My Story: How I made to Indian National Ultra-running team from being a couch potato and overweight.
Life on social media is simply the highlights of life, the true story is different and sometimes it may be difficult to digest. Everyone faces hard time and challenges. But that is called life. Here, I will describe all the good and bad that has happened to me and my family starting 2011 (the year I got married and moved to the US).
After finishing my PhD at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland in 2011, I moved to the US. I got married with Namrta in the very same year and joined her at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee to do my postdoc in Physics. She was a PhD student in the department of Physics at UW Milwaukee. By this time, I have gained some weight and weighed around 200 pounds. It was very uncomfortable and so I decided to do something about it. I saw some of my friends running half marathons and felt really inspired. That was my starting point of falling in love with the sport of running. Very first day, I went for a mile and felt horrible. But I kept going every day even though, it was difficult to keep motivated. I kept increasing my running distance every day and felt really good. I decided to run a half marathon in Chicago and ran that in 1 hour and 46 minutes. I felt good about that because it was considered a good time for a first half marathon (somehow by my running group in Milwaukee). Although, i have ran 1:42 half marathon back in Switzerland but i was in much better shape at that time.
By now, I have started enjoying running and have lost some weight that felt really great. In 2013, i decided to run a 50k race without ever running a marathon. I ran that race and suffered in last 10k. Some kind of belly pain stopped me several times on the course but I kept moving and finished the race in 5 hours and 19 minutes. Thanks to my buddy Dushyant for driving me to Chicago.
I had found my passion and that was running. Along with some marathoner friends, I started running marathons around Milwaukee area, ran some 50k even in Kentucky and Kansas.
In 2014, I heard about Boston marathon and got excited about that. I asked my friend that I would like to run Boston Marathon. He told me that one can not just show up there. You need need a qualification time and that qualification is very stringent. I was really impressed even with the fact that one needs to qualify to run a marathon. That kept me bothering because I really wanted to experience the joy of running in worlds oldest marathon. I kept running that distance with time around 3 hours and 45 minutes but still very far away from Boston qualification of 3 hours and 5 minutes or faster.
In the meantime, I ran my first 50 miler at iceage trail 50-2013 in 9 hours and 24 minutes. I was pretty happy with that. It seems now that my wish to run Boston Marathon was just a wish and not a burning desire otherwise I would have only focused on that. But one thing became sure and it was long distance running is my joy of life.
In early 2013, i moved to Iowa State University for my another postdoc and did 12 hours commute every weekend. I kept running in Iowa too but that was not enough to qualify for Boston marathon. At the end of 2014, I was let go from the Iowa state and my adviser did not extend my contract. I tried hard finding a job around but failed. That was very rough time in my life. I was depressed and frustrated. By Oct 2014, I moved back to Wisconsin and joined my wife in Madison. She finished her PhD in 2013 and had found a postdoc position in University of Wisconsin Madison. Jobless and frustrated at home, I kept going for some runs to keep my head clear of unnecessary thoughts. I kept applying for jobs and got multiple rejections. My wife was pregnant at that time and so it was even tougher for me to be jobless.
My daughter Kavya was born on January 27, 2015. That was the most blissful moment in my life.
But life is always not as beautiful as it look on social media. Every has their fair share of struggle, frustration, sadness and other things when everything seems going against you.
I got appendicitis
Kavya was only 18 hours old and I felt some acute pain in my belly. Initially, I thought it is some kind of muscle pain but that did not go away at all even after 14 hours. I was in the hospital with my wife Namrta and our new born Kavya. I requested a nurse to take me to the emergency in the same hospital. Doctors asked my symptoms and they suggested me to go for a CT scan. Test results showed that I had acute appendicitis. Doctors advised me to go for surgery immediately. Otherwise, i have risk of septic-a deadly blood infection. I was rushed to the surgery room and they successfully removed my appendix. Thank god, we had some awesome friends with us who helped us in that difficult time. My in laws was also with us and so the situation was slightly better just because of their presence.
My Wife’s Caught Infection
I started recovering very fast but then Namrta got some kind of bacterial infection and she was referred to another ward. We were still in the hospital.
They found E. Coli in her blood and her situation got worse each day. She had very high fever and was having hard time breathing. I remember horrible nights when Kavya was crying because of hunger and when i fed her with formula milk, Namrta was breathing hard with her oxygen mask on. She sometime will ask me to give her water. I had leave kavya crying for some time and help Namrta drink water. Nurses in the hospital was very helpful but two of us having some medical conditions at the same time was too much for us. Namrta and I stayed in the hospital for 4 weeks and fortunately she got better. We went home one month after kavya was born.
Good days ahead
In the meantime, I found a postdoc in the food science department of UW Madison. Being a PhD in physics, people wondered what I have to do with food science? But that is the best thing that could have happened to me. I will explain it later, why that was the best thing. I worked in the group of Professor Rich Hartel in UW Madison.
I joined a running group in Madison and found some extraordinary runners who had already ran Boston Marathon. It seemed like Boston marathon qualification is not a very big deal for any of them. Most of the runners were really fast. I kept showing up every day even when everyone was running faster than me. I was still heavy around 180 pounds but not as bad as I used to weigh. During 2015, I decided to give Boston qualifier another try and worked hard towards my dream of running Boston marathon in 2016. I could not qualify again due to back injury and lack of proper. Since I was desperate to run in Boston, I restarted my training and planned for several qualifiers, I knew that anything below 3 hours and 2 minutes should put me at the start line in the city of Hopkinton (Start line of Boston Marathon).
In the second half of 2015, I restarted running by consistently putting 80-90 miles per week. Here are some of the qualifiers I ran in 2016.
- April 2016: Eisenbahn Marathon in 3:04:42 and qualified for Boston for the first time-good time but not enough to make to the boston cutoff
- May 2016: Ran Green bay marathon in may 2016 and clocked 3:02:51 (almost not good enough but still 1 second faster than the 2017 cutoff) i barely made it. I knew that it will be still risky with this time so i gave it another try
- September 2016: Last chance BQ -ran 2:58:48(this time I made sure I am going to Boston). My consist hard work and never give up attitude helped me a lot. 2017.
I ran Boston in 2017 and had a terrible race. It was hot and course was really hilly. Apart from that, I could not sleep the night before but what a wonderful experience it was. I finished the race in 3:09 with my buddy David Van de Walle. My friend Sudhir and Aakansha hosted me in Boston and took care of me. Thank you both for being such a great host.
May 2017: I was in good shape and thought of running Iceage 50 miles in 7 hours and 30 minutes. First 25 miles went well and i was maintaining good pace but after mile 30, my wheels came off and I felt super dizzy and tired. At one point i had to lean to a tree because my head was spinning and i wan unable to move. I still finished the race in 8 hours and 38 minutes. I was not happy but learned a lesson to hydrate well during races like 50 miles or longer and always keep some kind of gels in the pocket.
Oct 2017: I ran race of my life in Hennepin 100 miler where I broke the Indian National record of 100 miles and became fastest Indian to run that distance. This time is still the second fastest time ran by an Indian National. Year 2017 was great as far as my running performance was concerned. I also go a permanent job in the beginning of 2017. However, my job made it difficult for me to commute two hours everyday from Madison to Beloit. I still do that but somehow manage my time between running, family and job.
2018: After glorious 2017, i trained hard for mad city 100k and i started focusing on long distance races. Again first race of the year and i failed very badly, first 50 k was good but i really suffered in the last 50k, my time at the end was 9 hours and 22 minutes whereas i was expecting to run that distance in 8 hours and 30 minutes. Since I have had nutrition issues during the long distance races, I decided to change my diet and hired Anthony Kunkel as a coach. Even with that time (9 hours and 22 minutes in Madcity 100k), I was able to make to Indian national team for world championship in Croatia. Running a great race in Croatia became my No.1 goal. I put countless hours of training in heat, did core strength, control my diet and religiously switched to keto diet. Here is what i ate on that diet. I lost quite a lot of weight and felt just wonderful by being on that diet and stayed in the state of ketosis. Training went really well from April 2018-Sept 2018 and I ran race of my life. It took me 8 hours and 27 minutes to cover the distance of 100 kilometers. That became second fastest time ran by an Indian for that distance. The Indian record for 100k is 8 hours and 7 minutes and I am working towards that goal.
Hardest days of my life
Everything was great. We performed very well and everybody was impressed with the performance of Indian team at the world championship. It was the first time that India participated in world championship. We exceeded the expectations of Indian ultra runners who were following us.
I went to India for my US visa stamping and my wife told me that my daughter is getting very high fever from last 3 days. Doctors said it is some kind of viral infection and she should be fine. But her fever did not subside. It did not get better. Even after 10 days when her condition got worse, my wife called the doctor and they asked her to bring Kavya to emergency. As soon as they checked her blood, Kavya was rushed to ICU. Doctors did not know what is going on and Kavya was in really bad condition.
I have had applied for my Visa in the US embassy but they did not issue me visa. I went again next day and pleaded that my daughter is in ICU. I needed to go back to the US. But US consulate asked me to submit more documents and wait. I came back and kept calling my wife to know how kavya was doing. Her condition deteriorated further and she was not able to breathe properly so doctors put her on ventilator. I video called my wife and saw kavya breathing really hard. My heart started sinking at that time and I could not control my tears. Namrta and I were numb. I could not say a single word but kept looking at Kavya (in video). The only time I felt like that was when I heard that my cousin had died in a car accident. That was in 1996 and my cousin was only 28 years old.
I went again to US embassy with my brother Viraj and they told me that they can not do anything, I need to wait. That was point in my life I had to believe in god and pleaded for well being of my daughter. I tweeted to all big ministers in India, Secretary of state in US and all other departments to help me with my visa. Kavya was now on ventilator and her blood markers was not good. Every day, doctors checked her blood to see the improvement in her condition and fortunately she started responding and her inflammatory markers came down a bit. Slowly, she started getting better and doctors removed her from the ventilator after 5 days but she still had feeding tube attached to her via her nose.
My brother Mohit came from Switzerland to help Namrta take care of Kavya. My friend Manoj, Neetu, Ashish and Gunjan, Marin along with my boss Rajesh helped us a lot during that difficult time. Thank you all for doing what you have done.
In the meantime, I got my visa and booked my ticket for the very next day and arrived in the US. When i saw her, she hugged me and did not leave me at all. I am so grateful that she is with us today. She is healthy now but still on medication. I would like to thank everyone who has been standing with us in that difficult time. Kavya is doing wonderful now and back to normal. Life can sometimes give you shocks but always stay strong and things will get better.
2019: On october 20, 2018. Kavya came home with her feeding tube still in her nose. She was in a much better condition but still had a lot of pain. It is very difficult to see your child crying in pain. Even more so when you can not do anything. Thankfully, Kavya got better and she is enjoying great health now.
2019 started well with my first ever ultra running title at John Dick 50K race. This race is organized by Badgerland Striders Running group of Milwaukee
My running performance has improved in last couple of years thanks to some extraordinary advice from my coach Anthony Kunkel who is an elite ultrarunner and is well known in the ultrarunning community. He is also a big proponent of ketogenic diet and is a fat adapted athlete. I want to keep learning from all the resources that are available and love to share my thoughts on each aspect of diet and training.