Imagine leading a life somewhere in the middle of the mountains, starting and ending your day by going for a long uphill run! As appealing as it sounds, it is not the complete picture. There is a lot more than what meets the eye.
Renowned trail athlete Kieren D’Souza talks to SocialBoat about his life and about what it takes to lead the life of an ultra runner in the mountains. He talks about the fun and the not-so-fun aspects of it, the visible and the behind-the-scenes, reiterating that he enjoys all of it.
Kieren took up marathon running while he was in college in Bangalore. In 2016, aged just 23, he became the first and only Indian to qualify for and finish the Spartathlon, a 246 km foot race from Athens to Sparta held annually in Greece. Read on to know about his experiences since then.
Running, Mountaineering, and Trail Running
Born in Bilaspur Chhattisgarh, two things fascinated Kieren ever since he was a child- running and mountains. Little did he know that he would grow up to combine both and live his life running across mountains. Earlier, Kieren was an ultra runner, but some years later he started thinking about and preparing for trail running in the mountains. In 2016, he shifted completely to Manali so that he could prepare himself.
“The whole goal of doing trail running, mountaineering projects, and everything that I am involved with, has to do with mountains. Moving to Manali was to prepare as specifically for these things as possible.”
The pandemic situation further aided his shift to mountaineering.
For the past two years, Kieren has not been racing, he has only taken up mountaineering projects.
Reaching out to the World and Vice Versa
Sitting in the remote and small town of Manali, Kieren is able to form a connection between himself and the world through social media. Talking about his two-sided experience with social media, Kieren says that it has allowed him the space to share his journey and life experiences. But the other aspect of it is what he has got in return.
“People are resonating with me, they are very supportive and encouraging about it. That helps me grow as an individual as well. It makes me realize that it's not just me in my cocoon doing things. The realization was initially very surprising and now it is very humbling.”
What does it take to be an ultra-runner in the mountains?
1. Physical Preparation- Without a doubt, to be able to run long distances in difficult terrains, one has to physically prepare their body for the experience. Being in the domain for some time now, Kieren believes that consistency is the most important to maintaining the body.
One rule that Kieren follows for his training is to train according to his upcoming events. He breaks up his training by setting event-specific goals to fulfill the requirements of particular events, rather than taking up a general training routine. “Whatever I am preparing for, I prepare for it as consciously and as realistically as possible. I've benefited a lot from breaking down my projects and goals.”
2. Preparing the Mind- To put your body up for endurance running also requires the preparation of the mind. “The first thing for me is to have fun.” Kieren believes that when you have made the decision of putting yourself through that much pain and struggle, all of it is deemed futile if you do not have fun. When you have prepared your mind that the ultimate goal is to enjoy the process, it helps to get a push. “The part that I enjoy the most is preparing for it, having ups and downs, working through it, emerging on the other side.”
3. Planning- Another very important dimension of preparation is planning. While on the outside it might look like ultra running is a somewhat spontaneous enterprise, in reality, it takes just as much planning as it takes training. Kieren plans his events and projects well in advance, at least a year. It involves a great amount of research work and reaching out and It is this planning that helps in defining his goals, specifying his training, and being prepared for the runs.
All these things. Kieren says, requires you to put in the time. He divides time for these throughout his day.
Kieren’s Daily Routine
Kieren’s daily routine changes a lot depending on what he is working towards and where he is working from- different in Manali, and at home. In Manali, where Kieren spends most of his time, he spends time on two training sessions- one in the morning, and one in the evening. In the middle of these, his afternoon is occupied by planning for projects, talking to brands, raising funding, etc.
What is next?
Talking about what he has done so far Kieren believes that he hasn’t done a lot and that he wishes to do and achieve so much more. But his evolution as an athlete is what continues to fascinate him. Concluding his approach to the sport, he says-
“For me, three things are the most exciting- the process, the goals, and the style. At the core of it, it is a grand adventure, but for me personally, it's the experience that my body is having, by pushing the limits, growing as a person, and as an athlete.”
This year, Kieren continues to focus on trail running and mountaineering projects.
To Aspiring Trail Runners
Almost coming full circle in talking about his journey, Kieren asks aspiring endurance runners to have a good time, and have fun.
“Enjoy the good and the not-so-good. Only then you will be able to be consistent with it and define your goals clearly.”
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