Shajan Samuel: Once Weighed 92 Kg Now Becomes First Man From Pune To Qualify For La Ultra-The High

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Shail Shukla

Pune, 13th March 2021: ‘With a minimum altitude of 13,000 ft. and a maximum of 17,000(+) ft, La Ultra is one of the deadliest and cruellest runs in the world, and Shajan Samuel is all set to participate in the world’s most challenging sprint. He is the first man from Pune to qualify for ‘La Ultra-The high.’

Samuel, the father of two daughters and the vice-president of Aptech Ltd qualified for La Ultra after completing the Garhwal Runs on February 21. He achieved the feat after running at an elevation of 7,600 feet above sea level. He completed the 74 km between Dehradun to Dhanulti in 10 hours 49 minutes.

Once weighed 92 kg, Samuel has been running for the last eight years and transitioned into long-distance running for three years. He has completed 220 KMs in 37 hours and completed 3 (161 KMs) in 6 months. He had run 12,24 & 36 hours stadium run, Malnad Ultra, Rann of Kutch, Berlin Marathon, Deccan Ultra & countless other runs.

Samuel currently lives in Pune with his wife, Suby Joseph, and two daughters, Shania Shajan(14) and Sienna Shajan(11). His father, E.V Samuel (76), who worked in a private company, is now enjoying the retirement life with his wife Anamma Samuel (71), mother of Shajan Samuel. He has one sister Sheeba Samuel.

Shajan has completed his advanced management program from IIM Kolkata and is a commerce graduate from St. Xavier’s Kolkata. He did his schooling at St. Paul’S Boarding And Day School, Kolkata.

From weighing 92 kgs to fitness

Samuel told Punekar News, “When I started running, I did not have anything in my mind that I should do Marathon or something. I just started it. I was 36 years of age then and was weighing around 92 kgs, and because of my travel and work, I had a very sedentary lifestyle. One day morning, I just thought, okay, let me start running. However, I could not run even 100 meters. In 2013, I started it again, but it was not a good start. Nevertheless, I persisted and started running 1 km, then 2 km, and kept increasing the distance. However, I was still weighing 92 kg even after running 10 km.

In 2017 I decided to become a long-distance runner. A long-distance runner is something running more than 450 km. I knew if I had to run such a crazy distance, I would have to change my lifestyle. So I made the situation very difficult for me. I moved to a minimal space. I slept on the floor, put myself through many hardships, and reduced 21 kgs in three months. After that, I started to run 50 km, 100 km, 161km, etc.

Later, I started with a daily plan and started picking up physical challenges. I believe that the frontier of human potential is hidden. There is so much we can do, and only when we start attempting when we stand in that adversity, only then we know our full potential, and that is what I did. I have taken it very seriously for the last three years and have undertaken severe challenges. Now, I am 45, and I am still running.

First Marathon and experience

Actually, it was not a marathon; it was a 10 km run in the 2013 TCS World 10k. Part of me was telling me that I can not do it, and others were implying that I can do it. So two voices keep reverberating in my ears.

However, I pushed myself and completed it in 1 hour 27 min, which is pretty modest timing. It was an incredible experience because crossing and finishing completing the 10km was a big deal for a person who had a sedentary lifestyle. It was a memorable moment for me.”

Experience of 12,24- & 36-hours stadium run 

“I had participated in three stadium runs. In stadium runs, runners run along the 400-meter track in a circle. They run half of the run clockwise and other anti-clockwise. Although participants run short distances but eventually it becomes boring, they have to stay long in the same place. Running around the same area challenges mental strength.

You have to keep motivating yourself to move and looking forward. It is less physical and more mental. It requires a lot of mental resilience, but it is always fun because you are challenging yourself. You are backing your instinct and telling yourself that it is possible. When you cross the finish line, you feel happy and proud that you could hold yourself for such a long period.

The Garhwal run

It is a very tough race. Out of seventeen people, only nine people have qualified for la ultra. I was not aware that the Garhwal run is a qualifier run for the La Ultra. I came to know about it in January. So I was a bit nervous because my dream is big. I thought if I could not finish this race, I wouldn’t be able to run La Ultra. I was nervous and excited both.

 I had to run 74 km between Dehradun to Dhanulti, and the route was very isolated. Buses and cars don’t go there. Its elevation keeps increasing and reaches 7600 ft above sea level and feels like a never-ending path. The coach suggested that I run at a consistent pace as there is no point in spending all the energy in the beginning. Hence I ran in just a uniform manner and kept hydrating myself properly. I was able to finish it in 10 hr 49 minutes.

I had a surreal experience. The climate was pleasant throughout the day. When I reached the finishing line, it felt like an accomplishment. I had worked so hard for the last six months, and La Ultra is the fruit of my obdurate work.

The La Ultra 111 challenges

You can not prepare yourself for La Ultra because the climate is so uncertain. Runners have to run on the slopy mountain where

avalanche, rain, snow can happen at any time. The only thing you can do is to follow your plan. So what I do is, most of the time, I run at night, in loneliness. Because in La Ultra, I will run 111 km at 1800 ft above the sea level alone. There will be no one to help and accompany me.

Moreover, it is bone-chilling cold there. The runners

have to run wearing four-layer clothes. Body and hands become numb. The temperature decreases to -10 degrees at night and reaches 40 degrees in the afternoon. Hence, you are wearing a thermal at night. In the afternoon, you run in a T-shirt and Pants.

The oxygen is 50 percent less in the area. Hence you are

breathing with less capacity than your lungs. One way to ensure that you are in good shape is to reach 15 days earlier to accommodate the weather. I did the Ladakh marathon 42 km in 2019. So I have some background. However, you cannot take mountains and nature for granted. You have to carry a snow boot and snow jacket. You do not know what is going to happen. It is a very tricky and risky race. Not a single person is there. If something happens to you, nobody is there to look after you.

You have to keep reaching the stations in the prescribed times, which are at a distance of 25 km, and in the mountain, 25 km is a vast distance. It is not like the straight race. Hence, you have to be mentally very strong for this race because Your body will ache, and you would want to give up. All these emotions and thoughts will come to you. So at such times, we have to figure out ways to convince ourselves and push ourselves.

The Strict rules of La Ultra

Additionally, it has stringent rules. The La Ultra has been divided into four points. You will be disqualified if you reach the cut-off point even one second late. You have to get the end in the given time, then only you can qualify for the next. The race starts at 6 pm, and you have to finish the race the next day before 1 pm, i.e., you have to finish the race in 20 hrs. If you complete it in 20 hr 1 sec, you will be disqualified.


It is one of the toughest ultras in the world, and it requires a lot of preparation. Only four or five people can finish it in a year. So I have a coach based in Delhi, lieutenant colonel Romil Barthwal who has already completed the race. I have been training with him for the last seven months.

For completing the La Ultra, I have to run 5000 km in practice, and this sort of preparation is required for it. I also have a structured training calendar, and training is very intense because La ultra is only for people who have a high level of physical fitness.

 I do a lot of hill training because La Ultra is about running in elevation. I go to the Sinhagad fort every week. Also, I do a lot of work to build my aerobic base and breathing as the oxygen level is low on those altitudes. I do a lot of strength training like pushups and planks. I do Surya namaskar for strengthening my back as it is crucial to have a strong back.

Two to three days a week, I do strength training, and other days I do running. I watch my diet and ensure that I sleep at least eight hours a day. I also keep in check my weekly mileage which is around 100 km a week.

I practice at different timings. I run three times a day-Morning, Afternoon, and Night because the climate is frigid at night and extremely hot in the afternoon. I have to prepare for all events.

 I am putting weight in my ankle as it is easy for me to run in hilly areas.

Working on the mental strength 

Mentally I am a strong man because I have run 185 km and 220 Km distance. Hence, distance is not a big obstacle. Circumstances are challenging. I always like to put myself in a situation where it is very tough. I have gone through those situations in life.

However, one thing which I do is that I visualize a lot. I envision the journey and read an inspirational book. I go for a night walk; night runs where there is a similar situation.

Mentally I am prepared, but physically I am doing a lot of hard work.

Keeping oneself motivated for the La Ultra 

Humans have so much potential to achieve in life but our

potential untapped, and we rarely know ourselves. We keep doubting our capabilities. But, the truth is that we are made for doing greater things in life. If we don’t pick up on those challenges, we will never know our self-worth. I am a naturally curious person. I want to know how far the body can endure and go. This nagging child-like curiosity keeps me going.

Motivation diminishes over time, but discipline compounds over time. If the hunger does not come from within, you will be motivated for some time, but you have to do it by yourself later. For me, I know that I have potential, and I can do it. There is self-belief in me, and I like to challenge myself. Even if I fail, I can learn so many things.

During this whole journey, I have learned so many things

about myself. I was not aware of so many things about myself. But now I am like,” oh, I am like this now!, earlier I was fat and lacked self-confidence. Now I have become a long-distance runner!”. It happened only with self-realization and dedication, and persistence.

Challenges for future

At this point, my complete focus is on La Ultra. It is like the gold standard for fitness and mental health for me. Hence, I am focused on it. It is scheduled for August 19 this year.

Not everyone can participate

La Ultra is a very famous race. Participants from other countries also come to participate in it. However, only 10-12 participants are expected to join as it is a costly race. You have to spend one and a half lakh on it. Its registration fees are 30 thousand and other expenses like flight, food, stay, and Garhwal preparation make it quite a costly sport. Many people think that running is an inexpensive sport.

People believe that just buying shoes is sufficient for running. However, which is not the case. I change 4 to 5 shoes in a year, and each pair cost me 18 thousand to 20 thousand rupees. One pair of shoes does not work for more than 2 to 3 months because I run 1000 km in 2 months. Apart from this, you have to focus on Nutrition, Hydration, Gel, etc.

Many talented athletes in our country fail because they need 2 to 3 lakh monthly to participate in the Olympics, and many people could not afford it. Any sportsman requires Nutrition, gym, training, food, diet, money. They could not afford it because many of them come from either middle or lower-middle-class families. Moreover, many a time, they do not sponsor as it does not have glamour.

Message for aspiring marathoners

The message for aspiring marathoners is ‘do not rush and

do not compare.’ Don’t look at it a way that if that person has run 42 km, I can also do it. Everybody has a different body, and it takes time to reach different levels. Understand your body first and take it slow. Do it in a staggered and phased manner.

It is also important to stay injury-free. Some runners do not take sleep and Nutrition and do not strengthen. People with weight also run, which is not right. The technique is essential, and if you do not follow the proper procedure, you can end up with severe injuries. Take the advice of an expert dietician, nutritionist, and doctor. It is not like good shoes that can lead you to success. Take it slow; take it easy.