My Six Days in Colac
The fullness in life lies in dreaming and manifesting the impossible dream. - Sri Chinmoy
Australian Six Days Race began at 1.00 PM on 17th Nov. 2002 in Colac. It was an oval track of 400 m. at Colac Memorial Square. It is one amongst only four Six Day Races in the world. It was without any prize money, or incentive or whatsoever. It is to test that how much a person can pull on his strength, physical as well as mental. Ultramarathon – a sport that lacks any glamour or hype, but what ultrarunners possess is courage that defies common sense, mind power that defies science, and an iron will that is the envy of many. They shun conventional wisdom and physical limits.
Among the 26 participants, I was the youngest and that too without having any experience of such long multiday races. I was quiet novice barring few performances. I was the only runner from India and the others were from Australia, Canada, Hungary, Japan and New Zealand. One rule of the race was “No Crew, No Start”. So Mr. Phil Essam (a humane personality) crewed me for first 12 hours. After that he went back to Royal Australian Air Force base, Point Cook and deputed Mr. Warren with me for next 12 hours. Warren is a member of Australian National 100 Km Team. Being unable to withstand the biting chill at night, I had to remain outside the track for four hours. When I got up my whole body was aching and I almost started walking. Here I faced a strange thing (about which I heard very much) anything I want to eat it give a feeling of vomiting. Due to intense exertion and fatigue coupled with hunger, I had to slow down my speed and could cover 93.2 km in first 24 hours. At noon Warren went and Hemant , Baldev Singh and Choudhary came from Melbourne to see me. It was sense of relief to see them. Hemant is son of my colleague Mr. S.S. Rawat and had gone Australia for higher studies, Baldev is a taxi driver and married to an Aussie girl and Chaudhary had also gone there for higher education,
I discussed them it was quite hard without handler besides the cold was unbearable. After wearing 8 layers of uppers, two trousers and 2 woolen caps (one did not suffice), I still felt cold. I ask them to bring some rice, vegetable and something that could fill my belly. They brought vegetarian pizza and curd. They brought some fruits, chocolates and chips also (but I could not use them). The main rules of the race were that one has to cover at least 65 km in every single day and one cannot remain out of track for 6 hours at a stretch otherwise it would lead to elimination. Now we centered on only aim of completing the race and to escape from “Did Not Finish” (now I realize that it was my feeling of insecurity developed from absence of crew). After some time these three fellows went back. It was one of the toughest 6 Days Race in the world with 8 of top 20 of world’s best multiday runners and I am alone there from one billion Indians. I had the greatest responsibility of finishing the race. The main problem with me was of food. Whenever I had to stop for eating, my legs got stiff and it took a long time to renew the flow. The time in stopping & eating made me feel that race will be quite impossible to finish if it goes like this. So I stopped only when the hunger clawed on me. Though it covered some kilometers but it pained my legs, and particularly hips, due to continuous hunger and fatigue. I was continuously getting fax messages from my coach Mr. Phil, which gave me a source of inspiration. At night, before I could fall on to the track I went to the tent for relaxing myself. Pain and hunger made me asleep but without crew I rested more than 4 hours, against my wish. Though I was to take rest for four hours only, I continued to sleep for quarter to six hours. I perceived in my dream talking Mr. Bill Sutcliff, the President of the Race if Arun (myself) goes on sleeping for 15 minutes more, he would be eliminated from the race. Actually he was talking this to Michi outside my tent and I was lucky enough to wake up in time and thus saved myself from elimination. It was 2.00 am. I came out of the tent and Mr. Bill remarked “good”. I started shuffling. I felt my nose was bleeding. Shooting pain and extraordinary chill made me nightmare. The second day I covered 77 km.
Third day started at 1.00 PM, Nov. 19. I ran together with Mrs. Elvira Janosi, a top class experienced multiday runner. Her husband was a crew for her (and her coach also). She said to me, “You can do it” and “after four days you’ll feel happy”. Someone had rightly said that you can repay a debt but can’t repay the kindly words and her kind words gave me solace.
On that day I ate a little (which was my compulsion) resulting swelling in my legs and locking up the ankles. Mr. Phil came to know about my deteriorating health, he assured me of meeting on Wednesday in person. My problem was that I had to take soup from the hospitality tent which meant relaxing and then jam packing of my legs. On Wednesday Bill Sutcliff brought me some rice and some veg. Up to the end of third day I covered 255 km. Race Commentator Mr. Tony Rafferty was continuously giving me fax messages received from Phil. Some of my friends in Planning Commission also sent some emails to encourage. Now I was running with only one strategy, put one step after one. I started covering each lap with each alphabet of the names of my family members and in this way I distracted my attention and could some how prolonged my race. My condition worsened and the pain started from hip passing through my knees that stopped at my left ankle resulting in non-bending of it. The pangs and suffering of loneliness made me more miserable & I could not stop willy-nilly as to stop to relax may mean stoppage of my race. At 7.00 PM Mr. Phil came with his wife Belinda and daughter Laura. On seeing my condition he took me to Dr. Raymond Carroll, who is one of the best experienced physiotherapists in Australia and served in many Westfield Sydney to Melbourne ultramarathons. On examining, he opined that this symptom resembles and lead liver damage and I had to take something (like herbal soup) compulsorily to escape. He and his assistants gave me a good massage to fix the problem. Luckily a lady named Mary came for evening walk accompanied by a girl named Indira, originally from Kerala, India. Mary had been there in Colac for 31 years. Lady crew (I just not remembering her name) of Julie Shrag from Queensland inform her that an Indian boy is also running whose condition is very serious got weak and eating nothing. She had a talk with Mr. Phil and took me to her home and served with some rice, veg and delicious rayata. Phil had to go back at night. I saw pain and despair in his eyes and he gave me a hint to leave aside 500 km or Indian Record (478 km) but exhorted enthusiastically to complete the race. Belinda embraced me. They left.
Next morning I received a cassette from Mr. Pat Farmer, Member of Australian Parliament via Colin Gowan which is a documentary of Pat’s famous run around Australia “For The Centenary of Federation” in 1999 in which he ran 14,986 km in 195 days. During my stay with Colin, we visited Australian Parliament House in Canberra to meet him but due to the busy session we could not have a chance. Colin talked with his secretary about me and was assured that Mr. Pat will be informed. And, very unexpectedly, I was in receipt of this cassette. It was a nice feeling. This kind of generosity is the thing I found exceptionally common in all ultrarunners and also one reason why I love ultrarunning.
The 4th and 5th days were like the worst period of my life. Countless tears dropped off from my eyes. At night (I can not remember on which date) Tom Andrews showed me the growing moon over the trees and it was the most beautiful moon I had ever seen. I cannot forget that scenery forever. I had covered 327 km in four days. The pain was unbearable, unmatchable. It was something like pricking of my each and every nerve. I was mentally alert lest I should collapse of inattentiveness. I found a way to seek some strength from the fact that at the time of third delivery I accompanied my wife, Sangeeta, to hospital who bore calmly the delivery pain. We have heard that no pain is greater than this pain. So if a mother can cope, then why not we. I determined not to be tracked off myself , let others lift me out of track if any mishappening. If I forsake this race before finish line, it will be a treachery to more than one billion people whom I was representing, it will be disloyalty to my friends who had reposed boundless faith on me, it would be a disregard to my family and it would be an insulting & shame to my daughters, to whom I always sang stories of bravery & persistence. And to my apprentices. I choose Ultra to make them learn that impossible is not more than a word that exists in the confines of our minds. I thought people (mainly my Department’s) would pounce why he (Arun) went to strive wild goose chase when I did not have even capability to complete the race!
The fifth day dawned with good omen. Feeling refreshed, I started for my race with full spurt. Hardly had I completed an hour of my race and stopped to relax when it pained and could not budge even an inch. I could hardly cross one km in one hour. Only 44 hours left now and once again I found myself in the ocean of turbulence, as hardships never come alone. I was suffering of physical pain as well as the pain of loneliness. To relieve me of this situation, I took my walkman and started to listen my favourite music of ENIGMA MCMXC a.D. ‘The Limited Edition’. This is the cassette, which my daughter Zola likes while have to sleep in my lap, and so it became emotional and I found a great co-relation between tears and pain. With the dropping of every pearl from my eyes, it lessened my lacerating pain. What an entice of ultrarunning ! even tears are helpful.
40 hours remained. For the last time I went to information center to check the e-mails with the hope that a word of encouragement would be like to catch a straw while drowning. I got the messages from my bosom friends Colin Gowan and my coach Phil Essam. To my consternation I received hardly any message at this time of dire need from Planning Commission. Though the colleagues were whole heartedly backing me through the harmonious, cordial and inexplicable and inaudible voice of their heart. Through the results of the Race website, every four hourly, the Phone No and Fax No. were displayed of the Race venue. All my efforts to go to information center proved futile and I felt very disappointed. With extreme pain, I left an e-mail for them ending with “why don’t you send some lines, please send”, and went back to track again. Legs were so stiffed and extremely pained that if I had a rest at night and would think of starting in morning, I suspected whether I could be able to achieve the minimum 65 km to escape from elimination. I continued slowly, but steadily.
After some time, Jevvan McPhee came to me and offered himself to assist me. In this race God helped me in many shapes and Jevvan proved to be one. He is one of the top ultra runners of Australia but was unfortunately disqualified on the very third day of the Race because of being out of the track for more than 6 hours at a stretch. He also faced the same problem like me “no crew with him”. Though I always desired to ask him for some help if he could but I hesitated all the time. The same was the vision of McPhee, a coy and he also could not ask any one to get him up if he continues to sleep beyond six hours who ultimately fell a victim of the rule which debars an athlete who sleeps for more than six hours at a stretch. I assured him to complete the Race for him also. Time and again, he vigorously massaged my legs with painkiller gels. He himself put-off and put-on my shoes and socks and served me with soup, Milo, hot chocolate etc. It all alleviated my sufferings to some extent. After covering 38 km at that night, I relaxed and slept calmly and comfortably (for the first time) in his caravan under his vigil surveillance and as promised he got me up after exact 4 hours at 5.15 AM. After wards he went for a rest. Despite his adverse condition (his body was also very sore) he helped me to cover 65 km to avoid disqualification. It was a sunny day and with the rays of the Sun my faint body became blossomed and a bit active. This time Julie’s crew (I still not recollecting her name) also started to assist me. She regularly supplied juice, water, biscuits, ice creams etc. which were of profuse and immense vitality and strength to me. By the end of the 5th day at 1 PM I had completed 74 km for fifth day and Jevvan McPhee astonished at my unexpected marvel performance. 402 km were completed in five days.
Now the last 24 hours were left to complete the destined Race. Although still a hard task ahead to accomplish but I started to see the light on the other end of the tunnel (Phil said it on second day but I took five days for it). As the Sun today again rose with every hope and inspiration to me eroding my languor and lugubrious state of mind. McPhee supplied a baked potato with some yogurt on it and we decided to first take a good massage and then start nonstop for the whole remaining time.
I set my heart upon hitting a target of at least 500 km. 65 km were inevitable to avoid debar from the Race and 77 km were necessary to surmount the Indian National Record for Six Days made by Thirtha Kumar Phani in 1987 and 98 km were required for 500 km (to be first Indian to cover 500 km in six days period). Because of McPhee’s continuous assistance I covered 32 km up to midnight. I was determined to complete the remaining period without any sleep or stoppage but I found that Jevvan has gone away (actually he was also doing a hard job even after his miserable condition, he was in some fever also, and he had to take rest). His leaving proved me very doleful and bitter and I could not move even an inch without continuous hot feeding. I was forced to take some rest and lay down in my tent and slept.
When I awoke it was 4.30 AM , only crucial 8.30 hours left now and 85 laps were must to surpass Indian Record. It was not difficult but not so easy also. I started slowly but surely, 10 laps per hour were necessary. Julie’s crew started serving me with eatables. She was much concerned for me from the starting. Then Mr. Miskin came to me (as ill-luck he had, he could not complete his race due to blistering) and asked what I wanted. I with lump in my throat and tears in my eyes told him that either way, 85 laps are essential to complete and asked for pain killer tablets. He gave me Panadol tablets and after 2-3 laps it worked. Jevvan had also came. I started to walk and talk with Brock Mckinlay (his wife was crewing for him who is also an ultrarunner) and two hours passed easily. His company diverted my mind from my body pain and my speed was accelerated up to 12 laps per hour. At 142 hours (approx.) the Indian Record of 478 km was equalized. Then I went to toilets and started to wear-off one layer of clothes per lap. Jevvan was amazed to see 8 layers. Now I was in shorts and single for the second time in the Race. The sun was above the head and it was a great warm day. I am used to run in hot weather. I accelerated my speed but it was momentary and my left knee ensued persistent intolerable pain, of which I had the premonition. For this time, I was with my Ram Ban (sure shot) which can never fail. I cherished the sweet memories of my loving children Yiannis, Sofia and Zola. I reiterated each alphabet of their names to cover every lap. It could never happen to jump a letter of the word or incomplete the word of my affectionate children. In the very last finishing hour I covered 10 km, which was the best performance of my any single hour in whole six days. Firstly I thought I covered 490 km, but it was 492.1 and I was ranked 15th. It is the new Indian National Record , the first ever Indian to cover 300 miles in six days.
(i) Inexperience: I had no experience of multiday footrace. In each sport a person always gets the lessons first and after making much deliberations and giving vent, a person gets the experience. But in Ultrarunning the scenario is otherwise. Here a person has the experience, the torments, hardships and intricacies, then only he learns a lesson from it. Unfortunately, in India such type of adventure or sporting events are neither held nor supported. Lack of experience tolled upon my performance beyond redemption. In preparation before the race I could only imagine a picture of the race, its probable hardships etc. and up to an extent I succeeded with my tactics. But on the other hand a utopian can only perceive the bottlenecks of paramount importance, but until and unless these are overcome, they come across as a stumbling blocks. No doubt the dreamers of the dream are the real makers of this universe but the dream should be practicable and the right infrastructure and paraphernalia be made available to realize it.
(ii) Weather : I could not withstand the biting chill and the freezing atmosphere. One of the reasons may be that I was losing strength and energy which was not being renewed due to less intake and resulting with low resistance power. The others were running in single pairs whereas I was running in eight layers of clothes and still the shivering was not getting rid of me. Running with eight layers in itself is quite ridiculous and embarrassing. The temperature varied around 30 Centigrade which in Delhi hardly goes during the peak winter.
(iii) No handler: It was the worst and biggest weakness which stood in my way as a hurdle and cliff in my way, I was handicap without handler. It was quite arduous and unwilling to put off the shoes, socks, and to take eatables etc. I could not perform these necessary activities freely but did only when it was extreme, it also impairs the efficacy and strength. I personally felt the presence of a handler is indispensable. I would have definitely come up with better results had there been someone to render me his services in those pigmy affair. The 13th finisher was only 10 km ahead of me. Without handler all the strenuous and odd jobs were to be done by myself which exaggerated my sufferings untold and unlimited or I can say that every little jobs (like lacing the shoes) became a very hard work. Hell with it! Without handler I could consume only one days of my usual diet through out all six days, which had also told upon my health an performance irretrievable.
I am indebted to Planning Commission who extended all help, morally, ethically and monetarily to perform this colossal task. Though I would specially name Mr. Rajan Katoch, Jt. Secy. and Mr. G.P. Grover, Dy. Secy. who whole heartedly persistently forwarded my case to make it possible and Mr. K.C. Pant, Dy. Chairman for his kind permission to enable to participate in this esteemed race.
I extended my gratitude to my parents, my loving wife and kids who prompted me to devote my most of the time in preparation.
I am grateful to Mr. Colin John Gowan who has bestowed so much faith and strength during a-week stay with him in Sydney. The departing words of Colin’s wife Penny “Don’t be nervous” are still delighting in my mind and echoing in my heart and, thus, igniting a source of energy. To the previous guiding messages from George Audley, Tom Andrews, Andrew Lovy and Mihaly Molnar during my preparation for this race. To Jennifer Suzzane (crew with Andrew Lovy from USA), Michi (crew with Akihiro from Japan), Tom Andrews (USA). Very much to David Jones (Aus) who always continued to ask me for a smile and laughed every time I smile. I am very thankful to the race commentator Tony Rafferty (a veteran with many ultra marathon world records in his profile) who put strength and imposed responsibility on me by announcing time and again “he is the only Ultrarunner from a country of one billion people”. It aimed me to complete the race besides renewing my energy. My thanks go to my friends who sent me e-mails that were like oasis in the desert of loneliness.
I am proud of my family in which I got the atmosphere and I have become one among the billion. And afterall, I am indeed grateful to all Ultra Marathon Runners because of whom Ultrarunning is.
At the end I want to write down some of my favourite quotes:
1. Enjoy your pain, you’ve earned it. – Anonymous
2. The only way to define your limits is by going beyond them. – Anonymous
3. It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer or deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
- Theodor Roosevelt, Sorbonne, Paris, April 23,1910.
- Arun Kumar Bhardwaj (with many thanks to Ms. Harita Gaur, a student of Bhagini Nivedita College,Delhi for her immense help in preparing this Report).