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Dodging traffic in India: a unique Quarantine Backyard Ultra experience

Meet Chander Kant, the man whose run on the streets of New Delhi earned him a fourth-place finish at one of the world’s biggest virtual ultramarathons

Photo by: Chander Kant

When Chander Kant started running the Quarantine Backyard Ultra (QBU) in New Delhi, India, his plan was to run 12 hours. But after 12 hours, he kept running. He ran another 29 laps, stopping after 41 hours of racing and finishing in fourth place. The backyard format may be straightforward (everyone runs the same distance each hour until one runner is left), but Kant’s experience in the QBU was anything but that, and although he didn’t win the event, his story is certainly one of the best to come out of the race.

Kant’s running history

By the end of the QBU, Kant had run 41 laps for a grand total of 275K, and while this is the longest race he has ever run, he still has plenty of experience with ultramarathons. Last year, he qualified for the 24-hour world championships after running 206K in a 24-hour race. Due to visa issues, he couldn’t make it to the worlds race, but he says he is proud to say he was selected to the Indian team all the same.

Also on his running resume is a four-day solo run. He ran without any support, and he covered 266K in the four-day stretch. Before the QBU, he had never run a backyard event himself, but he had been on a crew to help a friend who ran in one. “When I started pushing myself and stretching my limits in the QBU,” Kant says, “that experience of crewing came in handy for me.”

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The backyard ultra

When Kant started his run, it was 6:30 p.m. in New Delhi. His plan was to kick things off on the treadmill in a gym, where he would stay for most of the 12 hours he expected to run. “During COVID-19,” he says, “you aren’t supposed to go outside from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. If you do, the police can stop you.” After 10 hours of running on the treadmill, he says was doing alright, but it wasn’t easy.

“It was humid. I had a table fan with me, but it was not that much help.” It was 4:30 a.m. at this point, so he decided to take his next lap outside. “I slowly started loving it and pushing my limits,” he says, and so at the end of the 12th lap, he abandoned his original plan and moved onto Lap 13. Then laps 14, 15 and 16, all the way to Lap 41.

Photo: Chander Kant

On Sunday morning, a friend came to crew Kant. He was still running outside (with no shoes, by the way), enduring the close to 40 C temperatures and dodging the New Delhi traffic. His friend followed Kant in his car and began to film him on the QBU Zoom feed. It didn’t take long for viewers to notice him. “People were like, ‘Who is this guy?’ Kant says. “My friend told them I was from India.”

RELATED: This family has three generations racing the Quarantine Backyard Ultra

At the 24-hour mark, he was still going, and although he had already run twice as long as he had intended, he kept pushing. “After 24 hours, I came into the flow,” he says. “Things started going well.” He returned to the treadmill for the second night, but at 1 or 2 a.m., he got restless and wanted to run outside again. “I decided to go out despite the curfew. If the police came, I’d explain myself and tell them I was in a race.”

The police didn’t stop him, and he ran home. But he cut it close. There was a technical issue on Zoom, and for a short period of time, Kant thought he was disqualified. Race organizers eventually clarified the situation for him, but by then, he only had 36 minutes left to run the 6.7K lap.

“On a normal day, I can run 6K in 36 minutes, but after 30 hours without sleep, I wasn’t sure if I could do it,” he says.  “I started running, and I knew everyone on Zoom supporting me. I could feel it with every step.” With three minutes until the end of the hour, Kant wasn’t home. Two minutes left, and still, he had yet to check in on the Zoom feed. The whistle for the final minute of the lap was blown, and he was still nowhere to be found. Then, with 20 seconds remaining, he made it back.

Photo: Chander Kant

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“I ran 6K in about 35 minutes,” he says. “I finished that lap in 59:40.” Even though he cut it so close and he was admittedly exhausted, Kant continued to race and ran the next lap. He lasted several more hours, but after his 41st lap, he called it quits.

“Running for 41 hours was quite different for me,” he says. “The 40th lap was really tiring, and after 41 hours, I decided that I should give up.”

Kant says his first shot at the backyard format was extremely tough. “Running 6.7K in one hour sounds very easy, but it’s not. It takes a lot of patience and changes of plans, because every hour you have to come up with a new strategy.”

It may not have been easy, but Kant rolled with every punch the QBU threw at him, and thanks to his determination and flexibility, he earned a fourth-place finish. He says he doesn’t plan on doing another backyard event for a while, but he also said he would stop running after 12 hours. If there’s a QBU Part Three, we’ll hopefully get another chance to watch Kant in action.

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