Peak achiever

Ambika Shaligram
Monday, 2 March 2020

Ashish Kasodekar, who recently completed ‘Everesting’ and is now preparing for Badwater Ultra Marathon, shares with us his goals and how he sets out to achieve them

Between his stupendous performance at 555km La Ultra-The High In Ladakh (August 2019) and his participation in forthcoming event, Badwater Ultra Marathon (in July 2020), deemed to be the world’s toughest foot race, Ashish Kasodekar scaled Sinhagad fort 16 times on February 20, 2020, as a part of ‘Everesting’.

The concept of Everesting is simple. Pick any hill, anywhere in the world and ride repeats of it in a single activity until you climb 8,848 m, the equivalent height of Mt Everest. If you complete the challenge, you’ll find your name in the Hall of Fame, alongside the best climbers in the world. 

MARKING HIS MILESTONES
Kasodekar has been celebrating the palindrome days in the calendar, by his personal achievements. “On 11.11.11, I did Pune-Goa cycling, and on 12.12.12, I walked from Pune to Panchgani. I had planned to do Everesting last year (in 2019), but I had the  555km La Ultra coming up, so I skipped it. And, then this date — 20.02.20 came up, so I decided to make it special by doing the ‘Everesting’,” he says.

He was in good form, having completed The Brazil Ultra (135 miles) in January, but doing 16 loops of Sinhagad was a different task completely. 

“Every Thursday, I trek to Sinhagad. It’s my favourite place to be. For Everesting, I took the road and not the trekking route, which was slightly longer, about 555 metres,” he adds.  

The athlete gets asked often, ‘Why do you do this?’, ‘Are you mad?’ and ‘What do you gain out of this?’ Kasodekar says, “This question (if I am mad) spurs me to do my best like nothing else does. My refrain is if you remove the ‘gain’ part out of it, what remains with you is happiness.” 

His approach is to spread positivity, for he has realised very early, that his dreams and milestones are not his alone. “I was a basketball player, a team sport, after which I got into individual sport, I started running. I moved on to participate in ultra marathons, which I think is a team game. It doesn’t remain my target alone. It becomes my crew members’ dream too. During my 555km event, about 1000 people had formed a WhatsApp group and they were following me. They cheered as I completed every milestone — 200km, 300km and so on. Those five days, I could spread a lot of positivity, happiness. It has now become my mission,” explains Kasodekar.

WHAT MATTERS IS SUPPORT
He is banking on similar support and positive energy when he takes part in the Badwater Ultra Marathon in USA. Covering 135 miles (217km) non-stop from Death Valley to Mt Whitney, CA, the Badwater 135 is one of the most demanding and extreme running race. 

“I finished The Brazil Ultra in good timing and so I qualified for Badwater. The difficulty level of Badwater is heat, the temperature rises up to 50 degrees,” says Kasodekar. Interestingly, the number of participants from India has gone up this year. Until now, only one athlete from India would represent the country at the ultra marathon. 

He will be practising here in Pune and as the temperatures soar here in the summer, it will benefit the athlete. “I will be working out in the city and reach USA four or five days before the event. The ultra marathon will be held in a national park and the organisers have taken permission for 100 athletes and 400 crewpersons, four for each. Here, the role of the crew members is crucial,” he says, adding, “I am lucky that my chief crew member Arvind Bijwe has done crewing previously at Badwater. His inputs are important. The crew members have to ensure that the runner’s body is not overheated, they have to keep throwing water at the runner’s feet and so on.”

MIND OVER BODY
It is often said that the mind gives up much faster than the body, especially in sports. Kasodekar tries to boost his mental strength, telling himself that the journey is more important than results. 

“I strongly believe that the journey has to be very good, not the event which is of limited duration. From January to December, I have to be disciplined, systematic. If I concentrate only on the event, I stress over it,” says Kasodekar.

This is precisely what he would try to achieve at the Badwater event. “It’s important to enjoy the event. It will always be there at the back of my mind, that there are people who want me to fulfill my dreams. I don’t really know what will happen on the race day, but I know that I will do my best,” he says. 

His grit is best explained when his Achilles Tendon was swollen before he was to go for the 555km event. “I showed it to Dr Anand Gangwal, who suggested needling, but the swelling didn’t go down. When I reached Leh, the swelling stayed as it was and during the race, some understanding must have occurred between the Achilles Tendon and my brain. I didn’t suffer even once from the swelling during that race. The body-mind co-ordination, where to push, how to push all these little details matter a lot,” he says.

And, for that to happen, the athlete says, “You should spend at least one hour alone, with yourself. When you are with yourself, you are in a positive frame of mind. You want to do certain things for yourself, set goals. Once you are focused, you concentrate on the bigger picture and not minor issues. My focus is now on moving towards perfection.”

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