10 things you should about the Tata Ultra Marathon, held annually in February, in the hills surrounding Lonavala:
1) This is probably the most scenic race route I have seen! Beautiful views everywhere. Since the run starts at 2:30 AM, you will experience the sunrise over the hills and sleepy villages, just waking up, during your run! The rooster’s Cock-a-doodle-do, the cattle being milked, the village kids playing with a discarded bicycle tyre, the smoke from the hearth…It’s probably the most beautiful sunrise you may see during a race! As a reference, the views are similar to Oxfam TrailWalker route when it was done around the Pune-Mulshi area.
2) The route is challenging. And let that be registered. Some inclines and declines, and thats pretty much the entire run route, are so steep ‘everybody’ ends up walking them. Some declines are at more than 45 degrees slope! Again, running there is inviting injury…and the body posture going down these slopes is are to maintain, not to mention your toes pushing into the front of your shoes! A recipe for black toe-nails at the end of the race!
3) Some part of the race route, after about 30k is actually trail! That part is uneven with lots of stones, gravel and potholes there. If you are crossing this part in the dark be very careful! You don’t want twisted ankle or a bruised knee!
4)The bus journey back to the start point is a pain and joy! Pain for the body, joy for the eyes! If you sit in the left side of the bus, you get, for most part of the bus journey, fabulous views of the Pawna lake and the Tikona fort beyond! And be amazed at the various camping sites around the lake.
5) The support is phenomenal. (The race is organized by Striders, and most of the support stations are manned by Striders runners! They know what they are doing!) And so are the post race facilities. They had local village ladies, decked in full nav-vari sarees, giving away the medals!
6) One of the best things about this race for me was the realization that Lonavala has much more to offer than the always crowded markets and the ubiquitous chikkis and hotels. There are so many beautiful and expansive vistas in the surrounding hills with quaint properties which would be a joy to spend some days in.
7) Considering that many of the participants are here to train for their Comrades marathon, the race is actually modeled on Comrades style. The reducing km markets (the first km marker reads “49 kms to go”!), the Coca Cola at aid stations, the intermediate cut-offs, etc.
8) It is a must to carry a head torch for the run…while a majority (say 60%?) of the race route before sun-rise is on roads lit with street lights or generator sets, it is ideal to have your head torch left on during those dark hours. That pothole you missed noticing mark the end of your race!
9) Do account for enough time for the 48 and 49th kms. They are the steepest and walking is the only option (unless you are an “elite” runner!). And then you can run in the last km towards the finish line.
10) The goodie bag full of Tata branded grocery products like unpolished toor dal and some flour mixes which would please your wife as well!
And what’s more fun than a really long run with friends? All is good with the world!