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Tips from a Comrades finisher

Dr. Neelam Vaid, an ENT surgeon by profession, is among the few women runners from India to qualify and finish the Comrades Marathon at South Africa this year. This is an 89 km race that must be completed in the stipulated 12 hours and you can qualify for this race only if you can finish a full marathon in under 5 hours. Dr. Neelam Vaid says that running ultra marathons is more of a mental game and she occupied her mind with counting how many steps she was running as she neared the finish line. Some people sang songs while others would visualize motivational movies they had seen before the marathon. The training required good intensity core strength training twice a week, and 4 days of running with one day of complete rest. Since it is an undulating terrain, the training involved running on a hill elevation like Lavasa and OGC where she had to train to do fast walking uphill to save time. Since there were 8 runners from Pune, the group motivation helped her through the rigorous training.

She advises ultra runners to get a health check up done before they register for the race. She was found to be deficient in vitamin D3 and B12 and so started taking supplements. Running gear is equally important to remain injury free, so she recommends a professional opinion to choose the right kind of footwear for the run.

Diet plays an important role when the body is being trained to sustain the runner for a long period of time in unfavorable weather conditions. Neelam eliminated sugar and added a protein shake to help build stamina. During her practice runs she realized she was a "salt loser" so she started keeping salt sachets and sugar gels during her runs. She learned to eat during the run and feasted on boiled potatoes, salted biscuits and coke shots, which according to her are instant energy boosters because of their high sugar content.

Comrades Marathon is an efficiently organized run with trained physiotherapists almost every 2km of the race. It is a 92-year-old event and the local population comes out in hordes to celebrate with the runners and motivate them. It is literally like a picnic on the road. Neelam had vowed this would be the only time she did such an event, but she is already gearing up to do her next Comrades Marathon.

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