Then Peter said that we can do a 5K loop to finish the 50K target distance for the day and pointed at a peak somewhere!!???!!. Didn't sound so simple, but still we went reluctantly. Many dropped after first stretch and Mani who had the map led the rest of us through it. But almost midway Thomas got bad knee pain and my legs were done with running, so we walked most of it (Thanks to Govind and Mani for slowing their pace) and finally reached Vellimalai for dinner where everything was over and I was happy to get some curd and rice. Caught up with Priya, Raja, Manoj and Vipul who told us how they ended up doing a different route after missing the trail. We missed you all so much!
Then we reached campsite at Kariyalur.. and thus completed 52K for day1! I wondered why everyone crashed to sleep at 9 pm.. a bed time too early for CTC, I thought. I was not so tired .. infact, felt refreshed after dinner and juice. I was a bit disappointed that there were no stories (i dont mean ghost stories :P) or sharing of experiences of the day, singing or dancing (yeah after that 50K run? you might ask) or other camp fun. I had still not learnt many of the names nor met everyone!
On day 2, I was surprised my legs could actually run normally after what they went through previous day. we set out from another village Kottapatthur. I saw Randhir take a photo of the name of the village on his phone :). It must be a challenge for people not knowing Tamil to run around here in this place, I thought. We started off and before long we were climbing steep terraces....hahhaa poor cyclists had to carry the cycles.. at one point we had to climb right adjacent to a huge well!!! We stopped for a dip at really tiny pond and cooled down the skin.We met so many animals along the way- many unhappy dogs, bored goats, and curious cows. It was scary to cross the bulls.. there was a pair of them at every corner. They were all getting so restless seeing us running. Mani who was running next to me was also in red T shirt like me. At many places we stepped off the road and took difficult route climbing up or down to avoid the bulls. But at one place they were not tied properly- both the bulls. They were getting restless as more and more runners went past, and finally broke loose from the knot and chased us (or so we thought)...that sent Mani, myself and others running into the fields and bushes. Mani fell down in fear.. that was scary!! But the bull was gone in a few seconds- he was more scared .. hahaa :D Thank god!
Kilometers don't seem to increase after first half of day..,..had done only 25K till 2pm!!!! Kottapatthur was soooo faaar across the hills. Quick snack break and very short rest under mango grove at this large village Thalakarai where they had two wells- a stone well for drinking and a muddy well for washing. Our rest place under the mango trees was nice and breezy had a nice view overlooking the paddy fields below. I made myself a simple straw bed to rest. At 3pm , we were back on our feet running. I was slowly trailing behind not wanting to miss the arrows or turns! Saryu was kind to slow and run along and boosted my speed and confidence to catch up with the runners ahead. I saw a very old man carrying a long heavy log of wood on his head and climbing uphill. wow! these villagers work so hard and are so strong, I thought! Last water stop at a village which looked familiar. At the entrance there was a stone shrine made with flat stone rubble and no mortar. The traditional village temples were so simple and rudimentary. I saw many tiny shrines by the road/ in the fields, just made with 3 stone slabs and no mortar. They had no statues, just stones anointed with turmeric for worship.
We stopped to ask how many kms more at every village. The villagers pointed a short cut which was there, but it seemed like we were headed the longer route to complete 50 K for the day! Our destination still seemed so far away... we may not reach before dark.. Govind and Saryu who were running along with me said they were going to walk the rest of it.. but there is about 10kms more and it will be pitch dark in half an hour!! It will be hard to run in dark. So, scared of missing arrow signs and running in dark, I left them and ran without stopping or listening to any leg pain whatever. It was pitch dark when I reached this familiar mango tree.. OMG.. this was where we rested yesterday for lunch!! must be still very far from destination. I ran on and came upon cyclist Kathir who had stopped to send a puppy back to that village it ran away from following him. His pedal had broke. But he managed with one pedal.. other cycles had suffered lot of damages too in the rough trail :P Kathir left in his cycle. And I was left alone in the dark. I did not want to miss the arrows. It is very important to be on right trail, so I took out my little phone and turned on the flashlight and hoped the battery would last till I reach main road atleast. My mind wouldn't stop worrying and I imagined getting lost in the forest and spending the night in the forest...grr...It wont be so bad, I will atleast find a shelter or some locals to help- I knew Tamil afterall! Unfortunately, the trail was so desolate- no houses or even motorbikes. Then suddenly my foot slipped and almost tripped and I saw this soft puppy between my feet. That puppy that came with Kathir!!! 'Go back or stay away from me', I instructed the pup, 'don't come fall under my feet'. It wouldn't listen and ran along closely. okay! Well, atleast for this pitch silent darkness I had one companion :-) I stopped and thanked runners ahead for every arrow I saw.. atleast I am on right trail... oh wait, was it yesterday's arrow??!! Finally after running in dark for about 45 min- 1 hour saw some motor bikes and asked how far to main road and he said our folks were not far away. And he was right for in a few minutes I was relieved to hear voices and saw a part of our group at the main road! They received me with cheer and applause :) We waited for a while for the other members to reach. Was so glad to reunite with the team! 48K run completed on day 2!
And thus I completed my first 100 K ultra run (2 x 50) thanks to the amazing team who gave me the confidence and determination to complete with ease which I would not have even dreamt of doing otherwise! Thanks to Peter and all runners and cyclists for awesome company, energy and support during this adventurous weekend! It was such a memorable experience! Thanks also to Nedunchezhian and Durai sir for dropping us home safely after such a long tiring day!
(Photos courtesy- Govind, Peter, Vipul)