One of the protagonists in our inaugural Asia Trail Master series hails from India. Ullas Narayana has had a strong summer with an 8th place in the grueling Mount Rinjani Ultra in Indonesia early August, and a fantastic 2nd place in Colorcoil Borneo 100 TMBT in Malaysia just a few weeks later. In addition, he scored top placings in a couple of races in his resident country Singapore. Narayana currently ranks fifth in the Asia Trail Master ranking with 732 points and next weekend takes part in his first 100 miler, Bromo Tengger Semeru, where he will again challenge race favourites Arief Wismoyono and Jan Nilsen.
First, please tell us a bit more about yourself, where you come from,what you do and what brought you to Singapore?
Hello. My name is Ullas. I grew up in Bangalore, India. After graduating in Australia I found work in Singapore as an animator for Lucasfilm Singapore. I have been here for 11 years and live here with wife, 2 kids and our puppy.
You only started taking part in trail competitions not so long ago. When and why did you decide to start? What is so great about trail running?
I decided to get back into running around the same time I started a family so I could be in good shape and be a good example to my kids. I should thank my friend Nigel and my wife Annie for encouraging me to sign up for my first race since college. That was a bit over 3 years ago. I enjoy running be it on roads or trails. I like trail running because it requires me to be more aware of my surroundings, to be more present on my runs. Other reasons why I like trail running .. the solitude, nature, the low key races, the list goes on. Endurance running suits me at this point in my life.
Sport in India means cricket. Or how would you define sport in India, and does running take an important place in people's lives?
There is a very active sports culture in schools and colleges in India. Growing up we played a large variety of sports. But sadly everything ends in Cricket. There is a lack of funding and support for athletes I believe. Maybe things have changed. I haven't lived in India for quite some time so I don't know what the current attitude is. But it seems running is catching on as a form of exercise.
What made you take up running?
My father took us running every morning. So the love for running started early. We were in a swim club. Had tennis lessons. He made sure we were active kids. I briefly had a running coach. Then high school took over. I didn't pick up running again until college. I had a bit of success running middle distance in college. I have been running on and off since. Running has always been a part of who I am.
Do you have any sports heroes? If yes, who and what is so special about him / her?
Not really. Every time I race I find bits of heroes in people I compete with.
There's a number of trail races in India, but they have not really become part of people's conciousness yet. Are there any events we should be aware of?
The Bangalore Ultra and Kaveri Trail Marathon in the state of Karnataka are gaining popularity. Others I know of are the Oxfam Trailwalker India, Nilgiris Ultra(its mostly road but beautiful) and the LA Ultra.
How is life in Singapore for you?
Life is good. I wish there were bigger hills.
What sort of training do you do to become a competitive trail runner? Singapore is flat, but you also do well in mountain races.
At the moment I run 5-6 times a week. Lots of hill repeats where ever I can find them. I try out different workouts which I read about. I average 120-160km a week. I also make a lot of time for beer.
You came eighth at MRU and a superb 2nd at Borneo 100 TMBT. What was the difference in those 2 races for you?
MRU was a good first experience for the climbs and descents. I was out there longer than the 100k races I have run. TMBT was very runnable, which I like.
With hindsight, what would you do differently to beat Daved Simpat and win TMBT?
Exercise a little patience at the start and not get lost. Save a little bit of something for the very end.
Have you ever run a road marathon (42.195km) and what was your time?
I ran a road marathon in July. It was less than a week after a trail marathon. My time was 2.53.
Your next big race is a 100-miler in Indonesia: Bromo Tengger Semeru (BTS). What are your ambitions?
To finish. Its my first 100 miler. I just want to get a feel for the distance. I hope I don't end up a mess as I can get competitive come race day.
Dealing with the heat is a key aspect for elite trail running. Would you say that being Indian you are used to the heat, or how do you cope with it? Do you drink a lot during races?
I grew up in a temperate climate but living in the tropics for a decade has helped. Yes, I drink a lot during races. I get dehydrated quickly. My ancestors spent their days out in the fields. So I guess genes help me out a little.
In your opinion, what are the biggest issues facing the sport of trail running in the near future? What would you like to change or see happening in terms of development?
Not having enough trails. Being based in Singapore I am always concerned over the battle between nature and development.
Many trail running event in Asia seem to compete with each other to obtain the title of "the toughest race". Do you mind or would you rather see more trail races that have more 'runnable' courses?
Doesn't bother me. I can always pick the ones that suit me.
What do you think about the Asia Trail Master series? Could this be a goal for you in 2016?
Its exciting for someone like me new to the trail running scene. I can easily find out about all these cool races in the region. I like that so many countries are represented in the series. While we are spoilt for choice in the region not everyone has the means to access these races either for the experience or for gaining points.