There are sport enthusiasts and then there are those rare individuals who find fulfillment in extreme sports… they are the ‘ Dare Devils’ who take enthusiasm and personal goals to another level and are often set apart from the rest and treated as stars in the sporting arena ! ELEGANT was privileged to meet with such an individual who was primed for his fitness routine which commenced right after the interview. Presenting to you… (drum roll please) is Hassan Esufally! A dynamic persona who gets an adrenalin rush from long distance running, not merely on home turf but his conquests have spanned a number of continents with challenges posed from extreme weather conditions to rough terrain, wildlife and more. His determination and commitment to the sport is exemplary and we are inspired…
What spurred a love for marathons?
“I always had an affinity towards sports and a competitive streak which has stood me in good stead from my days at the British School, in which I excelled in all sports and academics.
After completing his high school years in Sri Lanka, the ace student flew to Melbourne to complete his degree and while there, he was spurred on by the hype surrounding the famous ‘Melbourne Marathon’ but was cautioned by his friends due to his lack of experience in running a marathon; “by that time the maximum distance I had completed was a 10km run in Colombo and I had only three months to prepare for the MM!” But determination was rife within him, making him train by watching youtube videos etc., and did he succeed? You bet he did!
“I made it within the stipulated time frame but looking back I realized that I had made a few errors but that ignited a love for marathons.. especially the aim to be part of the world famous ‘Seven Continents Marathon Club’ which is an elite club organized by Richard Donovan and uniquely reserved for athletes who have run a marathon within the Antarctic Circle on the Antarctica continent, as well as on the other six continents.”
Who keeps you on the right track?
“The MM was in 2014 and thereafter, I was intent on pursuing this road and I have been working with my professional coach Sean Foster who keeps tabs on my progress and ensures that I am literally on the right track,” enthused Hassan, who added that Sean who lives in Australia coaches him in real time, thanks to fast paced technology.
Setting the Pace
“I had set my sights on the seven continents concept and that took precedence in my life, which led me to set the pace in terms of the type of races I should participate in. Subsequently I became more goal-oriented and purposefully followed a rigorous training schedule come rain or sunshine. Therefore my next competitions were extremely selective and recognized worldwide;”
- IRONMAN in the ASIA PACIFIC CHAMPIONSHIPS (3.86 km swim, 180 km bike and 42.2 Km full marathon in a 17-hour time limit) in Cairns, Australia.
- Inca Trail Marathon, Peru August 2018 – Worlds hardest marathon
- Big 5 Marathon, Johannesburg June 2018
- Boston Marathon, Boston April 2018 – World Marathon Major
- LSR Colombo Marathon, Colombo October 2017
- Stockholm Marathon, Stockholm May 2017
- And finally, the toughest challenge which is the Antarctica Ice Marathon which will be in December 2018.”
Elaborate on the experiences gained at each of these marathons
“The initial marathon which was the one in Melbourne was the easiest as it required running on flat terrain and I reached the finish line in seven hours.
The Stockholm was the quintessential European marathon with the most spectacular panoramic views over a hilly region and I completed it within six hours.
The Boston Marathon which is the oldest marathon in history was personally the third hardest for me as the weather suddenly changed from cold Spring weather to a blizzard with a hailstorm. Competitors were using garbage bags on their feet to keep their shoes from getting wet and the weather seemed like -7”. It was a learning experience and helped me to focus and keep strong mentally and physically.
My all- time favourite was the Big Five Marathon which was epic as it meant running the wilds of Africa with the animals roaming freely and yes, lions too but they were kept at a safe distance by the rangers. “When on safari you are not permitted to step out of the jeep, yet this was pure exhilaration but I managed to complete it in seven hours. At one point we had to scale a steep 45 degree incline and it felt torturous and at the end of it was a sign that said welcome which seemed kind of sadistic,” said he laughingly. This marathon was authentically African, even to the point of the mesmeric drum beats which echoed at every thirst-aid station.
Then there was the Inca Trail Marathon in South America – a grueling 42km trail across the southern Peruvian Andes which by far the hardest as it was physically and mentally challenging. It required us to hike 13km to Llaqtapata, a beautiful archaeological site located in the Cusco region, where we camped and spent the night. We awoke at 2am and kicked off at 4 am. It was wet, cold and dark and we were at risk of getting lost but at certain instances you had the awe-inspiring feeling of running above the clouds. The hardest was the highest point of the trail which was the ‘Dead Woman’s Pass’. During the climb, we experienced a drastic change in weather with snow and ice and freezing cold weather posing a fresh challenge. I optimized on the downhill stretches as I prefer it to the uphill runs. Passing through the WinayWayna Gate onto the Sun Gate, we got our first glimpse of the breathtakingly beautiful 15th century Inca site Machu Picchu. Challenges were rife in this trail, especially considering its lofty height and one such challenge was the low pressure which resulted in difficulty in breathing but I was prepared for it due to intense training with my high-altitude mask on.
Added to the hurdles was the fact that my ankles had given way almost five times and made every step more painful but I persisted and made it to the WinayWayna Gate. The challenge- ridden trek was made more daunting by the fact that my watch died, leaving me to run and track my speed on instinct. I reached the final aid station at Puyupatamarca and left behind all my extra layers of clothing there in order to be as light as possible. The race director had instructed me that those who usually make the gate cut-off get to the final aid station within 1 11/2 hours and I only had one hour to spare. So it was literally a race against time which pushed me to my limit and with a final burst of energy, I galloped at top speed to make the cut, all while praying to God. I made it in the nick of time with two minutes to spare.”
Yet, despite the hardships Hassan was richly rewarded for his effort by the lost city in itself which gave him lasting memories and unforgettable vistas from the sight of Machu Picchu through the Sun Gate to a rainbow which beamed proudly on the way to the Sun Gate and the feeling of seeing his beloved wife at the finish line atop Machu Picchu!
Antarctica Ice Marathon here he comes … brrr
The most daunting challenge for Hassan is probably the Antarctica Ice Marathon. The thought of it itself makes me shiver but Hassan is determined to reach his goal and this particular marathon would be the proverbial icing on the cake and in this case the icing is white like the white tundra on the continent.
“I was privileged to be accepted as the marathon organizers limit the participation to 50 runners per year. Eventhough its summer, the weather is -20 and could alter rapidly. I will initially be flying to Chile and thereafter to the location on a private jet.”
To acclimatize himself the resilient Hassan added that he intends to place a treadmill in an industrial freezer which seemed like the most practical option he had as he hails from sunny SL where the coolest weather would be 10 -18 degrees in the hill country.
In addition to preparing himself physically Hassan intends to be sufficiently clothed to bear the harsh winter winds that would be swirling around him; so layers of clothing, heat warmers and the works are to be part of his gear.
What do you feel about the upcoming race?
“I feel a sense of excitement along with nervousness. I am determined to achieve my goals and the previous experiences; especially the Boston Marathon gave me the mental fortitude needed to face the upcoming challenge.”
Who are your greatest supporters?
“My wife Rashida, my family, sponsors and coach Sean. I am also grateful to the media for their unstinted support and motivating me to reach higher.”
What does your training schedule consist of?
Mondays – 5km run
Tuesday & Thursday – Strength and condition training
Wednesday and Friday – High intensity and interval training
Saturday – Cross training which means I get to do swimming, cycling etc…
Sunday – Long run 25 km training
The week before the marathon is when you taper which means slowing down and taking it easy.
Words of wisdom for those who have ‘running streak’ in their bones…
“Maintain a vision in the mind to achieve your goals, be persistent, write your goals down which helps you keep focused, learn to overcome the momentary road blocks and finally and most importantly is the need to maintain a positive outlook come what may!”
Hassan has not merely achieved glory for himself but for Sri Lanka per se, as in many races such as the Inca Trail Marathon and the Big Five Marathon, he was the first ever Sri Lankan to participate and finish within the required time duration. He pushes himself to the maximum in order to achieve that adrenalin rush which comes from running through the continents of this world!
Elegant wishes success for Hassan’s upcoming adventure, the Antarctica Ice Marathon!
By Rochelle Palipane Gunaratne
Photography By: Sidath Wanaguru