Satara Hill Half Marathon


    Race Report: Satara Hill Half Marathon (Maharashtra, India)


      Posted on  September,18,2016

    Race information





    A 1:45 No
    B 1:50 Yes


    Satara is a small town (by Indian standards, pop: 3 million) which is about 300 km from Mumbai. This race has become famous in the neighbouring cities because it is well organised, beautiful, difficult and finally because they broke a Guiness World Record in their 2015 edition for "Most people in a mountain run - single mountain". As a result, many people from my city make an annual pilgrimage to this town for this race making the race the single biggest tourist attraction in the city.

    My friends and I left for the race the previous morning and we took a leisurely pace on the drive, aiming to arrive right before the 1800h cut-off for bib collection. However, about 30kms from the city we got a punctured tyre and had to ask someone else to collect our bibs for us. Not the most fortuitous start to the weekend since my friend's spare was also punctured. It took us a good two hours to fix the tyre, during which time I experimented with some side of the highway street food which could also be an experimentation in dysentery during a race.

    Additionally, the monsoon had been at bay for the past few weeks, making it appear as if it had receded and that it was an end to our annual rains. However, just a few days before the race, the rains and redoubled their efforts in a final show of strength and our entire journey was through a curtain of rain. This had me worried about the downhill section of the run which has a total descent of 400m.

    Race strategy

    The race was an out and back; the first 10.5k was entirely uphill with the second 10.5k entirely downhill. According to my Strava data, the 5th km saw 117m of elevation gain with the corresponding 17th km showing the same descent. My friends and I spent a significant portion of the car ride strategising how we would approach this run. I wanted to take it easy on the uphill and then bomb the downhill as fast as I could. However, the rains had made me uneasy about how much traction I could get going at full speed down the mountain. In the end, I was quite confused about what I should be doing.

    Pre Race

    The race started at 6 am, so we woke up at 4:15 am, had some bananas, went to the bathroom and then went down to the lobby by 5:15 am. It was raining lightly outside and I was feeling pretty damn cold (compared to the humid oven of Bombay) so we did a warm up run for the 1k to the start line.

    The race started and ended right in the centre of the town so I was hoping for an exciting ending with the entire town cheering us on. We ran the short way to the start line, did some strides and dynamic stretches and went to our corral.

    There were a bunch of Elite runners from Kenya and Ethiopia at the front of the line up. What these guys and no one else noticed was that there were these types of fireworks on the side of the start line. Right before the race started, these fireworks went of, producing a rain of sparks on some of the elites and non-elites close to the start line. I'm imagining some race official thinking,

    "We need to make the start of the race more exciting, how can we do that? Maybe if some of the people started the race with their hair on fire? BRILLIANT IDEA, I'M GOING TO GET A PROMOTION FOR THIS FOR SURE."

    Luckily, nobody had their hair catch fire, but these fireworks were still stupid and dangerous.

    The countdown went to zero and a million beeps were heard as everybody started their watch. We were off!

    Kilometers [1] to [3.5]



    Elevation Gain

    1 5:16 46m
    2 4:57 21m
    3 4:57 19m
    4 5:51 38m

    I did the first km a little fast considering that it had an almot 5% grade. The next 2.5k were relatively flat and I tried to go a bit faster since it was only about 2% grade. However, at 3.5k we hit the steep part of the climb and I slowed down significantly, as evidenced by my slow 4th km.

    Kilometers [3.5] to [7]



    Elevation Gain

    4 5:51 38m
    5 7:02 117m
    6 6:59 66m
    7 6:50 44m

    The slow 4th km built into an absolutely glacial 5th km which was also an 11-12% climb. I'm pretty slow at climbing so I slowed down significantly at this point and people kept passing me.

    However, I picked up one guy who came up to me from behind but then stuck to my pace. He had a club t-shirt with his name written in a giant font, "GIRISH". I don't know who Girish was or his experience but he stuck to me for the entirety of the uphill, all the way to the turn around point at the 10.5k mark. However, Girish was breathing really heavily and I wasn't really sure how he was going to finish a half marathon if his breathing was this laboured at the 5/6k mark. I didn't say anything but I really wanted to tell him to reduce his pace and save some energy for later.

    I wasn't doing particularly well either and was quite slow at the uphill. I just looked down and put one foot in front of the other. Some parts were relatively flatt for perhaps 50m or so but I was unable to take any advantage of those because by legs got into the mode of climbing and I was unable to switch gears into flat running.

    The views were fantastic though. The sun was just rising and the mountain cat a long shadow over the valley which housed the town. The shadows slowly receded and the town revealed itself, along with a variety of local animals. There were monkeys on the side of the road that were just watching us in a surprisingly docile manner. The local stray dogs were up for their morning walks. Above Girish's heavy breathing, I heard many local birds start their monring chirps. Since monsoon was still active, there were a number of small waterfalls all along the route. But I was too focused on the race to fully appreciate the views and the animals.

    This was the longest uphill run I had done (as opposed to hiking) since I live on a relatively flat island. I was just dreaming of the joys of a flat surface as I trudged up this mountain.

    Kilometers [8] to [13]



    Elevation Gain

    8 5:18 17m
    9 4:56 0m
    10 5:47 20m
    11 4:46 -14m
    12 5:11 3m
    13 4:49 -8m

    Between the 8th km to the turn around at 10.5k, the course was rolling hills that were averaging at an increasing altitude while 10.5k to 13k saw the same rolling hills averaging downwards.

    My strength compared to others, is my ability to go down fast and it was once the constant uphill had stopped that I could start using this ability. I picked up speed on the flats and went downhill as fast as I could. I started gaining on people who had passed me earlier as I approached the half way point.

    I hit the halfway point at almost exactly 1 hour.

    About 400 metres after the half way point was an uphill that I decided to walk, just to give myself a respite and let my muscles relax for a bit. However, as I started walking, a guy from my running group was coming from down from the other side screaming at me, "GRIGRIDROP! WHAT'RE YOU DOING???" Ugh god damn it man, you're making me feel guilty. So I picked up the pace and ran the rest of the hill. I passed a lot of friends over the next few kms and was always too tired to return their excitement, except with a finger pointed at them. I hope they understood the exhaustion and didn't just think I was a shitty person that enjoyed pointing at people.

    The next 2-3km were a little annoying as the large mass of people were running on the other side of the road in the opposite direction. As a result of their sheer number, they took up about 80% of the road, even when there were cones telling them to stay on the other side. In fact, the race organisers came up on their motorbikes several times telling people to stay on their left half of the road. Indians being Indians, they did not bother listening to the authority or rules and they did what they wanted to. However, this crowded us returning runners onto the edge of the road which had a significant slope which I try to avoid as much as possible for risk of injury. I tried to run in the middle of the road as much as possible, asking people to move onto their side and to give us enough space.

    Kilometers [14] to [17]



    Elevation Gain

    14 4:40 -19m
    15 4:13 -27m
    16 4:02 -67m
    17 4:02 -116m

    The descent begins with the 14th km which is relatively flat at first but then really becomes steep as we enter the 15th km. That's when I start picking up speed and try to maintain it for the rest of the downhill.

    After 2kms of downhill, I start feeling the pain of going downhill fast. My quads start getting tired and my core starts hurting. I try my best to keep my legs moving as quick as possible and just go downhill fast.

    I pass a lot of people as I go down and am just flying. Despite the massive loss of altitude in the 17th km, my pace is the same as the 16th km because:

    a) The fatigue of pounding downhill, b) Leg turnover could only be sustained to a certain cadence, and c) I saw a tiny puppy that couldn't have been over two weeks old and I had to stop and pet it because it was so fucking cute!!! I started awwwwwing at it when I first noticed it 50 metres away and sacrificed all my downward momentum because it was just too cute to handle. I stopped and pet it for a few seconds before starting off again with some newfound happiness in my heart.

    During this downhill section, I was once again able to witness the beauty of the area and the town bathed in its morning glory. I also saw a lot of people who were taking it reallllllllly easy. They stopped to take pictures with the monkeys and bathe in the numerous waterfalls along the way. It was already far more than an hour into the race and they were barely 6 or so km into the race.

    Kilometers [18] to [21.1]



    Elevation Gain

    18 4:12 -35m
    19 4:42 -26m
    20 4:48 -24m
    21 4:15 -42m

    At the 17.9km, the steep downhill section ended and the route was back in the town. This was quite nice because there was a significant increase in the number of people on the sidelines watching and cheering us on. This may be a phenomenon of races in smaller places but it really did feel as if the whole town was excited about the event and was there to cheer us on. There were drums and music and little children handing us water. It was great to be back in the town.

    At this same point, there was a guy in front of me who was clearly fading into his own reality. I came up to him from behind and screamed that there were only 3.2 kms (conveniently 2 miles) left in the run and that he needed to pick up his pace. He seemed to snap out of his daze and increase his pace for a few hundred metres but then faded again.

    As we go from the straight downhill to the rolling hills of the last few kms, I see two guys who passed me early on in the race. One of them shoved past me in the first few hundred metres while the other passed me on the uphill. I really really wanted to beat the former but he was about 100 metres away but the second guy was within striking distance.

    During the last 3 km, I overtook him on the downhills and he passed me by on the uphills. However, I was starting to really feel the pain of the downhill during these last few kms and I was struggling to keep up.

    The last 300 metres to the finish line was quite a bit of downhill and then a turn into a flat sprint to the finish line. I saw this as the perfect opportuninty to pass him and I kicked up my pace a notch and I got side by side with him. He saw me, increased his own speed and was soon too far away for me to do anything. I learnt my lesson on attacking too soon and I dejectedly ran to the finish line with a time of 1:49:08.


    I was EXHAUSTED at the end. Luckily, there were some volunteers who were nice enough to walk us to the medical tent. There was a bucket full of ice and water and sponges in the medical tent; I spent the next 15 minutes, soaking my quads and calves in the ice cold water to ensure at least some relief from the DOMS that I was sure to experience the next day.

    I waited around the medical tent for my other friends to finish and got some stretches done with a physio therapist student who was there.

    My results:

    Overall: 94th of 4,100

    M16-34: 35th of 1098

    What's next?

    I'm not a big fan of racing often so I have only two more races planned the end of January.

    1. Airtel Delhi Half Marathon in November - A goal is to do it in 1:35 and B Goal is sub-1:40.

    2. Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon in January - A goal is 3:30

    I'm tempted by a trail 50k in February that someone mentioned during this run so that may also be a possibility for my first Trail Ultra.