Jawadhu Hills Ultra Marathon – Planting the Seeds of Trail Running on the Hills

by Durai on November 11, 2014

Having been exposed to different south Indian terrain and having realised that nothing could beat the pleasure of being closely connected with the mountains and its mesmerising wonderfulness. The journey from trekking to ‘running on hills’ was challenging and at the same time highly rewarding to the inner self. We dreamt of bringing this delightful experience to the larger running community who have hitherto not experienced the pleasure and bliss of running inside beautiful and unexplored trails of south Indian mountains. Thus, the seed of organising a hill marathon was planted in our minds and we formed a core team among the core members of Chennai Trekking Club.

Jawadhu ultra marathon

Uniqueness of the Jawadhu Hills Marathon:

Jawadhu hills marathon was first of its kind hill marathon in south India which brought to the runners an elite experience of running on the ‘unexplored trails’ of mountains rather than the regular road running on the hills. Jawadhu trail run is a challenge even to a seasoned runner as the trail keeps the runners on their toes by fully engaging them with its ever changing terrain and scenery. It would be an understatement to state that the trail was a marvel by creation, wonder by design and a beautiful poetry lying on the laps of Jawadhu hills. Above all, for us, it was always the “Runners who are bigger than the Event” and we always ensured that they are given the top most priority.

 Jawadhu ultra marathon runner

Planning and Permission:

I would confess that it is easy for me to run an ultra marathon every month rather than organising one ‘’trail marathon on the hills’ it required almost 4 months of a dedicated team to follow up with concerned forest and local officials to fix up meetings and to obtain necessary permissions. We had to visit the Jawadhu hills several times to identify the availability of hotels for runners, follow up with St. Josephs school for stay, workmen to cook, local vehicles for transporting the runners and to finalise the trail suitable for running. This exercise spanned over several weekdays and several weekends we had to visit Jawadhu hills. But to assure not even for a single moment I felt that it was a cumbersome exercise and every moment I spent with the planning and organising team were some of the most cherished moments of my life.

 Jawadhu marathon organisers

The broad agenda for the event was laid down; volunteers were invited to play their role in different areas; runners from different parts of south India were intimated about the flow of the event through mails and social networking site, t-shirts, bibs, refreshment items were purchased and kept ready for the event almost three days before the event. Like every runner who was curious to participate in the event – the volunteers were also extremely excited about the challenges and the new assignment.

Day before the Marathon on our Trail Marking Expedition:

This was the third time I was entrusted with the responsibility to head the trail marking team in CTC organised marathons and I was looking forward to the challenges recollecting the ones I faced heading the team in CTM 2013 and 2014. I always felt the best volunteering areas of CTC organised trail marathons are identifying the running trail and marking the same. It is one of most challenging tasks and we were slowly mastering the art of trail marking through our experiences. Every time we set our best foot to mark the trails in the past with white powder it had rained heavily that night washing away all our effort. The trail marking team started from Chennai on Friday night in two cars with our GPS loaded with trails, maps of the hills, detailed trail marking plan, mile marking boards and reached the base of the hills and camped near the forest check post.

Our past experience teaches that no driver is interested in driving is vehicle inside our trail which means either we have to walk the entire distance or go in our own vehicles carrying the trail marking items. This time, the Jawadhu drivers were also not an exception to this rule and they too swiftly refused to enter inside the trail as soon as I briefed them about the whole plan. Time slowly started rolling.

However, we swiftly marked the initial 4 kms which was on the tarmac and we were not able to get our car inside the trail and our local contact was exploring with all his driver friends on the hills to check if anyone is willing to take us inside the trail. Alas! To our relief, finally, a TATA 407 vehicle driver agreed to take us inside the trail but he said the diesel was not available anywhere on the hills but somehow he managed to start his vehicle with kerosene. Thus, our trail marking journey started in the afternoon couple of hours before the big day.

 Jawadhu marathon trail with flowers

GPS – Maps – Mile Marking Boards – Paint and TATA 407:

The preparation for trail marking itself was equivalent to that of preparing for a deep jungle trekking mission. We were loaded with all the gadgets and equipments to navigate and survive inside the jungles. With no clue of whether we will be able to complete marking the entire 25 kms stretch we slowly and steadily kept progressing with our work. I should admit that it was absolute team work, while somewhere painting the directions, few were busy climbing to the trees and bushes to plant the markers, and others were busy with their own assigned jobs.

Jawadhu ultra marathon - trail marking team

Except for few hick ups here and the entire operation went well as planned and we were well focused on our mission – I was wondering if it was a miracle or the worst thing is yet to come. It was around 6 p.m with the help of our biking team we successfully completed marking the entire 50 kms trail. What normally keeps going till the next day early morning until the start of the race was completed 10 hours before the race took us by surprise. With this sense of achievement we returned to the St. Joseph’s school were all the runners and volunteers were stationed for the night.

Missing and Broken Mile Marking Boards – A Shaken Dream:

It was around 10 p.m we were heading to the last aid station deep inside the forest to pitch our camp and open up our refreshment point early morning we received a call that the some miscreant has broken the mile markers and most of the sign and distance boards were missing until the 8th Kilometer. Immediately we visited the trail and realised someone has caused serious damage to the boards. In the middle of nowhere we could not have brought in new boards. I later realised that these kinds of challenges at difficult times bring out the best within us. Finally, we had to bank on the direction lines painted on the roads and our biking team to guide the runners.

Jawadhu ultra start

Trail Marathons and Inseparable Rains:

Some of my best trekking missions were during the peak of monsoons may be that could be the reason that every time we set our self to mark the trails for a marathon it rains that night. We had pitched our tent on an open space next to a paddy field were the wind flow was heavy and the heavy down pour flooded the entire place and the water started gushing inside. Inside the tent it was wet and outside the tent is was cold and almost turned like our monsoon survival mission. Thanks to the car parked nearby we were able to catch some sleep inside. I should admit that the entire day was full of challenges and actions that I can never forget this day in my life. Some of the best days in life are not only the days when you cross the finishing line of an Ultra Marathon but also a day when you were put to these kind of challenges and still you manage to wake up the next day to stand up without complaining and do self-less volunteering.

Now, I started believing that rain is part of our marathon and it comes to bless the runners and entertain the volunteers.

jawadhu ultra marathon trail

The Joy of Volunteering – a new “High”:

The race day started with little showers and chill breeze and we could see the fast runners gazing through the trail, breaking the barriers and pouncing on to our refreshment points. Every time a runner passed our refreshment point the entire team rejoiced, cheered and celebrated that runner. We did not mind if they we fast, slow, walking or crawling all that mattered to us was the challenges he faced to reach the 24th kilometre refreshment point. The team was on its toes cheering and dancing till the last runner bid a good bye to the refreshment point.

I slowly started to realise that ‘joy’ of volunteering is equivalent to the ‘high’ enjoyed by the runners and it could be best enjoyed devoid of any commercial motives which was palpably visible on every volunteer I could turn around.

 volunters group pic - Jawdhu marathon

Roof top Bus Ride – Cherry on the Cake:

Whether it is our survival mission or other adventures the best part had always been the concluding story from carrying the injured trekkers outside the forest or travelling in some strange vehicle it had always been an adventurous memory for us. And this time it was the local bus fully loaded with the runners waiting at the starting point of the Ghat road which thoroughly entertained us. With no place to set our foot inside the bus we finally landed on top of the bus as it slowly started to roll breaking the silence inside the forests. It was almost a roller-coaster ride on top of the bus with some nerve-wrenching and breathtaking moments on top of the bus. The 1.5 hours ride on top of the bus was like sitting on top of a full grown tusker and enjoying the feeling of being the king of the jungle – a unique and a memorable way to end our 36 hours of volunteering.

Bus top ride jawadhu hills marathon

Before we could dismantle the start/finish arch the last ultra runner slowly trotted inside the ground after fighting his battle on the trails for nearly 8 hours. He was greeted by the volunteers with high respect and all I was able to see for myself and in the eyes of my fellow volunteers was our dream and vision to have organised a marathon on the trails of Jawadhu successfully concluding in front of our eyes.

Happy Volunteering,

Durai Murugan

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Suresh kumar November 12, 2014 at 1:17 am

Super durai – ji, i am missing all such events… kadamai…ennai katti pottuvittadhu..! will soon join..volunteering…


Peter November 12, 2014 at 6:26 am

Nice recount behind the scenes of our Javadhu Ultra Durai – agreed that organizing was an ultra experience and gave us ultra satisfaction


Musthafa November 12, 2014 at 7:42 am

Wonderful writing Durai, you always sip the mountains just well that it leaves an everlasting taste in our minds. CTC has instilled the sense of volunteering and submitting to nature unconditionally. Javadhu was a masterpiece! And being an enormous success on its inception makes it further special. Thumbs up Guys!!


PRABHAKARAN K November 12, 2014 at 11:24 am

Nicely Orchestrated article about the ctc jawadhu hills ultra. Your writing is really inspiring us to do more volunteering than running in the events in future. I personally noticed that each in every runner participated in the event was very happy about the wonderful service provided by the CTC Volunteers. Hats off to the Volunteering team, CTC and Mr. Peter.


Murali November 12, 2014 at 12:06 pm

Durai Ji, awesome 🙂


Muthu Kumaran November 12, 2014 at 1:53 pm

Boss awesome narration.


Prabhu Loganathan November 12, 2014 at 5:26 pm

Namaskaram Anna

Excellent write up Anna. I would like to volunteer with CTC whenever possible. Pranam.


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