Ultra-runner Kieren D'Souza opens up about what it takes to train and participate in races that are above 100km regularly.
Kieren D’Souza may be a runner but he has opted out of the rat race.
Don’t get us wrong, this 23-year-old Nagpur native is by no measure lazy as he happens to be the first Indian to successfully qualify and complete the Spartathlon, a 246km gruelling race that is often billed as one of the toughest in the world. He also happens to be one of the most successful long distance runners to represent India in races globally.
He really just doesn’t want to be part of the rat race.
Photo source: Facebook
While most people on this planet would consider a marathon to be a really long distance at 42.2km, for an ultra-runner it all really only starts becoming interesting much after that. For instance, Kieren is currently at home right recovering from his last race, the prestigious Hong Kong 100km Ultra trail race. With a participation of 1993 people, Kieren managed to crack the top 100. But his calendar year has just gotten started. Once he feels better, he will head to the mountains in Manali where he will train vigorously.
His day will begin at 7am when he will head out in the sub-zero temperatures to run for about two hours. Post which, he will make himself some breakfast and then begin the strength training portion of the day to ensure he builds the right muscles to help him become a stronger runner. That takes about another two hours.
He will then relax a bit, eat some more food and then at 3pm head out to do some rock climbing to help build his core. And finally he will bookend it all with another run in the evening before retiring for the day.
Photo source: Facebook
If that seems like a lot of work, it’s because Kieren is dedicated. While he has always been athletically inclined since his childhood, he only took up to running a few years ago. In fact, while he was in college in Bangalore, he felt knackered at the very thought of running a distance of 10km.
“I read about some inter-college race and decided to train for it along with a friend. It was 12km in distance and by the end of it, I felt dead. I absolutely hated the experience. However while visiting my folks Nagpur, I found out about another race which was just 10km. I decided to go for it. This one turned out to be a much better experience.”
And it also laid the seed in his system to take up running more seriously. The reason to take up this sport was fairly a simple one – you didn’t have to spend so much money on running and it could be done at your convenience unlike other team sports. Kieren decided to give it a shot and trained for a half marathon (21.1km).
“After training for about half a year, I did a half marathon but I found it to be too easy! So, I decided instead of doing a full marathon, I would just tip my toes and see what it felt like to an ultra distance. I wanted to push myself and didn’t think a full marathon would do that for me, so I went and signed up for Bangalore Ultra and decided to run 100km there,” he says.
While he was able to complete it, Kieren notes that it was the “worst experience of his life” as his body absolutely revolted. “I couldn’t walk for three days! My dad kept laughing at me stumble around with my funny walk as my legs simply didn’t move,” he laughs.
Photo source: Facebook
But that was 2012. Determined that he would make a name for himself in long distance running, he started training specifically for ultra marathons. He also decided that in order to achieve his full potential in the sport, he would have to quit his job and take up running full time.
“I started reading every book I could find on ultra running and did research on Ultra races across the world. I realised that without any major responsibilities, I could take up running full time as long as I adopted a very frugal lifestyle.” It was also then, when he decided to run Spartathlon.
The Spartathlon, which is held is Greece, is said to trace the route Pheidippides, an Athenian messenger took from Athens to Sparta to get help in the Battle of Marathon against the Persians. Oh and it is said that once he completed his journey, Pheidippides sat down and died. This might seem punishing for most of the human population but it is a challenge for ultra runners. To be able to even run the race, one has to qualify to the strict parameters laid out by the organisers of Spartathlon. You should have run a specific number of races in a specified cut-off time making it a hard task for even the most dedicated ultra runner. With only few years under his belt, Kieren managed to do just that.
“To qualify for the Spartathlon you should have already run a number of long distance races in a specific timing. For example they would want you to run 100k in under 10 hours and 100 miles under 22 hours. I qualified by winning the Salomon Bhatti Lake’s 160km Ultra in 2015, in 20 hours 32 minutes.” In the meantime, he also became the first Indian to participate and finish the Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc — Courmayeur Champex Chamonix (UTMB CCC), a 101-km race in France in 2016.
Despite having accomplished so much, Kieren is not ready to rest on his laurels just yet. He has meticulously prepared a list of races he wishes to participate in the next few years and is hoping he finds the right sponsors to fund his dreams. He may have come a long way, for Kieren his race has only just begun.