I slowly peeled of my socks with the anticipation of finding a leech or two on my feet but I was relieved….there were none! They like the wet weather and this year the race was hot. It was into the 30’s (oC) and with 70% humidity. Luckily the course was pretty shaded by all the jungle trees; silver oak, teak, rosewood, pepper and cardamom.
The race was the Malnad Ultra in the Southern part of India. The name Malnad in Kannada literally translates to Male-naadu, the land of the rain. However, the name is derived from Male (hill) and Naadu (region) in Kannada. Therefore, the Land of Hills amidst the Western Ghats (also known as the Sahyadris), one of the 25 bio-diversity hotspots in the world. It is a region known for its bio-diversity, endless greenery and some of the most picturesque spots in India. The region is also known for its Coffee.
The Malnad and its coffee was the motivation for organising the race in this region. The Coffee Day Global Group gave access to their best coffee plantations for this race and so the majority of the Malnad Ultra course was within privately owned plantations adjacent to the Bhadra Wildlife Reserve in Karnataka.
I flew into Bangalore (officially since 2014 it’s been called Bengaluru when the Government of India restored it to its original name in order to revitalise the national heritage and ancestry). I stayed there a night and explored a little. It was busy with cars travelling in all directions, cows, dogs, rickshaws, beautiful temples, old remains and a friendly atmosphere. The drivers of India love their horns (car horn just to specify!).
I got up early the next day and caught a train to Birur. It was 4hours of experiencing the Indian Railways. It is one of the largest employers in the world with 1.4million+ staff.
I got food and slept.
I then caught a bus to the race venue.
The food and accommodation was excellent although no coffee despite being on a coffee plantation so I never got to taste the beans!
The 80km race started at 0630 in the Lalbagh Estate (there was also a 50km and 110km route).
The first few miles of the figure of 8 course was on road before heading onto jeep track taking us through Byre Khan, to Dod Khan, and then some single trail up to the Summit. The summit, Mullyanagiri, at over 1828m is the highest peak in Karnataka. We then made our way back to Lalbagh via Byre Khan. There were aid stations every 4km and the course was well marked with lime wash on the trees. Being back at Lalbagh meant 50km was done and the opportunity to get more supplies from my drop bag (Komfuel gels) before heading out in the other direction. Again the first few miles where on road climbing to Sampigehutti before heading off on the trails again to Doopad Khan and then back again. The total course was 3052m elevation and very runnable although deceptively technical as mainly of trails were covered in leaves so hiding rocks and stones. I had a chorus of birds chirping and the sound of cicadas throughout the day. I kept my eyes peeled for wildlife which has been previously spotted by the race organisers as they marked the course; giant malabar squirrels, porcupines, black bears, deers, pythons and cobras but I didn’t seen any of these just lots of monkeys.
It was an incredible race. I kept passing people that had gone off too fast or were struggling in the heat. Running in relatively new to India with only 10-15yrs of history but gaining incredible popularity. It seems to be a matter of pride and bravado to enter a race completely unprepared. I talked to many runners who had only run 10km and then entered one of the ultras. Needless to say the DNF rate was high within the 1200 entries. I wasn’t the only foreigner to race; there were some Americans (including Hayden Hawks (50km, 1st) and Corinne Malcolm (110km DNF)), a Canadian (Florent Bouguin, 110km, 1st) another Brit and an Australian. However, it was a joy to finish with those that succeeded and share a sweaty handshake! I was delighted to finish as 1st female with a new course record and 2nd overall in 8hrs 15mins.