The Malnad Ultra 110k

October, 2016 · By admin

Ancient trees, falling leaves, earthy perfumes, light drizzle, encoring cicadas, breathtaking views, furry tails, enduring friendships, bemused onlookers, big hearts, wide smiles, timeless walks, sumptuous feast… are some of what I take back from my recent run at Malnad.

2010 Bangalore Ultra: The last 10km of my 100km, I had spent throwing up, not able to keep anything down. I hadn’t eaten anything solid in the last 11 hrs and relied mainly on gels. Big mistake! I barely made it in just over 12hrs. I thought I would learn from this but the mind quickly forgets, especially after six years.

As most people progressed to running distances of 75k, 100k & 24hrs – I decided to stay at 50k. 50k had become my go-to race distance. I stuck to trail races and wanted to get better at the distance before I went back to doing ultras. And it did get better – I got stronger at the distance but I had got comfortable.

I needed to get out of my comfort zone and see where I was at in terms of longer distances. The Malnad Ultra came just in time. There was always a longing to do a run in the Western Ghats. When Anand mentioned this earlier this year I was quick to second the idea. Joining him for a recce was a bonus as it just helped me decide that this was the race for me.

That was almost five months ago. There was no plan on how I was going to train for the run but I knew I had to do a run of over 60k. This I decided I’d do at  the Kaveri Trail Marathon (KTM) as that was about 3-4 weeks from Malnad. The other race I would do and have been a big fan of was Javadhu Hills Ultra. I wanted to better my timing from last year. Javadhu’s terrain and weather make it a tough course and it has similar inclines to Malnad.

Javadhu didn’t go too well this year. I messed up my pacing, went out too fast and ended up paying the price at around the 45k mark. But I did get a few mins off last year’s run.

This year I did bit of high mileage weeks. I ran a few months on a 7 day running cycle with 65-75 miles per week and peaking at 80+ miles. I thought with this I should be able to do fairly well at KTM and then do a extra 20-30k more at a slower speed.

KTM got postponed. In a way it may have been a blessing in disguise as I did my 80k at Nandi. In 2010 I had done 60k at Nandi (all road) and it seemed to have helped. This year I did 80k of half road and half dirt. Inspired by Manoj Bhat’s back-to-back Nandi 112k which I was not allowed to replicate! (&*%$$£ hahaha!). I used the trail route that Madhu Avasarala had introduced me to in 2007. Now I had no idea on where the trail started but to cut a long story short, I got lost, almost got butted by a bull, climbed boulders but finally found the way (look out for the bulls). Did an 80k in 9.5 hrs. I used my hydration pack as it was easier to not worry about water for most part of the run. Of course I didn’t eat solid food and my stomach was not in a good state ( i doubt I will ever learn!).


The week before the race was pretty hectic as it always gets when you least want it. But Friday came sooner than expected and we were on a train to Birur. With a whole bunch of runners.

Getting to KR Hill station brought back memories of the recce. It was sunny, but cool. Bib collection, room allocation and lunch went by quickly. The rooms at KR hill station can be quite umm.. lets say it’s government run, so don’t expect much (Ask for any room except for #1 in any block).

Malnad May 2016

Malnad May 2016

Post lunch Juggy, Sampath, Reena & I did may be a 1 hr walk to a neighbouring hill through the forest via a waterfall. Very pretty and helped with getting the blood flowing in our feet after sitting for 4+ hours on the bus and train. Juggy casually told us a story about a tiger tracking school kids which stayed with me throughout the race.Thanks Juggy!!

Pre race hike - Malnad Ultra 2016. Photo - Reena Chengappa

Pre race hike – Malnad Ultra 2016. Photo – Reena Chengappa

There was a fabulous dinner that evening which made us doubt if we’ll ever start the race after stuffing ourselves. I had forgotten to bring / organise my pre-race breakfast so Reena managed to get some curd rice for me (saving grace) – only thing apart from oats that I’ve tried having before a run.

Race day

The day went by quicker that I’d imagined it would. I reminded myself that I should keep to a pace slower than I had planned, for the first downhill. I had left a drop bag at 44km with gels and a vest. I was running foolishly with a waist pouch which I had never run with but it was roomy and held all the stuff I needed. It soon settled awkwardly around my waist.

Bling! At the start. photo - Reena Chengappa

Bling! At the start. photo – Reena Chengappa

6AM. A couple of guys went racing off, I stuck to a comfortable pace and wasn’t worried about catching up with anyone – I had another 12 hrs to do that.

Soon there were only 2 of us. Sashwath and I ran for for a while. A good runner and he’s got good downhill technique. I stopped for a loo break, once done I realised I was in a coffee estate and these were coffee plants! (oh shucks I’m sorry).

10km – 30km I was pretty much on my own. I caught up with Vipul close to the 30km mark. He seemed to have slowed down but didn’t seem in any difficulty I  thought he would eventually catch up, given that he’s such a strong runner.

I got to the 30k mark in time for the start of the 50k, so had a bunch of runners to run with. D and Sampath came along and were off at a good pace. A2 and Harish joined me later – we kept a good easy pace. Walked all the uphills had some very mental conversations. They decided to take photos at the 42k rest area while I continued to the summit.

There was no rest stop at 44k mark – so I realised that my drop bag must have been at the 42k mark. I had started regretting not to have checked there. I’d have to rely on what was at the aid station from then on.

The summit was the highlight of the run. My legs weren’t feeling great at this stage but I hoped that was how they’d stay. The summit was spectacular. The reservoir was full, unlike when we came in May.

Malnad Ultra May 2016

Malnad Ultra 2016 – Photo by Reena Chengappa

On the way down I saw Manoj, I met him at the beginning before he took a loo break. He seemed to be doing good. Between the summit and about 60km I met Akriti, Sampath Kumar, Himashu to name a few, all who looked very strong. This is the reason why I like smaller races.

At ~60k mark rest stop I met Brijesh who had realised I hadn’t collected my drop bag and brought it there. Thank you! Good thinking! I had missed all the solid food as the food had taken longer to reach the rest stops. Luckily I had a lot of gels now. I ate some papaya and bananas and carried on.

At the lake (70k) I met Sampath, trying to finish what there was at the aid station. I dragged him out (to save some food for others) of there and we headed up the last 10k to the 50k finish (80k) mark. Most of the route was uphill and we tried to run whenever there was a straight or downhill section.

80k. I was happy to reach the 80k mark. It was great to see all the smiling faces, photographers, friends and family. I ate some delicious sweet potato dish and something else which was very tasty but spicy as hell. I wasn’t thinking and didn’t eat enough especially when my stomach was feeling alright.

From here on I knew it was pretty much by my self till the end. Luckily I had Kieren lead the way for pretty much till the end – a big thank you if you read this!

This was the longest section of the run as I was alone and had time to think. I started singing (no I won’t do that in public) to myself. Songs that I didn’t know words to that I made up as I went along.

Somewhere along the way I came across the famous four cows walking along the way. With my recent nandi experience, I decided not to run but walk past them. Little did I realise that cows aren’t the cleverest of animals, so they just started running. The path was such that they couldn’t go anywhere. Every time I got near them they started running again. This seemed silly. I come to a coffee estate, run by the Badra tiger reserve and end up being chased by cows?? No way!!

Just then two people who I had met earlier at the aid station came by on their motorbike. I told them my issue with the cows. They asked whether I would like to climb on the bike. I said no but if they could drive them away, I’d be grateful. They went ahead chasing the cows but the cows didn’t go anywhere. They kept on running and me walking behind them. Finally I asked two excited ladies walking (we were probably more of an attraction than a tiger or leopard), who took pictures and asked what language I spoke, if the cows would do anything? They said no! Feeling very foolish and did something I should have done almost a km before. I ran past them. I hope they don’t hold this against me next year!

After that it was just to trudge along till the end. I got to the last 7km of cement road just as it was getting dark as the cicadas encored and cheered me on.

I should have eaten something at the aid station. I didn’t realise how much energy it would take to finish. I started my journey. After about 3k my energy was so low that I had trouble walking in a straight line. It had gotten dark and I just didn’t want to run on to incoming traffic.  I had a gel which helped to some extent. In all this I had run out of water. I didn’t refill at the last aid station and was paying the price yet again. You miss a lot of signs in the dark and I had no idea how much I had left or if I was on the right road. I pretty much walked all the way. From thinking I could finish in just over 13 hrs (before getting on the road). I wanted to just finish.

~2km mark on the last turn to the finish, walking on the dirt road I hear a voice call out to me. I hadn’t realised how much time I had lost and found Manoj running up to me. He thought I was  a local and was about to ask for directions. I wasn’t surprised at all given his running spree in that last six months. I was actually glad that he was here – we ran for a bit and then I saw Reena and Kieren. I was so happy to see the finish that I sprinted to it leaving Manoj behind. Bad manners on my part! He could have easily won it but let me go ahead – I’m thankful to him and know he’ll go far (pun intended).

I have never been so hungry after a run. I had whatever there was. I had definitely need it much earlier. We waited till Himanshu finished and then I went to bed.


The advantage in running trails is your recovery time. By Tue I was hitting the tracks and tomorrow I’m going to race the half at Bangalore marathon. Malnad is going to be that one race I will do every year. A big congratulations to all the runners – whether you finished or not. A big thank you to the Malnad team – especially to the aid station volunteers. And of course to Cafe Coffeday for allowing us to run in their beautiful estates!  See you next year.

Salomon sense mantra 2 trail shoes
More miles compression socks
Arc compression shorts
Petzl Tikkina Waterproof head torch
Garmin 310XT
Hand held bottle

Gels: Unived RRunn(6)
Hydration: what was at the aid station – Loved the green tea isotonic drink