Flashback: June 2017- I had run 50 Km Tuffman Shimla Ultra Mashobra (My first timed 50 km run) and I was super exhausted after the run, however, I had this feeling of ‘unfinished business’ – perhaps the prefix “Half” to Tuffman was challenging me and I promised myself that I would return to take on the 80K Mashobra trail.
1 year, 3 Ultras, 3 Marathons, 1 stadium run (12 hours) and about 2000 km training runs later on June 23, 2018, 5:30 AM, I was standing with 18 other runners to take on the trails of Mashobra, Shimla. Only this time I was fully aware that this beast is not easy to tame.
Around 6:30 PM on I crossed the finish line. This was after 12 hours 42 minutes of gruelling trail run that included 2400 meters ( ~8000 ft) of elevation gain and loss. In this blog I am sharing my experience of running this beast of a trail.
Let me start with the organizers. Tuffman races are organized by the Mangla family and Tuffman team across various beautiful destinations in India like Leh, Shimla, Coorg, Goa, Jaisalmer, Udaipur, Manali, Dharamshala. Sanjay Mangla (the dude in Green, second from right in the frame below), Manjeet (Mandy), Jai, Meenakshi and the entire Mangla clan is a buch of passionate folks who organize events truly for the runners. These ever smiling folks never say no to any request runners have- food, hydration, race kit, route information. If you have not run a Tuffman event, you must put one on your running calendar.
Mashobra is a town in Shimla district of Himachal Pradesh, situated 2,146 m (7,041 ft) above mean sea level. Mashobra is about 15 km from Shimla and well connected with buses and taxis. It is a charming little town, away from the bustle of mall road and Shimla. Mashobra is notable for housing one of the two Presidential retreats in India.
Mighty Oak and Pine trees line up the woods around Mashobra and a walk in the woods is a great way to warm up for the run or recover from the run.
Mashobra is well connected to Shimla, Chandigarh and Delhi by buses, trains and taxis. I had flown to Chandigarh from Pune and then took an Ola cab. It cost me ₹3500 and 5 hours to reach Mashobra.
I reached Mashobra on the briefing day, however, I would recommend getting there one day in advance to soak in the beauty.
Day break is around 5AM in June here and the sunset is early, you will not need head torch for 5:30AM start.
The Run starts at Mashobra Greens and you have the option to stay there. Mashobra Green is run by Sandeep and his team. Sandeep is a hardcore outboor enthusiast and a great organizer. You can’t miss him- he’s either on his bullet or a walkie-talkie. Mashobra Greens is known for their tents, however, we stayed in a bamboo cottage as we find tents a bit too cold at nights ( well! we are from Pune!). The food is amazing and the team super hospitable.
The Tuffman Mashobra Trail is a beast! As they say “It’s not TUFF if it does not BREAK you“.
Expect this trail to break you twice if you are in your early running years (as I am). It is a 20 km out and back trail. It you are trying the 80K you will do the circuit twice. You will be challenged with 2400 meters ( ~8000 ft) elevation gain and loss.
Tuffman Mashobra Trail is 80% gravel and 20% Tar and full of tactical up and down hills. The first 1.8 km greets you with an elevation gain of 200 meters. Attaboy welcome to Mashobra!!
Here’s my detailed segment wise analysis of the elevation. (from Garmin)
When I signed up for Tuffman Mashobra Ultra, I knew it is not going to be a walk in the park and I had started traing for this run end of March 2018- after a 6 weeks break after Tata Mumbai Marathon in January. I was targeting to finish the run under 11 hours 30 minutes. My plan was simple- ramp up my weekly milage to 80-100 km by end of May, include hill runs and build core strength and flexibility with Yoga.
I was pretty much on the target with 3-4 days running per week, 3 days Yoga, multiple runs across various ghats in Pune and a 12 hour stadium run at Hyderabad where I clocked 88 km.
I twisted my knee on June 4 trying to negotiate a tactical downhill and the training plan crashed. It was a niggling pain that intensified when I tried climbing down stairs. I was rested for 2 weeks . Between June 8, and race day I did two short runs in the Pune racecourse – A flat 2.2 km course.
On the briefing day (June 22) I knew I was not 100% fit to take on the Mashobra Trail, I had to run with knee braces. The good part- injury had healed about 70% and not critical anymore. I established 3 rules for the race day:
- I’m not 100% so I will not chase timing- go easy down hill.
- I will Do Nothing Foolish (DNF) – and pull out, if needed instead of aggravating the injury.
- Enjoy my run and the beauty of Mashobra trail.
So there I was standing at the start line 5:00 AM not 100% fit but not too bad and ready to take on Mashobra trail. After a liitle warm-up, some coffee and greeting fellow runners we lined up for the the flag off.
I power walked the first 2 km (with 200 meters elevation gain) and then continued the run to the 20 km mark. I was steady. I reached the 20 km mark in about 2 hour 20 minutes crossing the 3 aid stations at 5, 10, 17.5 km marks.
By now my knee was acting and I slowed down a bit. My wife, Shweta, was volunteering at 17.5 km aid station. So I had some support and a pacer at the 22.5 KM mark (Remember- This is 20km out and back trail).
The 17.5 km mark is a special aid station on this trail and I will not spill the beans in this blog. Experience the fun @ 17.5 when you run this trail. 🙂
I continued running for another 3 hours crossing the aid stations where a I picked up fruits (peaches, banana), nuts, salts and water. I finished 40km and reached the starting point in 5 hour 30 minutes.
By this time the sun was in full glory and it was hot and humid. My left leg was not feeling any better and I had this thought of giving up there but then I saw 2 other runners at the aid station- Nakul Girdhar and Amit Ahuja. I decided to follow these guys for some time and then take a call. Thank you! Nakul and Amit for being at the aid station 🙂 It was amazing running with you. I picked up my MP3 player at the aid station- I knew I would need some motivation enroute.
The next 40 was tough, to say the least, with my left knee not keeping up. Nakul, Amit and I ran the last 40 Km almost together each one of us leading by few 100 meters all the time. That’s Amit Ahuja in the frame below. Say Hello Amit!!
At the 50 KM aid station I met Tuffam- Manjeet ( Mandy) and man did he not charge me up!! When you meet Mandy you can hear his flute in every word he speaks.
I continued running towards the 60 km mark with some music and soaking in the beauty of Mashobra.
The last 20k was slow and uneventful and I stopped at the 70 km mark and asked Jai for a concoction to help me do the next 5 km. And Jai fixed me a lemonade with a punch.
KM 28-35 ( loop 1) and 58-65 (loop 2) Makes Mashobra Tuff:
In my opinion KM 28-35 ( loop 1) and 58-65 (loop 2) are the toughest on the Mashobra trail. This section is gravel and about 800 meters elevation gain over 7-8 Km, no tree cover and this year there were heavy road construction equipments every few kilometers.
This stretch is a mind game.
I finished the run in 12 Hours 42 Minutes, not the timing I had targeted, however, I was happy with myself.
Tuffman Mashobra, Shimla 80K. Done and Dusted!
Here’s my run on Strava:
And Some bragging from Mashobra Greens: