Milind Soni, KOBRA Battalion | Oxfam Trailwalker Mumbai 2019
I have always felt lucky in my life — somehow good things just tend to drop in my lap. And here is another addition to the list, another such experience that I will always cherish through my life.
The well-prepared and experienced team of Sanjay and Mahesh hit a major roadblock when a team member fell sick with high fever just 3 days before the 100km Oxfam Trailwalker event. Thus the opportunity came to me to join this team.
100km trail was set around Karjat-Neral area, near Mumbai and teams had to complete in 48 hours from Friday 6am to Sunday 6am, the weekend of 13 December 2019. My team had planned to complete in 22 hours — 20 hours of walking time and 2 hours for stoppages at checkpoints for food, physiotherapy and other supplies.
Initially, I assumed this to be an easy target as 5km per hour is a comfortable pace. But soon I realised trail walking is not as simple as a plain road walk and 5km per hour is actually a fast pace, and to maintain it for 100kms was a tough challenge! Another unknown challenge was to walk continuously without night rest. It becomes a physical as well as mental game.
JOURNEY INTO THE UNKNOWN
We started off well in the first phase but by 10am it started becoming hot. 11 to 3 was too sunny and open, unshaded trail took the first toll towards our target. Our Captain, Sanjay was quite aware that it will be cooler by the time we reach the 60km mark, and we will be able to accelerate our pace. My concern? It was unknown territory for my body, I did not know how the body would react.
We had finished half the walk (50km) by 5pm and at that time the weather improved dramatically. We quickly covered another 7-8km before it would start getting dark and limit or completely rule out our chances of increasing pace by short runs. Just before the 5th checkpoint, my running sandals broke, so I had to switch to shoes. This was an alarming situation as it could increase my problems. I am a barefoot sandals runner as my feet, being too broad, have a tendency of blisters in shoes - and with 50km still remaining, I would certainly get a few. Nursing staff were happy to help me tape my feet extensively.
At 57km, Sanjay’s son Hameer joined us for a 13 km section to push the pace. He did a splendid job as our support crew. At 10pm and 70km, everyone was tired so we all took a physio break, to stretch our bodies. That really work wonders as we felt fresh and ready to walk for at least 6 hours straight. We moved on.
HITS AND MISSES AND NEW TARGETS
It was around midnight, and 80km, when our bodies started retaliating and minds began playing games. I was feeling very sleepy. With each other’s support and cheering, we continued. At around 84km, I was dizzy and unable to continue, so took a mini break and sat down. Luckily, Sanjay had a chocolate which I consumed, and drank some water. After a few minutes, I was feeling better.
Our target of a sub 22 hours finish was already out of reach. And at the 84th km, more than 3 hours of walk looked impossible for me to finish without rest. I ate another energy bar and felt better - low sugar level must have been causing dizziness.
As we reached the last checkpoint at 92km, I had tea and some physiotherapy stretches, while team members strategised for the finish line. With some pacing we were hoping to do a sub 24 hours finish.
CHARGED UP TO THE FINISH LINE!
Last leg was a complete trail walk unlike what we had expected. But the team was charged up and each kilometer timing was being tracked now. When I saw the 96km board just before 23 hours, I knew we will make it, though cramps or dizziness were still a concern in the back of the mind. Team wanted to run to the finish line but we never hit the road until the final 100 meters. But the job was done, we were on our way to achieve our revised goal.
It was unbelievable for me to take on such a challenge. All thanks to my team and our support crew. For the record, we officially finished in 23:55:48 hrs and were ranked 5th. Very satisfying.
READY FOR 2020
What an event! Simply marvellous! Arrangements at each of the 9 checkpoints were carefully planned. Dedicated energetic teams for nursing, physio and all other volunteers were great help. Staff helped participants be at ease and save time. Route markings were perfect with orange ribbons, white paint on road or tree or walls, and small reflectors for night, that it was next to impossible to lose your way. Hats off to them for such meticulous planning and execution. I would love to come back and encourage others to join.