When it comes to running, it’s not just about getting advice from more experienced runners, but also about getting the right advice for the right task. And if your goal is to push the limits of your body’s endurance and strength, then we have just the right person to lend you some words of inspiration and motivation.

Girish Mallya is a running expert for Puma in India, and also a FirstRun Ambassador. Aside from being a running enthusiast, Girish works in publishing; he is the editor and publisher of Popular Science India. FirstRun caught up with him to understand more about his running etiquette, and how he prepares for long endurance runs. Having run several ultramarathons around the globe, Girish is in the best place to give a few tips to novice ultramarathon runners.

When did you run your first marathon?
My first race ever was the full marathon, in the first edition of the Mumbai Marathon in 2004.

What about your first ultramarathon? Which year was that and how many ultras have you run?
My first ultra was again the first edition of Bangalore Ultra, a 78km race, the maximum distance back then. So far I have run about 5 ultras and have now moved on to multi-stage self-sustaining ultras and adventure (read: exotic) marathons, as it has never been about speed for me. It’s always about pushing your body to its endurance limits

Do you follow certain eating habits throughout the year or do you tweak your diet just for your marathons?
I believe in lifestyle changes, not situation or event-based changes. I am not a foodie and have no special craving for any particular kind of food, I just listen to my body and eat accordingly. I don’t binge on anything; neither do I deprive myself of anything. I believe in eating a good old balanced diet.

Only special training I have done with respect to food is to train my body to accept food and fluids before and during a run with relative ease.

I don’t believe in artificial food supplements (especially protein). Off late I am trying to be off electrolytes for 1-1.5hr runs, I hope to get to a level of doing half marathons on just water, irrespective of weather conditions. I try to stay as natural and organic as possible, so no packaged granola bars, gels or processed food during a run. I prefer my dates, raisins, mixed nuts, homemade granola etc. for races.

Girish at the Marathon Des Sables in 2013
Girish at the Marathon Des Sables in 2013

Tell us about the Marathon Des Sables. On a scale of 1-10 in terms of difficulty, what would you give that run?
Hmmm…this is a complicated question to answer and one I can go on about it in different ways and perspectives. Ok, let me give you an idea.

MDS was less about running and endurance, and more about human spirit and utopia (as the world I would love to see). I saw and experienced so many things for the first time in my life, will share a few here. I experienced absolute equality, your race, gender, ability/disability, age, nationality didn’t matter. You were at par with a 20-year-old or a 78-year-old, with a blind runner or a blade-runner. And the bond and willingness to help and support fellow runners was unmatched, almost like the support and bond one develops with absolute strangers when coping with a natural or man-made disaster.

The fact that it is arguably one of the toughest races in the world and that I was the first Indian national to have successfully completed it, seems just incidental to me. What stays with me is what humans and this world can truly be, based on the experience of MDS. Peace and living in harmony is possible, I have faith and hope now that someday we will get there.

I don’t believe in terms like ‘life changing experience’, but this is the closest I came to it. I trained for over 3 years in a systematic manner for this race, so it did not seem that difficult when I actually did it. I would rate it a 7.5 and I believe I can push my body and mind further.

What would be the three tips you’d give first time ultramarathon runners?
Train hard and train scientifically, preferably under the guidance of a coach/mentor. Research the race (including terrain, weather conditions, food available or that needs to be carried, worst case scenarios, interact with runners who have done the race before and take tips/pointers from them) and plan how you will attempt the race; visualize it in detail.

Simulate race conditions, for example attempting a 15-hour running race, participating in a 300km BRM road race with a 20 hour cut off. Also walk, run, or crawl but spend 15 hours on the road and get your legs used to standing/walking for that duration before attempting that race. This is in addition to scientific training program which you are following.

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