Being a city dweller and an outdoor enthusiast I always dreamt to trek in the Palani hills. Few years back I had the great opportunity to trek and explore the mighty palni hills but never in my dream had I thought that running in the hills was there on store for me until I discovered for myself that running in the hills is possible with dedication and practice. As a bunch of outdoor enthusiasts it was this joy of trolling in the hills for days together we called it as Hill Ultra. A profound happiness which connects man directly with the majestic mountains was the fabric on which Kodai hills Ultra was conceived.

I volunteered to be part of the team which marked the 100+kms of trail spanning across the Palani hills. Our major agenda was to guide runners with the help of our directions boards, sign marks on road, to enable smooth navigation for runners and ensure that no runner is lost in the trail.

Scenic and Challenging Route:

Am certain that lot of days and energy was spent to stitch this route connecting remote villages, jeep tracks and ghat roads on the palni hills. The route spanned across lakes, grasslands, ghat roads, forest trails, villages, on ridges and into plantations. We started as three groups on the first day afternoon with the help of jeeps and online maps to navigate, it was an endless exercise without proper rest and food, we kept marking, the forest and mountains accompanied us and many times we encountered the vegetarian giants (Indian gaurs) at close distance. From sambar deer, porcupine, rabbits, gaurs, jungle fowls, to birds the forests was brimming with wildlife in the night.

Final Stretch of Route Marking:

Three hours left to flag off the event and we reached the starting point and realised that the major 21 kms stretch around Kodai town was not marked. It wasn’t sleep that was daunting us but it was the very cold weather which was freezing us. At 1 a.m we started our marking and completed few minutes before the flag off. After witnessing the flag off we took a quick nap to be back on our foot to volunteer at the aid stations.

Sweeping Kumbur to Kilavarai trail section:

It was around 6.30 p.m on the second day, sun was resting behind the mountains, when I reached the Kumbur aid station where I understood that the last two (130k) runners left inside trail few minutes back to cover the 13kms trail section. Since this is the trickiest portion of the entire 130kms stretch I decided to run on this trail to escort the two runners to Kilavarai village. After 20 minutes of running on the trail I met the runners while they were relaxing on the banks of a river. From two legs it became 6 legs now which ran and climbed alone in that vast forest. Admiring the twinkling stars, bright moon and the cold weather, we successfully reached the Kilavari village and joined the other volunteers waiting for us, one runner pulled out of the race due to cramps in this village. It was a long wait alongwith my fellow volunteers on this remote and freezing village in the openness until we got our jeep at 1 p.m.

Sweeping 130k Runners to finish line:

After my stint in the trail section I decided to sweep the 130k runners to the finish line. I placed myself at the last aid station and when the last runner came there at around 5 a.m we escorted him on bike for few kms on the ghat road which by now became famous for spotting Indian Gaurs on road. The last runner was solid and strong guy but cramped his leg badly and this was his last stretch of the race, when we informed that it was his last15kms with 2 hours left, he started running at a good pace. Finally, the last 6 kms I decided to run along with him. The sun rays was slowly penetrating into the forest and I should confess that he passed boundless energy on to me and made me run alongside him, it was pure sportsmanship witnessing his die-hard attitude and fighting spirit, he never gave up until he reached the finish line with his cramped leg. I still wonder and unable to comprehend the mind-set of these ultra-runners.

At 7.30 a.m on a bright Sunday morning, it was third straight day of volunteering, boredom or tiredness did not bother us. But am still exploring the answer what kept me energetic for 3 days, was it because of the ever enthusiastic fellow volunteers, or was it because of the phenomenal strength displayed by the runners or was it because of the cold nights but my heart is extremely biased towards the majestic and magnetic Palni hills which made this event unfold seamlessly.

Happy Volunteering,

Durai Murugan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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