The 100 Miler

It was the final stretch of the 100 miler route through the Thar Desert in temperatures ranging from 16 to 46 degrees. As part of the team of the Thar Ultra Beast, as it’s aptly called, I was documenting the race while doubling up as backup and support. The lone runner on the burning tarmac was in my line of sight as we slowly drove up to her in the support vehicle.

It was Aparna. The fatigue was evident in the slight, yet determined frame as she kept up the punishing pace to finish what she had started 26 hours ago. I called out to her loudly, cheering her on, trying to infuse my voice with as much adrenaline as I could to get through to her exhaustion. She smiled slightly and asked how far the finishing point was. Under 10 km, I told her, relieved as much for her as for myself that the arduous race was nearing completion. 

The morning before at the break of dawn, the runners had lined up for the mandatory medical check-up before the start of the race, the Thar ultra marathon. A final run-through of the checklist saw shoelaces being double tied, hydration bag levels reconfirmed, GPS configurations calibrated, bandannas and sunglasses adjusted, as the bibs were fastened and the route map was folded away safely. In a way, they reminded me of a band of soldiers preparing for combat, donned in desert gear and dark glasses with backpacks stocked with energy bars and hydration packs, the SPF streaking their faces.

Watching them through my lens, I was gripped by a feeling of Déjà Vous’ as flashes of salt plains and lost lakes from the ultra marathons I had documented before came to mind. However, this one was going to be different, my gut told me. The certainty came from having spent the previous day with the team in marking the race route in the blistering desert temperatures.

The unending sea of sand had stretched before us, dotted sparsely with straggly shrubs that did more to break the monotony than provide respite from the merciless sun. The temperature had read 46 degrees with noon still an hour away, a clear indication of what was in store for the runners. Running in these weather conditions made it crucial for the aid station volunteers, medical team, and the race team patrolling the route to be prepared for every possible emergency.

An ultra-marathon in the desert with distances of 50 km going up to 161 km (the 100 miler) requires as much physical training as it does mental toughness. In addition are the admirable levels of motivation that go into the makings of such gruelling races. It’s quite understandable then, to harbour a belief that these runners must surely possess some kind of superpowers. After all, regular people wouldn’t be participating voluntarily in such insanity, right?

Well, not quite, as I would discover upon meeting this fraternity of businessmen, bankers, college students, software engineers, et all. Their average age ranging from 20 to 50, with a few even older, the superpower they had in common, and in abundance, was the passion to test their limits.

I remember when I met the lone woman 100-mile runner at the Rann of Kutch ultra marathon for the first time in 2014. A software engineer, Aparna Choudhry had started out wanting to be a hockey player when she was at boarding school. Running came to her while in college, at Jaipur, and there’s been no stopping her since. She eats, sleeps, and breathes running.

When I asked what makes her run ultras, she replied, “I do it for the feeling that comes the day after the race is over. The sense of achievement that comes from stretching one’s limits and finishing well is incomparable. It gives you the self-belief that will get you through pretty much anything in life. On long distances, I try to think of funny things, but that lasts an hour. Initially, I want to maintain a pace, but after 20 hours I just want to crawl! It’s better not to think about running when you are running,” she had said, laughing.

As she ran the last stretch to the Pokhran Fort, her mind took over from her body, for running is as much about mental strength as it is about the physical. For Aparna, “When the body hits its lowest point and sends me a signal that it can’t go on – the mind takes over and tells me that I have come this far, I can’t give up. And that lesson stays with you for life.”

At the finish point, we were all there to cheer her in and celebrate the completion of the race. “There are a few things we do in life. which might not be mind-blowing or record- breaking, but they make us so proud of ourselves,” Aparna believes. And I get that.

Somebody once asked me what makes me cover these ultra marathon races where I’m on the move (though not running) for anything between 36 to 48 hours. With barely any sleep or time to eat, my camera equipment is slung on my shoulder as I scramble up sand dunes and watch towers to make my way onto salt plains and hill sides, all the while keeping a look out for the runners. As my eyes scan the horizon for lone village wells for water poured out of earthen pitchers, I know the village women will smile at a strange looking me, and ask me what I’m doing there – a question that I’ve asked myself.

I realise my reasons are not unlike that of Aparna’s – I want to see how I fare when I’m out of my comfort zone and my limits are being stretched. The satisfaction that comes from completing what I started out to do, is incomparable. It is what I feed off when I go about living my every day humdrum life.

Read more by Rashmi B. Nayar


Picture Credit : Rashmi B. Nayar
Featured Image Credit : Kavitha Kanaparthi for Globeracers

55 thoughts on “The 100 Miler”

  1. Loved the way you’ve described the scene of the scorching desert and the runners testing their limits and crossing them. The visual scene came alive for me!

    1. Thanks so much Mona. The desert is a place you are so familiar with…if this made you feel you were there, then I’ve succeeded in what I set out to do.

  2. Mental and physical health alongwith the motivation plays an important role in a person’s life
    A very nice write up !!
    Looking forward to your next 😃

    1. Thanks so much Vaishali. So rightly said, the sky’s the limit when mental and physical health are aligned with motivation.

  3. Rashmi u have a nice flare of writing articles, very beautifully written that reaches to the readers

    1. Thank you so much Pratibha. I’m so glad the write up speaks to you. And even more as a cyclist!

  4. Ma’am I think you outdo yourself with each article.. It’s as though everything is coming alive in front of my eyes.. Just cannot wait for the next gem coming out from your pen 👍🏼😊

    1. Thanks so much Amol. I’m hoping you will give us a write up for the magazine soon on sports, fitness and motivation with your immense experience in the same.

  5. Very well written. You have a free flowing way with the words. It’s catchy as I wanted to finish in one breath. Besides couple of language oversights, beautiful. I specially love…’s better not to think of running when you are running.

    1. Thank you so much for the great feedback Vikram. And that was my favourite takeaway too, with a slight tweak- it’s better not to think of cycling when you are cycling!

  6. Your writing and this article actually transports the person to the destination and makes one feel literally the rush of adrenaline ! Excellent!

  7. Yet another captivating read… makes you stay right through the narrative…with a simple yet powerful message

    1. Thanks so much Bela. Some stories inspire with the simplest of messages…I hope like this one.

  8. Amazing grace under pressure !!! The insight into what makes you take on this task is quite awe inspiring!!!

    1. Thank you so much Kajal. You said it, Aparna is a portrait of so much grace under pressure. And thank you for appreciating my part in it 🙂

  9. Well done again Rashmi as always…With a cup of coffee in my hand which I could not finish after the first sip..reading your article it looked like I was in there…you make them so alive that one feels one is into the action with them…and of course lots of hugs to the hero of the article well done..people like her are a big inspiration…How I wish I could celebrate it with a cup cake with a cherry on the top at the finishing line with her..
    Looking forward for some more such exciting posts by you..
    Loads of good luck to you..

    1. Thank you so much Charu for such a lovely and encouraging feedback. Love the part about celebrating at the finish line with a cupcake and the cherry on top 🙂 Our coffee together is definitely due!

  10. Very nice article … enjoyed and got inspired too ! Hats off to this woman ! More power to her and to u too ! Lots of love 💕 and more success to u ! The coffee is tasting better with every issue ! 😘👍🏻

    1. I love reading your pieces Mrs Nayar. You grab the imagination of the reader and take him to that world. You’ve shared a remarkable story. She may not even know that her lifestyle has become an inspiration for many. This write up will inspire the masses. More power to you!!

      1. Shristi thank you so much for the appreciation. You are so adept at reading between the lines and I’m so looking forward to your write up for the magazine 🙂

  11. I wished the article was not so short. So beautifully caught, the build up, the race, the emotions, the lesson and you documenting it. Evocative, descriptive and enthralling. The grit required for these runs sinks in and admiration for these special people grows manifold. I simply loved it.

    1. Mrs Sidhu, simply loved your words…thank you so very much for your encouragement and appreciation always 💞

  12. Such a well written article Mrs.Nayar, I could visualize the terrain described by you and the runner….Hats off this woman!! Very motivating and inspiring write up.

    1. Thank you so much Shweta…so happy to know that this write-up transported you to the deserts 🙂

  13. Your write up is always a treat to read Mrs Nayar, best part about it is that I could visualise the complete marathon & it’s coverage sitting at my home. So well & emotionally written and the last line which says that the satisfaction that comes out from completing what I started out to do sums it all. Nevertheless who could have described deserts better than you.

    1. Mohita you of all people understand both sports and deserts so well…thank you so much for your words…I take it as a huge compliment that the write-up transported you to the scene of the event <3

  14. Hats off to Aparnas of the world, they give hope and motivation to the rest of us. Rashmi, you are a one strong woman. Admire your chutzpah.

    1. That’s a huge compliment coming from someone I admire immensely for your courageous choices, thank you Himani <3 There are stories I would love to tell about some of your adventures, with your permission 🙂

  15. Rashmi!! Amazing writing skills from an excellent language and literature pro😘😘😄😄have always admired you for your lucid description of things and people and experiences around..!!

    1. Thank you so much my dear friend and most fav co-worker. It’s a huge compliment coming from someone who has always been a perfectionist in everything you do…hugs

  16. Rashmi felt the human resonance of pushing the limits and the endurance both physical and more so mental!! My compliments the flow of your writing is paced with the runner!!

    1. Thank you so much, Anu. Being in the desert definitely inspired this one! I take it as a huge compliment that you found the pace in keeping with the runner, a 100 miler at that 🙂 Hope I can keep up the momentum…thank you again for your encouraging words.

  17. Being a cross country runner myself, I know what it takes to running long distance over difficult terrain. Unfortunately never ran these kind of stretches. I enjoyed reading your well articulated narration. It got me so involved in the run. Wishing more power to your pen.

    1. So glad that this resonated with you. Being a nascent sport, ultra running is a complete revelation to many. The good news is that it’s following has grown in the 6 years that I’ve been associated with it. Will be sure to write more about it. thank you so much for your encouragement.

  18. A very well written piece Rashmi. Fabulously brings out the essence of the event. You have an intrinsic flair to make a situation come alive for the reader.
    Thoroughly enjoyed!!

    1. Thank you so much Tinky. Love that it transported you to the race. You make the perfect reader with your open mindedness towards new experiences.

  19. Perseverance. Fortitude. Patience. The ability to love oneself. All qualities that have eluded me and as a result stopped me from commiting to look after myself. Mrs Nayar’s article, to which I woke up this morning- helped me gain much needed insight into how important it is to commit to oneself when the going gets tough. I ain’t backing down, thanks to you!

    1. More power to you Angie, to believe in yourself and persevere. You go girl <3 Thank you so much for your heartfelt words, it means a lot that this article spoke to you.

  20. Such a well written article, I felt as if I was present there witnessing everything with you. I’m awestruck with these runners who are there to test their limits and push themselves beyond it…it takes a lot of strength…physical as well as mental.
    Really impressed.

    1. Thank you so much for your appreciation Kiran. Awestruck is actually the emotion one feels seeing an ultra marathon seeing the grit and determination.

    1. Thank you so much for the motivating words Shubra. Hope you will continue to enjoy Coffee and Conversations 🙂

  21. Nice account of mind over matter and I like the lessons drawn from the narrative on stretching out of comfort zones for the sake of self belief and accomplishment!! This is why many of us like to walk that extra mile in a sport to have the feeling of being proud !! I can only say this ……. you know this feeling when you personally have walked the talk !! I do believe Rashmi that your article is well written and has the potential to inspire others . Keep up the flow

  22. Mashallah! What a lovely write up. I could almost feel the 46 degrees on my back again. Seeing you in the support vehicle had cheered my spirits immensely. The picture where both of us are standing next to the jeep, grinning away remains one of my favourites till date.

    1. Thank you so much Aparna <3 You are an inspiration, an incredible runner and a wonderful human being...big hug.
      P.S. that photo is my fav too!

  23. Having been on the receiving end of the support of your administration crew during my numerous ultra runs with Globeracers, I m obliged to thank you, as a Cavalry officer too. Amen. 🙂

    1. Absolutely a pleasure Vinay – a Cavalier and a Runner makes for a lethal combo hitting the trails. Thanks a ton for writing in…cheers to good running 🙂

  24. So well described the physical stress..war over mind …and mind rules….Brilliant write up…waiting for many more sojourns.

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